The Kashmir valley is now often gripped with deathly silence, with tangled coils of concertina wires blocking its alleys. Indian troops in battle gear rove the streets in this Himalayan valley of fabled beauty.
In a paroxysm of anti-India anger, the residents—thousands at a time—have defied harsh restrictions to come out on the streets almost daily, raining stones at everything that symbolizes India in Kashmir. They have fought pitched battles with Government forces, who have responded with lethal force, killing hundreds of residents since 2016, mostly teenagers and youth.
This troubles visible in the valley today began in July 2016, when soldiers killed three Militants in the Kokernag area of South Kashmir, including Popular Militant commander, Burhan Wani.
The incident triggered a civilian uprising, strengthened by an unending memory of killings, torture and mass repression at the hands of Indian government forces, which for years has struggled to put down a bloody Anti India insurgency that erupted in late 1980s.
That number of Militants today stand at not more than 250, however, over half a million Indian troops camping in camps that dot this Himalyan region, are a constant reminder that the conflict is far from over.
Every day in Kashmir is mourning for the locals, as it brings news of more unarmed civilians killed somewhere in Kashmir. These children of the conflict fight the Forces with stones during the day time and record their memories at night, using Internet-based social media like Facebook and YouTube both to mobilize within Kashmir and to communicate with the outside world.
On the wee hours of 21 October, the Government Forces including the 9 Rastriya Rifles of Indian Army, Central Reserve Police Force and the Local Police cordoned the Laroo area of South Kashmir following a specific input about Militant Movement in the area.
“The Militants hurled a grenade upon Forces who were conducting a search operation in the locality,” an Army officer told The Kashmiriyat. Reinforcements were rushed to the spot, As the fighting raged, anti-India protesters tried to reach the site of the standoff. They threw stones at government forces hoping to help the trapped Militants escape. Government forces fired shotgun pellets and tear gas at the protesters, leaving at least 35 injured.
The three trapped Militants were killed, as Government Forces hastily left the place after the fighting was over, hundreds of civilians converged on the site. An explosion occurred as people tried to extinguish a fire at the blasted house, residents told The Kashmiriyat, killing at least five civilians and wounding dozens who are hospitalized in critical condition.
“When I hurl stones on Forces, 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 who has gathered at the house of one of the five dead.
“Why did the Army leave the encounter site unsanitized, when they ensure that even the wireless sets of Militants is seized?” Ghulam Mohammed Dar, a resident of Laroo asked. The impunity the soldiers enjoy and keeping in view the track record of the judiciary, the credibility of the judicial process is lost here in these densely militarised zones of Southern Kashmir.
Two decades of military crackdown have transformed Kashmir into a tale of bitter memories. Residents often say they are subjected to collective punishment whenever they rise in protest. “When they lifted the cordon around the Gunfight sight, five or six of them (Army men) came back and they had something in their hands, i suspect they planted a bomb, an explosive to stop the civilians coming out of their homes to protect Militants,” an eye witness told The Kashmiriyat.
“Nobody was trying to fiddle with the explosives, nobody was inside the house where the encounter took place, we were out with buckets of water and wanted to control the fire that could have spread, we wanted to check if we could save anything in the house,” Aaqib Ahmed, a youth injured during the massive explosion said.
The collective sense of dispossession and disillusionment with their past, mixed with the recent experiences of lethal injustice, has been prompting people to find their own place in the world. “We feel that, it (not clearing the site) was a deliberate act to punish people. They knew something will blow up here. Given the damage and injuries the blast has caused, it seems that it was not a mere grenade,” locals alleged.
Several locals and eyewitnesses speaking to The Kashmiriyat said that the government forces had left the area after the encounter, prompting them to believe the site had been sanitized.
However a senior Police official posted in Kulgam said that a cordon was laid in the area at around 1 am on Sunday after receiving information about the presence of three militants. The gunfight broke out at around 3 am and by 10 am, the militants were gunned down
“During the night, the militants had hurled multiple grenades at us, resulting in some injuries, so we knew there must be a lot of ammunition. We recovered the arms and ammunition,” he told The Kashmiriyat.
