On July 8, 2016 government forces killed Burhan Wani, a young rebel commander in his early 20s in Kashmir’s Kokernag area. A dapper, swashbuckling leader, who efficiently leveraged social media, Burhan’s death innervated Kashmiri youth, who poured out on streets in thousands to express their anger.
Despite a strict curfew imposed by the government in Srinagar, close to 300,000 people attended Burhan’s funeral prayers. Reports suggested that mourners poured in from far-off hamlets — on bicycles, tractors, load carriers, motorcycles and on foot. Fifty back-to-back janazas of the slain rebel were offered.
Earlier this year when Mufti Muhammad Sayed, the then chief minister of India-held J&K died, less than 3,000 people attended his funeral. The contrast could not have been starker for the person in the thick of this all — Mufti’s daughter and the current chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti.
More than 50 boys have been killed and thousands injured during three weeks of intense clashes in IHK.
At the centre of public anger, Ms Mufti has been booed recently as she made a rare public appearance. Her ministers have been stoned in several places. In fact, a photo-op attempt with the kin of a few boys killed in police firing, resulted in her being dubbed as the ‘condolence queen’ — someone who watches hysterically as young kids get shot at and killed wantonly.
More than 50 boys have been killed and thousands injured in Kashmir during the latest upsurge in violence. The police there aided by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Indian army has used live ammunition to break up protests.
The use of ‘non-lethal’ pellet guns to control crowds has proven especially disastrous. Scores of young men have lost their eyesight and hundreds others have sustained serious injuries due to the ‘pellet terror’.
The aim to inflict maximum physical and psychological damage on protesters — by effectively blinding them — has led many to directly question the ethics and moral blindness of India’s policies in Kashmir.
Just like Shakespeare’s King Lear, where the king’s blindness is the primary cause of many bad decisions he made; India and its local administrators in the valley find themselves in a state of denial around the excessive use of force.
Doctors in Srinagar’s leading hospitals — SKIMS and SHMS — attending to the injured, speak of the horror of noticing “sharp and irregular-shaped pellets” injuries in the retinas of young men and women, which is causing “long-term damage” to these kids.
Besides maiming a person forever, pellet injuries to eyes may also result in partial or zero restoration of vision. Not surprisingly, there is rage against the Kashmir government and its colonial policing tactics.
Kashmiris have answered India’s aggression by observing a general strike for more than three weeks now. The picketing, even if purely symbolic (resulting in an estimated loss of more than Rs1billion daily to Kashmir’s economy) has been fashioned to challenge the government’s writ.
Steered by the united Hurriyat Conference, businesses have kept their shutters down, workers have stayed home and schools and offices have remained closed.
Each evening, for the last 23 days, mosques, spread across the length and breadth of the valley — that is lush with the bloom of a million flowers around this time of the year — reverberate with songs and anthems of Kashmir’s freedom.
Slogans extolling the right to self-determination are commonplace. Graffiti written in praise of militants has come up in several places. The fury is reminiscent of the early 1990s when armed insurgency first started in the disputed valley.
However the uprising of 2016 is markedly different from the 1990s in more than one way. A new generation of Kashmiris in the foreground is both defiant and daring. The impetuosity is newfound.
Even Kashmir’s police chief recently admitted that the valley “continues to remain tense” and that the ongoing “protests are of extreme nature which have proved difficult to control” for the government forces.
Blocking the internet and mobile phone services have proved to be of little help — much to the chagrin of the security grid in Kashmir. Protests raged on even as government gagged the local press from publishing for four consecutive days in recent weeks.
Condemnation over India’s high-handedness has been swift. Expressing regret over the loss of lives and injuries in the clashes, UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on parties to exercise “maximum restraint” to avoid further violence in Kashmir.
Even as major global powers like the US and China joined in to express concern over the growing unrest in the valley, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — a quixotic right-wing politician who usually revels in communicating through social media — has maintained a steady silence over the issue.
It is exactly this ability of India to deny responsibility for its damnable actions in the valley — also called plausible deniability — that has increased acrimony in Kashmir. The Burhan episode has simply given an aperture, a vent to the aspirations of millions.
Like an unskilled healer, India is scrambling to meliorate the fever, without tending to the underlying manifestation of the problem. Left untreated, it ulcerates — time and again.
Kashmir is akin to political magma that burbles. No amount of doles and packages and handouts will fix it. Unless the main stakeholders — India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir — sit down to find a peaceful resolution to this vexed problem, Kashmir will continue to lacerate the body politic of the Indian subcontinent.
The writer is currently working on his debut novel set in Kashmir.
Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2016