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.


10 responses to “Where are the water cannons?

  1. Well..I totally agree with you that Govt should take an initiative to make peace in Kashmir. They should do some work other than eating up tax payers money…But its not easy to calm the people of Kashmir. Each one of them would have lost a dear one and hence they would have chosen this path of protest..and the young children in Kashmir are growing up seeing all this violence. If freedom from India is what they want..I feel that its better to give them that to stop further killings.It may not be politically feasible though. Just like the day they decide about an Indo Pak divide someone else should come up and take a bold stand to end these killings.

    And regarding water cannons. If killing is the intention, then no one will use water cannons.

    • I dont think killing is the intention. Its just the result of a poorly trained police force which does not know how to handle a violent mob in an effective but non lethal manner.

      Yes, Independence for Kashmir is not an option. It would tear apart the “Idea of India”. We have faced secessionist movements before but most have been resolved or have faded into irrelevance. The issue of Kashmir is very much solvable within the ambit of the Indian constitution. What is required is peace in the Valley first, followed by intense back-channel negotiations by representatives of India, Pakistan and Kashmir, with everyone ready to make some form of compromise. We were very close to such a solution with Musharraf a few years back. There’s no reason why that cant happen again.

  2. Good article Ulag. What about some authoritarian steps and approach in that angle?

    • Authoritarian steps? I think deaths of more than a 100 people in the last 3 months coupled with crippling curfews (and strikes), where people are denied access to essential commodities like milk and medicines has been authoritarian measures enough. Its time to heal the wounds.

  3. With Pakistan have schools for generating terrorist, I don think peace is ever possible between us. The issue of Kashmir maybe very much solvable within the ambit of the Indian constitution, but no one is interested in solving issues. They just want to distract the public with these issues and then loot all money.

  4. As usual a good post (I know it sounds like a cliche but its not :D).
    Coming to the discussion of politicians doing something about this, do u honestly feel they will even think in this angle?? All they can think off is how to build their reserves of black money & how best to stay in power. This will include mud slinging on opposition party etc etc. Just like you pointed out there will always be someone in the crowd who will try to take advantage of the situation for their own benefit & the police take drastic action wherein the people who have real issues get affected & get provoked to go on a rampage. Its been a eternal story in India. Some day the mob has to grow up and know that few people manipulate them for their own gain & it has got nothing to do with the issue they are fighting for.

    • Yeah. The people have to realise that and the govt also needs to realise that they should address common issues during times of peace and not wait for situations to go out of hand like this.

  5. The government should realize that Kashmir is a part of India and should make the people in the Indian Kashmir realize that. Also, make it very evident that the people living in Kashmir are citizens of India.

    How do you do that? Take down those few miscreants who are interested in tearing Kashmir away from the map. They are anti-national, you can take them down.Eliminate those who are responsible for spreading the anger, planting the idea of an independent Kashmir. Develop a road map and make good progress on it over the next few months. Don’t display your usual lazy Indian attitude, get on it. That is what I call authoritative. Don’t wage a war against the people, wage a war against the idea of an independent Kashmir. Kashmir is a part of India. Period. The days won’t be far where you would want an independent Arunachal Pradesh (due to growing pressures from China), Tamil Nadu (due to language fanaticism) etc.

    • The government should realize that Kashmir is a part of India

      Yes im sure the govt very much realises that.

      and should make the people in the Indian Kashmir realize that.

      Right. But the way to do that is not by firing on demonstrations. Also by not having an Army out in a city making people feel that they live under siege by their own govt. The army has a very tough job in Kashmir and I am proud of the way that they smashed the backbone of the militancy there. Unfortunately, almost the entire population of the valley is very hostile to the Army for various reasons. The army presence there fuels their feeling of alienation from India.

      Take down those few miscreants who are interested in tearing Kashmir away from the map…They are anti-national, you can take them down. Eliminate those who are responsible for spreading the anger, planting the idea of an independent Kashmir.

      Eliminating dissenting voices is not how democracies function. Such actions have been performed by countries like Pakistan, Iran, Zimbabwe, China, Somalia, Rwanda, Libya, North Korea, the former USSR etc. All ruthless dictatorships or failed states. If we encourage the govt to eliminate whom they consider “anti-national” then we will set a very dangerous precedent. Its a stepping stone to a dictatorship. Today they will say “Kashmiri separatists” are anti-national. Tomorrow anyone having views opposed to the govt will be considered “anti-national”. It is the easiest way to crush dissent and assume absolute power. Having this space for dissent is most crucial for India’s democracy. We are lauded world-over for this.

      Also, the idea of an Independent Kashmir is ingrained in thousands and thousands of Kashmiris. Its not an idea which some people are trying to put in now. This is an Idea which has been on their minds for decades. Its a popular sentiment on the streets of Kashmir. This is a fact. Would you recommend “taking down” all these people? I hope not.

      Develop a road map and make good progress on it over the next few months

      True. This has to be done. But the way to do this is with a healing touch. We need to counter the rhetoric of the separatists with a healing touch. The govt cannot afford to be lazy anymore. There are thousands and thousands of Kashmiri Pundits living as refugees all over India, having been driven away from Kashmir by terrorists in the past. These Kashmiri Pundits haven become refugees in their own country. A very shameful fact. This too shows the apathy of the govt as they have never meaningfully tried to address this issue. Every time there is peace in Kashmir, the govt gets complacent. Its time it pulls up its socks.

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