He claimed that after the gunfight, the Forces had partly doused the fire. The temperature was extremely high, stone throwing clashes had erupted, so it was impossible for us to sanitize the site. To avoid civilian casualties, we pulled out from the area and requested the people not to go near the encounter site. That is when the explosion took place.
“How many Muqeem’s will they kill? ” Father of 17 year old Muqeem stands in front of his house/ Photo Zaffar Dar
There was mourning in every house hold here. Some distance away from the District headquarters of Kulgam in South Kashmir, People are visiting the house of 17 year old Muqeem Ahmed Bhat in droves of dozens and hundreds, who was killed in the blast.
“He was preparing for exams as he was studying in Class 12th. He would seldom come out of his room these days. He was very studious,” his uncle told The Kashmiriyat. However, on Sunday, after the night long gunfight, he, like many others from the locality, went out to see the house, which was damaged in the encounter. Muqeem fell down on the ground with others when the blast took place and died on the spot.
Thumping her chest, the mother mourned the death of her son, Mohammed Muqeem Bhat aged 17, a resident of Laroo area of Kulgam shouted, “Exam ha chuy Jaano, Wani kusu leikhi lagyo,” (Dear Son, who will write your exams now). An aspiring writer, Muqeem’s first paper was scheduled a day after his death.
“He was having tea and went back to his study room, the firing stopped and he said he will go out and return in a while, but he only returned dead,” his father told The Kashmiriyat.
“How much more blood do we have to offer?,” asked his father. “How many more generations of Kashmiris have to offer their blood to be heard? How many Muqeem’s will they kill? Doesn’t their conscience question them for what they are doing here?” He was struggling to hold his tears. “What will I do now? O son, please come back,” he wailed.
“We had ironed his school uniform and kept his socks ready and boots polished for the exams, he was so excited and nervous that he would finally sit in the exam and then go outside to pursue his higher studies,” his sister murmured as tears rolled down her eyes.
Muqeem has written the names of civilian as well as militant causalities along with the date of their death on the rooms of his wall along with quotes and pro independence slogans, Muqeem is survived by his parents, two brothers and a younger sister.
“India Cannot afford Justice in Kashmir”
The Sister of Uzair mourns the death of her brother- Photo/ Zaffar Dar
A few houses away, at the home of Talib Maqbool Laway, the rooms were filled with female mourners, wailing over his death. 18-year-old Talib Maqbool Laway, a student of B.A in the Government Degree College of Kulgam, talib was the bread earner to his family as his father had died 16-years-ago when the Mufti Syed Led Government ordered road widening and their house was pulled down in the road widening process, but nobody reported the incident.
Naseema, his mother who raised Talib is being consoled by hundreds of women, “he was my only hope, what will i do now?” she wailed. Naseema educated Talib and his sister.
“Talib had gone to the encounter just to see what had happened. After the blast at the encounter site, he was taken to Kulgam district hospital by a relative on a motorbike,” one of his friends told The Kashmiriyat.
“i thought he was alive, i did not know it was Talib, i thought i had carried some boy to the hospital, but the moment we reached near the gate, we recognized his face i fell down unconscious, i was shattered,” Talib’s relative said.
He asked, “Can India afford justice in Kashmir? No.” Another protester, who said that as a young boy he witnessed two of his siblings being killed and his mother molested by troops, “To live honorably in Kashmir means to keep fighting India and we will, even if there is no victory.”
Talib Maqbool Laway who is survived by his mother and a sister other than pursuing his under graduation studies was also the bread earner to his family.
“Where is my Papa, why are so many people weeping”
Faizan and his mother have been in a state of shock over the death of Mansoor Ahmed Dar/ Photo- Zaffar Dar
“Where is Papa, When will he come back, Why is everyone weeping, what has happened?” Faizan, the two year old son of another victim, Mansoor Ahmed asked his mourning mother. Mansoor Ahmed Dar, 27 years old was critically wounded in the blast, he later succumbed to his injuries at a Srinagar hospital.
