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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 31 New Delhi July 23, 2016

Violence and Anger in Kashmir

Tuesday 26 July 2016, by Humra Quraishi



War-drumming in Tanzania. War-like situation in the Kashmir Valley. Troops together with security forces not taking on an enemy country but unleashing terror on agitators and mourners participating in the burial procession of Hizbul Mujahedin commander Burhan Wani.

A situation that could have been handled with some level of maturity has gone out of control. No restraint even as reports poured in of heavy casualties—at least 31 killed and a minimum of 1300 grievously injured. Shocking reports of firing by the security forces; not to disperse the crowds but to kill, to blind, to rupture! Pellets hitting eyes, head and the chest of the young protestors—many of them teenaged children and young women. Several reports more than suggest that the CRPF and police assaulted the patients and attendants even inside the hospitals and ambulances. To quote from a report, “Out of 55 patients who were admitted in the SMHS hospital, 16 have bullet injuries, two have injuries due to torture by soldiers and 37 people were injured due to pellets. From the 37 persons injured due to pellets, 19 have severe eye injuries, which according to doctors may result in permanent visual impairment. About five patients have bullet or pellet injuries on their back side, which clearly means that despite trying to flee away they were attacked by the armed forces. From the available records, it appears that 40 out of these 55 patients have above waistline injuries. Around 18 patients out of 55 admitted yesterday at SMHS Hospital are below the age of 18 years... Several patients with injuries did not want to get admitted in the hospital as the Police and CRPF have arrested some patients from the hospital.”

Yet, even at this juncture the Home Minister of the country says that additional troops are to be sent to the Valley. Are we fighting a war with our own citizens? Can we crush rebellions by military might? Do we want a stretch of land—the Kashmir Valley—sans the Kashmiri people? Do we want to kill the hapless unarmed civilians or start the crucial dialoguing process? Do we want to know the ‘why’ to this increasing anger and alienation of the young Kashmiris? Why do we insist on aggravating this anger and alienation... increasing every single day since 2010—the year that saw at least 110 young Kashmiris killed by security forces? Do the political rulers in Srinagar and New Delhi realise the human disasters that AFSPA is heaping? Who is answerable for the fake encounters, unmarked graves, illegal detentions, hundreds of the missing Kashmiris? Who is responsible for the brutal killings of the young unarmed Kashmiris?

I had been reporting from the Valley right from 1990, when the full-fledged rebellion had taken off. Controlled it was, but could not be crushed. It still isn’t. Patterns unchanged. Kashmiri men and women and children shrieking all too blatantly. Standing up against the atrocities unleashed by the State. An ongoing relay of disgust at the State-unleashed terror.

There‘s been ongoing anger in the Valley by the virtual ‘siege’ they sit in. Under the soldier’s glare and grip. Incidentally, an earlier report of a European Union parliamentarians team which visited the Valley in 2004 puts the ratio to—“With approximately one soldier to every 10 civilians in J&K the huge military presence is never far away.” Today the situation could be termed far more complex.

People of the Valley are angry by the virtual ‘siege’ they sit in. Its safety and dignity they yearn for. And not the rounds of humiliation heaped on them. As a well-known personality of the Valley told me, “One is made to feel unnerved and humiliated even the way your vehicle is checked and re-checked !”

Anger, Aleination Ongoing

There have been reports of the worsening conditions, leaving long-lasting imprints on young psyches. Kashmiri children play ‘war games’—where they imitate Army interrogation tactics, punch in the stomach and kick and twist limbs... I have myself seen children playing in the graveyards dotted in the various localities of Srinagar city.

There had been Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)-conducted surveys which had come up with dismal pointers to the emotional disturbances directly or indirectly connected to the every day violence experienced by the ordinary civilian in the Valley.

