What does a shutdown cost in Kashmir?

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by Younis Sideeq Wani

Have you ever been to Kashmir? Ever witnessed a shutdown? It is very common in the valley, as cheap as a dishonest wink!

You may have heard of search and cordon operations, ambush, crack-down, shoot at sight or shut down, but in Kashmir, even a child of three knows what that means. Does your younger brother, child or a kid know about pellets and bullets? Maybe not, unless you are from Syria or Gaza. However, every Kashmiri kid knows about them and even their repercussions.

Curfew-like restrictions in Srinagar. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

These abysmal terms may have the same meaning across the world but the shutdown in Kashmir is completely different.

For the world, a shutdown is an appeal by activists of a specific group to achieve a positive goal without causing collateral damage. However, what we witness in Kashmir contradicts from what the definition states. In Kashmir, it eventually implies to the collateral damage, innocent killings, deaths, injuries and much more.

The shutdown is observed twice a week on an average. It may be for a day or two or worse for a week. It anyhow relies upon what prevails in the Kashmir after Indian armed forces launch search operations to knock down the militants. The shutdown is also observed over the death of civilians, which is quite often witnessed in the valley.

Friday and the aftermath

Friday, a holy day when Muslims all around the world observe congregational prayers and so do Kashmiris but what prevails after the prayers of Friday in Kashmir is obnoxious.

No doubt that Kashmir is the ‘highly militarized zone’ where you confront army men in camouflage uniforms “chest up, chin up” after every ninth step mostly on Fridays and apparently on shutdowns to scrutinize the mobility and manoeuvring. As soon as people finish offering prayers and come out from the mosques, a stone hits the security forces from nowhere, who then wait for a command to trigger guns and pellet guns to foil the protestors. Those shooting the stones escape without being caught but those with no intention of even getting involved become the victims and later succumb to the injuries.

For an instance, in August, an eight-year-old boy, Junaid Ahmad, who was standing in a lane outside his house at Srinagar became the victim of a ‘targeted fire’ when he was shot by a pellet gun, resulting in extensive injuries to his chest.

Hiba Jan, the 18-month-old baby who was hit by a pellet in her eye, with her father in Srinagar’s SMHS hospital. She was injured on November 25, 2018, in Kapran village of Shopian. KL Image

Hibba, a 20-month-old baby girl who was shot by pellets, the youngest ever pellet victim, from district Shopian of South Kashmir. According to her mother Masrat Jan, was choked by a tear-gas canister that exploded inside her house during clashes between protesters and security forces at Kapran, a village adjacent to Batgund area.

“I was forced to rush outside the house when Hibba and my five-year-old son struggled to breathe. Outside, someone fired a pellet shotgun and I could not cover the face of my baby,” said Masrat Jan, the victim’s mother, who too suffered pellet wounds on the hands while trying to covering her daughter’s face.

“It is highly unlikely that she will regain her complete eyesight”, said a doctor after performing a second surgery on her.

There are a number of pellet victims like Junaid and Hibba who are battling for life.

A 14-year-old girl named Insha peered through the window to see what’s going on outside, as soon as she looked through the window, the police discharged a volley of pellets indiscriminately hitting Insha in the face, eyes, and skull.

“I just peeped through the window and the policemen, who were outside, targeted me. I fell down and I don’t know what happened to me after that. Everything went dark,” she tells Al-Jazeera in an interview.

Insha Mushtaq, now 16 years old, is one among the hundreds of teenagers who have become the victims of these lethal guns.

Her face was pockmarked with more than hundred pellet wounds some hit her eyes, and some pierced close to her brain.

Her nasal, frontal, and maxillary bones were also broken.

The doctors treating her at the Surgical Intensive Care Unit of Srinagar’s Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) had a grim diagnosis; procedures to try to restore her eyesight were unsuccessful. They described her case as “the worst we have ever seen,” as they focused on reviving her brain. She was quoted as blind for life.

“I dreamed of becoming a doctor one day,” she says. “Now, I can’t go to school on my own.”

The indiscriminate use of guns has caused injuries, blinding 1314 of 1253 victims since 2016 alone. The so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapon has also caused many deaths since it was introduced in Kashmir during the public uprising of 2010.

