At Lal Chowk

After an eight-hour train journey followed by a 12-hour taxi journey, I reached Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir. It was 23rd May 2016. As I reached, an NDTV notification flashed on my phone, stating, ‘After 3 years, militants attacked cops at two places in Srinagar. Is militancy back in Kashmir?’

Next day the weather was pleasant. There was a little rain also. After coming from the hot and humid weather of Patiala, Punjab my skin felt the cool breeze of Srinagar. But suddenly I saw large patrolling vehicles of my army, (Indian army) with two men standing on it, wearing helmets, and ready to fire from their guns.

I had heard about all this but I had never seen it. It was terrifying for me, maybe because I had never seen such patrolling while visiting several other cities of India. But the second thought that came to my mind was that they are my army, they are here to protect us (civilians) and I don’t have to fear from them.

I was going to be an intern at Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, chaired by Parveena Ahanger and funded by United Nation. Parveena was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

Mini buses run through the capital as public transport, buses in which I can’t stand properly. After a couple of minutes of my arrival in the office, an office member read aloud from her laptop, “the cop killed in the attack was never indulged in any anti-militancy activities”. She was reading a news article on yesterday’s attack.

After that what she told her colleague, surprised me. She said (in a sarcastic manner) “ab hame ye bhi dekhna hoga ki koun anti-militancy activities me shamil tha aur koun nahi” (now we also have to look at who was involved in anti-militancy activities and who was not).

I met Parveena at her house that day. She received me with great love and affection. She offered me Kahawa and some traditional biscuits. She told me about the brutality done by army personnel in Kashmir. She explained how they are harassing civilians. She even talked about her disappeared son and told that no one, even her husband, supported her in finding her son.

Parveena believes that the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) is created just for the sake of it.  It is not anyone’s cup of tea to understand a mother’s grief that has lost her son. Her son was just 14 or 15 when the Indian Armed Forces arrested him in the middle of the night. She was worried about what Kashmir had been and what it had become.

The only thing I couldn’t digest in the conversation was when she told that ‘Kashmiri Pandito ko bula liya gaya taki musalmano ko mara ja sake’ (Kashmiri Pandits were called so that Muslims can be killed).

Me with Parveena and co-interns at her residence in Srinagar

Disappearances in the valley started after the 1989 uprising. They demanded Azadi from India and we enacted Armed Forces special power Acts, 1990, which gave license to the security forces to kill anybody on mere suspicion.

Soon after the enactment of the act and deployment of lakhs of troops in the valley, the valley got introduced to militancy. Disappearances were at the pick in the early nineties and according to some unofficial estimates, there are around 8000-10,000 enforced disappearances between 1989 and 2006.

At first, I worked on disappearance cases reported to the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and was made to watch several documentaries on Kashmir by the office members and told to write reviews for them.

SHRC was formed in 1997. I worked on the disappearance cases of three northern districts out of total ten districts in the valley. There are around 271 cases of disappearances reported to SHRC between 1997 – 2015 from the 3 districts.

These enforced disappearances were carried out mostly by my army and the rest by unidentified gunmen and unknowns. The total number of reported cases to SHRC from all the ten districts of the valley is around 700.

Petitions of habeas corpus or other legal mechanisms designated to safeguard the liberty and integrity of citizens remain ineffective. Even a circular was sent by the Jammu and Kashmir government to all the Police Stations stating not to file FIR against the Indian Army.

Out of 271 cases of the three districts, SHRC had recommended SRO-43 (a job in the government) for 10 families; ex-gratia relief of INR 1 lakh for 59 families and INR 2 lakhs for 5 families. SRO-43 as well as ex-gratia relief for 84 families – where ex-gratia relief for 73 families was 1 lakh and for 7 families was 2 lakhs.

There are around 113 cases where no recommendation has been made or the case is disposed of as dismissed due to several reasons or it is ‘under process’. In few cases, it has also been found that people who have been alleged to have disappeared have crossed LOC.

So, by and large, Is the cost of a life in Kashmir is one lakh, which is a semester fee of my university?

Almost every documentary I watched at APDP was from Kashmiri or Anti-India perspective only. It was almost like the one-sided perspective shown by some of the so-called nationalist media houses in India after Burhan’s killing.

There was a documentary by Sanjay Kak, which seemed to be from a neutral point of view. It was during these times I heard the name ‘Burhan Wani’ for the very first time.

All the office members watched those documentaries together. The anti-India feeling and desperation for freedom were visible at several times. In a documentary where the local people were hitting one of my soldiers, one office member was seen clapping.

Although, they frankly say that they don’t want to be a part of India. They want ‘self – determination’ which is ‘Azaadi’ or ‘Freedom’. But their profound love for Pakistan was also visible at several times.

After that, I visited several families of the disappeared. Until the time I was on the way to their houses I was enjoying the beauty of nature. But when I entered the homes of the disappeared ones, the emotions took a U-turn. The stories were heart breaking, depressing.

