A year of death, destruction and censorship in Kashmir
Nestled between mesmerising lofty mountains, the picturesque Indian-Administered Kashmir (IAK) has turned more deadly during the last few years. There is no let-up in death and destruction.
The war-torn disputed territory is now a place on the universe where the mothers often receive the dead body of their sons, fathers announce the venue and time for their funeral prayers, and sisters throw candies and flowers on their funeral procession.
Why the people of IAK die a tragic death every day? When the British colony of India was partitioned in 1947, India and Pakistan came into existence. Kashmir, which is wedged between these now nuclear nations, was an independent state ruled by the king.
In the same year, India and Pakistan began controlling parts of Kashmir. Both claim the region in full and have already fought three wars over it. The aspiration of Kashmiri people for promised right-to self-determination has been ignored.
Read also: October 27, 1947: The day Kashmir's conflict was born
The IAK had burst into major conflicts when the armed insurgency erupted against Indian rule in the late 1980s. The disputed territory has been active in death and destruction since then as the armed rebels received overwhelming support from the people. The armed rebels want freedom from India or merger of territory with Pakistan.
|The war-torn disputed territory is now a place on the universe where the mothers often receive the dead body of their sons, fathers announce the venue and time for their funeral prayers, and sisters throw candies and flowers on their funeral procession|
When a rebel dies, thousands of people pour out onto the streets and shout pro-freedom slogans. During their funeral prayers, the venue and the lanes and by-lanes remain choked with the rush of people. Most of the time, when the mourners don't find space on the ground, they climb trees to have the last glimpse of slain armed insurgent and bid farewell to him.
To wipe out the armed insurgency and crush the dissent of the public, India has increased military deployment, making this small region highest militarised zone in the world.
Over the past few years especially since the armed rebel commander Burhan Wani was killed in July 2016 the tension in the region has escalated. Despite having less survival period, scores of youth mostly educated joined the armed rebel ranks.
IAK is rife with stories of killing, maiming, enforced disappearance, custodial killings, rape, torture, crackdowns and censorship on media.
|To wipe out the armed insurgency and crush the dissent of the public, India has increased military deployment, making this small region highest militarised zone in the world|
It was January 1, 2018 when the world was celebrating New Year; people in IAK witnessed the first gun battle between armed rebels and Indian armed forces. The gun battle was a signal towards a more brutal year that Kashmiris had gone through.
This is the story of 2018:
On December 15, Indian-Administered Kashmir witnessed another bloody day of the year. After the gun battle that left three armed rebels and one Indian armed force dead, seven more civilians including teenagers were killed.
Calling it the grave human rights abuses, the incident was condemned by global bodies including The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Amnesty International. The
OIC in a statement urged the Indian Government to put an end to the human rights abuses in IAK and asked New Delhi to allow the OIC and IPHRC to send a fact-finding mission to the Kashmir.
Like Pulwama, People in IAK have gone through scores of similar incidents this year. On October 21, seven civilians were killed when a blast went off at the gunfight site in Kulgam district of South Kashmir.
The list compiled by the rights group, Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) reveals till November 24, 520 people including 144 civilians, 234 armed rebels and 142 Indian armed force and Police were killed in IAK this year.
The toll has climbed more as more incidents of gun battles and civilian killings took place during the month of December.
The list of killing includes a six-month pregnant lady, a mentally challenged person, school going girls, college students, housewives, labourers, farmers, a Professor, PhD Scholars, "Army informers" and so on.
In the latest gun battle, on December 22, six armed rebels were killed by Indian armed forces in an encounter in Tral area of South Kashmir.
The year 2018 has been one of the most brutal years in IAK. The number of dead in this year is the highest in a decade.
The gun-battle broke out between armed rebels and Indian armed forces on December 8 on the outskirts of Srinagar; summer capital of IAK remained continued for 18-hours.
Three armed rebels including 14-year-old Mudasir Ahmad Parray, 17-year-old Saqib Bilal Sheikh and a Pakistani national were killed. The seven houses were razed, leaving scores of families homeless.
