A report on the recent killings and protests in the Kashmir Valley and their media coverage. I had visited the valley last year.
The images bring back memories of the first intifada (uprising) in Palestine in the late 1980s: Young protesters in jeans and bandanas hurling rocks at Indian troops, people blocking roads with burning tires to stop the Indian police, banners reading “Quit Kashmir”, ”Go India, Go Back”, “No India, No Pakistan, We Want Free Kashmir”. This is the atmosphere on the streets of the Kashmir valley in India this summer.
Aijaz Hussain’s report for Associated Press on June 8, 2010 says that in spite of a round-the-clock curfew imposed for the first time in two decades as India's regular army patrolled the violence-hit streets; thousands defied the restrictions to protest on Wednesday night. Curfew passes for journalists were cancelled making it difficult for them to report or publish. Typically street protests are managed by the police and paramilitary troops.
Although the curfew was lifted on Sunday, restrictions continue. On Tuesday, June 13, 2010 shops and businesses remained closed to mark "Martyrs' Day”. Back in 1931 the same day, 21 Kashmiri Muslims were killed to quell an uprising against the then Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh. This was the third day of strikes called by the separatists.
Notably, there is little coverage of these uprisings and killings in the international media but social networks like Facebook and Youtube have been a powerful tool for circulating visual images of the protests. “Our truth remains in our hearts, their lies are lost in the airwaves.” “They talk about civility, democracy and non-violence!!! Savages.” These are some of the Facebook statuses of residents of the valley.
The Indian media coverage, as usual, has been vague on this issue, giving an impression of random episodes of violence without context. Shivam Vij, in his blog posting, A conversation in Sopore and other stories on Kafila.org writes, “Protest, stone-pelting, fake encounters, militant clashes, strikes and the quelling of protests by killing unarmed or stone-pelting protestors – this is reported in the Delhi media not just with a lot of obfuscation and dishonesty, but also with a deliberate sense of confusion. “ What is also missing from the media coverage is the nature of the occupation at a structural and micro level, penetrating into homes and institutions.
The generation we see on the streets today grew up under a brutal occupation by Indian forces that begun in the 1990s to curb similar resistance. As described in my recent article, Democracy Under the Barrel of a Gun, the nature of the resistance in the valley has changed over the years. Peaceful non-violent protests were common even during the 1980s or earlier but a rigged election in 1987 and mistrust in the Indian government paved way to a violent resistance. Taking advantage of the situation, Pakistan started funding groups like Lashkar-i-Tayyaba and Harkatul Mujahedeen. Many Kashmiris crossed over the border to get training.
However, the past few years have seen a more mature, united and civilian non-violent resistance in the valley. People are tired of the military occupation; the tortures, killings, rapes, disappearances, mass graves and humiliation at check points. They turn out in large numbers to protest on the streets. This was evident during the protests against the transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board by the Indian government in 2008 as well as the Shopian rape case last year. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the region in June this year to review development work and the security situation in the embattled region was also marked by a general strike.
A June 6, 2010 press release by International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir states that 27 year old Shahzad Ahmad, 20 year old Riyaz Ahmad, and 19 year old Mohammad Shafi were executed in a fake encounter in Kupwara District, claiming them to be "infiltrating militants" from Pakistan.
People came out in large numbers to protest the killings. Atleast 15 civilians have been killed in street protests by Indian government forces in the past one month. “32 civilians have been killed by Indian troops since January this year,” said Khurran Parvez, Programmer Coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, an amalgam of eight non-profit organizations working for the betterment of civil society in Kashmir.
This is the third successive summer of protests and civil disobedience actions. It doesn’t seem like they will end until the demands for freedom and justice are met.
Yasmin Qureshi is a Bay Area, CA professional and human rights activist involved in social justice movements in South Asia and Palestine. Her June 9, 2010 article, Democracy Under the Barrel of a Gun, published by ZCommunications and other publications is based on her visit to the Indian Kashmir valley in August 2009.