Although that was the month of Ramazan they offered drinks and snacks every time. Kashmiris are considered very well in hospitality. But as we know every coin has two sides, when a co-intern of mine was traveling in Srinagar and drinking juice; an aunty told her “thik hai tumne rozaa nahi rakha hai, lekin thori to sharam kro; Sabke samne piye ja rahi ho”.

In the way from Srinagar to Baramulla
In the Way from Sringar to Baramulla

In one of the disappearance cases, the Indian Army took the elder son of the family away to a nearby village. He was found shot dead next morning. Then his father went outside of home an evening and never came back. After a few weeks of the disappearance of the father, the younger son of the family was charged with Public Safety Act. He was tortured for several weeks and kept in prison for almost two years.

The so-called ‘Public Safety Act‘ provides for arresting and jailing a person without trial for two years on mere suspicion that he/she may disrupt law and order in the state or may act in a manner prejudicial to the security of the state.

The person who lost his brother, father and charged with PSA. (The Family have got no ‘relief’ yet)
An evening, the only son of the couple went outside his home with his friend and both never came back. (The family have got no ‘relief’ yet.)

I met some people who left their government jobs to work in NGOs and some who were qualified for well-paid government jobs but are not joining the government just to show resistance to the Indian ‘occupation’ in Kashmir.

Although they are fighting against my country, I have some respect for them. This is just because they have a firm stand, they openly say that they are against the Indian ‘occupation’. They sacrifice luxuries of their lives and even their life in order to achieve their goal. Unlike the several elite opportunistic people (subtle poisons), they don’t have double standards.

But enforced disappearances have now become a thing of history and now it has been almost stopped. Although the valley is full of bunkers and heavy patrolling by my security forces continues, resistance from the people is not visible prima facie and neither the atrocities ‘being done’ by armed forces. During my one month stay in Srinagar, I was never asked to show my identity card, no one checked my bags, I was never frisked.

At Lal Chowk

When I told this to the office members, they advised me to visit Friday protests in Downtown, with a warning that it can be dangerous and not to go alone. Downtown is considered as the hub of the resistance movement. I contacted a photojournalist from a local media house and went with him. To go for another such protest, I just bought a DSLR camera and became a ‘journalist’ from a reputed national media house.

Just before the protest. (Location- In front of the mosque)

I went for two more such protests. It’s a kind of routine thing. It happens on almost every Friday after 1400 hours prayer at the largest mosque in Downtown, Srinagar.

It is being fed in the mind of every kid there that India is the villain and Pakistan is the friend of Kashmir. They believe Pakistan is better than India. But why? They don’t have an answer of this.

Forget about the kids and the uneducated. Even the person with a degree of LLB from Kashmir University, LLM from an Indian Institute and going for an MPhil degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University also believes that Pakistan is better than India.

Their profound love for Pakistan is just because it is an Islamic country. Even the main cause of the 1989 uprising was Islam. Some frankly say that they express their love for Pakistan by raising its flag. Then what about the flag of ISIS?

A boy with ISIS flag.

The stone pelters call themselves ‘Sangbaaz’. They believe that the movement for freedom is alive because of them. The stone-pelters have the mass support. When I talked to some native people they all tried to justify it. They fear that if everyone starts to live a normal life the movement for ‘freedom’ will be forgotten.

A few days ago I saw a circular from ‘Sangbaaz’ on social media which stated: “We request all girls please don’t use scooty. If we see any girl who rides scooty, we will burn the scooty as well as the girl”.

There is a huge distrust of the Indian national media. They feel they have never told their version of the stories. And more importantly, the forces also place their boys among the stone pelters to help identify them and they also have their people armed with handycams recording the protests. The footage is then later used to identify and arrest these boys.

“You can be beaten black and blue, even your camera can be broken if the protesters felt that you are an agent of the force,” a journalist told me when we were passing through the protesters and I was clicking their pictures.

Just after the afternoon prayers, around some 2-3 hundred people came outside the mosque. Before the beginning of the protests, kids as young as 10-12 years pose for the photo-shoot with stones and several flags in their hands. I personally think the media has glamorized them.

Some masked youth were leading the protest. With several placards and flags in their respective hands. They were shouting anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans. As we move ahead with the protesters, after a couple of hundred meters, a tear gas came from the other side. The security forces have stopped them. By a bypass lane, we came towards the police side, which is considered as safe. Although, some people said that sometimes protesters make the forces move back to the police stations by stone pelting.

After that the game begins. The protesters pelt stones on the security forces and abuse India and the forces fire tear gases from time to time. First time in my life I have smelled tear gas. At the very first time it made me blind for almost half a minute. It caused severe irritation to the eyes and nose. My eyes were watering from tear gas. It was like a small war zone for me.

During the protest
During the protest

There were several photographers from local and national media houses capturing the protest in their cameras. It’s dangerous to click pictures as one also has to look out for stones flying towards him and even a single stone is enough to make your visit to a doctor.

All the times, the protest went on for almost 2-2.5 hours. At last, the people were inside the Jama Masjid and the security forces were on its gates. Interestingly, at some stages of the protests the security forces apt to simply move back without offering any real resistance.

During the protest
During the protest