Last Friday, August 5th, was Kashmir’s Bloody Friday

Published: August 10, 2016
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Prime minister Narendra Modi. PHOTO: AFP

August 9, 2016: Breaking his 32-day long silence on Kashmir, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has made a statement which is full of empty political rhetoric, and lacks enough substance to address the real issue concerning the political aspiration of Kashmiris.

“It is said that boys who should be holding laptops, cricket bats have been handed stones in their hands,” Modi said while addressing a rally in Madhya Pradesh’s Alirajpur district.

This irresponsible and juvenile statement stereotyped Kashmiris as gullible and naïve people who are ready to pick up a stone at someone’s behest.

“Every Indian loves Kashmir. The freedom that every Indian has also belongs to every Kashmiri. We want the same bright future for every youth in Kashmir,” he said.

A bright future after blinding them forever with pellets? Where all, aside from Kashmir, have government forces killed 60 civilians, injured 6,000 and blinded over 300 within a span of 30 days, he wouldn’t bother to explain. He further added,

“Whatever Kashmiris want for betterment of their livelihood, the centre will help. We want development for Jammu and Kashmir. Be it the J&K government under Mehbooba Mufti or the central government, we are finding solution to all problems through development.”

The development of pellet guns and bullets, perhaps.

For rhetorical purposes alone, Modi invoked Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s famous words again and ended up saying nothing concrete on ways to address the Kashmir dispute politically.

“There are ways, including dialogue, to resolve issues in a democracy. My government believes in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s mantra of insaniyat, jamhuriyat and Kashmiriyat (humanity, democracy and Kashmiriyat).”

Mr Narendra Modi’s silence over the killings of 60 unarmed Kashmiris, grave pellet-and-bullet injuries to over 6,000 civilians and the blinding of over 300 Kashmiri youth since July 9th is least surprising to most Kashmiris.

After all, it has been India’s ‘standard operating procedure’ (SOP) to speak to Kashmiris in a language of power since 1947, with the sole aim of criminalising their political struggle. In this endeavour of delegitimising the Kashmiris struggle for the right to self-determination, understanding the language of India’s corporate-owned media and the armed forces operating in Kashmir becomes very critical.

For instance if 50,000 common Kashmiris, including women and children, will gather at a place to demonstrate peacefully for their political rights, the Indian media will use the word “miscreants” for such a huge assembly of people. Mind you, this is being done deliberately to mislead the common Indians. They’re trying to make it seem that these people who have gathered in such colossal numbers have assembled at the behest of Pakistan, and, therefore, any amount of force used by government forces against them stands ‘justified.’

For the sake of an argument, if everything in Kashmir is happening at Pakistan’s behest, it is a reflection of India’s standing in Kashmir. That is, however, another story.

Not only this, when the trigger-happy Indian paramilitary Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) and accountable-to-none armed forces open direct fire on peaceful and unarmed protesters, the injured are described as “stone pelters”, “miscreants”, “agitational terrorists” and “terrorist sympathisers.” This colonial language is employed by vast sections of the Indian media, especially television channels and government forces to justify India’s colonial practices in Kashmir.

Here is an example.

A statement issued by the J&K Police Media Centre on August 8th reads,

“….It is clarified that a mob of more than 2000 miscreants assembled at main chowk Langate (north Kashmir) and started heavy stone pelting on deployment and police post Langate, due to which 38 police/security personnel were injured. While dispersing the mob, 11 miscreants were injured, most of them due to stampede out of which three of them were referred to Srinagar. The condition of all of them is stable…”

Now look at this statement carefully and focus on the choice of words. First, the police use the term “mob” for common people. Secondly, they are described as “miscreants”. Thirdly, they are then accused of “stone pelting” on the deployed forces and police posts in Langate, north Kashmir.

These are blatant lies.

The number of people participating in a demonstration is reduced by design. The people are shown as “perpetrators” and the police as “victims”. Then, derogatory terms are used to describe people and their actions or lack thereof. The police never come up with solid evidence to prove their men are indeed injured. If they are injured, they should be admitted in hospitals, undergoing treatment. But that is not the case.

The question that arises is; where do government forces gather such courage, to peddle lie after lie, and that even on a public domain? The state’s shameless backing of violence against common people and a draconian law, which acts as a shield against persecution, are two major factors behind this audaciousness.

When Omar Abdullah, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and working president of the pro-autonomy National Conference (NC), was running a coalition government with Congress from 2009 to 2014, more than 117 persons, mostly boys in their teens, were mercilessly killed by government forces during the summer mass agitation. Not a single guilty armed forces person has been punished till date.

This became possible because the armed forces enjoy impunity and a license to kill in Kashmir under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, AFSPA, which is in force in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990. The fact that hardly any perpetrator is punished only emboldens the armed forces to go berserk and walk out scot free.

Even in 2008, when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Congress were running a coalition government, more than 60 Kashmiri civilians, most of them in their teens, were killed when they were protesting against the sanctioning of 99 acres of land to Amarnath Shrine Board.

Having said that, it may be very convenient and politically smart for the junior Abdullah to ask New Delhi whether “it has declared a war on the people in Kashmir” at a juncture when the PDP is heading a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir – but the fact remains that he too could not prevent civilians killings when he was at the helm of affairs in 2010.

