Photography

Kashmir, the Paradise that Breaks Your Heart

A look at the lives of locals and those affected by pellet guns during the weeks of violence and protests in the Valley, before the curfew was finally lifted after 51 days.

On August 5, Umar Yousuf, a class 11 student from Budgam, was hit by pellets in his left eye in the Beeru area of the district. Credit: Shome Basu

On August 5, Umar Yousuf, a class 11 student from Budgam, was hit by pellets in his left eye in the Beeru area of the district. Credit: Shome Basu

“I haven’t had ice cream for a long time,” five-year-old Afsa said. He clutched his mother’s hand tightly as she tried to make him sleep amid the loud noises of shelling and stone pelting that was taking place right outside their house. The Indian paramilitary forces continued their rampage as the locals protested.

Welcome to Srinagar.

People here ended their day by 6 pm as they was nothing left to do thanks to the curfew. People turned off the lights inside their rooms as darkness set in. They talked in hush tones and carried on with their lives in darkness in a strange and surreptitious atmosphere.

Curfew had been imposed in Kashmir following the killing of Hizbul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8. Since then, the Valley had witnessed unprecedented turmoil.

The curfew was lifted on August 29, 51 days after being imposed – the longest curfew in the entire history of the Kashmir unrest. This time, the protests reached even the remotest hamlets of the Valley, where until then, protests had only been heard about, never actually seen.

Even though there had been a strict curfew in the city, some restricted movements were allowed. The day passed by according to the the calendar proposed by the joint Hurriyat leadership.

Everyday, as per the calendar, the shutdown would be in force until six in the evening after which the shops and business would reopen.

But then a sudden flag march by the Indian security forces would take place, creating a street rampage. The forces would break window panes with canes and stones, and hurl abuses at the people in the streets. Within minutes, the shutters would be rolled down and silence would take over. In a few alleys, some would chant azadi slogans and try to intimidate the forces.

The homes were blacked out; the torches on mobile phones became the standby light for people in the dark rooms. The sound of the CRPF marching and caning at the shutters would continue through the night. The trauma was unending.

Kashmir has incurred a net Rs 6,400 crore loss during the curfew.

Many, including Meharaj Uddin, a shikara owner at the Dal gate, blamed both India and Pakistan for the problems in Kashmir. He even blamed the Hurriyat leadership for the crisis.

An eminent citizen of Srinagar, who wishes to be identified as Dr. Dar, had an honest take on the situation. To him, the showcasing of the Pakistani flag by the angry youth was an insult to the Kashmiri culture. Most citizens detest such radical moves but the options were limited, he said.

The killing of Wani has ended the peace process, said a manager at State Bank of India, who wished to remain anonymous. If they had arrested him and kept him in captivity, then such an uproar may not have occurred. They blame both India and Pakistan for the creation of such a paralysis and believe that the two countries have their own interest in keeping the issue on the boil.

There have also been many violations of human rights.

A CRPF member, who specialises in pellet guns, said that he too was tired. There was no sleep or peace, only fear. The forces had to bear the brunt of the numerous injuries caused by pellets. Although they said they sprayed the pellets on the streets, which recoiled and hit the attacking crowd, doctors at the SMHS Hospital tell a different version.

A section of Kashmir’s elite community want the security forces to leave the city, where they have been intimidating locals. If the forces had left the city then the protesters would have had no one to throw stones at.

Their hope is that law and order improves.

The ongoing psychological warfare is deepening the wounds and engulfing the next generation with a hatred towards India. During an India-Pakistan cricket match, most Kashmiris support Pakistan, members of the city’s elite say. It is just a way to vent their anger at the Indian government for the atrocities that the people of Kashmir have experienced.

Even children have begun to discuss the crisis and its consequences. At schools, seven-year-olds discuss how they must react to the ongoing civil unrest in the Valley.

The Valley was buzzing with slogans of azadi; the anti-India sentiments were at its height. A local unemployed boy, a regular participant in protests, said it was better to die than live in a police state.

But many in Kashmir remained hopeful that lasting peace and normalcy would return.

(Additional reporting by Nissar Ahmad Dharma)