In the first week of July, Indian troops fired on unarmed civilian protesters and killed over 50 of them within seven days, blinding 100 others with pellet guns, and bringing one down with 300 pellets to his stomach. The demonstrators were protesting the death of 22-year old Burhan Muzaffar Wani, killed by Indian security forces in the south of India-administered Kashmir. Kashmiri writer Basharat Peer, writing in The New York Times, explained: “One afternoon, Indian police officers posted in Burhan’s town reportedly sent him and his brother Khalid to fetch cigarettes and then beat up the boys when they returned. Humiliated, Burhan left for the mountains and joined a tiny group of militants. Then last year, Khalid, who was doing postgraduate work in economics, was killed by the Indian security forces.”
Wani’s death triggered spontaneous reaction. On July 9, his body was brought to Tral, his village 25 miles east of Srinagar, and placed on open ground, as if to elicit “actionable” response. The local population, around 200,000-strong, came out from Tral and nearby villages and stayed with the youth’s body, sleeping on bare stones in the streets, chanting prayers and repeating: “Burhan, your blood will bring forth the revolution!”
Will the “revolution” come? It hasn’t so far despite the 70,000 men, women and children killed since 1989 when the Kashmiris first protested a rigged election. This time, too, what they got was not revolution but brutal assault. The paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was ready with a new instrument of infliction of blindness: pellet guns. The photographic evidence of this latest aggression against civilian Kashmiris has shaken a world recently softened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shuttle of image building amid news of Hindu extremist mobs roughing up the untouchables across India.
A number of people who died or were blinded during last month’s protests were not even taking part in the demonstrations. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who also comes from south Kashmir, remained silent as the carnage proceeded. Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has ruled India-administered Kashmir in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2014, literally kibitzed the outrage as the usually more outspoken but house-arrested leaders of the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat Conference watched Kashmiris die at the hands of soldiers with orders to kill and maim. The 87-member assembly in Srinagar had returned a split mandate in the 2014 election: PDP 28, BJP 25, National Conference 15, Congress 12 and three independents. No one spoke up to urge New Delhi order the killing to stop.
Plainly speaking, Wani had joined the pro-Pakistan and Islamabad-supported Hizbul Mujahideen, whose runaway leaders are provided shelter in Pakistan. The silence on the part of the PDP was therefore understandable but s senior leader of the party, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, did go public with his doubt that “the security forces did not give Burhan and his two associates a chance to surrender.” He believes the three militants had not opened fire at all. He said: “Gunning down a militant in a shootout is different from killing a militant without giving an opportunity to surrender.”
In the U.S. and the U.K., newspapers took note mostly through well-known local eyewitnesses. An eye-doctor in charge of Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital said he had “never seen so many people with serious ocular injuries in a day.” Arriving a day after Wani’s killing, the blinded and injured “were mostly young, many of them minors, including a 12-year-old.” No one came to ask after the 92 operated upon, not Mehbooba Mufti, not Omar Abdullah, leader of the opposition National Conference who however later asked the Center to “initiate a sustained dialogue with Pakistan as well as separatist groups in Jammu & Kashmir for evolving a consensus for a mutually acceptable solution to the political issue.” Countering him, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the Hurriyat Conference said: “There is no scope for peaceful resistance.” In the rest of India, what the Modi government had done to the Kashmiris was taken note of despite the current anti-Pakistan orientation that tolerates murder.
Every time Kashmiris are killed, the world too is blindsided by its fear of terrorism arising among the non-state actors of Pakistan posing as saviors of Kashmir and “completers” of an “incomplete” Pakistan. Judgment is suspended in the face of this annexationist rage, and Pakistan is destabilized by the sudden empowerment of the religious parties and their dark hinterland of over 80,000 seminaries where Pakistani youths learn jihad. The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) session of home ministers was scuttled on Aug. 4 in Islamabad as India’s Rajnath Singh took offense at what his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had to say about the latest mayhem in the Valley. Khan could hardly preen himself over his latest championship of the rights of the Kashmiris: the session found Pakistan isolated in the face of three big SAARC states accusing it of “interference”: India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
India has its sane voices but these days they are drowned out by the din of extremist nationalism prevailing in the country. Indian novelist and human rights activist Arundhati Roy summed up the latest crisis in an article for Outlook magazine: “While we denounce—as we must—the gunning down of unarmed protesters by the security forces, the attacks on ambulances and hospitals by policemen, and the blinding of teenagers with pellet guns, we have to keep in mind that the real debate cannot only be about the violation of human rights by Indian security forces in the Kashmir valley. Egregious though they are, those violations are the consequence—the inevitable and unavoidable consequence—of the militaristic suppression of a people’s struggle for freedom.”
From our Aug. 13-20, 2016, issue.