THE BLOG
16/07/2016 9:44 PM IST | Updated 17/07/2016 2:22 AM IST

Kashmir: Step and Repeat

Excitement grows from the audience on rooftops as the call to prayer blares over multiple mosque loud-speakers in preparation for the show. The players―Kashmir’s future― arrive to the stage. On the opposing side, security forces slowly march behind blue trucks, armed with deadly instruments. The young Kashmiri players begin breaking stones into smaller pieces in a near-by graveyard. The show begins. Stones, sandals and chants go up against riot vans, sticks, pellets and bullets. This tragic dance goes on to the tune of a call to prayer (azaan), a prayer for peace that has yet to be answered.

I wrote the above entry 73 weeks ago while in Kashmir after a 22 year-old kid was killed by security forces in February 2015. Today, 73 weeks later, more than 30 people have been killed and riots continue in Kashmir, with more young people being fired upon by security forces. All of this in the context of a people who lost their homes, businesses and security after devastating floods left a valley submerged under water in 2014. This has been the song on repeat in Kashmir for decades. Innocent young people are dying.

Sadly, this too is Syria. This is Palestine. And the same could said for segments of the African-American community in the United States in recent weeks. Can you stand this repetition? 

I never quite thought about what an omnipresent force repetition is. From what we watch and eat, to what we consume spirituality and politically... repetition is all around us to the point where it can sometimes lull us into a normalized zone of complacency and acceptance for the way things are.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes

In recent weeks, I feel the prevalence of repetition beyond the morning cup of coffee and witness the consequences of repetition translate to life or death for young people the world over― black youth in America, teenage kids fleeing war in Syria, teenagers in Kashmir. I do not want my son to wake up to the way things are in the world today. Ours is a world on fire. 

Mark Twain once wrote that, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” How true. Donald Trump is keeping xenophobia and racism alive in this country. Policy-makers and voters are acting in ways reminiscent of the 1940s and 1960s, where there was segregation, internment camps for Japanese and witch trials for alleged communists. Turkey just had an attempted coup, of which they have endured three since 1960. In the United States within the past couple of years, i-phone videos revealed unarmed black men―and in some cases teenagers― being shot and murdered by police. Anti-Muslim protesters are showing up outside places of Muslim worship across America, chanting slurs as families attend payers. In Syria, Assad, continues to drop barrel bombs and is brick by brick destroying Aleppo while the world chooses to focus on another group of mass murderers, ISIS. Add then of course there is Kashmir, where state security forces for another hot summer continue to destabilize the region by firing upon unarmed youth.  

In recent encounters with my Kashmiri community and young Syrians I work with, I see Syrian and Kashmiri youth feeling increasingly isolated from the international community and are looking for solidarity from every-day global citizens. And now we can see same the same feelings take root for some young African Americans in our communities.

‘Why are kids throwing stones?’ people ask. ‘Why are some young people committing suicide or joining gangs or extremists?’ In my current work with youth from the Middle East, South Asia, America and Africa, I find it is because there are not enough spaces for empathy, and outside of some digital spaces, there is no space to breath and have grievances acknowledged and ideas for youth-driven solutions sincerely listened to and shared. Spaces for questioning, generating creative ideas and listening to stories can open up innovation and empathy. This is needed to interrupt the tragic repetition playing out on our TV screens and Facebook feeds. 

A closer look at Kashmir today...

Every couple of years, the same repetitive formula rocks Kashmir. In 2010, security forces fired upon unarmed protesters, killing an innocent teen, Tufail Ahmad Mattoo. Protesters at the 17 year-old’s funeral were fired upon by police in the following days, and of course more Kashmiri teens were murdered resulting in more angry teens taking to the streets, armed only with rocks and signs. 

In 2006, I stepped into the family home of Inayatullah Bhat, a young baker who was shot and killed by security forces for demanding that they pay for the bread he baked. In the protest following his murder, I watched his younger brother lay comatose on the floor with his arms over face, helpless. Sound familiar? 

Step. Repeat. In May of this year, a girl was allegedly molested by security forces in Kashmir and then placed under arrest. Subsequent unarmed protests were met with bullets, claiming 5 young and innocent lives. Mobile and internet services were cut. The government had temporarily suspended contact with the outside world. 

