Parvaiz Bukhari in Srinagar

From The Nation, “Kashmir 2010: The Year of Killing Youth

“This capital city of Indian-controlled Kashmir is now often engulfed in deathly silence, with tangled coils of concertina wire blocking its arteries. Jittery Indian troops in battle gear man the streets in this historically contested Himalayan valley of fabled beauty. Once in a while the silence is broken as armored vehicles whiz past.

Citizens under round-the-clock curfew are locked up inside their homes here, as they are in every town in the valley. For three months, shops, businesses, most government offices and schools have been shut. In a convulsion of anti-India anger, residents—thousands at a time—have defied curfew and harsh restrictions to come out on the streets almost daily, raining stones at everything that symbolizes the state’s authority. They have fought pitched battles with police and paramilitary forces, who have responded with lethal force, killing over a hundred residents in as many days, mostly teenagers and youth.

This summer’s troubles began in May, when soldiers killed three villagers in the frontier area of Kalaroos, near the heavily militarized de facto border, called the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The men were initially branded as “terrorists who had sneaked in” from the Pakistani side, but a rare police investigation subsequently revealed that soldiers had killed the villagers in cold blood.

The incident triggered widespread protests, strengthened by the long local memory of extrajudicial killings, torture and mass repression at the hands of Indian government forces, which for years struggled to put down a bloody insurgency that broke out in 1989. Those same forces now enjoy impunity in these times of the global war on terror. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who visited the region in the aftermath of the incident, came close to condoning the killing of civilians by saying that in a difficult situation, innocent people sometimes “have to suffer.” But the incident reminded Kashmiris of hundreds of unmarked graves in the frontier areas. Locals and human rights groups suspect the graves contain bodies of some of the nearly 8,000 civilians who were “disappeared” during the indiscriminately harsh Indian military campaign against the Pakistan-backed Muslim rebels, who unsuccessfully fought to wrest Kashmir from Indian rule.”

“Now the armed militants have been replaced by armies of stone-throwing youth. In the battle of stone versus bullet, the “Gen Next” of Kashmir feel they have a moral advantage over the might of the Indian state. “When I throw stones at soldiers, I know I’m staring death in its face. How else can I fight for justice without being called a terrorist?” a jeans-clad young protester said, declining to give his name, as he peered through holes in his cloth mask during a recent street clash with paramilitaries in Srinagar.

‘We’re fighting for an end to Indian occupation, for that day when we can freely decide what kind of future we want for ourselves as a people,’ Masarat Alam told me. Alam, a Muslim who was educated in a Christian missionary school, is a member of the resistance leadership, which issues rotating protest calendars every week, channeling and encouraging public anger in the hope of winning independence from Indian rule. In the past, separatists were divided along ideological lines, with some advocating Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan and others seeking full independence for the entire divided region from both India and Pakistan. Of late, the resistance leadership has tactically set aside those differences and put up a united front to wrest the region from Indian control.

Every day brings news of more unarmed protesters killed somewhere in Kashmir. The children of the conflict fight the soldiers with stones during daytime and record their memory at night, using Internet-based social media like Facebook and YouTube both to mobilize within Kashmir and to communicate with the outside world. They are delving deep in the archeology of their political history to establish connections with the past and build an archive of their memory for the future.

An example of this occurred on June 11, when the youth of one Srinagar locality planned a demonstration in memory of the victims of a massacre that had occurred seventeen years earlier, when Indian paramilitary forces had killed twenty-eight unarmed civilians. Authorities locked down the area. During protests that erupted in the adjacent neighborhood, police killed a schoolboy by firing a tear-gas canister directly at his head. The brutality ignited passions across Kashmir, triggering a deadly cycle of protests and retaliatory killings by government forces. That’s when the new, intifada-like uprising for the right to self-determination began in earnest, and when the words “Go India, Go Back” and “We Want Freedom” began to appear on the lanes and shuttered shops all over the region. On September 17, the intensity of the protests forced the government to call out the army and enforce a siege of the populated areas.

Many among the Indian political class have recently started expressing outrage at the killings of unarmed Kashmiris. But in the minds of the Kashmiris who fight the soldiers in their neighborhoods, their future is irreconcilable with that of India. In a population of 10 million, 70,000 civilians have been killed in a span of two decades, stories of widespread torture are common lore, and soldiers are protected by impunity laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The law empowers soldiers to kill any person suspected of trying to commit an offense, to search homes without a warrant and to destroy buildings suspected of harboring militants. Soldiers accused of human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings and rape cannot be prosecuted unless the federal government grants permission, of which not a single instance exists despite hundreds of petitions.

Two decades of military crackdown have transformed Kashmir into a powder keg of bitter memories. Residents often say they are subjected to collective punishment whenever they rise in protest. One protester, a postdoctoral student at the University of Kashmir, showed me a long list of crimes like rape, torture and custodial killings allegedly committed by Indian forces that he distributes among fellow demonstrators. Arguing that justice and Kashmir’s future within India are incompatible, he said, ‘Can India afford justice in Kashmir? No.’ Another protester, who said that as a young boy he witnessed two of his siblings killed and his mother molested by troops, told me, ‘To live honorably in Kashmir means to keep fighting India.'”

On the eve of the delegation’s three-day visit, three more young men, who had sustained gunshot injuries in previous days, died in hospitals, and a woman was killed by troops when a group of them were taunted by locals while withdrawing for the night from the northern town of Sopore.

“While New Delhi awaits the assessment of the visiting lawmakers, Kashmiris have already added another chapter to their unforgiving memory: year 2010 is the ‘year of killing youth.'”


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