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Indian forces get blame for Kashmir killings

A fact-finding team has blamed the Indian security forces for heavy use of force to quell the summer of unrest in the Kashmir Valley last year, saying most of the deaths were deliberately caused by the troopers.

Kashmiri protesters hit a burning government vehicle after setting it on fire during protests in Kashmir

Kashmiri protesters hit a burning government vehicle after setting it on fire during protests in Kashmir

The mass-uprising of mid-2010 in the Kashmir Valley killed at least 120 people. Now, a report by an independent fact-finding team has blamed the Indian security forces for heavy use of force to quell the summer of unrest. Various groups and opposition parties have been critical of the strategy of meeting street demonstrations with lethal gunfire. The team has argued for a substantial reduction of the military presence in Kashmir and the withdrawal of all special security laws that give security forces immunity.

Kashmiris shout slogans after government troops fire live ammunition and tear gas into crowds of anti-India protesters

Kashmiris shout slogans after government troops fire live ammunition and tear gas into crowds of anti-India protesters

Last year's uprising in Kashmir sent shock waves across India. At the time, Kashmir's towns saw a wave of brutal clashes between police and protesters. As pitched battles were fought in several parts of the troubled state for four months, some saw the unrest as a Kashmiri intifada against Indian rule.

Sukumar Muralidharan, who was part of the four-member team looking into the violence, explains the disposition of the Kashmiri youth, saying, "This is a generation that has grown up in an environment of military control. The demonstrations were organized by people who were 25 years of age. So obviously there is an element of great disgruntlement among the youth over the (injustice) that they see around themselves as a day to day reality."

"Street contest"

The team discovered that many of the youths who were killed or injured were victims of a highly unjust "street contest" between civilians and security forces. The latter, the team concluded, had been trying to discourage demonstrations by scaring the people.

A fact-finding team says the Indian authorities used heavy force to quell the unrest

A fact-finding team says the Indian authorities used heavy force to quell the unrest

"Very clearly disproportionate lethal force has been used against people who were protesting," says Vrinda Grover, a lawyer and member of the team. "Secondly, there were a lot of the causalities among people who were not part of the protests." Grover explains a third factor: "there is a political dispute we are engaging with. Because of that and because there is absolutely no serious attempt or long term sustained attempt to resolve it, protests will continue."

After the violent protests a parliamentary delegation visited Srinagar in September last year and met up with representatives of the separatists. With this, much anger on the streets abated. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also set up a team of interlocutors to engage with all sections of opinion in Kashmir.

Protest against New Delhi's rule

However, Sukumar Muralidharan believes this is just a temporary truce and says, "The political forces that were driving this sequence of protests are something that will have long-term consequences and cannot be ignored by the Indian state if it wants to keep up the pretence of being a democratic political order."

Kashmiri Muslims throw stones at Indian police men

Kashmiri Muslims throw stones at Indian police men

Many saw the spell of violence as reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi's rule sparked an armed insurgency across the Kashmir Valley.

Grover had taken part in earlier fact finding missions and says an important message was sent out through the violent protests: "It is important to understand that this is the generation that grew up in the conflict. This is the generation that did not pick up the arms. But this is the generation that holds very, very dear to itself the issue of azaadi (freedom) and that generation is staking claim to its political future."

The team members, who travelled to Kashmir on their own initiative and without an official mandate, met families whose youth were killed in the civil unrest and individuals who suffered serious injuries. They also interacted with university teachers and students, doctors, lawyers and activists.

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning

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