Step. Repeat. Right now, more than 30 innocent people have been murdered since last week during protests and clashes with security forces, including teenagers and children. Those that dismiss the loss of lives right now claim the protesters deserve what’s coming because of their support for a young militant, Burhan Wani. In truth, this is a tragic rhyme of history in Kashmir in which young people protest for lack of any choices and alternatives, and then they end up unjustly shot and killed by security forces whose job it is to protect the people. And with each loss of young life, Kashmir loses another carrier of hope... of creativity... of innovation and love.

While some may be chanting ‘freedom’ in the streets and politicizing the current chaos, THE main issue is the absence in Kashmir of equal protection of human life and freedoms no matter the zip code, race or religion of a person.

Kashmiris today, some African-Americans today, some Syrians today do not feel like people...like human beings. This carries direct consequences for all us, no matter where we live or what are our politics.

Interview with a young Kashmiri activist

During a brief break in the shutdown of internet and mobile services, I was able to hold a interview with a young Kashmiri activist over Facebook this week. For his own security, his name is withheld here and will appear as Anonymous. 

Me: How is it that youth are being killed? Is it stone throwers or just protesters? How do these episodes start and why are young people throwing stones? What has been the response of security forces?

Anonymous: One needs to understand the dichotomy created by Indian media. A false narrative is being created where the victims are blamed and demonized. This is to justify the killings and gruesome brutality unleashed on unarmed people. There are so many injuries of small teenagers who have been shot directly on their faces. That cannot be justified, but they are making it out to be like they asked for it.

Stone pelting happens in many parts of the world. In India, when Jats protested they were shot with water cannons but in Kashmir they use live bullets and pellet shotguns which are unfit for even animals. Our hospitals are turned into slaughter house, and my country is an open air prison.

They expect roses when they shoot on our bodies and blind our young. There are 130 cases where these youngsters have lost their eyesight, some of them as young as 10.

Me: In the United States in recent weeks, there are also lots of protests on the recent police killings of young African-Americans. Do you see or feel any parallels or connections to treatment of young people in Kashmir? What are your thoughts?

Anonymous: As a Kashmiri and as a human being first and foremost, we express unconditional solidarity with our African-American brothers who are being brutalized. There maybe some parallels drawn between the two, but our struggle is against an occupation which uses all instruments at its disposal to kill off the resistance. For us as Kashmiris, we express our support to all oppressed people of the world. We are united by our pain.

Me: Why are young people throwing stones every day and what is the proper response or action that young Kashmiris want from security forces, from policy-makers and from Indian society at large?

Anonymous:  Stone pelting is a last resort after the live firing on the unarmed protesters. Even if the protesters pelt stones, there is no justification of killing innocent people. We want the end of the occupation. That’s the basic demand of the people in Kashmir. For now, we want the end of the siege and freedom for our leadership and protesters on frivolous charges. We would like guarantees from India to remove black laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which gives blatant impunity to the armed forces to kill and rape Kashmiris. We seek removal of the Public Safety Act which calls for no trial for two years. We want a time bound process of demilitarization from all parts of Kashmir. We want peace to be established by treating Kashmiris as equals and not by holding them down with the power of guns.

Me: Why should the international community care about the current episode of Kashmir given all the major crises afflicting the world today?

Anonymous: It has been seven decades of criminal silence from the world on Kashmir. Kashmir has been exploding every year, and the occupation of Kashmir has held peace in South Asia at hostage. We expect the people of the world to put pressure on India for the political and human rights of Kashmiris.

So what can you do now?

Sign this Avaaz petition:  https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Prime_Minister_and_Home_Minister_of_India_Stop_the_use_of_Pellet_Guns_to_control_crowds_in_Kashmir/?cEytVkb

Get data and reports from world renowned human rights defenders on the ground: http://www.jkccs.net/

Tweet to current and upcoming presidents of the UN Security Council, (Japan and Malaysia) the following:  “Condemn the loss of innocent life and police brutality befalling protesters in #Kashmir. #PeaceinKashmir”: http://www.un.org/en/sc/presidency/