Army's mindless act helps separatists

The killing of two schoolchildren by armed forces personnel in a suburb of Srinagar on Monday was plain murder; the conduct of the army was no better than that of an occupying force.

It is difficult to imagine that early teenagers who went on an outing on a holiday and fleeing from a minor traffic incident had to be overwhelmed by firepower. There was no provocation, and the firing was an unnecessary show of force. There was no reason why the children who had missed an army check post in their panic could not be stopped in the many ways the personnel know too well – firing at the tyres, use of spikes, etc – which would not endanger lives. But it was the trigger happiness and lack of human concern of the personnel that snuffed out the children’s lives. 

It is not an isolated and solitary incident. Kashmir has seen frequent excesses by the armed forces which have blotted its record and alienated the people from the nation. Extrajudicial murders, cases of rape and unprovoked violence against ordinary people have taken place too frequently to the comfort of the nation which considers the people of the state as its own. The Chhattisingpora massacre of Sikhs in 2000 had led to an act of revenge when innocent people were picked up, branded as Pak militants and killed in cold blood. A CBI investigation found the officials guilty but the army’s own investigation gave them a clean chit. Cases of killings undertaken to claim promotions and official honours are not uncommon.

 The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) gives immunity to the forces, and the personnel who are involved in such cases cannot be tried in civilian courts. There has been persistent demand for repeal of the draconian law from the entire state and from enlightened sections all over the country. It should be scrapped, so that justice takes on a human face and is not thwarted wantonly in the state. The government has promised a fair and impartial probe into Monday’s incident. To ensure justice, it should be time-bound, transparent and lead to punishment of the guilty officials. But this is a rare happening in the present framework in Kashmir.

If the army had earned any goodwill with its rescue and salvage efforts during the recent floods in the state, it has been lost with this mindless action. Such atrocities only give quarter to separatist elements, and strengthen them. With assembly elections due in a few weeks, the state is very sensitive now and the killings may impact the polls. There is tension in the valley, a strike has been called by separatists and curfew in many parts of Srinagar. An army which kills schoolchildren cannot help the national cause in Kashmir.

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