Three girls between the ages of 13 and 19 were hit by lead-based pellets in “Rumhoo village” and the “Pulwama district of Southern Kashmir,” and a fourth was struck in the “village of Chitragam Kalan in the southern district of Shopian,” both in India-governed Kashmir, according to Al Jazeera. Pellets were shot by Indian police, who had blocked off a village to begin a search. Police described the scene, saying a mob of protestors gathered and began to throw stones at them, who responded by using pellets. Onlookers state that after the police was attacked, they “went on the rampage, entering homes and breaking property.”
The girls, Ifrah Jan, Shabroza Akhtar, Shabroza Baghat, and Urfi Rashid are among the 1631 civilians in Kashmir reported, as of Oct. 30, to have been hit in the face by pellets since July. Jan, Akthar, and Baghat were caught outside in the Pulwama protest on Oct. 30. Rashid was hurt the next day while looking outside of her home during a back and forth between protestors and police. Though the girls have not been blinded, they will need further surgery to improve their decaying vision. None of the said girls were involved in the protests themselves.
Thirteen-year-old Akhtar pointed out that “[When] boys are hit, everyone has an excuse that they pelt stones, [but] what did we do?” Their mothers worry about the detrimental effects these pellets could have on their daughters’ lives. The girls are uniquely vulnerable; these pellets that have invaded their heads and damaged their eyesight have more than a physical impact. The injuries they have sustained negatively affect everything from their marriage prospects to their ability to secure a career. As Akhter’s mother points out, vision is important for all types of jobs, and watching her daughter possibly lose the quality of her vision in such a violent way is extremely difficult.
Amnesty International, among other human rights groups, has highly condemned the use of such pellets, and though the government of India had stated they would discontinue use of the pellets, they are still in use. These pellets leave victims at risk of blindness and are one of many extreme responses employed by Indian troops at protestors.
Kashmir continues to be a contested region between Pakistan and India, and the results of the conflict are detrimental to the people living there. The calls for separation from India and independence by the people of Kashmir are rising. Just this past July, Burhan Wani, a rebel Kashmiri leader was shot and killed by Indian troops. Of the more than 10,000 estimated attendees at Wani’s funeral, 30 were killed and 200 injured by Indian police. In fact, an estimated 90 people have been killed and 12,000 injured since the incident in July. Since the 1990s, an estimated more than 60,000 people have been killed due to the conflict, an alarming number.
Kashmir continues to be a contested region between Pakistan and India, and the results of the conflict are detrimental to the people living there. The calls for separation from India and independence by the people of Kashmir are rising.
The Kashmir conflict is eerily reminiscent of Palestine and its woes. Stone-throwing protestors, brutal police response, decade after decade of a rise and fall in clashes with no end in sight. State denial of human rights abuses. A deliberate bid to ignore the protestors’ demands. A refusal to hold a referendum with a vote by the people involved to decide the fate of the region. In fact, some Kashmiris have made this comparison too and have aligned themselves with Palestine by also calling their movement the “Intifada.”
The recent rise of unrest in Kashmir has once again become an excuse for India and Pakistan to take potshots at each other, both literally and figuratively. Whether it is recent civilian deaths on either side of the border or the ban on Pakistani artists from working in the Hindi film industry, resulting in a response ban on Indian radio and TV serials in Pakistan, the conflict continues to escalate, leaving many fearing the rise of yet another war between the two countries.
Instead of working together to create a joint-solution, the countries keep taking actions that only increase the tension and hate between them. As usual, among all the blustering between the two countries, what is lost is Kashmir itself. The people of Kashmir, their needs, their opinion on what their status as citizens should be is drowned out in favor of shouting and war-mongering rhetoric. How many more years will Kashmiris have to suffer before they get justice? How many more human rights abuses will they have to face, only to have those abuses hidden and ignored?
Is it too much to ask leaders to acknowledge a problem instead of ignore it? To take a step back before blindly cracking down on an entire region of people and actually consider their needs? What if the same amount of time and energy we spent denying the existence of a problem was spent toward addressing it? Responsibly, and with full consideration of the people actually affected by a conflict?
Too many times, this line of thinking is destructive. We see it right here in the United States. We face alarming levels of gun violence in the United States, but deny the fact that guns are a problem. We see rising levels of police brutality, of racism in the police force but shout All Lives Matter. We face high domestic abuse and rape rates but shout “Not All Men.” We throw around the word “Radical Islam” and “Islamic extremism” easily and eagerly, but deny the fatal effects of this terminology on millions of innocent, civilian Muslim lives in the Middle East and beyond.
Immense amounts of time and money are allotted toward deliberately ignoring issues. Imagine, just imagine the progress we could make if those same people and organizations spent the same amount of time and money listening. Understanding. Empathizing. Then taking conscious action toward social justice. Is it too idealistic to wish?
How many more years until Kashmir is acknowledged and given the referendum they desire, the space to make an autonomous decision for themselves what their status as citizens should be? When will their lives stop being endangered, their deaths excused? When will enough be enough?