Smita Singh in Bangalore and in Srinagar

From Hard News: “Why Kashmir Burns

“I was 13 in March 1991 when I reached Kashmir. My father was posted there as part of the army’s Engineering Signals Regiment. I looked out as our convoy crawled through the empty streets of Srinagar, silent but for the graffiti screaming from a wall here, a poster there – ‘Indian Dogs Go Away’, ‘We Want Freedom’, ‘Hizbul Mujahideen Zindabad‘, some incomprehensible scrawls in Urdu – until we entered the cantonment. Bungalows and beautiful lawns, tree-lined pavements and the olive green of the uniforms – comforting, familiar and welcome. The images of the ghost town receded, but not for long.

It was the year of the Kanun Poshpura rapes. Kashmir was ablaze with anger at the alleged mass rape of women in the village by army soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles. According to the villagers, on February 23, 1991, the men were rounded up for questioning while the soldiers entered their homes and raped the women. Women: anywhere from 23 to 100 in number, 13- to 80-year-old, married, unmarried and pregnant. After many complaints by local and international media about the lack of proper investigation, massive agitations, and more violence, a committee set up by the Press Council of India, at the request of the army, was sent to investigate the case.

The Press Council is neither a government body nor an investigative one. The case was never investigated by the police because ASP Dilbaugh Singh was first said to be on leave and by July had been transferred out of the region. In its report, the committee called the allegations a hoax to malign the army, instigated by militant groups and, of course, the ubiquitous foreign hand.

I returned to Kashmir 18 years later to another summer, another agitation. On May 30, 2009, the bodies of 22-year-old Neelofar and her 17-year-old sister-in-law, Asiya, were discovered in a stream in the apple town of Shopian. Their family and locals suspected foul play even as early post-mortem reports suggested rape and murder. It took no less than six months, three post-mortems, an exhumation, four suspensions of state police officers, besides the charge-sheeting of six doctors, five lawyers and two witnesses – and hundreds injured in agitations – for the CBI to conclude that there had been no rape or murder.

The CBI indicted 13 people for falsifying evidence to malign the security forces. The deaths were attributed to drowning in the Rambi Ara Nallah – first of its kind in living memory. No one had ever drowned in the stream before.

My husband tells me of a great grand uncle’s wish on his death bed, “Yile aes azaad gatchow maine kabre peth ieezew van-ne.” (When Kashmir is azaad, come to my grave and let me know.) He died when Kashmir was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh.Indefinable and fast receding, freedom may be a very distant dream for this generation, but their urgent demand is acknowledgment of the existence they have and of our complicity in it. It’s our inability to talk about Kashmir outside the framework set by popular media, government propaganda and the rhetoric of nationalism, that fails us in the eyes of Kashmir today – both the land and its people.”

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