As per the reports of Ministry of Home Affairs, as many as 13,796 civilians and 5,123 security force personnel were killed in J&K since the beginning of militancy in the 1990s. In fact, fatal civilian casualties in 2017 were the highest in five years, recording 167% increase to 40 from 15 in 2016,

However, the numbers are ostensibly small compared to what we hear or see within the realm.

Al Jazeera in an article claims that more than 60,000 people have been killed since an armed rebellion erupted in 1989 in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan with both claiming the territory in its entirety.

India shares the 198-km-long IB with Pakistan in the Jammu region, while the LoC, the dividing line between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, is 740 kilometres long.

As warned by former US President, Bill Clinton years before, the borders between India and Pakistan are ‘most dangerous places in the world’.

Since then, exchange of fire between the two nuclear nations has increased, fatalities surged and ceasefire being indiscriminately violated by either side.

According to official data, Pakistan has violated the truce agreement this year on both LoC and IB over 1,432 times, killing 59 security personnel and civilians.

“Of the 1,432 ceasefire violations, the Pakistan Rangers have violated the agreement 490 times on the IB alone,” said the data released by the government.

When the data was released, the casualty count stood at 55. The death count has, however, increased with the killing of the four soldiers, including a Major, in the Gurez sector on Tuesday, taking the number to 59.

Still the ‘most deadliest’ place in the world or the deadliest?

Hindustan Times in an article states, “Militancy in Jammu and Kashmir has claimed a total of 41,000 lives in the past 27 years which means an average of 4 deaths per day in the state or 1519 casualties every year, according to the latest available government data”.

And over 318 children have been killed in the past fifteen years (2003-2017). Of the 318 children killed, 121 fell in the age group of below 12 years, while 154 were between 13 to 17 years of age. “Infants (up to 2 years of age) too have become victims of violence as 13 infants have been killed in last fifteen years,” reports Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS).

In 2016, after the death of Burhan Wani, the Central Reserve Police Force, an Indian paramilitary unit, told the Jammu and Kashmir High Court that it had used 1.3 million pellets in 32 days to control and quell the street protests.

Still, India renounced UN report on rights violation in Kashmir as ‘fallacious, tendentious and motivated’.

Shutdown call by Separatists

It is said that the separatists in Kashmir have a good role to play in the killings of innocent Kashmiris. Some are so influenced that they end up doing anything at their behest. However, both India and Pakistan count themselves the chief elements in the ‘dialogue’ or ‘talks’. But for some, they are the fringe elements who orchestrate terror and mislead youth in the Kashmir valley.

Ever heard of a “call” given by the separatists like Sayed Ali Shah Geelani or any Hurriyat leader like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik?

No?

It is a “call” for shutdown given by the separatists to observe despondency in Kashmir over the killings of militants, civilians, or any other tyranny faced by the people of Kashmir.

However, this “call” eventually leads to the protests and clashes between the youth with stones and Security Forces with bullets and pellets resulting in innocent killings. Commuters are targeted, they get hit by the pellets in their eyes, head, and rest of the body. Small children who freeze while witnessing the occurrence are hit by bullets, which eventually makes the situation more hostile.

The increasing number of killings in the valley results in escalating shutdowns, which hardly affect the separatists – but it is common people who are affected the most. The market remains sealed, schools closed. Sometimes, government officials enjoy the holidays and sometimes they risk themselves to reach the office. Vendors hardly manage food, and kids barely get to play.

Younis Sideeq Wani

Moreover, shutdowns lead to curfews and the recoiling of the shoot at sight, giving more teeth to men in uniforms which further adds fuel to the escalating situation in the valley.

This is the cycle of Kashmir that keeps circling around in fluctuating intervals giving a surge to more killings, injuries, and bloodbath. Parents are fed up with this draconic era, living in paranoia. Those who lost their children wait for them to return home. Those who gave up fighting are deprived of contentment. Mothers wailing in despair and fathers half-hearted in silence. Yet, no one returns home. However, we farewell them all.

“Every morning in Kashmir is mourning and every day is bloody”

Does it cost much?

(The author is a Delhi based Kashmiri journalist working with IANS. Ideas expressed in the article are personal.)

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