AS the showers of metal pellets were unleashed upon protesters, bystanders and homebound schoolchildren, hospitals in Kashmir began to resemble scenes from the great wars of the 20th century. Rows of beds with blindfolded boys and girls on them, parents waiting anxiously, doctors and paramedics in attendance around the clock. On occasions, police and spies also infiltrated the wards to compile profiles of the injured, in order to place them under surveillance after their release. The wounded were brought in by the dozen, like birds in the hunting season. All of this was incomprehensible, even to longtime observers of violence in Kashmir. Perhaps a few aberrations, a crowd-control tactic gone woefully wrong – one hoped so, but the numbers kept piling up, eye after mutilated eye popping up on the screens of phones and computers, as journalists began to publish their reports. As none of the powerful men who run Kashmir from Delhi expressed qualms about the blinding of children, it became clear that in its hubris the Indian state had decided that snatching vision from a few hundred young people was a fair price to pay for keeping Kashmir in check. Perhaps itself blinded by a strain of arrogance peculiar to occupying powers, it continued to pummel a subject population into submission.
Two-and-a-half decades of rebellion in Kashmir have hardened the indifference of India’s political and intellectual classes to the human cost of the country’s repressive tactics in the valley. Amid rising nationalist fervour, any sense of the basic rights of a suffering population has been eroded or vanished entirely. The hostility now appears to be total, unbridgeable, and for those on the receiving end, unbearable. Powerful TV studios urge the state to be more aggressively macho, while actively suppressing or distorting news from Kashmir. One prominent newspaper ran an online poll about the continued use of the pellets that had wounded and blinded so many Kashmiris – a clear majority voted in support. Eminent columnists speak calmly of the need for “harsh love” toward civilian protesters to rationalize the state’s ruthless response. The protocol for the use of these crowd control weapons is to aim at the legs to disperse demonstrators. But it seems that the paramilitaries and the police have been deliberately firing into faces. Some may only have minor wounds, some will suffer limited loss of vision, some will lose one eye, some both, and some will be impaired for life, but the pitiless assault on protesting adolescents forces us to ask one question: is the Indian state happy to blind a generation?
Kashmiris have become accustomed to the violence inflicted on them – as they are to the indifference of the world – when pellets were first sprayed at protesters in the heated summer of 2010, most people processed this as nothing more than a new misfortune; just another element of the war in Kashmir. If one were to draw a diagram of the assaults inflicted on Kashmiri bodies over the decades, hardly a single part would remain unmarked: in the 1990s, when the violence was at its worst, the eyes were spared; now they seem to have become a favorite target. The victims of such tactics, consciously and not, cultivate reserves of tolerance for pain, but also a capacity to remember. DG ISPR condemned the violations of ceasefire by India along the Line of Control in his message issued on the social media as Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control as well as all across the world observe Black Day on Friday to mark the illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir by India.
The occupied valley is one of the most militarized regions in the world, as India has stationed about half a million soldiers in the disputed territory. Villages in south Kashmir, particularly Shopian, Pulwama and Anantnag have become the centrepoints of independence movement since July 2016, after the killing of young rebel commander Burhan Wani. Wani’s killing in a gunfight led to widespread protests in the region for five long months, during which over 100 civilians were killed, and hundreds lost their eyes to the pellet guns fired by forces. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown. Pakistan’s desire for peace should never be mistaken as its weakness. “For a normalized Indo-Pak relationship, all issues including the core issue of Kashmir between the two nuclear countries need to be resolved. India needs to behave like a responsible country, stop atrocities on both sides of the Line of Control and also discontinue interference inside Pakistan through state-sponsored terrorism.” Pakistan has long been a target of Indian supported terrorist campaigns since its independence.
China had never accepted the British-negotiated boundary agreements in northeastern Kashmir. This remained the case following the communist takeover in China in 1949, although the new government did ask India—without success—to open negotiations regarding the border. After Chinese authority was established in Tibet and reasserted in Xinjiang, Chinese forces penetrated into the northeastern parts of Ladakh. This was done mainly because it allowed them to build a military road through the Aksai Chin plateau area (completed in 1956–57) to provide better communication between Xinjiang and western Tibet; it also gave the Chinese control of passes in the region between India and Tibet. India’s belated discovery of this road led to border clashes between the two countries that culminated in the Sino-Indian war of October 1962. China has occupied the northeastern part of Ladakh since the conflict. India refused to negotiate with China on the alignment of the Ladakhi boundary in this area, and the incident contributed significantly to a diplomatic rift between the two countries that began to heal only in the late 1980s. In the following decades, China worked to improve its relations with India, but there has been no resolution to the disputed Ladakh frontier.
United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights expressed serious concern about the situation in Kashmir and proposed on September 13, 2016 that ‘an independent, impartial and international mission is now needed crucially that should be given free and complete access to establish an objective assessment of the claims made by the two sides. We place the trust in the statesmanship of the Excellency, as the Secretary General of the United Nations that you will not countenance any attempt to ignore the wishes of the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and bypass the expression of those wishes.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Peshawar.