Almost a week before this encounter, a picture of Mudasir brandishing AK-47 rifle and a knife went viral on social media. The image took everyone by surprise. Majority of people mistook it as a fake. They thought a kid was holding a toy gun in his hand. Later, Mudasir turned out to be the youngest armed-rebel of IAK who survived only for a week.
The deadliest-day in this year was April 1 when the three separate gun battles and subsequent clashes left 19 people including 12 armed-rebels, four civilians and three Indian armed forces killed.
In November the armed rebels first time released two separate videos of execution of young Kashmiris whom the group termed as an "informers".
Alongside humans, scores of domestic animals including cows, sheep and hen were burned to death during gun battles. Hundreds of houses including vital assets were destroyed either partially or fully.
Cordon and Search Operation (CASO)
Cordon and Search Operation simply CASO has become a most common term in Kashmir. Every day began in Kashmir with people confirming from others CASO Ma Log Kuni (Is CASO going on anywhere? This term is on the tip of every Kashmiri tongue, and people have now given it their names like CASO, KASO, KEHSO, GASO and so on.
On specific information or suspicion about the presence of armed rebel in a particular area, the Indian armed forces launch CASO in that area. They search door to door to hunt the trapped armed insurgents.
Sometimes, following the CASO, fierce gun battles break out, sometimes information turns out to be false, and in other times local people help the trapped armed rebels to escape the spot.
However, the CASO turns out brute often deadly.
Before the break out of deadly gun battle on December 15 in Pulwama, the Indian armed forces launched the CASO. During the search operation, the villagers said the gun-toting soldiers used them as human shields.
They said soldiers used to give them direction until they reached the hideout of armed rebels. The human shields escaped miraculously. They lunged themselves to the ground when the firing started.
|During the search operation, the villagers said the gun-toting soldiers used them as human shields|
Earlier, the 70-year-old Abdul Khaliq Wagay was crippled for his whole life after Indian armed forces beat him during CASO in Pulwama.
"I was walking towards home when the soldiers hit my leg hard with a hoe," Khaliq told The New Arab. "I was operated on twice and remained bedridden for months."
Khaliq will never be able to work again. He is now walking with the help of a stick.
During the intervening night of March 31 and April 1, the Indian armed forces launched a CASO in Dragad Village of South Kashmir's Shopian district.
They knocked at the door of a farmer Mukhtar Ahmad Thakur and took him away. Mukhtar, according to his widow wife Raqeeba Akhtar was used as a human shield.
"The soldiers yelled and repeatedly knocked our main door. When my husband undid the latch they took him away with a solar lamp in his hand," said Raqeeba.
Next morning, Mukhtar's bullet-riddled body was found near the encounter site, and the lamp was still in his hand. Two kids and wife now survive him.
Scores of people were killed and injured during the hundreds of CASO's launched this year in different places in IAK.
During the 2010 uprising Indian soldiers, first time used shot-gun pellets to quell the protesters.
Officially labelled as a "non-lethal" weapon, the shotgun pellets have so far killed scores of people while thousands other including kids, teenagers, young ones and old-aged persons lost their eyesights either partially or fully.
Read also: Blinded in Kashmir: Scores of women injured by India's counter-insurgency crackdown
Despite the frequent demands by the rights groups and doctors to ban pellets guns in Kashmir, its use shows no let-up on the ground.
The shotgun pellets, which emits 600 metals balls simultaneously, have turned out to brute sometimes deadly for people in Kashmir this year.
On the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, while walking back home from prayers, the 30-year-old Sheeraz Ahmad Naikoo was seriously injured when he was hit with the volley of pellets in South Kashmir's Islamabad district.
Sheeraz was rushed to the hospital where he succumbed. The medical records of Sheeraz revealed that the cause of his death was pellets.
"He had pellets all over his upper body including the neck, throat, chest, face and abdomen," reads his medical record.
Initially, the police claimed Sheeraz died because of a grenade blast. Later, in November, in a report submitted to State Human Rights Commission, Police admitted that Sheeraz was injured when police and other forces fired pellets and tear gas shells to disperse the mob on June 16, 2018.
In one of the horrific incidents of this year, a 19-month Hiba Nisar was hit by a pellet in her right eye at her home in Shopian district of South Kashmir. Hiba was in her mother's lap during the time of the tragic incident.
