by Jay Tripathi
(Swans - November 30, 2009) Chanting slogans, protesters weaved their way through the streets of Srinagar until they met an army blockade. A loudspeaker blared orders at them, they chanted slogans back. The loudspeaker went dumb and was replaced by the thunder of gunfire; the slogans were replaced by bawls of panic and pain. Amidst this chaos a boy picks up a stone.
This has been the scene from the recent protests against the government stand on the Shopian rape and murder case. One protester, Dawar (name changed), described how, upon witnessing such a violent response to a peaceful protest, enraged, some of the "crazy" youth started pelting stones at the forces: "it was like a fight by the third world, the oppressed against the modern war machinery of the oppressor." When asked why they acted in this manner, he replied: "for Kashmir, for Azadi."
Since 1990, with the advent of militancy in the Kashmir valley, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives extraordinary powers to the Indian security forces, has been enforced in Jammu and Kashmir. The decision to evoke this act has been criticized by the Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and several other organizations of international standing. On 23 March 2009, UN Commissioner for Human Rights N. Pillay even asked India to repeal this Act. She termed the law as "dated and colonial-era relic, breaching contemporary international human rights standards."
Since this act was enacted, more than 34,000 people have died as an effect of the conflict, and according to official sources, at least 1,745 civilians have "disappeared" (Amnesty International). The real figure is probably much higher.
It has now been more than 19 years since this law has been in place and a whole generation of Kashmiris have been born and have spent virtually their entire life under its effect. Prisoners in their own home, facing curfews, indiscriminate firings, searches, disappearances, and rapes their entire lives.
In face of such repression, the young are getting attracted to more radical, more aggressive ideologies. With a whole generation radicalizing at an increasing rate the peaceful, tolerant spirit of Kashmiriyat is dying a slow death.
People of Kashmir agreed on accession to India in return for some special privileges. Over the years Kashmir was stripped of these privileges, which led to discontentment among the people and the constant fanning of this fire across the border leads to an armed struggle against India. 1988 was the year the struggle started, the same year I was born. My senses came to life with war cries and the sound of gunfire, and since then I have been in search of a nation which is mine.
These are the words of one of the protesters, Ashraf Mir, a student of Pune University, who would rather call himself a Kashmiri than an Indian.
Others like Waqar, Sharique, and Aaquib, who all hail from Kashmir but study elsewhere, said that the persecution did not end at the State border. The moment their identity is known, people look at them warily; they've trouble finding accommodation, and usually end up paying higher rent. Waqar described an incident when he was stopped by a traffic policeman and upon seeing his J&K license the cop crudely told him, "What have you come here for? You don't belong here. Go to Pakistan."
Such incidents are common to the life of an average Kashmiri and aren't even the tip of the iceberg. Aaquib inquires: "We are treated like second rate people throughout India. Theoretically we are citizens but practically we are refugees. You tell me! Why won't we ask for independence?"
This often repeated demand for independence in itself needs to be understood in its very basic form. In a land that has been their home for generations, people want the usual certainties of life we take for granted outside Kashmir; something as simple as crossing a street without being stopped and all but strip-searched or being brought down by a jawan's or a militant's bullet.
What was once paradise on earth now resembles a war zone. The smiles snatched away from its people's faces, their lives devoid of life and their children growing up, deprived of childhood.
Heaven hath become Hell.
If you find our work valuable, please considerfinancially.