The Land Stuck in Stubborn War
“I write to you for I must
Not as a tragic hero or scapegoat
Or one tribal outcast as poets must
But as one with the burden of truth
Though in your possession are truths
And versions of truth many
That best serves the modern conveniences…
Spend years a troublous life and you can’t flee
You’ll get nothing. Proven.
Dreaded dreams, tortured vision, torn and broken bodies
And faces disfigured with immeasurable grief
All but have left us withered, spinning
Our fatal passion. Look and see if
My speech is a worthless gift to you.”
– Parray Shahid
It is common knowledge that Kashmir, which used to be referred to as India’s Paradise once, has been reduced to a hotbed of war and violence now. While we sit at home commenting on the situation in the comfort of our drawing rooms, there are people who have forgotten or aren’t even aware of the meaning of ‘normalcy’ since decades altogether.
Do you know what it is to almost live in a state of emergency for the past 72 years? It’s easy to blame the young boys shouting slogans of azaadi today. However, do you ever stop to think what you would have done if you are denied regular education or if you had about 60% chances of being killed in a clash while you are out on the streets to perform a daily errand? I wouldn’t say whose fault it is because neither am I aware of all the facts nor is the issue simple enough to be divided into black and white. However, the truth is that children have been the worst victims of the unrest in Kashmir.
Thousands have been killed and injured. The ones who were lucky enough to survive have been traumatised for life. Some say that all these children have been brainwashed into believing lies. Yes, the environment you grow up in, definitely affects you. However, are human beings so stupid that they can be manipulated into believing anything and everything one wants, without any logic at all? After all, if today someone asks you to be a part of a movement demanding West Bengal to secede from India, would you do that?
The horror of militancy on the one hand and the monumental mistakes and violations by the state on the other has left many ordinary Kashmiris imprisoned between the battle lines.
We often hear ministers stating how Kashmir is an ‘integral part of India’ and this gives a charming boost to our hyper-nationalist souls. Yes, Kashmir is a part of India. But why treat Kashmiris differently then? Is Kashmir just a piece of land? Why has the world’s largest democracy forgotten to grant basic rights to the people it calls her own? Politicians are fighting and civilians and soldiers are dying as a result. When people talk about human rights in Kashmir, what we tend to forget is that soldiers are human beings too and they have the same rights as civilians. They don’t kill by will. Like pellet guns have killed and impaired thousands in the Valley, stones and terrorist sponsored separatism have killed and injured the security forces too.
It’s time we realize that Kashmir is not a People vs Army thing. They are just being used as scapegoats. After all, when the coffin comes home, the father of the teenage boy killed by a tear-gas shell fired by security forces and the father of a young soldier pumped with bullets by terrorists- share the same feeling of loss and heartbreak.
Parray Shahid (Separatist):
How did you get involved in the separatist movement?
Parray Shahid: I didn’t get involved, it’s in our inheritance.
What exactly is your demand as of now?
We acceded to India on terms of plebiscite besides the passage of autonomy resolution and self-rule. But if you are asking about the present, I would just say that we want to be separated from this hollow of democracy called India.
How did problems begin in the Valley?
Kashmir joined India as a quasi-independent region. We enjoyed short term self rule, indigenous leadership which we were eventually stripped of later. This is where the trouble began. The seeds of distrust were sown and trust between Delhi and Srinagar eroded.
But doesn’t Article 370 still exist?
Article 370 governed four things- plebiscite, self rule, autonomy and the Land Protection Act. Now what remains of it is the land protection only.
Initially the demand was about plebiscite and giving Kashmir the status of a separate country. Why did it suddenly change to demands of joining Pakistan?
They say…’enemy of your enemy is a friend’. Can I quote some statistics?
There have been several massacres in Jammu and Kashmir, predominantly in Kashmir. Estimated number of Hindus killed is 225-250, Sikhs 50 and Muslims is 800-900. Besides military repression there have been 8000 cases of disappearance, 70000 Kashmiri Muslim deaths and 2156 unidentified graves in 38 graveyards. These figures are from 1981 till 2011.
What about the massacre of the Kashmiri Pandits? Hindus were forced to leave Kashmir. There are still many who are living in refugee camps.
1991 was an evil. After insurgency, pundits were asked to leave and most of them did.
They were forced to. Orders were given out from mosques to kill them.
There are three instances of massacres committed on Hindus in 1997, 1998 and 2003 in which 150 or more people were killed. But very little is known about the genocide carried out during the time of insurgency.
If Kashmir is for Kashmiris then why are most of the separatists Muslims?
Haven’t you seen Sikhs in the pro-freedom gatherings? I’ve been with them. Yes, Hindus don’t participate. That’s because they have their reasons.
