Guest Blog: “Every Day There is a Report of Deaths, Which Triggers More Protests”

August 24, 2016

GPJ-KashmirSRINAGAR, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR — It’s been 47 days of strikes and protests in the Kashmir Valley and normalcy is nowhere near.

It all began just two days after Eid.

I was seated with my family in our home, when my brother got a message that Burhan Wani, a well-known militant commander, was killed. I called people to confirm that this was true, and looked online as well.

Who could have known that his death would lead to such circumstances? But within just a few hours, internet connectivity was blocked by the Indian government. Soon, mobile networks were blocked too.

All this occurred while I was still trying to figure out what was happening!

More than 8,000 people have been injured, a senior doctor at the SMHS Hospital in Srinagar told me. That’s based on records compiled from all of Kashmir’s hospitals. More than 400 people, including children, have pellet gun injuries to their eyes. Many of them have lost their vision completely.

Local media reported that more than 50,000 people gathered on July 9 to mourn Burhan Wani and join his funeral procession.

Now, many parts of the Kashmir Valley are under night curfew. The exact times vary, but right now the curfew stretches from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Journalists have been beaten, according to local media reports. An ambulance driver was shot by army personnel. A lecturer was beaten to death.

Curfew passes are issued, and I got one to do my reporting work. But security forces don’t acknowledge the passes. Recently I was taking pictures near Amira Kadal when a military person asked me for documentation showing that I had permission to shoot photos.

I wondered, whose permission did I need to get?  I showed him the curfew pass, but he said that wasn’t sufficient.

But if curfew passes aren’t acknowledged, I wondered, why are they issued at all?

The situation is grim. The youth of Kashmir are angry. They say they want freedom. There were massive protests in 2008 and 2010, but this time they are different.

Every day there is a report of deaths, which triggers more protests. Security forces use pellet guns all over the protesters, even though the government reportedly says they should only be fired at areas below the knees.

I visited the ophthalmology ward of the SMHS Hospital, where the scene was very painful. There were many young boys and children whose eyes were bandaged. Their relatives sat near them. I talked to some boys there but didn’t say that I was a journalist. Most of the people do not want to talk to media.

According to local media reports, the Central Reserve Police Force informed the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir that it used 1.3 million pellets in 32 days in Kashmir to control ongoing protests. CRPF also told the court that between July 8 and August 11 around 8,650 tear gas shells were used, as well as 14 types of less lethal and nonlethal munitions, such as oleoresin grenades, pepper balls, stun grenades and electron shells, according to those reports. The security personnel also used 2,671 plastic pellets.

Amnesty International India was recently charged with sedition under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. Amnesty International India temporarily closed its offices and postponed events aimed at raising awareness of rights abuses over safety concerns for its staff. The UN Human Rights chief asked the Indian government to allow investigators into Kashmir to examine allegations of human rights violations during this heavy-handed crackdown. But the Indian government said that the visit by a UN Human Rights Council team is not required, according to local media.

On August 22, local media reported that the government has brought additional 2,600 security forces in Kashmir. There is strict curfew and communication blackout but it is not deterring the people from protesting. The state government is silent and clueless. There were meetings, but no conclusions.

The curfew, protests, clashes and the killings continue in the Kashmir Valley. It has been 47 days of continuous unrest. And normalcy is nowhere near.