Living in the shadow of guns: Life in militarised Kashmir

Published in The Alternative

As my friend and I went to each stall in Dilli Haat in the capital city of Delhi, a group of Kashmiris called out to us. We went to their stall of stoles and pashmina shawls. As they were convincing us to buy a stole, one of them, a middle aged man, remarked, ‘We came here from Kashmir to avoid curfew but here also it is like a curfew’. He had related the curfew situation in Kashmir, when no one would go out on the streets, to the negligible crowd that was visiting Dilli Haat.

It may seem like an illogical connection between two completely different situations, however, it tells us about the experience that the man had in his hometown in Kashmir. The effect was so profound that it has entered his language. Kashmir is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world, with a deployment of half a million military, paramilitary and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in addition to the ever-expanding ranks of the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP). Kashmir is one of the core issues in Indo-Pak relations. China has also claimed a part of Kashmir. In the context of these “foreign” threats combined by internal conflicts, since the 1990s, Kashmir has been militarized in order to uphold the “integrity of the nation”. But at what cost? What is it like to live in Kashmir? How is the “everyday” in Kashmir?

pic-04-kashmiri-protester-being-beaten-by-indian-security-fo

Gar Firdaus, Bar-Rue Zamin Ast, Hami Asto, Hami Asto, Hami Asto

(If there is heaven on earth, it is here in Kashmir)

This famous couplet forms the common sensibility of the masses, and to them, Kashmir poses as the ideal vacation spot. However, the valleys are as dangerous as they are beautiful. Though this is also a known fact to the common people in the rest of the country, what is unknown is that this danger is not only posed by militants and insurgents, but by their own army men as well. This has been the unfortunate fate of Kashmir.

At the time of Independence, both India and Pakistan had claimed Kashmir, but Kashmir wanted to remain independent. In the wake of the threats from Pakistan, the then Kashmir ruler approached the Indian state and signed the Instrument of Accession. According to the bond, Kashmir had become a part of the Indian union temporarily, and a plebiscite would be conducted to decide the fate of Kashmir. But the plebiscite never happened. The Kashmiris feel cheated and this has led to secessionist groups, and a struggle for Azaadi or freedom. It is difficult to ascertain if this movement for Azaadi is an unanimous voice but the discontent of the Kashmiris towards the Indian state is definitely unanimous. The reason being the heavy militarization of Kashmir that has disrupted civilian life.

The landscape of Kashmir is mapped by army check-points and camps which are impossible to pass without being interrogated. Kashmiris live in a state of constant fear of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, sexual harassment, torture, and custodial deaths, legally supported by the draconian laws – Disturbed Areas Act, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety act that has granted the security force personnel unrestricted power to carry out their operations, search, torture and killing of “suspects”.

People live in the shadow of guns, where every day is characterized by fear and threat to life and honour. Encounters with military and paramilitary forces begin with stepping out of their house for any reason, at any point of time. They have to show their identity card, and failing to produce one can mean torture, rape or death. But this does not mean that the house is a safe place. At any moment, the army men can come and raid the house. The night is most dreadful as the army men begin their search. In the name of searching for “militants”, all they do is to raid villages, break-open doors of  random houses, and identify the male in the house as a “suspect”.

According to news reports, during the search operations, there have been many reported and unreported cases of sexual assault and rape. One of the most gruesome rape cases that had rocked the valley was the Kunan Poshpora Incident. On the night of 23rd November 1991, the 68th Brigade of the Fourth Rajputana Rifles had surrounded the village of Kunan Poshpora for a ‘cordon and search operation’. According to the report by the J&K State Human Rights Commission (JKSHRC), an autonomous body, constituted by the state government under the Human Rights Protection Act (1993), entered the village. The men folk of the village were made to gather outside. Small groups of 4-5 personnels entered the homes forcefully. They were all drunk. They gang-raped women in the houses. They did not spare even minors as some of the victims were as young as eight years old. The gang-rapes continued till 4 in the night. A police man had tried to raise alarm for help from the loudspeaker of the local mosque but he was killed by the army personnels. The Kunan Poshpora incident had received national and international media coverage, yet the Government, the judiciary did nothing. Rapes by army men are very common in Kashmir and the rapists enjoy legal immunity.

Kashmir also has a significant population of half-widows or women who do not know whether their husbands are alive or not. There is a high record of custodial deaths, extra-judicial killings and torture. There are stories where young men are picked up by the army men while they are going to the mosque or to the marketplace, never to return again.

Because of militarisation, today, Kashmir is, what a Kashmiri youth had told Haley Duschinski, “a beautiful prison”.

This is the unfortunate fate of Kashmir. In the name of “protecting” national interests, this seems to be a situation of citizens’ rights v/s human rights. It is another tragic reality of the world. The modern nation-states were crafted by dividing territories. Since their formation, there has been a persistent struggle for controlling as well as extending territory. In order to survive, they also instilled strong and blinding emotions of patriotism. And in all this struggle for “territory”, they forgot the inhabitants of the territory. An average Indian would tell you the importance of Kashmir. “Kashmir belongs to us”, he would state fiercely. The confidence and pride instilled in the voice would mistake one to believe that the person actually cares. He does care, but only for the territory, not for the Kashmiris.

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