What are those reasons? Everyone is oppressed…
No, not everyone. You know what’s the most underreported phenomenon regarding Kashmir? It’s selective torture of Muslim families by the armed forces of India. Go to any village in Kashmir today. Frome every single one, you’ll find hundreds tortured, held prisoners without trial or any legal warrant. Let me quote a figure from the Human Rights Watch Reports- 1500 people have become impotent due to their genitals being electrocuted, hundreds of boys were raped in custody. A 60 year old man was held in solitary confinement for 30 days and fed his own flesh as they cut pieces from his body. All this is unaccounted for. No one is convicted.
Has the violence increased after the BJP-PDP coalition?
Yes, for sure. The reason is that RSS ideology doesn’t actually favour us. When they made coalition with PDP, the first thing they wanted is the removal of what’s left of Article 370.
Why does Kashmir seem to be all about Islam?
It’s the making of Indian media I would say. I have many Hindu friends living in Kashmir. Tell me about one single occasion since 2003 when Hindus were ill-treated in Kashmir. And they have joined ISIS links to us. It’s ridiculous! The geographic value of the region has ruined our land.
What is the current situation in Kashmir now?
If you ask me as a serious thinker, I would say if the military repression from India continues, we will soon have war on our hands since what the current generation has seen is only the graveyards populated in villages. We have hundreds of Guantonamo bays over here. If you ask me what India has done till date in Kashmir and why it has not been able to win over the hearts of the people in Kashmir even after 70 years of independence, I would say India has only waved the flag of democracy here to cover the genocide. I’ll tell you about some personal experiences. While we were kids, 14 August was the most feared day among us. In the evening, our parents, along with other people of the locality, would take us away from our villages due to the fear of forces coming to our village on 15 August and beating people and destroying property. The next day when we returned, we would find our window panes, glasses, etc, broken. No one ever knew.
Why would the army suddenly do that?
They would do it for pleasure and nothing more. One evening forces came to our home and took our father and locked him up at my uncle’s house for interrogation. My mother and sister begged and cried. I was so young that I couldn’t even process what was happening. We were plain people, simple people. The cries of my mother and sister still haunt me. They used to take a guy from our neighbourhood every month, lock him up, beat him, torture him and then after some days, drop him outside their gate like a beaten dog. Such was our childhood.
What the youth of Kashmir wants is a clean future like any normal kid. What makes them take part in stone pelting activities?
What the majority of the youth wants is separation from India. I’ve seen my friend being shot at point blank range. You want me to see him die and do nothing? Am I stripped off the right to raise my voice or show any sort of aggression? Tell me! All this rage that we see nowadays among the youth is the product of brutality India has carried out in Kashmir. This hatred is real and it has only grown over the years. Read about Kunan Poshpora and the bijbehara massacre.
There was a sting operation a few weeks back which revealed that a large section of stone pelters are hired in exchange of money. What do you have to say about that?
There maybe some truth to that. Some say it’s the political parties…I mean the ruling government. But what I see now is just the hate against anything that involves the word ‘government’.
Terrorists have been one of the main causes of concern in the Valley.. groups like the Lashkar e Taiba which operate from Pakistan. Why do we still see considerable support for them from people in Kashmir?
Tell me. What innocent killings?
People have been abducted and they have never returned. Family members who tried to contact the police have been killed. There was an incident on in August 2000 where an attempt was made to kill journalists. Shells were thrown. May 2002 attack on residential army camp in Kashmir.Women and children were killed.
And you’re quoting what?
The Unquiet Land
So what is your take on this? Why would Kashmiris support this?
I don’t know about the incident personally. I’ll have check with it. And besides we all know about attacks on army. That’s not new. That’s what’s it all about. Initially it was just Pakistan backed insurgency.Now local youth have gotten involved.And we already discussed that.
Thousands of men have just disappeared. And then there are unidentified bodies everywhere
And who do you think took them? Millitants?Are you crazy?I even have personal experience with these picking up of family members by the army.
I spoke to a social worker in the Valley about the movement.. he gave me a different picture.The protest, stone pelting, all that is there and it does come from the youth. But the Hurriyat has lost it’s relevance. No one protests because of the promise India made in 1947 but because of the alienation they are facing now.How true is this?
It’s true. Not entirely though. Because hurriyat will never lose its relevance.What we see nowadays is the youth making their own decisions.
And what are those decisions?
Protesting about the occupation, the killings, the mass graves, the genocide and everyday torture and arrest of young boys.I know for sure that a true Indian will never accept our perspective and our grievances.
You know I’ve got friends in Mumbai, UP, Delhi, Chandigarh , Haryana.We don’t treat you as enemies.We are easy going people. It’s just that this occupation by these lacs of forces has suffocated us. All these losses to families have created sense of hatred towards the army. And then the media tries to justify the brutalities.All this is so alienating.
