IRSHAD SALIM; Oct 27, 2018: Black Day is being observed in Kashmir today under a new normal: While Indian-administered Kashmir has experienced waves of protests in the past—in the late 1980s to early 1990s, 2008 and 2010—this current round of protests involve more people than the past, and the profile of protesters has also shifted to include more young, middle-class Kashmiris, including females who do not appear to have been participating in the past.
The generational change comes despite the presence of 700,000 Indian troops in the valley, which would make it one of the most militarized zones in the world but simmering passion for self-determination among the local youth and their calls for freedom from India paint a new canvas.
Former chief minister and leader of the regional National Conference party Farooq Abdullah warned India that it was “losing Kashmir”.
Some independent observers say Kashmir may have graduated from being a nuclear flashpoint between India and Pakistan to a more profound level: “freedom-pregnant” — both India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir dispute and claim the territory in full. But another war is no longer an option, some observers say.
So what’s behind this “leap of faith” in Kashmiri youth –to protest, even die for freedom through self-determination? It’s the new normal in Kashmir, according to the report published by the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The tipping point and the subsequent tectonic shift in Kashmir’s young generation minds took place two years back –in July 2016 when the world was witnessing 9 other significant events in history: Turkey was rocked by a massive coup attempt; Iraq, France and Germany were devastated by ISIS attacks; Germany and Japan were rocked by rampage killings; The US nominated the least popular presidential candidates (Trump & Hillary) in history; Britain gained its second female Prime Minister; NASA’s Juno craft reached Jupiter; The US was rocked by targeted cop killings; The International Court set a collision course with China on South China Sea; Australia had its messiest election in decades.
And the tenth most significant “game changing” event in my considered opinion took place in Kashmir, located several hundred miles (crow’s flight) southeast of the world’s media capital –the New York City: “Targeted killing of a Kashmiri youth stokes waves of massive protests in Himalayan valley”. Instead, it was “Pokemon Go (Game) Provided Some Light Escape” according to ListVerse website.
Why I think so: Until then, India has been painting the Kashmiris’ struggle for self-determination with a broad stroke of instability being perpetrated in the occupied valley by Pakistan (its neighbor) through “acts of cross-border terrorism” –a narrative that found traction in the international media because of its ability to resonate in the Beltway and echo the groupthink fueling global response to such conflicts between latitudes 31 degree North and 34 degree North: Palestine, Gaza, West Bank, Syria, Iraq, Kashmir and Afghanistan.
On 8 July 2016, Burhan Wani, the 22-year old leader of a local resistant group was killed by Indian security forces in the Indian-administered Kashmir. Shortly after Wani’s killing and outbreak of mass protests that led to more deaths, mass protests and violence, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights undertook remote monitoring of the human rights situation in the occupied valley which continued for two years.
In mid-June this year, the OHCHR” published its first report on the situation of human rights in both Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The scathing report highlighted that the struggle is indigenous and growing, with huge involvement of the youth –girls and boys alike. New narratives are replacing old ones, and old stalwarts are getting replaced with new and educated faces who are striking better chords in the restive masses much to the chagrin of India which claims Kashmir is integral part of its territory — a claim disputed by Pakistan as per UN Resolution 47 adopted in April 1948.
The report found that Wani’s killing triggered protests on a very large and unprecedented scale throughout the occupied Kashmir Valley. Indian security forces responded to protests with excessive force, which led to huge casualties and a wide range of alleged related human rights violations and abuses throughout the summer of 2016 and into 2018.While Indian-Administered Kashmir has experienced waves of protests in the past—in the late 1980s to early 1990s, 2008 and 2010—this current round of protests appeared to involve more people than the past, and the profile of protesters has also shifted to include more young, middle-class Kashmiris, including females who do not appear to have been participating in the past, said the report.
In responding to demonstrations that started in July 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries. Civil society estimates are that 130 to 145 civilians were killed by Indian security forces between mid-July 2016 and end of March 2018, and 16 to 20 civilians were killed by armed groups in the same period.
IOK Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti told the state assembly on 23 January 2018 that 172 people had been killed since 2016. Independent observers say the figures exceed 220.
The report said that during the period, 9,042 people had been injured from the use of bullets, metal pellets and chemical shells.
One of the most dangerous weapons used against the protesters during the unrest in 2016 was the pellet-firing shotgun, which is a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun that fires metal pellets. It is not known to have been used against protesters anywhere else in India for crowd control, the report pointed out.
Most civilian deaths during the period including extreme eye injuries and visual impairment were caused by the use of pellet guns, the report highlights. The number of people partially or completely blinded due to pellet injuries is very high –the report termed it as “mass blindings”. Apart from physical injuries, many victims of pellet shotguns face serious mental health issues, including symptoms of psychological trauma.
Indian security forces continue to use pellet shotguns in Kashmir today, the report said. On 1 April 2018, around 40 people were reportedly injured, including 35 hit in the eyes, by pellet shotguns used against people protesting against the killing of civilians in Shopian and Anantnag districts.
The report says human rights violations by Indian security forces include torture and custodial deaths, rape, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.
“There are also independent accounts alleging ambulances and ambulance drivers were attacked by Indian security forces”.
Indian security forces blatantly used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries from year 2016 to April 2018, the 49-page report has concluded.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his message on Black Day, called for immediate implementation of the recommendation to set up a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights abuses by Indian security forces in occupied Kashmir.
The country’s President Dr Arif Alvi, in his message on Black Day said “we reiterate our unflinching and steadfast moral, diplomatic and political support for the just cause of the people of Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir”.
The army chief said the Kashmir issue continues to be a “core unresolved agenda” of the 1947 partition and reiterated his support for the right to self-determination of Kashmiris.
The new government led by Imran Khan last month called for talks but India rejected the offer. PM Khan says he’ll again call for talks on settling Kashmir dispute after elections are held in India. Meanwhile, young Kashmiris pelting stones, protesting killings, and excessive use of pellet guns and rubber bullets by Indian security forces will probably continue.
For India, options are running out except to continue ducking the pressure and pointing fingers at Pakistan for its troubles born out of an unnatural adoption –if the UN Security Council Resolution 47 is implemented in good faith.
(The writer is a business & construction consultant, analyst, and Editor-in-Chief of PKonweb, DesPardes and BE2C2 Report)