Ammi catches me weeping again tonight. She sits by me and asks me why I am crying. I tell her our people are dying. “A Kashmiri baby was forced to sit on the blood-soaked body of his grandfather. Indian armed forces dragged Bashir Ahmed from his car and shot him dead in front of his grandchild. He was only three, mama. After, they tried to ‘console’ him by giving him chocolates. Who shoots a person in front of a 3-year-old kid, ammi tell me? Bullets, pellets, tear gas, thousands of dead bodies, and unmarked graves. This is Kashmir. Blood everywhere. Our blood mother. Kashmir is burning. They have turned our home into a war zone.”
Ammi tells me to stop crying and says, “Allah does not do injustice, remember Maliya the pens have been lifted and the ink has dried. In Islam, we have Kifarah. What you give, you’ll get back; Allah is fair.”
Ammi then asks me what I want to be. I tell her I want to save mankind. “You can’t save everyone, Maliya.”
“I don’t think I am saving anyone, I think they’re saving me. Saving me from falsehood, Western propaganda and Hindu nationalism. Their blood is my truth, ammi. It’s the only thing I have left. The Zulum [oppression] is why I must write. I must write, until their killers are held accountable. I write because that is how I taste their trauma. Tainted with genocide, Kashmiri children smell of war. Fumes of smoke linger on their bodies. This is my blood stained history. I don’t live in Kashmir, but Kashmir lives in me. Piercing screams of Azaadi [freedom] run through my mind. Kashmir will be ours again. And when the war is over and my future kids ask me about Kashmir, I will tell them to stare at the silver chaand [moon]. Our Kashmir is hauntingly beautiful like the moon, full of lush mountains, pink skies, and sweet kahwa.”
Kashmir’s history and background
Kashmir is a region that refers to the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir before 1947 and the partition of the Indian subcontinent.
Before the partition occurred in 1947, Kashmir was ruled by a Dogra Hindu ruler, Hari Singh, who wanted Kashmir to remain independent, choosing neither India nor Pakistan. Kashmir had full autonomy. In 1931, Kashmiris began a mass movement against the Dogras, their princely rulers. The Dogras were a Hindu monarchy that ruled over Muslim-majority Kashmir from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century during the period of British colonial rule. During this time, Kashmiris called for a more representative government, and better economic and educational opportunities, especially for the region’s Muslims, who were seen as being marginalized under the Dogras.
Kashmiris began to demand an end to Dogra rule in the period of decolonization, their struggle became entangled with the political developments surrounding Partition. In 1947, as a princely state, the state of Jammu and Kashmir had the option of choosing Hindu-majority India or Muslim-majority Pakistan. An uprising in the region of Poonch by Jammu Muslims against the Dogra Maharaja led to a raid from northwest Pakistan by Pathan Muslims who wanted to liberate Kashmir’s Muslims from their Dogra overlords. In response, the Dogra Maharaja requested military aid from the government of India. The government of India agreed to do so only if the Dogra Maharaja signed a treaty of accession, which gave India control over the foreign affairs, defense, and communications of the region. The treaty promised that the state’s future would be determined “by a reference to the people.” Both India and Pakistan went to war in 1948, resulting in Indian occupation of two-thirds of the former princely state and one-third by Pakistan. In 1948, the UN passed Resolution 47 that had a three step solution: One, Pakistan was to withdraw completely from Kashmir. Two, India was to reduce military presence and three, hold a free and impartial plebiscite to determine what Kashmiris wanted. This did not happen because Pakistan refused to withdraw first fearing that India would use the opportunity to grab control.
After this, there have been several cross-border fires and wars between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. Kashmiris have been tortured, killed, raped, and thousands of Kashmiris have gone missing since 1947.
Indian occupation forces continue to implement unpunished human rights abuses in Kashmir. Till date, 70,000 people have been killed. Another 8,000 have disappeared — meaning to this day, no one knows of their whereabouts. Countless women have been raped, including the gang rape of women in the villages of Kunan Poshpora by Indian forces in 1991. A number of mass graves have been discovered. During the militancy, over half a million Indian armed forces, including soldiers, reside in Kashmir. Today, the region is the most militarized place on earth. India’s armed forces operate in a state of impunity, and are protected by laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Security Act, which allows the state to arrest anyone for long periods of time without any due process.
