Public consensus in the Valley: All sympathy is for a dead militant, none for a dead sarpanch
On Monday, three militants barged into the house of PDP worker Mohammad Ramzan Sheikh, a former sarpanch at Homhuma Shopian and sought him out. Sensing their intentions to kill Sheikh, the family resisted. In the ensuing scuffle and a freakish turn of events, not only Sheikh, but one of the intruding militants Shaukat Kumar was also killed.
But that was not the end of the tragedy, long banalised by its now-familiar pattern. While the people seemed least bothered by Sheikh’s killing, the accidental killing of Kumar in the process was overwhelmingly mourned. What is more, the day after, a mob returning from Kumar’s burial set ablaze Sheikh’s house.
The family was helpless. It couldn’t even count on the fellow villagers for help.
“The mob first threw stones at the house, and then set afire the hay stacked close to the house,” said a villager witnessing the scene.
“Later, the Army reached the spot and helped rescue the family members,” the villager said.
The incident puts into sharp relief the chilling public consensus in Kashmir against the mainstream political parties and their workers.
Us & them
While a mainstream worker’s killing and the burning down of his house struggles to extract some grudging sympathy, the death of a militant who accidentally dies while trying to kill the worker sparks off widespread grief and violent reactions.
This is the second time that a PDP worker has been killed this month.
On 3 October, a group of masked gunmen opened fire on a former PDP worker Ghulam Rasool Ganie who was at his shop at Mattan in Anantnag town. Ganie was rushed to Mattan hospital where doctors declared him brought dead.
There have been some more killings of the ruling party’s workers in the past few months which have threatened to further squeeze the space for mainstream political activity in the state. The killings have also triggered the migration of political workers from the vulnerable areas. Militants have already created a security scare for the families of the policemen by carrying out raids on the residences of several policemen, some of them officers in the department.
No space for politics
Such attacks, largely concentrated in South Kashmir, have to a large extent cut through mainstream political activity in the state, especially the PDP which counts South as its political bastion.
In 2014, the party had swept the elections in the area, emerging as the single largest party in the state. But since the post-Burhan Wani unrest, the party’s political stock has been on a free fall and not only in its stronghold.
Already, there is little hope that the South Kashmir by-elections for the Parliament seat vacated by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti can be held anytime soon.
“Such attacks on political workers and the widespread public sanction it enjoys is a great cause of concern. It is shrinking the role of politics in the society. As a result, we are left with no medium to reach out to the people,” said a PDP leader, not wishing to be identified.
And one such medium which has been nearly annihilated by the militants is the Panchayati Raj.
Across the Valley, a significant number of the panches and sarpanches have resigned after militants started killing them. The Panchayat elections had taken place in the state after a gap of thirty-four years in 2010. The elections which were held under the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Act elected about 35,000 panches and sarpanches.
Sheikh was one of them but was forced to resign following militant pressure. But as it turned out even that didn’t save him. Militants apparently killed him for continuing his association with the PDP. And across the Valley, the killing thus seemed perfectly understandable if not valid.
As the reaction on social media showed, the expression of outrage over Sheikh's killing was largely confined to the people in the government. And they too had to face some ridicule for taking such a position.
Among the first to react was the IAS officer Shah Faesal.
“The message from Catalonia is that you don't need to lose your humanity to win the fight for your political rights. But here in our part of the word, after three decades of turmoil, it's getting difficult to figure out who is more zaalim – the state, the non-state or the people themselves?” Faesal, whose father was killed by militants in similar circumstances in early nineties, wrote on Facebook.
“If you have to look at the dehumanising influence of war and violence just look at the mob that had gone to burn the house of a retired headman who got killed and whose children had reportedly resisted the known unknown killers. The message is clear. Next time someone enters your home to kill you, make it sure that you extend them all courtesy while they pour bullets into your head,” Faesal went on to write.
But Faesal’s opinion hardly resonated with a predominant number of the people who reacted to his comment. He was accused of sanctioning “state brutalities” and was greeted with comments like – “Catalan response has to be viewed against Spanish brutality. Give us a civilized adversary and our humanity will manifest”.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen