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J&K had feared 1,000 fatalities in August 2019, but peace prevails

J&K had feared 1,000 fatalities in August 2019, but peace prevails

For about one week before the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state was stripped of its special status and split into the two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh on 5 August 2019, officials in the top corridors of power from Srinagar to New Delhi had a question for all ‘Kashmir experts’ they knew: “How many civilians would die if Article 370 and 35-A would be revoked?” Some of them put the number at 500 and others at 800-something.

At an official gathering earlier this year, former J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik, who is now Governor of Goa, revealed that his Chief Secretary had feared “1,000 civilian killings”. Amid varied speculations, the police hierarchy had consensus over 400-600 fatal casualties.

On 5 August 2019, when over 300 political leaders and activists had been taken into custody overnight and all telecommunication services suspended, millions of Kashmiris watched the developments unfolding on TV. They saw Union Home Minister Amit Shah rewriting history. Shah piloted a Bill in the Parliament, seeking to withdraw J&K’s special status and breaking the state into the two UTs.

Amid the Opposition’s uproar that Shah’s Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill had not come from the proper channel—the Constituent Assembly, which had expired over six decades back, or its successor, the J&K Legislative Assembly—it was passed with a thumping majority in both the Houses of the Parliament.

New Delhi’s argument, which is now under legal and constitutional scrutiny at the Supreme Court, was that the Parliament had competence during the President’s rule to apply or revoke such laws relating to J&K.

Curfew, of course, had been clamped over the Valley and rumors were in high circulation. However, nobody was reported dead or injured. As there were no major clashes, street eruptions, rallies or protest demonstrations, the police or security forces did not open fire. Contrary to all apprehensions of a street turmoil of a higher intensity than the 2008, 2010 and 2016 clashes, not one civilian was killed in police or security forces’ action for the next nine months. It was for the first time after 1989.

Curfew was gradually relaxed and completely lifted in the first two months. However, without a formal call from the separatist leaders, their followers and cadres enforced shutdown for the next three months. Killing of some defiant businessmen and workers spread a wave of terror and nobody dared open businesses. Commercial transport did not operate for about 5 months and drivers refused to carry students in the yellow color school buses to their schools.

What the world still knows as the “lockdown of one year” was actually a composition of two months of government curfew, three months of the separatists’ shutdown, two months of severe winter and winter vacations and nearly five months of the Covid-19 lockdown.

By the time educational institutions opened in February 2020, the people of Kashmir had either forgotten about 5 August 2019 or begun to reconcile to the new realities. But Kashmir was again jinxed. The coronavirus pandemic forced closure of all government offices and private businesses, schools, colleges, universities and public services, with the exception of essential services, across J&K since 22 March 2020.

A section of the opinion, not only in Kashmir but also across India, insists that the optics of peace is deceptive and just waiting for a trigger. According to them, the absence of a political eruption in the last one year is only the result of the arrests, detentions and “suppression by military”. But much of this opinion is treated as subjective for the fact that it essentially comes out either from the BJP’s and the NDA government’s ideological detractors or from those who have been sworn supporters of ‘azaadi’ and accession to Pakistan. As of now, statistics is not on their side.

Around the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A on Wednesday, 5th August 2020, there was no curfew in Kashmir. Even Internet and telephone services were not snapped anywhere in the Valley. Some mainstream parties, including NC and PDP, observed 5th of August as a ‘Black Day’. However, there were no clashes or an incident of firing.

“Sadly, one civilian got killed when he did not respond to the police signal. For the first time since 1990, not a single civilian, who was not associated with militants, has died in police or security forces’ action in the last one year. “Credit goes to the people that after 5 August 2019 they did not clash with or attack the security forces at streets or during counter-insurgency operations as they used to do previously”, said a senior officer. He asserted that “only a few sporadic incidents” of low intensity occurred intermittently at certain places.

According to the official statistics, not more than 70 ‘minor incidents’ had been reported in the last seven months of 2020. During the corresponding period in 2019, this number was up at 107. Outgoing Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu claimed that joining of fresh militant recruits had fallen by 50% after August 2019. Police datasheets show that 219 youth had joined different militant outfits in 2018 and only 119 in 2019. Till 30 June, just 74 youths had joined militancy. While over 30 were killed in encounters, about a dozen returned to home silently but with the knowledge of Police and armed forces.

In all, 152 militants had been killed in encounters in 2019. According to IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar, 148 militants have been killed in the last seven months of 2020—only 32 in the first three months but as many as 116 in April through July. All the prominent ‘commanders’, including Riyaz Naikoo, Junaid Sehrai and Waleed Bhai of Hizbul Mujahideen, Qari Yasir of Jaish-e-Mohammad and Burhan Koka of Ansar Ghazwatul Hind, have been eliminated, one after another, this year.

Most of the officers in the police and security forces believe that the total number of active militants in J&K has plummeted from 350 in August 2018 to just 150-180 in August 2020. They claim that most of attempts of infiltration failed due to the army's alertness on the LoC. If these officers are to be believed, militancy would be completely finished by August 2021.

For the first time in the last 30 years, authorities have stopped handing over bodies of the slain militants to their families. “They used to organize massive funeral processions under gunpoint. There used to be gun salutes on the graves and many youth in the age group of 15-25 used to join”, an IGP rank officer asserted.

Parallel to official claim that the fear of the militants’ gun was receding fast after August 2019, militants have spread terror with the recent killing of two Sarpanches in South Kashmir and three BJP leaders in North Kashmir.

“Such sporadic incidents could happen anywhere. We have successfully punctured all the conventional vehicles of terrorism and we are hopeful of wiping it out fully in two years after August 2019. For us, the intractable social media is the only challenge today. But in coordination with the Centre we are working on a plan to deal with it”, said an officer..