On August 5, 2019, India unlawfully revoked Kashmir’s protected status to ethnically cleanse the region, and placed the people of Kashmir under military-enforced curfew. Millions of Kashmiris have remained under house arrest, while thousands have been arrested, tortured and detained, some as young as 11 years old. This follows a cycle of oppression and human rights atrocities being perpetrated against minority communities throughout India. Not only that, the government of India imposed an internet ban in the region of Kashmir. India’s government detained Kashmiri politicians, arrested thousands of activists and academics, and imposed a complete communications blackout. In January 2020, the internet ban was lifted, but access to social media was still forbidden. Human rights advocates and journalists are still not allowed inside Kashmir to report on the situation on ground. Many Kashmiri journalists have been imprisoned, targeted, and harassed by the Indian state. Kashmir is listed as the most militarized zone on this planet. The army to civilian ratio is one army personnel to eight Kashmiri civilians. As India continues to occupy Kashmir illegally, this number keeps increasing at an alarming rate.
Just a month ago, over 15 homes were destroyed. Women also said their homes were looted by forces who robbed jewelry and other valuables from several homes. There are numerous instances where Indian forces have torched down homes at a mere suspicion or to “avenge” attacks on their convoys by rebels. Those who have lost their homes have later said the army watched their homes burn down, and many times warned against dousing the fires. Day after day, India continues to commit war crimes in Kashmir.
An estimated 4,000 – 13,000 people have been detained since August 5, 2019, to include minors, women, those who are ill, and the elderly. This is in addition to those who have already been in jail for years for expressing their opposition to India’s occupation. Approximately 3,248 prisoners are in jails across Jammu and Kashmir. According to the Bi-annual Human Rights Review, only an estimate of 106 prisoners were released since March 2020. Prisoners are subjected to torture techniques including severe beating, threats of or actual acts of sexual abuse, and pressure to collaborate or confess to committing a crime that the detainee is not involved in, and electrocution roller punishment (a heavy wooden log or an iron rod is rolled over the legs of the detainee, extra weight is exerted by army personnel who sit on the opposite sides of this rod/log).
More recently, India has detailed the processes by which Indian settlers will be able to obtain domicile certificates in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, leading to settler-colonialism and demographic change in the region. As suggested by Indian officials, “Israeli-like” settlements can now be introduced, making the region’s Muslim-majority into second-class citizens, a demographic minority, and pave way for ethnic cleansing.
Due to the lockdown, Kashmiri women are more vulnerable than ever, and easy targets. They have become targets of sexual violence, while their husbands and children are killed or detained, leaving them without any support. Indian armed forces have been accused of systematic sexual violence against women in Kashmir. On February 23, 1991, India carried out a military operation where soldiers raped up to 100 women in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora. The Indian army has denied all allegations and the survivors are still waiting for justice.
Children of Kashmir
Children in Jammu and Kashmir are living in the most militarized zone of the world, with the presence of 700,000 troops. In Kashmir, children suffer the most. The military occupation has disturbed their innocent minds as they have witnessed the conflict in their childhood period. These children have experienced trauma and depression. They have seen their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters murdered by Indian soldiers. The illegal occupation of Kashmir has also disrupted the education system due to frequent curfews, killings, and crackdowns, which led to the closure of schools. Kashmiri school children received less schooling facilities as compared to other states of India which became responsible for their lessened exposure to extra curricular issues. Children who were born after 1990 have spent less time in schools, and more time in homes. A very large number of schools have been occupied by security forces as their base camps for militant operation activities. In most cases, security forces have constructed their base camps nearer to schools, which is having a negative impact on the minds of the students.
Use of pellet guns has resulted in many children losing their vision completely or partially as they became victim to pellet firing from security forces. Pellet victim children are facing many economic hardships and are going through mental trauma from having no education. In 2016, the worst example of the pellet victims is a 10th grade student, Insha Jan, who lost her eyesight. In November 2018, a baby was attacked. The baby girl, Haba Jan, only 18 months old, may lose complete vision in one eye. Amnesty International has urged India to stop the use of pellet guns in line with human rights standards on the use of force. But unfortunately security forces are still using pellet guns to deal with protesters, which are mostly school-aged children. Security forces fired metal pellets from shotguns into protesting crowds, leaving many blinded. More than 1,200 children below the age of 15 were among some 9,000 people injured in the protests. Most of them, according to reports, were “young, [and] were either blinded completely or lost their vision in one eye.”
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Feature image provided by Shariq Shah. Shariq Shah is a 22-year-old graphic designer and illustrator, living in Anantnag, Kashmir. He has been honing his skills in design and illustration for the past two years by working for some design companies and practicing intricate work pertaining the field. Be sure to follow him on Instagram.