The family was trying to flee their home after it was filled with tear gas smoke.
Doctors have successfully removed the pellet from Hiba's eye, but her eyesight is still in danger.
On June 22, Abid Hussain Sheikh, a mason by profession was hit with a bullet in his leg during the gun battle between armed rebels and Indian armed forces in Nowshera village of South Kashmir.
The bullet had ruptured the central nerve and shin bone of Abid. His leg was amputated after eight days.
Like, Abid and Hiba, this year hundreds of Kashmiris especially young ones have met the same fate.
The young journalist from Srinagar, Asif Sultan, is behind bars for four months. He was detained by government forces during the intervening night of August 27-28 from his home in Srinagar.
Aasif was working as an assistant editor with Srinagar-based monthly magazine, Kashmir Narrator and was continuously writing stories for it.
Defending the Aasif's arrest the Police in a court said, "In his reporting, he (Aasif) is glorifying terrorists, and he would often give coverage to Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists, especially Burhan Wani, to attract youth towards terrorist organisations, especially Hizbul Mujahideen."
However, the Aasif's editor Showkat A Motta and his family denied the police statement. They said police questioned Aasif over his ideology and the stories he had written for the magazine.
In one more incident, on June 14, the senior journalist and editor-in-chief of Srinagar-based English daily Rising Kashmir Shujaat Bukhari was shot dead along with two personal security guards by three unknown gunmen outside his office.
After the investigation in Shujaat's killing, the police in a press conference claimed that the gunmen were three armed rebels.
Rejecting the police claims, the armed rebels, as per media reports said the Shujaat's killing was the handy work of Indian agencies.
According to the report published by Community to Protect Journalist (CPJ) on November 14, alongside Aasif and Shujaat, scores of other journalist were assaulted in Kashmir in 2018 while performing their duties, and sometimes journalists were not allowed to cover stories.
Despite its lousy impact on education, economy and journalism the authorities often shut down mobile internet in Kashmir. This year alone, According to the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), a Delhi-based non-profit organisation, internet service in IAK has been cut 61 times till December 21. The ban was most of the times enforced only in specific districts where the government feared trouble – usually in the wake of a gunfight between rebel and Indian armed forces.
Worrying students have often confirmed two things in Kashmir; Internet Gowa Bandh (Has the internet been shut)? Inter Gowa Yali (Has the internet been restored)?
This year also Kashmiris faced the wrath of social media censorship. Scores of Twitter and Facebook pages including official ones were censored.
|This year also Kashmiris faced the wrath of social media censorship. Scores of Twitter and Facebook pages including official ones were censored|
The Free Press Kashmir, a registered weekly magazine faced the Facebook censorship number of times. According to its editor Qazi Zaid, in May its one story was removed from the page, in September 4 stories were removed and in December the page was shut down for 48 hours.
Among the other portals, Wande Magazine and Lost Kashmir History were censored and later restored.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye has recently written a letter to Twitter CEO regarding the blocking of Twitter accounts of Kashmiris and blocking users for sharing or posting Kashmir related content.
Kaye has asked Twitter to provide complete details of the request made by the Indian Government about the withholding of Kashmir content and blockage of Kashmir Twitter handles.
In June this year, the United Nations Human Rights office released a 49-page report on human rights violation in Indian-Administered Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. It was first ever report issued by UN on Kashmir.
The report stated there is an urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations and abuses and deliver justice for all people in Kashmir, who for seven decades have suffered a conflict that has claimed or ruined numerous lives.
Unlike Pakistan, the Indian government rejected the report called it "fallacious and motivated".
Later, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in her opening statement to the council said the commission's earlier report on Kashmir "has not been followed up with meaningful improvements."
India again expressed regret over the remark made by the new chief, while it gave new hope to the people in Kashmir. But there is no impact of UN report on the ground.
People in Kashmir have witnessed the more brutal years like 2018 during the last three decades. Exhausted with the violence, they just want India to drop a bomb on Kashmir and kill all at one time.
Aamir Ali Bhat is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist who reports on human rights abuses, culture and the environment. He writes for The New Arab, Kashmir Ink and Free Press Kashmir.
Follow him on Twitter: @Aamirbhatt3