In fact, Kashmir’s leading psychiatrist, Dr Mushtaq Margoob, had been categorical that the prevailing turbulence was affecting a large section of the Valley’s population. In an interview given earlier to me Dr Margoob had detailed:

“A whole new generation of the Kashmiris is growing up in this atmosphere of great uncer-tainty-cum-insecurity and stress. Undoubtedly I am worried about this generation. This region is witnessing a continuous mass trauma situation for more than two decades now. The amount of emotional distress, caused by the perpetual state of uncertainty, insecurity and moment-to-moment living, in Kashmir remains anything but hard to imagine. That prevailing violent conditions have led to a high level of suffering among the masses and also resulted in a phenomenal increase in mental disorders. More than 58 per cent of the adult population has experienced or witnessed traumatic life-events. The disabling disorder PTSD is currently prevalent in more than seven per cent of the population, so is depression in more than 19 per cent of people. The women and children are the worst affected. Children of 5-12 years living in some orphanages have higher than 40 per cent PTSD, 25 per cent depression and more than 12 per cent conversion disorder. Kashmir has today become the world’s worst medicinal opium preparation-abused place with more than 3.8 per cent of the population abusing such substances mostly to induce sleep or get some momentary relief from the continuing agonising psychological pain and sufferings... Psychological impact of horrifying life-events resulting from any catastrophe, be it a natural calamity or a human-caused disaster, not only overwhelms the individual’s psychological and biological coping mechanisms but also leads to drastic changes in the perceptions of the whole socio-cultural systems which may never be the same again. It also leads to a change in previous and emerging social processes as well as shared behaviours of the whole community.”

Dr Margoob had also stressed that news of deaths of the teenaged and killings in fake encounters was bruising young psyches. “In a man-made disaster situation in any part of the world, harm deliberately caused by others can lead to shifts in societal conventions and processes including an increased sense of rage and entitlement to revenge when mourning loss, or reversal of feelings of helplessness and humiliation. Under such circumstances even the fully grown-up adult’s brain automatically shifts operations from highly evolved reality-based action processes to instinctual/emotion-based reactions of fight or flight course of action. Since the young brain is yet to fully develop psychological mechanisms, children/adolescents are much more vulnerable to emotional actions and reactions. When they assume that they are getting pushed against the wall they get dominated by their emotions and stop caring for the consequences. In the ensuing collective identity and formation of cohesive clusters, the youngsters identify with the group rather than with their individual identities and can accordingly get heavily involved in activities that essentially had been nonexistent in the society earlier. This is how the young have been and continue to be affected in Kashmir...Today’s generation of the young Kashmiris living in the Valley reflect the above referred psychological processes in more ways than one. The recent developments of defying law and order could also be a manifestation of the ever increasing indescribable levels of frustration and anger among this ‘trauma generation’ who have hardly seen a minute of complete peace or tranquillity in their lives, from birth to the present stage of adolescence or young adulthood.”

Another of those Realities

On February 14 (2016) when the young celebrate Valentine’s Day, there was this news report of journalist Farzana Syed published in the Kashmir Times: ”More than two dozen suicide attempts have been reported from different parts of the Valley in the months of January and February of 2016... shockingly the majority of suicide cases involve youth, especially young women. A study carried out by Dr Arshad Hussain revealed three to four cases of suicides were reported to the SMHS Hospital almost every single day. This study revealed that analytic suicide rates in the Valley could be as high as 13 per 1,00,000, which is almost the suicide rate in the rest of India.”

Reach out to the Young

This generation of Kashmiris has grown up in the midst of curfews and crackdowns. They have survived in an atmosphere riddled with insecurity together with apprehensions of the aftermath. Coupled with this, stands out the fact that employment avenues are shrinking.

Recreational facilities or events are rare, rarely for the youth surviving in the Valley. Even when that hyped Zubin Mehta-conducted concert was organised by the German Embassy at Srinagar’s Shalimar Gardens, the young Kashmiri enthusiasts were kept far away. Sarkari men and women together with the political who’s who were flown in to hear those musical strains, leaving one to wonder rather aloud—that the concert could as well been hosted in Goa or in Germany! Why host in a city when the locals couldn’t get to come anywhere near the venue? Why put the city under another round of security strain? In fact, each time a VVIP lands in Srinagar the youth are the worst affected—checked and rechecked along the highway and along the roads and streets of Srinagar in the most humiliating way.