One mourner, a post graduate student at the University of Kashmir told me,”The people in Kashmir feel that since India came here, the people of Kashmir have lived a life of mental suffering, political dis-empowerment and mistrust by the Indian state, and an unending military brutality since 1990.”
He believes that Kashmir underwent a mass transition to the power of peaceful mass protests, however the response of Indian state was no different. “Every Individual in Kashmir is ready to take arms.”
Mansoor Ahmed Dar, a resident of nearby Bogund area in Kulgam was a cable operator, he is survived by a wife and a two year old son. “His father Ghulam Mohammed Dar met a tragic accident six years back and he suferred a critical spinal injury post which he cannot even stand up on his own, the family is devastated now as they have lost their bread earner,” one of his neighbour told The Kashmiriyat.
“I will expose them, Fight for Justice”
The Sister of Uzair Mushtaq holds the books of 13 year old Uzair/ Photo- Zaffar Dar
When the encounter raged, Authorities locked down the area. During protests that erupted in the adjacent neighborhood, police killed a schoolboy by firing live ammunition at the unarmed protesters, one hitting 13 year old school going boy Uzair directly at his head.
13-year-old boy, Uzair Mushtaq, was hit with a bullet when Forces opened fire on unarmed protesters near the encounter site, he later succumbed on the way to Srinagar hospital. “Uzair was having tea in the morning with him. After the blast, when he didn’t find him, he started looking for him,” His father, Mushtaq Ahmad, said.
He said that he got a call from one of his friends, who informed him that they were taking Uzair to the hospital. “When I reached near Lal Chowk in Srinagar, I was told to come back home. I realized my son is no more,” said a weeping Mushtaq. He said his son had a bullet wound in his head.
Officials however claimed that all the seven people were killed in the blast.
“The brutality ignited passions across Kashmir, triggering a deadly cycle of protests and retaliatory killings by government forces. but i am hopeful of Justice, i will fight for it, i will dig it out from the deepest chasms of the earth, no matter how much money it takes, i will fight to expose the truth of the Government Forces, their atrocities to the outside world, i will search and find justice,” Mushtaq told The Kashmiriyat.
Uzair was a school going student of class 08.
“Family looses an Orphan Bread earner”
The Sweater of Aaqib hangs in his room/ Photo- Zaffar Dar
Aaqib Gulzar Sheikh of Makanpora in Kulgam had left his studies three years back to take care of his siblings. in 2006, his mother passed away, after he which his father deserted their children.
Orphan for more than 12 years, Aaqib is survived by 2 sisters and three brothers, his brother says, was not engaged in stone throwing clashes, he went out to get some items from the nearby shop when he heard that firing had stopped, but he did not come back.
“The moment I heard that many people had got killed near the gunfight site, i fainted, when i regained my senses, hundreds of mourning women and men had gathered near our house,” his brother Aijaz Ahmed told The Kashmiriyat.
He said that the way Indian judiciary has been functioning in Kashmir is an attempt to hoodwink Indian public opinion and the international community. He feels that Indian judiciary has lost its credibility in Kashmir. “None of the families is filing any case, because we do not expect that justice will be served,” he said.
“Why are they (Forces) blaming civilians, Is it not their job to santize the encounter sites? he asked.
“The shell was planted and the incident well planned”
A Photograph of Irshad Ahmed on his brothers cellphone/ Photo- Zaffar Dar
A Sub Inspector who is the brother of Irshad Ahmed Padder, 23, one of the victims is mourning the death of his brother, one of the six victims of the explosion. The whole region descended into gloom as seven civilians and three militants, all from South Kashmir, were buried in the series of funerals. At Irshad’s funeral, thousands of women and men raised pro-independence and anti-India slogans, vowing to fight India.
