One evening my mother employed by the central government shared that since we haven’t been anywhere for the past two years we should consider going to some place before the summers season starts. Kashmir and Gangtok were probably the two names that were doing rounds since the central goverment gave packages to it’s employees to travel . But for Kashmir and Gangtok nor only was the central government giving travelling charges but also staying and sightseeing charges. This is to me seemed a very honest way of pumping money where it is much needed because both the places are popular tourist areas which have been alienated to the rest of the country due to insurgency.
Recently a debate has triggered where the government should bring down the AFSPA(Armed forces special powers act). For those of you who don’t know what AFSPA is it was first passed on September 11, 1958 in order to deal with insurgencies in the north-eastern states, and extended to Jammu and Kashmir in July 1990. It aiims to give special powers to the Indian army i.e.arrest without evidence and……
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act
According to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), in an area that is proclaimed as “disturbed”, an officer of the armed forces has powers to:
- Fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death, against the person who is acting against law or order in the disturbed area for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning.
- Destroy any arms dump, prepared or fortified position or shelter or training camp from which armed attacks are made by the armed volunteers or armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offence
- To arrest without a warrant anyone who has committed cognizable offences or is reasonably suspected of having done so and may use force if needed for the arrest.
- To enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests, or to recover any person wrongfully restrained or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances and seize it.
- Stop and search any vehicle or vessel reasonably suspected to be carrying such person or weapons.
- Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government’s judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review.
- Protection of persons acting in good faith under this Act from prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings, except with the sanction of the Central Government, in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.
For declaring an area as a ‘disturbed area’ there must be a grave situation of law and order on the basis of which Governor/Administrator can form opinion that an area is in such a disturbed or dangerous condition that use of Armed Forces in aid of civil power is necessary.
At the center of the debate are two opposing points of view. Abdullah and the state government argue that terrorism has dramatically reduced in the state (An estimated 300 terrorists of various denominations are believed active or dormant in J&K; today, against 1000 some three years back) and that the Army presence is therefore disproportionate (60,000 troops along the LoC, plus another 64,000 troops engaged in counter-insurgency operations). This pervasive presence, Abdullah argues, fosters the climate of uncertainty and fear at a time when the people are attempting to get their lives back on track.
Against that, the army argues that it is the powers vested in them under AFSPA that has allowed them to perform the operations that have directly led to the reduction in terrorism; that any dilution of those powers will lead to a renewed surge on the part of the terrorists and exacerbate the security situation in the state.
The number of tourists which have visited there in the past 12 months has crossed 12 lakhs and these are not even official estimates which are said to be higher,the state government here does not even release data due to obvious reasons.The state which had all dried up with incidents of stone pelting now is calm.
As i move and talk to some kashmiri youth they tell me a sorry story,they say there is massive unemployment here that is the reason youth engages in activities such as stone peltingsays Bashar Ali a 22 year student ” If we would have been employed we would have been busy with our own work but now without work and no money we even have to pick stones for just Rs.100 which for us means our survival.” They also allege there is massive corruption in the recruitment by the government only wealthy and known big people’s preferences give you jobs.
To my surprise there was only 1 out of the 11 Kashmiris I taked who talked of want of Hurriyat and exit of Kashmir from both India and Pakistan , this because he believes the presence of AFSPA is helping army commit atrocities on women and children.
The buisness man at large even the dal lake boat owners are happy with National Conference chairman and J & K chief minister Omar Abdullah. Sriram Malik a boatsman says ‘The abdullah government is good they have been spending money heavily on development projects which has brought good results ,the number of tourists incoming has seen a rapid growth and we expect more.”
The locals even complain that the media here is censored by the goverment .