In the wee hours of 15th December, 2018, the Indian Army launched an operation in Pulwama district of Kashmir to encounter 3 militants. Muhammad Yusuf, a carpenter in Sirnoo village of Pulwama, could hear the noise of army vehicles moving outside his house deep in the night. To his relief, Shahnawaz Ahmad, his young son studying in standard 12, was asleep in his room. In the morning, the two had their dose of tea together. Just 20 minutes later, as Shahnawaz was returning from a spring just across the road to fetch a bucket of water, he was shot by the Indian Army from inside their vehicle while retreating from the battle site where the three militants and an army officer had been killed. As he lay in the pool of blood crying for help, Yusuf watched his son getting killed right in front of his eyes helplessly. The three militants, an army jawan and seven civilians, including two teenage boys were killed that morning. All the civilians were shot by the Indian Army above the waist and away from the battle. Scores of civilians with bullet injuries were brought to the Pulwama district hospitals. The situation was so bad that the hospital authorities had to use the public address system to ask for blood donations .
The Kashmir issue has been unresolved since 1947; for most part of the movement by the people, it has been in a peaceful way for the demand of a plebiscite, as was the condition for the provisional accession of Kashmir to the Union of India. It was only after the late 1980s that people have adopted violent means to make their voices heard . The response of successive governments, instead of finding a political solution, has been excessively brutal on the people of Kashmir. Disappearance, injury, fake encounters, custodial death, rapes became a part of everyday life of common Kashmiris.
Kashmir is one of the most militarized regions in the world with estimated security personnel to civilian ratio of 1:18 . Thousands of Kashmiri civilians, many of them women or children have been reported to be killed by Indian security forces in custody, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances . In 1991, in the village of Kunan Poshpora, soldiers of the Indian Army conducted a search operation. Women of all ages were brutally raped within a single night: Human Rights Watch reported that the number of women raped could be as high as 100. In the firing in Bijbehara in 1993 by BSF, Amnesty International reported that 51 people were killed and 200 injured. The incidents at Kupwara, Handwara, Sopore, Gawakadal and many others are just the few ones which have made it to the media – there have been countless other instances of atrocities which the people of Kashmir have been subjected to. Not surprisingly, there has been no prosecution for these crimes committed in such a huge scale against civilians.
The most fantastic instrument in the hands of the security forces who commit these crimes is called Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This law virtually provides impunity to perpetrators of these crimes, almost completely. With roots in the colonial era Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, 1942, this law legitimizes the presence and acts of security forces in civilian areas just like in war zones. The security forces, among other things, can shoot civilians, use excessive force, arrest without an arrest warrant, enter or search any household premises without search warrant, etc. without having to face any civilian court of justice. It even allows the lethal use of force against civilians contravening orders for assembly of five or more people on the streets. Without the permission of Government of India, the law prevents the prosecution of any security personnel even for heinous crimes like murder, rapes, etc. As a matter of fact, in the 28 years of its existence in Kashmir, though there have been 50 requests of prosecution of security personnel that have reached the Government of India, there hasn’t been a single instance when the Government has granted permission (This is according to the disclosure made by Union Ministry of Defense to the Rajya Sabha on 1 January, 2018).
The June 2018 UN report on the recent developments in Kashmir has documented and strongly criticized the excessive and disproportionate force used by the Indian security forces against the common people of Kashmir. In the previous two years, according to the report, an estimated 130-145 civilian have been killed by security forces, whereas 16-20 civilians have been killed by insurgent groups in the same period. According to a disclosure by the Chief Minister of J&K in the state assembly, between 8 July 2016 and 27 February 2017, 6221 people had been injured by pellet injuries, of which 728 were eye injuries. The report goes on to point out numerous instances of forced disappearances, custodial torture, sexual violence, fake encounters, systematic denial of justice, prevention of human rights defenders and journalists from speaking out, etc.
Metal pellet guns has been widely used against stone throwing protestors, whose anger due to years of atrocities reached a flash point after the killing of Burhan Wani. Even school students, many of them girls, came out in large numbers to confront the mighty fire power of the security forces . In recent months, the support of the youth to resist the Indian state’s military occupation has reached a key point.
The Indian state has been in a state of war with its own people right since the transfer of power in 1947. Whenever there have been any attempt by the masses to assert their rights, the people have been brutalized in the most unspeakable way. The fact is that the Indian state refuses to acknowledge the atrocities that India’s security forces unleash on the Kashmiri people, and it’s a high time to raise the question – Is Kashmir just a mass of land that must be kept in a state of conflict to benefit certain forces, or does Kashmir mean their people who have a right to dignified living?