The one chant that India has been unable to gag; “Hum kya chahtey… azaadi”
Kashmir is back to square one; the killing spree has begun once again and there seems to be no way out. After killing approximately 120 peaceful protesters in 2010, of which half were teenagers, this year, the Indian forces have not only begun a killing spree, but a blinding spree as well. With the help of lethal pellet guns, introduced to Kashmir through British expeditioners who used them for hunting, they forces have ended up blinding numerous individuals.
If you are not already aware, the intensity of a pellet gun is monstrous – one shot sends nearly 600 high velocity lead ball bearings.
At present, the death toll in Kashmir stands at 45. The number of those blinded by the pellets, however, is over 150, and the total number of injured has crossed 4000, of whom one third are critically injured. The youngest victim is a four-year-old.
It is no secret that the Indian forces have resorted to inhumane brutalities; ambulances carrying injured victims to hospitals have been attacked, windows have been smashed and IV tubes have been cut. Doctors, patients and paramedics have been thrashed. Parked vehicles have been damaged and residents have been threatened by habitual gunfire, pepper gas, teargas and flash-bang grenades.
Earlier this week, police officers raided newspaper offices and arrested employees, while mobile and internet services have been cut off leaving virtually cutting off all means of communication in the valley. And if that were not enough, a curfew has been imposed for over 18 days, and water and electricity supplies have been cut off in many areas.
The killing of the young militant commander, Burhan Wani, has led to a new wave of protests in Kashmir. But despite road blocks and a strict curfew, hundreds of thousands of people travelled towards Tral, in the south of Kashmir, where Burhan was born and laid to rest, in order to attend his funeral.
The fact that does not seem to be acknowledged yet, in all this chaos, is that India’s repression and denial of a plebiscite in the ‘disputed’ region has led to intensified militancy in the region; Burhan Wani is an example of exactly that. Unfortunately, because India has been dodging efforts to resolve this conflict through peaceful negotiations, it has resulted in mass uprisings as can be seen today.
Post 2000, the Kashmiri people resorted to peaceful means of protesting in order to come to some form of a resolution with the Indian authorities. While this should have resulted in a reduced military presence in the valley, this did not happen. In fact, despite the number of militants being no more than a few hundred at the time, the number of Indian military officers stationed in the valley stood at 800,000, as it does today. Neither did the peaceful protests result in an ease on military violence which continued to include a flagrant abuse of human rights, including torture, disappearances, rapes, and extra judicial killings. It is the persistence of suppressive tactics and lack of political settlement that Kashmir is facing this disturbance today.
During the summer of 2008, mass protests erupted against the transfer of land to non-Kashmiris along the route of Hindu pilgrimage to Amarnath. When the people of Kashmir protested against the transfer, army and paramilitary forces opened fire on the protestors, killing at least 60 people. A two-month blockade of the national highway in the Jammu region, by ultra nationalist Hindus, cut off the only supply line to the valley. The resulting shortages of food, medicines, and fuel were intended to apparently ‘teach the Kashmiris a lesson’.
In 2009, Asiya and Neelofar, two young women in south Kashmir’s Shopian region, went to work in a family orchard and didn’t come home in the evening. Later, their bodies were recovered in a security zone. They had been raped and tortured before being murdered. Protests against their gruesome murder grew rapidly across the valley, leading to a rebirth of the mass movement for Kashmir.
On April 30, 2010, the Indian Army claimed to have foiled an infiltration bid from across the Line of Control at the Machil Sector in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district by killing three ‘militants’ from Pakistan. However, it was subsequently established that the encounter had been staged and that the three alleged ‘militants’ were in fact civilians of Rafiabad in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district. They had been lured into the army camp by promises of jobs as porters for the army and were then shot in cold blood for the sake of a cash award.
On June 11th, protests against these killings began in downtown Srinagar. In turn, police officials started using massive force to disperse the protesting youth during which a teargas bullet killed 17-year-old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo who was playing cricket in the Gani memorial Stadium in Rajouri Kadal; this led to another spate of protests and killings. Several protest marches were organised across the valley in response to these ruthless killings, followed by clashes with police and CRPF leading to the death of another innocent boy. Thereafter, a vicious cycle was established. The killing of an innocent individual followed by protest demonstrations and clashes with the police, during which another innocent victim was killed, and that, yet again led to another protest.
This lethal cycle has only ended up in hundreds of innocent lives being lost.
Burhan Wani was 15-years-old at that time. He was out for a bike ride with his brother when the army stopped them, forced them to buy cigarettes, and then beat them up. Burhan managed to escape but his brother was detained and tortured. Shocked and enraged at the treatment by Indian forces, Burhan decided to pick up a gun. This was not an easy choice. Unlike other militants, Burhan did not bother concealing his identity. He maintained social media accounts and uploaded pictures of himself and his fellow militants. And Burhan was not the only one of his generation to witness torture, random arrests and extrajudicial executions. Hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri youth have been under illegal detention, including school going children who have been tortured. It was this youth that pledged allegiance to Burhan. They did not cross the Line of Control into Pakistan for arms nor were they trained militants.
With his killing, India’s worst nightmare came true; the emergence of new bases of solidarity in India siding by the Kashmiri struggle. Although still limited, protests and marches against the killings have been held in major cities including Delhi, Kolkata, Karnataka and Kerala.
Kashmir is a disputed region according to the United Nations. The legal basis of India’s claim to Kashmir is uncertain – resting on an Instrument of Accession – termed by many historians as forgery and signed by a tyrannical and unpopular leader who fled a popular uprising in 1947.
Since the execution anniversary of Afzal Guru in February this year, Facebook has been actively removing people’s posts about the Kashmir struggle, and blocking their accounts. Censorship and repression are not new to the Kashmiri people. Preventative measures such as these have been continuously applied to those daring to break the long silence on Indian abuse in Kashmir. Many writers, academicians and journalists accounts on Facebook were blocked for highlighting the human rights abuses in Kashmir. In 2010, writer Arundhati Roy was charged for sedition for saying that Kashmir has never been a part of India. Civil rights advocate, Gautam Navlakha, has been deported from Kashmir for rallying against the ruthlessness.
Police officials and a radical Hindu students union (ABVP), a student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been known to routinely shut down film screenings and talks on Kashmir on the grounds that they are “anti-national”.
Meanwhile, there is only one voice roaring from the left, right and centre, from loudspeakers of mosques, from street corners, from city squares, from atop of town halls and it is,
“Hum kya chahtey… azaadi”
(What do we want? Freedom).
And gagging that will never be possible.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.