Monthly Archives: September 2010

Where are the water cannons?

The Valley is burning…

Since June 11 2010, when a 17 year old boy was killed after being hit by a tear gas shell, the Kashmir Valley has been gripped in a spiral of protests. People rally to protest against such deaths and start pelting stones at the police and CRPF. The security men, unable to control such large violent mobs with tear gas, resort to firing in the air. This results in the death of more people. The next day a larger crowd turns up to protest the deaths of the innocent people killed in the previous rally and eventually they start throwing stones against the police out of anger, who as a last resort, fire in the air resulting in the death of more people. The next day more people turn up to protest this brutality and this violent vicious cycle continues….

More than 110 people have been killed on the streets of Kashmir since July this year. Which brings me to a basic question. Why doesnt the Kashmir police use more sophisticated methods of crowd control? For one, rubber bullets could be used instead of live ammo. However, there are instances of deaths caused due to rubber bullets too. Lathi charges are ruled out because of the presence of large angry mobs. So what about using water cannons? Why havent we seen the use of even a single water cannon in the Valley? And why hasn’t anyone asked this question to our politicians? Is the answer something so plainfully obvious that nobody has asked it? Are water cannons ineffective as a measure of crowd control? I dont think so. Iv never heard anyone offer any logical rationale for the J&K police and CRPF choosing to fire live bullets in the air rather than resort to water cannons. So, why are there no water cannons in the Valley?

A policeman fires a tear gas shell

The citizens of Srinagar have legitimate grouses and they have every right to conduct rallies and protest. And it is no surprise that such rallies turn violent. It has nothing to do with being Anti-Indian. Even in other Indian cities we often see protest rallies turn violent occasionally resulting in mobs burning buses, stoning buildings etc. There will always be unruly elements in any crowd trying to take advantage for their own nefarious means. The way to counter it is to have a well trained riot-police squad with the necessary riot gear. Most of the cops I see on television have nothing close to proper riot gear as seen with riot police of developed countries. With good training, sufficient man-power, necessary protective gear backed by water cannons and tear gas, such unruly protests can be controlled and subdued in a non-lethal manner by the police (as is done in other democratic countries). This would prevent fanning the flames of anger among the populace and giving legitimate reasons for more protests.

In the last few years we have seen such protests occur alarmingly regularly every summer in Kashmir, whether over the Amarnath controversy 2 years back or the Shopian murders last year. The separatists and their handlers in Pakistan have realised that terrorism is an unfeasible strategy after 9/11. Terrorists get no sympathy, however noble a cause they may claim to espouse. Their solution was to resort to Palestinian-style intifadas which garnered a lot of international sympathy. There was something rebellious yet tragic about pictures of young Palestinian boys,  facing Israeli tanks, holding nothing more than stones in their hands. The powerless innocent vs the brutal might of the State. David vs Goliath. This brought a lot of international attention to the Palestinian cause, but at the cost of hundreds of innocent Palestinian lives. A similar attempt is being made in Kashmir, by some vested interests who want to bring in international scrutiny on Kashmir.

However, it would be foolish to bracket these recent protests as being orchestrated ONLY by enemies of the state. As the parliamentary delegation found out recently, it has been for the most part, a spontaneous mass uprising (Ofcourse helped by Geelani’s protest calendars). The only way to cut the oxygen source of these protests is by stopping killings of protestors and innocent civilians. The police need to show more restraint and avoid causing fatal casualties at all costs. The J&K police force needs a dedicated riot control unit which can effectively counter these protests in a non lethal manner resulting in zero casualties, or else we are doomed to repeat the same tragedy over and over again.

True, Kashmir is a disputed territory and its people have long suffered in the cross-fire between terrorists and the Army. But it does not mean that ordinary Kashmiris will not live in peace until they are given independence from the Indian state.  The Indian govt needs to create a conducive atmosphere for the people of the valley. Once this peace is established, the govt should strive for political packages for J&K which could ease the sufferings of the common man. This is the only way to douse the simmering anger in the Valley and prevent further deaths of Indians on the streets of Srinagar.