Life under curfew in Kashmir
Tensions between the two nuclear powers India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir were reignited this month, with 17 Indian soldiers killed by militants the deadliest attack on India’s military in a decade. The Indian military has accused “foreign terrorists” from the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad for the attack. In an exclusive for The Point Magazine, Indian Kashmiri journalist Umer Beigh takes us beyond the politics to look at the realities of life in the disputed territory.
Imagine 51 days of living under curfew. Your baby is hungry and sick, but you have no access to medicines, milk, baby food or other necessities. The shops have run out of everything and remain closed. That’s the reality for ’s life for people living in the Himalayan region of India’s Kashmir.
The Indian Government imposed a curfew on July 7 this year after a popular militant leader was shot dead by the army. Burhan Wani’s death was the catalyst for a crackdown after protestors took to the streets. More than 80 people were killed and thousands were injured during the worst violence seen in years.
The curfew was lifted on 5 September but tensions remain high. “We’ve never had a curfew for so long. Kashmir is living its worst nightmare in decades,” say locals.
The curfew blacked out the internet and mobile phone services. Mosques were closed to worshippers. Shops remained shuttered. More than 3,000 people were injured by pellet guns used by security forces.
Doctors say the curfew will further exacerbate mental health problems, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among ordinary Kashmiris. “The continuous feeling of remaining under surveillance will make an individual hyper-vigilant. This will give rise to mistrust and suspicion and can lead to paranoia,” suggested psychiatrist Dr Arshad Hussain in Kashmir.
The mountainous region has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than 60 years. After British India was divided into two nations in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the area.
“We’ve never had a curfew for so long. Kashmir is living its worst nightmare in decades”
– say locals
The people of this restive Himalayan region have witnessed unprecedented violence, particularly when the popular armed rebellion of 1989 was followed by a ruthless counter-insurgency offensive by Indian state forces. The population is more than 60% Muslim, making it the only Indian state where Muslims are a majority. There were two further uprisings, in 2008 and 2010. But this year’s political turmoil appears to be escalating.
Besides the difference in perspectives, there are serious hostilities between Indian troopers and the local population. Complicating matters is the fact that Kashmir remains disputed territory by Pakistan and India – both nuclear powers. Said one local resident: “In the battle of two elephants (nuclear powers), it’s the grass that gets crushed.”
Despite the risk of death under the curfew, daring civilians ventured outside to visit the main hospital in Srinagar city to find out how many casualties there have been. Teenagers who grew up witnessing nothing but violence continue to face bullets to protest against Indian authorities.
“Throwing stones may be an act of violence for others, but for us, for me especially it’s an act of defiance, a political statement against Indian rule, which I am against,” said Adil (surname withheld), a 22-year-old stone thrower from Srinagar’s downtown area.
Indian authorities send thousands of fresh Border Security Forces personnel to quell the protests. Most of the forces have been billeted in schools and college buildings owned by the government.
Gautam Navlakha, a human rights activist in New Delhi, said that the conflict won’t cease without a radical political offer. “The demand for a referendum is enough to politically nurture a movement while war rages.”
As Feroz Rather notes in Kashmir and Masque of India, India has waged a war against Kashmir’s humanity. “With each Kashmiri its armed forces kill in their dark nationalist fervour, that certainly sinks further into the foetid quagmire of hatred that will engulf them, too,” he cautioned.
Perhaps the only way to resolve this is for India and Pakistan to step aside and let those in Kashmir decide their fate, according to Christopher Snidden, an Australian scholar who has written two internationally acclaimed major works about the Kashmir conflict and teaches at Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii.
“As we know the same erstwhile problem is that this poll is never likely to be held. India no longer wants it and Pakistan will not first withdraw its forces from Jammu and Kashmir, as the UN resolution requires,” said Snidden.
Kashmiri Australian Masood Malik, 55, has been living in Sydney for the past two decades working as a telecoms consultant. Australians know little about Kashmir, he said,. However, recent protests organised by the Kasmiri diaspora attracted attention, spreading awareness about the plight of people there. “Free and fair democracy should be encouraged,” Malik said. “The Government of India needs to listen to people.”
Fayaz Khandy, 38, is another Kashmiri-Australian who now lives in Adelaide. “People here in Australia think rationally. Most of them agree that the people should decide on Kashmir’s future, otherwise it’s illogical,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Australian government has stated it does not want to take sides in the dispute and has called on India and Pakistan to find a peaceful bilateral resolution.
Living under the curfew in the politically contested region of Kashmir