There was this sting that they did on the Lashkar e Taiba cyber cell where a head reveals that people are planted in crowds while a protest is taking place to spread rumours. This way the mob gets violent casualties increase. How true is this?
I don’t know about it.Could be.
Senior Army Official (Name withheld due to protocols)
What is your take on the entire situation?
Separatism was never about religion. The Kashmiri youth were like people of any other state. Suddenly, in the past five years, they have changed from the t-shirt wearing fun loving youth to the shalwar kameez wearing protesters. Especially in a country like India, some socio-religious manipulations have to be done to create a huge movement. For example, a lot of people were converted to Christianity in the north-east during the unrest there. The same thing happened with Kashmir. Every village has 3-4 small mosques. Instead of praying there, people started to gather in one ‘bada masjid’. Instructions were given out from there and this is how people were united.
There are a lot of accusations of human rights violation by the army in Kashmir…
See, you can sit in Geneva and make a lot of Human Rights Reports but when there are ten of you against a crowd of thousands, you can’t keep all that in mind. The motive of the army is to control the crowd with as minimum harm as possible. The steps taken are drastic and instant and not well thought of. You also have to understand the psychology of the soldiers and the constant pressure that they go through everyday. They are looked upon as villains when they are just trying to do their job! Recently, there was a picture which went viral across social media where a man was tied to a jeep. There were around 10 jawaans in the jeep against a mob of 900. Had they fired, many would have died. So they did what seemed best at that point of time so that they could escape without hurting or getting hurt. Another case was where two boys were beaten in the police station. The reality is that they were making lewd remarks about a female officer. It is natural for you to get angry if someone makes such comments about your colleague.
One of the most famous stories was that 900 women in a village were raped by the army in one night. When I completed my training at the army camp, I was marked as a very self-respecting man. I can assure you that most soldiers are like that. Do you think I, or any soldier for that matter, would go down to the level of raping women in front of the entire battalion? It may so happen that one or two men are perverted. How come the entire force, every single soldier, rape 900 women in one night? So that’s a lie which they have propagated and are still propagating. There is another incident where a General was accused of raping a mother and daughter. The army decided to belief this version of the story and investigation started. However, in the forensic reports, it was discovered that the sperm found in the mother and daughter was that of the father. It is okay to be found in the mother but what about the daughter? Still, the General was punished. He was acquitted off the charge of rape but had to face trial for not being able to control the situation.
The army does react at times but it is only to defend themselves. A lot of lies are also propagated to disrupt the situation. However, what the army does is natural human behaviour. Their anger is justified too. When you’re there on the ground, theories of idealism and human rights don’t really work.
Najmu Saqib (Social Worker)
What exactly is the situation in Kashmir right now?
The situation in Kashmir is not very good as of now. No party, be it the national party or the separatist, is not in the mainstream and there’s a massive reaction coming from the youth as a backlash which is a result of no engagement with the youth. Today your agents of change, these young boys who are revolting, start participating in the agitation from the age of 8 and the political parties start talking to them only when they are 18. So there is this huge vacuum from the age of 8 till the age of 18 which is not filled with anything. The anger is because of that. What these guys have seen are stories of oppression and repression.
This is the generation which is bound by the rage. That’s one part of it. The other part is that there have been huge mistakes from all the sides in terms of the political outreach that was started. I mean we have to remember that When Vajpayee was the Prime Minister he wasn’t greeted with black flags in J&K. He was greeted and cheered at and people looked up to that because he had taken an initiative, a sort of a forward movement on the issue of Kashmir.
Deep down, what we have to understand is that the policy of highhandedness and the policy of driving these young boys to the war have not worked. So it’s time for reality check for all of us and we need to accept that whatever national policies we are implementing have miserably failed. I may personally even call it the death of mainstream. The credibility in the mainstream has been destroyed. The third part is that New Delhi has played a considerable role in destroying the credibility of mainstream. They have not delivered good governance. There is democratic deficit among these young guys. We have a very bad situation.
What is your take on the separatist movement?
I think should be far more concerned as of now more than any stream because they have considerably lost the hallowed leadership as they were in Kashmir. They have lost considerable ground. Mainstream has always been the victim but separatists have also lost the dominance of what we call the people’s movement. The young boys today don’t know Geelani or Yaseen Malik. They have no idea who they are. They are just revolting. It’s a problem that we need to face. They don’t listen to these separatists anymore. So it is more a problem for the separatists than it is for the mainstream because they are losing their relevance at a very fast rate. I think it’s time for a reality check for them too.
How has being neutral affected the lives of common citizens?
