Kashmir: A demonstration of India’s failing democracy
My hometown has been referred to as the ‘Gaza Strip of Kashmir.’ On the fateful night of Aug. 4, 2019, I was shaken from my sleep by the sound of an explosion. When I ran to check if my mother was alright, I found that she had already locked the main doors to our house. She asked me to hide in the attic. “The police have cordoned the area off,” she said.
I was already distressed by the news that had reached me earlier in the day that more than 4,000 people, mostly young men and boys as young as 13 years old, had been arrested by the Indian authorities on the fabricated pretense of “preventing public disturbance.” I question the moral compass of a government that disguises child imprisonment as a necessary precaution in protecting civic peace and prosperity.
A few days later, a fact-finding team of eminent activists and journalists estimated that more than 13,000 youth were missing from the valley of Kashmir and transferred to different prisons across India. Imagine the agony experienced by their parents who had no information on their children’s whereabouts or condition. Many of them have been slapped with the notorious Public Safety Act, a law that permits the holding of people in jail without trial for up to two years. There have been a number of cases of torture by the army which is made audible through loudspeakers so that other people can hear the victim’s screams.
I had gone home to Kashmir for my summer vacation after having been away from my mother and grandparents while studying abroad. All I wanted to do was spend some quality time with my family before returning to the demands of graduate school. Only in retrospect did I realize that I, along with 8 million fellow Kashmiris, had been completely unaware of what was about to happen.
Kashmir has endured almost seven decades of territorial and geopolitical conflict between the two nuclear-armed states of India and Pakistan. In exchange for the prospects, peace, and self-determination, our people have always been willing to compromise and negotiate in good faith.
In the days following the clampdown, everyone in my uncle’s house — especially my younger male cousins — were under strict orders not to venture outside, no matter what. My grandmother’s eyes were trained on the gate to make sure no one left the house. This was her way of reassuring us that we would all be safe. But deep down she and the entire family knew that anything could happen to anyone at any moment. Going into hiding was our only fragile defense.
This past summer in Kashmir, I spent countless hours lying awake at night worrying about our safety and future as a people. Now that I am back in the US, I am still spending countless hours awake at night, deeply concerned for the safety and wellbeing of my family.
In my dreams, I see incessantly haunting images. I am catapulted back to images of little boys, some as young as 9 years old, who were snatched from their mothers’ arms and severely injured during clashes with the police. I can still hear the wailing cries of these mothers. I felt humiliated for them as they begged the police for mercy and to release their sons. I felt sick watching these desperate mothers surrender their headscarves — and their honor — in the name of submission and humility at the feet of these so-called ‘protectors of peace.’
But mercy was not granted, and their children were taken away. To this day these mothers — and thousands more like them — have no information about their children.
The conflict in Kashmir has devastated millions of lives in economic, social, religious and even psychological ways. Almost half the Kashmiri population is demonstrating signs of emotional distress and trauma. A new epidemic of mental illness is ravaging the valley. Dubbed the ‘Midnight Syndrome,’ sleeplessness and despair chronicle the distress and anxiety that plague those who fear loved ones being taken away.
Their fears are well-founded. Since the 1990s, Young Kashmiris, even non-violent protesters, have “vanished” while in the custody of the Indian Army at a rate four times greater than those who were ‘disappeared’ in Chile under the Pinochet regime, and more than 6,000 unmarked graves have been discovered in Kashmir. These are lives that will never be fulfilled or traced.
And yet, amid an unrelenting international crisis, the issue of Kashmir has receded from the news. It truly feels as if the entire world has turned a blind eye to the concerns and well-being of ordinary Kashmiris.
But the world should know: This same type of silence and passivism in the face of human atrocities has led to genocide time and again. The holocausts in Europe and Rwanda have irrevocably scarred vulnerable populations irreparably. The Kashmiri people are at the doorstep of this same devastation unless the global community steps in.
The world of my Kashmir has been turned upside down in the name of placating right-wing ultra-nationalism in India. The question remains: Where do we go from here? My parent’s generation was destroyed as a result of electoral betrayals that incited a protracted conflict 30 years ago. Will this new constitutional assault on the marginalized people of Kashmir devastate yet another generation?
Some say this may be India’s Vietnam. If the fallout is not proactively stemmed, India may be looking at decades of distrust and political conflict with a population it calls “citizens.”
The government of India has once again chosen conflict over peace, acrimony over resolution. Peace in South Asia is hanging by a thread. The vulnerable community in Kashmir is facing an existential threat, and the world is a mute spectator. The Kashmir issue is an acid test for democracy in India, which is largely failing.
—Editor’s Note: The Justice published this piece anonymously due to concerns for the safety of the author.