On August 6th, Omar Abdullah said the following statement in a conversation with India Today,

“Has New Delhi declared a war on the people in Kashmir? Hundreds of young boys and girls have potentially life-changing injuries, most of them caused by pellet guns. Thousands of youngsters have sustained injuries in this unrest. To blame Pakistan for the unrest or to delude ourselves into thinking this is a law and order situation is criminal. There is an extreme sense of resentment and disenchantment among the youth of the Valley and that is the basis of this unrest.”

The Indian media is at liberty to dub Omar Abdullah a “Pakistan sympathiser” for making a statement that he has made as an opposition leader.

Take a look at another statement made by yet another pro-India legislator, Hakim Yasin, the People’s Democratic Forum (PDF) chief and MLA Khansahib Budgam, who said that the Indian forces were repeating a Jallianwallah Bagh type of massacre in Kashmir on a daily basis,

“The way British used brute force on unarmed protesters at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, forces in Kashmir are repeating the same in Kashmir every day. Why are unarmed protesters targeted by the forces in every nook and corner of Kashmir.”

Hakim Yasin told the local media.

The Kashmir story that the corporate-owned Indian media won’t tell the ordinary Indian audiences is precisely this.

Since July 9, 2016, at least 60 unarmed Kashmiris have been killed in cold blood by Indian armed forces; inflicting pellet and bullet injuries on 6,000 unarmed Kashmiris. Besides, more than 1500 Kashmiri youth have been arrested, some in nocturnal raids for participating in demonstrations. At least 1030 FIRs have been registered by the police for further persecution and harassment of the youth. Furthermore, Kashmiris are suffering under a strict curfew and unprecedented restrictions enforced by the PDP-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government since July 9th. A ban on mobile and data internet on all cellular services except the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has been imposed and outgoing call facilities are unavailable for pre-paid mobile phone customers.

Last Friday, August 5th, was Kashmir’s Bloody Friday. More than 400 Kashmiris received serious pellet-and-bullet injuries after government forces acted violently to stop people from demonstrating against the state violence across Kashmir. Doctors at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital told me that at least 324 youth, hit by the pellet guns, are on the verge of losing their eyesight permanently. Doctors said that most boys have been hit in the eye which has damaged their retina beyond repair.

Dr Raashid Maqbool said,

“We have performed as many as 65 surgeries until Monday morning.”

Dr Ruveda Salam, a lady IAS officer from north Kashmir, working as an assistant commissioner at the ministry of finance, government of India, could not stop herself from speaking against the state violence.

On August 3rd, Dr Salam took a dig at Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and PDP by writing this on her Facebook timeline:

“From wooing voters while wearing colour #green to painting #red the same valley streets, and then they question the credentials of the same religion whose symbols they used to mask their evil deeds” #hypocrisy couldn’t get worse than this.”

In response to her post, she was harassed by a senior police officer, who also made a misogynist remark, by calling Dr Salam an “ignorant lady”. Police officer Harmeet Singh Mehta threatened Dr Salam of government action, as if he was PDP’s spokesperson. He said,

“Government (PDP-BJP coalition government) must take action against you (Dr Ruveda Salam) as a civil servant spreading so much venum (venom) against state. Better resign and join some separatist group.”

Following the assassination of a popular tech-savvy Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, on July 8th under mysterious circumstances in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, massive azadi rallies are being organised on a daily basis across the Kashmir Valley since. According to moderate estimates, at least 300,000 people had gathered in south Kashmir’s Tral, Burhan’s hometown, to participate in his funeral. Such a huge assembly had already made a statement and India was losing a battle of narratives in Kashmir.

People in Kashmir were already scared of India becoming a Hindutva project when right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into power – his statement has only made the situation worse. Kashmiris feel they are under severe attack as they have become victims of invasive politics, aimed at crushing their identity as Kashmiris and Kashmiri Muslims.

Even after 60 civilian killings and injuries to around 6,000 Kashmiris in the last 30 days, the state unit of the Hindu nationalist BJP has asked the government to deal with the current situation in the Kashmir Valley decisively and with an “iron hand.” BJP’s state spokesperson, Virender Gupta, said that there was no option for the government other than meeting the challenge posed by the “separatists and terrorists supported by Pakistan decisively and with an iron hand otherwise the situation will deteriorate further and it may not be possible to bring back normalcy in the Valley.”

Gupta told a news agency,

“At present the morale of the state police, CRPF and other security forces have gone down because of the recent happenings where lots of restrictions have been imposed on them.”

This is Kashmir’s story.

And this Karbala is Kashmir’s ‘normalcy’ for which the Indian media obviously has no time. It will relentlessly debate cows, cow protection and cow vigilantism and how Modi beats the drums in Kenya, but will not gather moral courage to narrate Kashmir’s story with a human heart and an unbiased journalistic approach; shedding jingoistic spectacles and hyper-nationalistic binoculars.

After all, India is a democracy and its image can’t be tarnished for the sake of 7.5 million Kashmiris.

Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani

The author is a writer, journalist and political commentator from Srinagar, the South Asian Journalism Programme (SAJP) scholar 2015, the first Kashmiri to be selected as Munich Young Leader 2014. He has also served the Deutsche Welle, in Germany, as an editor. He tweets as @gowhargeelani

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.