At the end of the day we have to understand that Kashmir has been in a perpetual conflict for decades altogether. The effect has been devastating on common people. We have lost hundreds of thousands of lives and the bond of social harmony has been torn. Our economy is in dooms. There are no industries left in Kashmir. We have suffered considerably because of this whole conflict. It is the reality that we need to look into. It has been very tough on common citizens. There is this mad rush and obsession to reject the muscular supremacy and if I am allowed to say so, the entire idea of India. That has been very detrimental.
What do you think is the motive behind the azaadi demand?
There is a section of people in J&K who want azaadi but there is also a large section who may think otherwise, like they are already thinking. As we have always said, democracy is a battle of ideas. It is not a battle of clashes. The violence should not be means of any revolution. What we are calling for is a non-violent means of protest even if they have those kinds of aspirations which we can have in a democracy. But violence is not the way. It only leads to more bloodshed. It destroys the whole society and even their aspirations. It takes credibility away from their movement. I think democracy is the solution to all the issues of Kashmir.
Only 6% people had voted in the recent elections. What do you think is the reason behind this?
What a lot of people are saying is that there was a lot of resentment with the PDP-BJP government. But had this been the only reason, people would have come out and voted for the National Conference. So I feel that the credibility and idea of mainstream in Kashmir is dead. People have given out a message. I think the 6% who have voted are all party workers. We don’t have a participatory democracy. It looks like a sort of fixture in the polity of J&K.
What according to you would help restore peace in the Valley?
We have to go for simultaneous things. Firstly, there needs to be a political engagement. It needs to be supplemented by other efforts but the pivotal point has to be through political engagement. The mainstream politics has become too hierarchical. Suppose a young boy wants to join a political party…so first he becomes the muhalla president then village president then block president then a district president and then if something great suddenly happens, he becomes an MLA or a minister. So there is this hierarchical thing which today’s generation does not connect to.
Today’s generation is the instant-fame generation. We have a generation of Instagram who are fast and up and about. They find these structures monolithic and archaic. We have to look at it from a different perspective. There needs to be an outreach to the people of Kashmir. What we are all resorting to are gimmicks and cosmetic touch. We need to have a comprehensive policy wherein you engage with them and feel their pain, be a part of their lives and even look for the job prospects. We have considerable amount of employment here. Unemployment is not the main problem.
What I am saying is that there is no sense of security in terms of job or life. I mean there is no peace! Some say that first we need to have peace and then all these things can be done but what I am saying is that first we need to go for these comprehensive policies wherein all these issues are addressed. Peace will automatically be restored in Kashmir then. There has also been resentment with the rise of the Right.
These young boys feel that their identity is being challenged and questioned and this is what they want to resist. There are a lot of issues and it can’t be healed overnight through a magic wand but we need to start somewhere. I think the answer to the whole problem is listening rather than speaking. We need to listen to these young boys. Not just stone pelters, we need to listen to everybody! Go to offices. There no one listens to you. There’s corruption, you don’t have the basic amenities. These boys haven’t seen anything in their lives except the negativity.
You see a different world in Instagram and when you see the reality in front of you the next morning you see battle between combatants from both sides of the border. So it’s a very frustrating situation for our young boys. What we need to focus on is more about hand-holding. Let’s not parent them, let’s not school them, let’s not lecture them on discipline. We need to hold their hands and walk by their sides. The previous generation was antagonized with Delhi but today’s generation is antagonized with India.
They feel that the people of India are against them. We could take these children for student exchange programmes to the other parts of the country and explore it. But what is more important is to get young students from mainland India to Kashmir. If they create bonds, connect to each other and understand each others problems and grievances, if they speak their hearts out…we have huge talents coming out of Kashmir…Whether it is music, whether it’s art, whether it’s sports or even Bollywood. We have Zaira Wasim. We have youthful aspirations here which have been curtailed, stopped to a very considerable extent. Those aspirations also need to be looked into.
The hope of prosperity, progress and development, the hope of a better Kashmir is there and these need to be channelized but unfortunately there has only been schooling and forcing and never guidance. We can’t reduce it into an Us vs Them! These are our boys, these are our fellow countrymen. We can’t just focus on the after effect. We have to address the root cause.
The root cause is that these young guys are alienated. It’s not that they are just power alienated. They don’t see any security in their lives. Now a lot of people will brand them as radicalised and fundamental youth. Okay fine! There is a section of youth who have resorted to violence but you cannot generalise. Who has gone their and talked to these young boys? See, stone-pelting is not a profession. You don’t make money out of it.
Let’s be honest and fair with these young boys. It’s not something we need to castigate them for. Let’s take the money equation out of the picture. It’s not just money. It’s more as a symbol of overcoming the oppression that they have faced in Kashmir. There’s no magic wand but we need to start right now because the situation is worsening by the day. It is going out of control.