No matter how many times you report the Kashmir story, it remains the same. Violence begets violence. One death leads to another. Over 100 deaths in over 100 days. Wailing and weeping parents in the blood-soaked Kashmir Valley have been burying their children almost daily. The unrest began June 11 — and it seems unending.
Just how did it all start?
A stray tear smoke shell lobbed by police hit a schoolboy, Tufail Mattoo, in Old City’s Rajouri Kadal June 11. He died. The valley suddenly erupted. Even as people prayed and prayed that things should get better, it only got worse. Now, not a day passes when people are not killed or injured in firing.
“Kashmir has become a cursed land. The separatists blame the security forces for firing at people and the security forces blame separatists for inciting innocents to resort to violence and arson,” moaned Farooq Ahmad, a video journalist who records the mayhem with chilling regularity.
“Deaths and injuries have been reduced to statistics,” he said.
The bloodshed has hardened the stand of separatist leaders while common people are shut indoors — either by separatist-called shutdowns or curfews imposed by the authorities. The separatists argue they have reached a point of no return because of the refusal by the Indian government to concede their demands.
The authorities say curfews have become inevitable because whenever the separatists hold so-called peaceful protests; these have invariably ended in arson and violence. But the fact remains that the anti-India protests have spread to such areas of the valley where locals had never raised any anti-India voice in the decades since India became independent in 1947.
The separatist agenda is now heard even in areas near the Line of Control (LoC) bordering Pakistan where locals have lived in absolute harmony with the Indian Army. Two such areas are Gurez and Tangdhar.
The government of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has made fervent appeals to New Delhi to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some areas. The legislation gives near legal immunity to security forces. The separatists are not amused by Abdullah’s arguments.
“These are cosmetic steps to prolong Indian rule in Kashmir and we will not even talk about it unless demilitarization starts in Kashmir under the supervision of some credible independent agency,” said hard-line separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani. Geelani is for the merger of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, with Pakistan.
Alarmed by the number of civilian deaths, non-lethal weapons like pump action guns (PAGs), pepper balls and water cannons have been issued to the security men. Ironically, the rubber bullets have also killed many. Now these are being gradually phased out.
“The key to avoiding fatalities during crowd control lies in maintaining the mandatory distance between mobs and security forces,” a police officer said. “But this has become difficult to follow because the mobs in the valley are not what we see elsewhere in the country,” he said.
The officer said the mobs become so violent at places that they even mount armoured vehicles of security forces.
“Because young boys and children are pushed into these mobs, one can hardly understand their psyche unless you see it happening. I have seen children hammering vehicles with rocks as if they were trying to open a tin box of sweets,” the officer said.
Everyone has suffered: transporters, wage earners and shopkeepers.
“Violence always eats its own children but perhaps none among the so-called political leaders of the valley realises this,” said Abdul Majid, a 48-year-old whose nephew sustained serious injury during a street protest in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.