Views from Srinagar
KASHMIR’S political history is replete with revolts against tyranny. It’s a subject of debate as to how many of them succeeded in achieving their objectives, but together they have all contributed in changing the political landscape of the valley. With Kashmir witnessing fresh bout of rebellion this year, the real political import of the uprising remains to be seen. Every season of street protests in Kashmir has its marker and over the years many powerful symbols have emerged, reflecting the deep-rooted anger and longstanding demands of Kashmiris for justice and dignity. The images and slogans also serve as a reminder of their resilience in the face of state violence.
The agonizing image of pellet-ridden faces of children has come to symbolize the ruthless state repression. The photos of partially or completely blinded young pellet victims, filling the hospital wards, were widely published, exposing the utter disregard of the state for the life of people.
Morphed images of celebrities, showing what they would look like had their faces been injured by pellet guns, went viral. The pellet-ridden faces of personalities including Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi, Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Virat Kohli, Alia Bhat, Saif Ali Khan, Kajol, Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan intended to show the dark reality of the use of pellet guns. The website, ‘Never Forget Pakistan’ posted the images on its Facebook page with Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg’s face also being morphed to portray the plight of pellet victims. Doctors of Government Medical College, Srinagar also staged a symbolic protest with one eye bandaged to represent the hundreds of victims who had been injured or have lost their eyes to pellets.
It would be pertinent to place the symbol of 2016 Kashmir unrest in the broader context. In 2014, ‘Huffington Post’ profiled some of the symbols from protests around the world.
In Ukraine’s revolution, hashtag #Euromaidan used by protesters on social media became the symbol of the protest movement that would eventually topple President Viktor Yanukovych. “Euromaidan” symbolized the pro-European sentiment of the protests sparked by Yanukovych’s decision to suspend talks with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. “Maidan” refers to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, in the capital Kiev which was also the focal point of 2004 Orange Revolution and signified the power of mass nonviolent protest.
In Venezuela, the slogan “SOS Venezuela” became an enduring image of the mass rallies as people took to streets to express their anger against the government over the soaring inflation and rising crime.
In Taiwan, sunflower became the symbol of the unrest. Thousands of protesters holding up sunflowers, converged on the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, as the government secretly pushed through a controversial trade deal with China. As part of the “Sunflower Movement”, student protesters occupied the parliament building for three weeks before the government agreed to greater scrutiny of its dealings.
In Thailand, the three-fingered salute borrowed from the “The Hunger Games” books and movies symbolized the protests after the country’s military seized power in a bloodless coup in 2014. The salute is a sign of silent protest against authorities. Together, the three fingers stand for “thank you,” “admiration,” and “goodbye to someone you love.” In Thailand, protesters came up with several alternate meanings for the salute, such as “No Coup, Liberty, Democracy”. Five Thai students were detained for flashing the sign at a speech by coup leader and Thai Prime Minister while a Thai theater chain canceled showings of the movie after activists bought hundreds of tickets and several students were arrested at screenings.
In the United States, killing of a black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer sparked weeks of unrest. Brown was seen raising his hands in the air before he was killed. The gesture of surrender, with the accompanying slogan “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” became a symbol of outrage against the “biased” police. The protests spread across the country as Brown’s raised hands became a symbol of a wider issue: black men dying at the hands of white cops. Protesters around the world expressed solidarity by using the “Hands Up” gesture.
In Mexico, 43 students from a college went missing. The students’ abduction and presumed killing sparked protests with protesters painting “43,” the number of students who went missing, on walls, on their faces and on protest banners. It became a symbol of the larger issue of massacres and disappearances.
Back to Kashmir, long after the 2016 summer uprising subsides, the image of 14-year-old Insha Malik with her bandaged eyes, punctured by pellets, will remain etched in our collective memory and symbolize the violence unleashed by the state to crush the protests and the resistance offered by the people. [email protected]