“The relentless protests have forced New Delhi to respond differently, but with little success at ending the killings,” Irshad Ahmed, a Government employee who among the mourners here said. He said that India should rethink of its iron fist hand and shake hands with all the stake holders in Kashmir, otherwise they will have to face a population of 5 Million people with guns daring Indian soldiers to fight them.
“We were all part of the protests and after the encounter was over, the forces came back carrying some explosives, they left it in the house and immediately lifted the cordon,” a young boy barely 20 said. The locals tried to march towards the encounter site to save the fire from spreading, he said, adding, “Second after we reached there, the explosives blew, i was lucky that i was left behind, but i could see it all.” He claimed that it was a well planned operation as Indian Government has been making constant failed attempts to keep people away from encounter sites.
“All I saw was a massive ball of fire coming right at me. There was a solid mass inside the fire. It knocked me right off my feet. The next thing I remember was waking up with blood oozing out of my nose.”
He said that when he reached near the smoke, he found broken bodies, streams of blood flowing down, and heard wails of these young men who lay down helpless on the streets. “His eyes were half open when I saw Irshad. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I had seen him two minutes ago, but now he was dead, right in front of me.”
Mourning and Grief
The roots of the Kashmir issue date back to 1947, the partition of British India into the new states of India and Pakistan. Kashmir today stands divided between India and Pakistan, with a de facto border known as the Line of Control. The two nations have fought three wars over Kashmir, in 1947, 1965 and 1999. The armed Movement against Indian rule in Kashmir started around late 1988. Unofficial estimates suggest that since then more than 90,000 people have been killed in Kashmir.
There have been charges of Rapes, Custodial killings, enforced disappearances, arson, torture against more half a million soldiers deployed in the region. The Soldiers have also been accused of carrying out fake encounters and using maximum possible force against the civilian population. The Civilian population also accuses the soldiers of having the impunity in the cases of mass murders like in Bijbehara, Gaw Kadal, Sopore and many other places.
“There were people lying around in their own blood. Sharp steel and wooden objects pierced into the bodies of those around the site. Some had ripped abdomens and others had missing fingers. It was a sight of hell,” said Rahil, another resident of the area.
Ghulam Ahmed Bhat is sitting at the remains of his house burnt during the encounter where three Militants were shot dead by the Government Forces. “The Government forces did not allow his family of his son, three grandchildren and his wife to move out during the gunfight, which otherwise is a standard practice,”an aged man Ghulam Ahmad Bhat told The Kashmiriyat.
He said that they were trapped in the kitchen while gunfight was raging between the militants and the forces. He said they were not given an opportunity to come out till Sunday morning.
“It was only after their neighbours raised a hue and cry and insisted that the holed up family be permitted to move out of the house that the family was asked to come out only,” Bhat said. He made similar allegations saying that that no effort was made by the forces to sanitize the place after the encounter and clear it of explosives.
“The forces moved out of the area taking the bodies of the three militants along after the encounter ended,” one of his neigbours said. He said the forces could have stopped for a while to clear the encounter site as they used heavy ammunition during the gunfight.
Bilal, an ambulance driver said that he made at least three trips carrying the injured. “The ambulance was covered with blood. One individual that I got from the Laroo, Kulgam to the hospital had part of his brain hanging out of his head,” he said.
The cause of this explosion has triggered a fresh round of allegations, accusations and clarifications between Government forces and Kashmiri youth over the social media.
The Kashmir valley on Tuesday witnessed a complete shutdown as schools and Railway services remained shut across the valley. South Kashmir, remained tense and restrictions might continue on Wednesday as well.
Hospital officials at District hospital of Kulgam and Islamabad (Anantnag) told The Kashmiriyat that the day was as a terrible day as civilians had shocking injuries.
Author: Qazi Shibli
Qazi Shibli is a News Editor with ‘The Kashmiriyat.’ He is a Journalism graduate from Bangalore University.