Nah, Not Stone-pelting ...Rather, Anger-pelting!

In the autumn of 2015 I’d met in Srinagar a 30-year-old post-graduate (I’m purposely not writing his name because I don’t want him to be hounded and harassed by the security forces). As I sat interviewing him he told me he spent his childhood in Srinagar’s downtown and that he still carried “imprints of hartals and closures. And when I was in class sixth, the cops beat me... it left me affected for days, for years... things have been worsening all these years, peaking in 2010 when our children were gunned down on our roads in front of our eyes by the security forces! What more agony can one go through!”

‘What about stone-pelting?’

“Nothing but venting out one’s anger.”

‘Anger at what? Isn’t the situation said to be improving with the PDP in power?’

“Improving! What improving! Like all previous years even this year days prior to 15 August our children were arrested and detained... my own school-going cousin was picked up and locked up in the Zainakadal Police Station, on the plea that he was involved in stone-pelting! It took the cops one full week to release him after they checked the CCTV footage. Imagine a young boy in the police lock- up for a week! It takes the cops a week to check the CCTV footage! You can’t imagine the fear with which we live each single day... No change at all, no change on ground!”

In fact, he’d narrated another of those painful experiences which just about relays the prevailing biases against the Kashmiris: “Three of us—three Muslim Kashmiris—were invited by a Mumbai-based Hindu friend to Mumbai and he insisted we stay at his place. So from the airport we went to his Dongri-situated home. But we couldn’t stay there beyond a couple of hours. His parents told him to shift us to a nearby hotel as the neighbours were showing uneasiness at ‘bearded Kashmiri-looking men in the building’. Our friend was apologetic and he took us to a hotel and we managed to stay there... I’m not sure whether we would have got a hotel room on our own. In fact, a few years back when I was working in New Delhi, I had to go to Delhi’s Mahipalpur-situated police station and fill up some forms and only then could I get a room on rent... I left my Delhi job for I wanted to be here with my people... be part of their daily struggles. I’m proud to be a Kashmiri and, yes, I have grown a beard for I want to show my Muslim identity. This, when in the 1990s beards were pulled off... tortures took place on the bearded! Even today those tortures on us continue every single day.”

Kashmiris in the Valley narrate horrifying details of police brutality, as one of them summed it up: “Here in the Kashmir Valley all Kashmiris have been humiliated by the security forces, and one in eight has been severely tortured.”

In fact, available accounts of Burhan Wani’s life in militancy indicate that he was deeply affected by the disturbing happenings of 2010. He was then 16 years old and couldn’t come to terms with the killings of Kashmiri youngsters (many of them school kids), repeated violent incursions into his home and the harassment of near relations and also the death of his brother in a police encounter, when he had nothing to do with the militancy.

A Political Crisis It Is

Today there are hundreds and thousands of Kashmiri families whose anger has to be addressed. Alienation is growing by the day, more so now, as reports of the wounded are coming up—firings have left many of the survivors in a hopelessly ruptured condition, with damaged eyes and limbs. Alive but not really.

Mind you, this anger is not confined to one locale of the Kashmir Valley and nor to any particular class or segment. It’s widespread. Angry and outraged are the Kashmiris. It is crucial to start a dialogue with the Kashmiris. Do not bypass the local leadership. The Hurriyat does represent the people of Kashmir. Even at this juncture when a situation of such gravity prevails, the elected political representatives seem nowhere in sight, on the contrary they are sending appeals to the Hurriyat leaders to restore calm and help in bringing about some level of normalcy.

A political dialogue with the Kashmiris ought to be started at the earliest. It’s a political crisis which no amount of brute force and military might can crush.

Instead of sending more force to the Valley, it will be far more prudent if medical teams are rushed there. Medical specialists to reach out to the dying and grievously injured.

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