The deaths of Indian security personnel in a massive explosion on a busy highway at Lethpora in the Pulwama district was the first such successful fidayeen attack in the history of the Kashmiri militant resistance.
The first such attack occurred almost two decades ago and was a flop; the Kashmiri militant who was driving an explosive-laden car to ram into the Badami Bagh cantonment in Srinagar lost his life but failed to cause any damage to the military personnel. That it took Kashmiris another two decades to produce full-blown destruction is surprising because the raw state repression that drives Kashmiri youth, including intellectuals and scholars, to take up guns have ignored such an easy spectacle for quite a long time. In fact, people have been talking about such possibilities for quite a while, given the amount of radicalisation caused by wanton state brutalities.
Following such a high-impact attack, and the amount of negative reaction that it has generated from the Indian media, public and the government, there are apprehensions that such a method might catch the fancy of the new generation of Kashmiri fighters. If so, there is cause for much concern for more deaths – those of both military personnel and resistance fighters – and its possible spill over to civilian populations could be massive and devastating. Such a thought conjures up images of Baghdad or Kabul at the height of the insurgency following the US invasions.
The impact of the blast was so strong that those slain were blown to smithereens, catalysing the pain of the tragedy. The government put a ban on showing graphic footage of the destruction, and perhaps rightly so, but social media exhibited a limitless fetish to spread the gruesome images. It is beyond any doubt that none of those killed in the blast could be identified through their bodies.
While I usually refrain from watching such graphic photos of violence, I ‘accidentally’ saw some of them for they came from a source never associated with such an activity. Frankly speaking, I felt sick to my core and for several days I remained under the spell of intense sadness. Many felt the same way, but the argument of those who justified such gruesome violence cannot be ignored either. One of them compared the incident with the growing incidents of the military blowing up houses and militants during encounters. “The army could easily capture these rebels or at least fight them humanely. Instead, they choose to blow them up in pieces, destroy houses and celebrate deaths”.
During the last few years, there has been a significant change in the rules of engagement – military personnel are willing to increasingly jettison their professional behaviour and indulge in such profanities as taking selfies with dead militants, dancing with their cadavers while chanting Hindu religious slogans, and filming the beatings and torture of the Kashmiri youth. Sometimes, such videos get leaked and reach the public domain only to provoke and further anger and hostility.
The only consolations from the attack were that it did not target civilians or cause civilian deaths and that the military personnel did not go berserk after the incident to target civilians, an otherwise usual practice. But the pessimistic view suggested that the paramilitary personnel were so frightened after the blast that they were unable to form any sort of reaction. Later, after an hour or so, the military personnel did target unsuspecting civilians and beat scores of them to exact revenge.
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the agency that was targeted in the suicide blast, also beat dozens of peoples in downtown Srinagar producing yet more anger and hate that will ultimately provoke many more Kashmiri youth down the path of militancy.
The story of the alleged suicide bomber, Adil Ahmed Dar, is somewhat similar to the trajectory of other Kashmiris who take to the gun as a path to break the stalemate of oppression. Adil had been continually harassed and humiliated by the Indian army and the personnel of Jammu and Kashmir Police. Knowing no escape, he took the extreme step with a dreaded determination to cause as much damage to the military as possible.
Soon after the blast, the government took the extreme step to ban the internet, but the damage had been done as photographs carrying gruesome details had already been circulated with sensational and often fake news. This spread panic, hatred, and calls for open revenge. Several Indian news channels made consistent calls for revenge, preparing the ground for more violence primarily directed against Kashmiris spread across India. The speech made by Prime Minister Modi in the aftermath was also provocative and bordered on hate speech.
As the pliant Hindutva media whipped up a frenzy, violent mobs of people were galvanised to exact revenge amid chants of “teaching Pakistan a lesson” that ultimately boiled down to mass violence against Kashmiris. In Jammu, the winter capital of the province of Jammu and Kashmir, thousands of Hindutva youth attacked Kashmiri Muslims, vandalised their properties and burned more than a hundred of their vehicles.
Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, the police watched helplessly as the mobs ran amok and pillaged around for several hours. The Hindu mobs attacked government officials of Kashmiri origin, students and even women. “Where are the pellet guns”, asked several Kashmiris over social media. There were wide-scale attacks on Kashmiri students across India, and strangely there were no condemnations from any political party or any serious attempts to stop this from happening.
The only credible help these Kashmiri students received, and in abundance, were from Khalsa Aid, a leading international Sikh charity. Their volunteers offered aid, rescued students from mobs, provided shelter and later procured transport facilities to take those who were stranded back home. This has earned them instant yet massive following and admiration with social media flooded with messages of goodwill.
Amarpreet Singh, the Asia-Pacific director of the charity, left a message on my WhatsApp that they were willing to provide more emergency aid and assistance for stranded Kashmiris. In an ocean of hate-filled frenzy, Khalsa Aid offered a glimmer of hope that must grow into a flame!