New Delhi: One Friday afternoon last summer, Feroze Ahmad Dar’s body was torn apart by gunfire unleashed by a Lashkar-e-Taiba unit waiting by the roadside as he drove to work with five other police officers. Local residents came in hundreds to mourn the fallen officer, a soft-spoken man who’d studied zoology in Maharashtra before joining the police during the large-scale street violence in 2010.
There were some, however, who chose to stay silent: few Kashmiri politicians had words of condemnation against the Lashkar; former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti chose not to show up for his last rites.
“Those who enjoy #JKpolice protection/help and fail to side with them at the time of grief are hypocrites with dead conscience (sic),” tweeted Superintendent of Police Tahir Ashraf — a gesture that spoke of the rage in the force.
The script has been playing out this week again, in the wake of the kidnapping of 11 police personnel’s immediate relatives by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. In controversial comments, Mufti blamed the police for harassing the relatives of terrorists, in an apparent justification of the incident. Her opponents were quick to condemn the kidnappings, but didn’t say what they meant to do to help the police protect its kin.
Blaming terrorists is simply stating the blindingly obvious, and, worse, a rhetorical tool that politicians from all parties have been using to obscure their own role in leaving the Jammu and Kashmir Police officers open to attack.
In reality, the government’s own data shows that policy decisions have left the Jammu and Kashmir Police exceptionally vulnerable — and also that nothing is being done about it.
The vehicle that Dar was using didn’t have bullet-proofing; he had never been trained, either, in anti-ambush tactics that could have saved his life; he didn’t have a home from which he could operate safely — and that’s the story of pretty much every other officer risking his life in Kashmir.
Housing has been the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s top concern for years. Thirty-two police officers have been killed in the state this year, of whom only eight died during combat. The rest were picked off at home, or on their way to work, when they were most vulnerable. The reason this has been happening is simple: the Jammu and Kashmir Police lack housing in secure complexes. Unlike the army or central paramilitaries, Jammu and Kashmir Police officers must live in their communities.
In 2017, the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) figures show, the Jammu and Kashmir Police had 78,346 personnel, or 626 for every 100,000 residents — one of the highest ratios in the country. But it spent just ₹140 crore on housing them, compared with ₹1,070 crore Uttar Pradesh put up, or the ₹379 crore Gujarat spent. In 2016-2017, the state didn’t build a single new house for the police; only 7,567 families have received accommodation.
The bottom line is just 9 percent of the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s upper-subordinate ranks, and 9 percent of lower-subordinate, have state-provided housing. In Maharashtra, where police are not being shot at on an everyday basis, the figures are 61 percent and 54 percent, respectively; even Chhattisgarh provides housing for 34 percent of upper-subordinate officers, and 24 percent of lower-subordinate staff.
“The sad fact,” a senior Jammu and Kashmir Police officer said, “is that many police personnel in the most high-risk jobs, like the Special Operations Group, are renting secure accommodation for their families out-of-pocket.”
Pretty much every other index reflects similar official apathy. There’s also the issue of poor focus on training — something that’s necessary for police officers who are putting their lives in harm’s way fighting terrorists. In 2016-2017, BPRD figures show, Jammu and Kashmir spent ₹2,748 crore on its police force. Exactly ₹22 lakhs of that — 0.01 percent — was spent on training. The national figure was 1.03 percent, up from one percent in 2015-2016.
In 2016, only 1,636 Jammu and Kashmir Police constables, and 421 non-gazetted officers received any form of training, it was half of the personnel trained in Jharkhand, and a quarter of the numbers in Chhattisgarh and Bihar.
Funding for the police, incredibly, showed a drastic fall, even as the force occupied an ever-larger role in combating both street violence and terrorism. In 2015-2016, the Jammu and Kashmir Police spent a little over ₹4,004 crore; in 2016-2017, that figure fell dramatically to ₹2,748 crore. This was the largest fall in police expenditure in any state.
The state also proved extraordinarily poor at managing funds that were indeed available. In 2016, the Central Government made available ₹626 lakhs for police modernization, while the state allocated ₹269 lakhs. But the Jammu and Kashmir government spent only ₹400 lakhs, because of delays in bureaucratic decision-making.
Following Dar’s death, the Jammu and Kashmir Police announced that its personnel would donate a day’s salary, across ranks, to help the families of officers who fall fighting terrorists. The government hasn’t acted on demands to raise compensation for the loss of life to ₹10 lakhs; there’s no institutional mechanism, unlike in the army, to support families long-term.
The reasons for the assault on police is obvious: the force is doing a stellar job. Last year, 76 terrorists were killed in southern Kashmir — the heartland of the Islamist insurgency that’s torn the state apart. This year, 68 have already been killed, almost all in police-led operations based on intelligence generated by the force’s superb on-ground networks. Riyaz Naikoo and Zeenat-ul-Islam are the only two leaders the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen has left; local recruitment has begun to drop.
For an organization that believed that the rural uprisings of 2016 had prepared the ground for a full-scale jihadist reprisal, this is bad news — and that it’s striking back at the police with any means available is no surprise.
Little doubt exists that the police have, on more than one occasions, harassed innocent relatives of terrorists — the reason the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen has given for kidnapping the police officers’ kin. The tone of the innocent being hurt that has characterized the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’s propaganda, however, needs to be read against the terrorist organization’s own killing of anti-jihadist civilians: dozens have been executed just this year.
For years, terrorists were able to secure local protection deals or extend their influence, by targeting village-level political workers linked to the ruling party. Now, with Governor’s rule in place, the police are being targeted in an effort to get the state to ease back its counter-terrorism campaign.
The assault on police was clearly predictable: after all, dozens have been killed in recent months. The question is: why haven’t the governments done something about it?