Kashmir has long been defined by the intractable political dispute between India and Pakistan; the ‘integral part’ for India and the ‘jugular vein’ for Pakistan. After the independence and division of British India into India and Pakistan, in 1947, both the countries laid claim to the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir which now lays divided. Part of it, known as Azad (free) Kashmir, is controlled by Pakistan, while the region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is occupied by India. The UN resolutions of 1948 and 1949, accepted by both India and Pakistan, were aimed to resolve the Kashmir dispute through a free and fair plebiscite in which the people of the state would be allowed to decide their future. The choices they thought they had were threefold: to join either India or Pakistan or ‘remain independent’, but their right to decide was never executed. In the last 68 years both India and Pakistan have dallied over a fair solution for Kashmir. The growing atrocities by Indian security forces, the refusal of Kashmiris to pledge allegiance to India, the struggle for their land and the denial of the right of the people to determine their future gave birth to an armed struggle in 1989.
In order to combat the insurgency in Kashmir, camps and checkpoints were established by the Indian army across the region. Militants attacked the camps, leading the Indian army to unleash their wrath on innocent locals.
The people of a small town spoke to me about a horrific incident from that time. A paramilitary forces camp (now replaced by the army), situated near their town, was attacked in the early 1990s in what is believed to be the Valley’s first such incursion. After heavy shelling and the huge loss of their life, the paramilitary ventured into town to seek out the assailants, who had all long since gone after hurling heavy shells on the camp.
“It was the first time we heard such blasts and we all were frightened, all our family members gathered in the room of my daughter who had recently given birth to a son. We turned off the lights of our house and then we heard someone calling on a loudspeaker to gather in the mosque for safety. The night was dark but we managed to reach it and saw almost everyone assembled there.” speaks an elderly man. “The dreadful faces and trembling bodies of men, women, children, and elderly people all gathered and praying to Allah to save us,” says a woman (with a deep sigh) of that town.
They could not hide for long; they were soon found by the vengeful paramilitary forces. “Someone accidently turned on the loudspeaker of the mosque and they heard our voices, they were so angry shouting ‘where did you hide them (militants)?’ they tortured almost every one of us”, said another man. “You could hear the cries of young men, the wailing of women, the weeping of children and the elderly, every young man was brutally tortured. The mothers watching their sons tortured were wailing loudly. We’ve seen much viciousness since that moment but the memory of what we experienced that night still leaves us shaking with terror” he added. “They left after they questioned everyone of us, a few men were detained and were released after severe interrogation and torture and one man among them died soon” stated another witness to the ordeal. Fearing that they would come back soon and terrorise them again, most of the village inhabitants fled for their lives, leaving their homes and all their possessions. Some returned home after four months, some after six and others after one full year, fearing the forces would be back for further retribution. A while after they had all returned they fled again upon hearing another blast, but eventually realised that it was only the sound of an exploding gas cylinder and not another attack.
Similar incidents became commonplace in almost all the villages and towns of Kashmir. This produced a kind of psychosis among the inhabitants. Whenever they would see soldiers they trembled in fear. Though the attacks on camps are less common now but the fear that resides in the heart of every Kashmiri is undiminished.
The Valley was on high security alert during the Prime Minister’s visit on 7th November 2015. It was a curfew-like situation: Kashmiri’s were caged, mobile internet services were blocked, the J&K national highway was closed and to foil the ‘Million March’ the police detained over 300 pro-independence (separatist) leaders, activists and other rebels. The ‘Million March’ was intended by pro-freedom leaders, modelled on a movement held recently in the US, to counter Narendra Modi’s rally and ‘to remind the world about 18 UN resolutions on Kashmir that promise the right of self-determination’. Modi announced an economic package of 80 thousand crore (£8 bn) for the region’s development and to aid the victims of last year’s devastating floods. For him the key to all the problems lies in the employment of the youth of J&K, which may be true in terms of progress but in reality the solution to the problems of Kashmir lies in the resolution of the long standing ‘Kashmir dispute’. Soon after Modi’s visit protests broke out between irate masses and security forces during which a youth was killed and several others injured. Unable to bear the shock his maternal grandmother also passed away. There followed more protests and strikes and the war, the unending occupation, continues to embrace innocent lives.
Muddasir Ramzan studied English Literature. He was born in 1990 in Kashmir, India, where he resides. He can be reached at muddasirramzan[at]gmail[dot]com