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Opinion

April 21, 2018

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Kashmir: paradise on fire

‘Kashmir, paradise on earth with its majestic azure mountains, the tranquil shadowy Dal Lake and the fairytale valleys of Gulmarg and Pahalgam, was a land of vibrant hues and captivating beauty. Also known as ‘Pir Waer’ – ‘the alcove of sufis and saints’, Kashmir was famed for the peace, harmony and spirituality preached by Hazrat Sharaf-ud-Din Abdul Rehman (Hazrat Bulbul Shah), Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamadani and many other great Muslim saints.

In the last decades, Kashmir, a paradise on fire, has seen heart-wrenching misery. Each dawn ushers in with the ‘azaan’ from the white-domed Hazratbal mosque, and at each dusk the mosque’s single minaret silently witnesses yet another blood spattered day. The Chinar tree, the ethereal symbol of Kashmir, is known to take hundreds of years to reach its full glory. Let us all pray that it does not take as long as that to see a free and liberated Kashmir.

In Occupied Kashmir, 700,000 Indian security forces turn their guns on a population of just 9 million – killing, maiming and blinding them mercilessly. This brutal strategy of suppression was drafted years ago by former Kashmir governors, Chandra Saxena and Jagmohan Malhotra, member of the BJP and former head of Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Though the governors are long gone, their policies are still ardently followed and seen as a tried and tested recipe of state-sponsored terrorism.

Rape is an act that only a perverse, deranged and demented mind can commit; we have our share of these bestial demons here. However, when sponsored and encouraged by the state it becomes a grotesque and horrifying saga of epic proportions. The cold dark night of February 23, 1991, proved to be one of unparalleled agony for the unwary residents of two small Kashmiri villages, Kunan and Poshpora. About 300 Indian Army personnel raided the villages. The gory and horrifying aftermath of that single night saw the mutilated and raped bodies of 150 girls and women; the 200 men who tried to stop the horror were tortured brutally.

A 2005 study by Doctors without Borders (MSF) reported that “Kashmir has the highest rate of sexual violence in any conflict region, and the vast majority of assaults are perpetrated by police and security forces…Far from random, these attacks are part of an organised strategy to punish, intimidate, coerce, humiliate and degrade.”

Numerous atrocities have been documented by Asia Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy and Human Rights Watch. They unanimously found that “overwhelming evidence indicates that sexual warfare (rape) is endorsed and enabled (not publicly but privately) by both the Indian government and its military officers”. These reports also state that “innocent people are killed as terrorists to get promotions and cash rewards; people taken to jail are tortured; castration being a favourite means of humiliation. Any judicial attempt at punishment is continuously and absolutely stonewalled. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act has become a ticket for unleashing horrors with impunity”.

The battered body of eight-year-old Kashmiri girl Asifa Bano is the latest blood-curdling incident. She was sedated and gang-raped by eight men, including two Indian Special Police Officers, for a week in a Hindu temple. Agitating Hindu nationalists carrying Indian flags marched through the streets of Jammu chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and demanding the release of the accused. A mob of Hindu lawyers stopped police officers from entering a courthouse to file charges. The prosecuting lawyer said she had been threatened with rape and death for taking up the case.

However, a letter from 49 prominent retired Indian civil servants “hold Prime Minister Modi responsible for the terrifying state of affairs”. The letter further states: “The bestiality and the barbarity involved in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old shows the depths of depravity that we have sunk into…In Kathua in Jammu, it is the culture of majoritarian belligerence and aggression promoted by the Sangh Parivar which emboldened rabid communal elements to pursue their perverse agenda. They knew that their behaviour would be endorsed by the politically powerful”.

Kashmir bleeds amidst the darkness of terror and these atrocities go unheeded worldwide. This pathetic indifference, amounting to blatant complicity, fuels an ever deepening hatred among the Kashmiris. The UN remains an unmoved spectator. The West led by the US, yet another champion of democracy and the free world, can invade countries at the whim of fabricated reasons, murdering and maiming millions, but is found heartlessly wanting when it comes to the agony of the Kashmiris and Palestinians, and wages a proxy war in Syria. The Muslim Ummah, if ever there was one, is wrought with divisions and lust for power.

Kashmiris have been let down by their own political elite too including by Sheikh Abdullah, who was once touted as ‘Sher-e-Kashmir’, and his scions. And what could be more telling than the present puppet Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, whose People’s Democratic Party is in an alliance with the BJP, and who resides in the refurbished stately residence that was once Papa II – one of the most notorious torture centres operated by the Indian Border Security Force on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar.

Asif Zardari pronounced thus when he took over as president: the “Kashmir issue should be left aside for future generations and we should focus on improving bilateral relations.” Nawaz Sharif, a Kashmiri, his coterie rife with Khwajas and Dars, ruled the roost for years but, sans a minister for years, our Foreign Office was, as former British PM Harold Macmillan described, “forever poised between a cliche and an indiscretion”.

How could they forsake a cause drenched in the blood of thousands of martyrs of Kashmir, a place with more than 95 orphanages and over 500 graveyards – a testament to a whole generation orphaned and another one lost? In these graveyards rest about a 100,000 martyrs, each epitaph tells the tragic tale of a people brutalised.

The pathetic Kashmir Committee, its chairman, members and the political envoys we send abroad to evoke the Kashmir cause are nothing but a farce – a sacrilege to the blood of the Kashmiris and an affront to the Kashmiri women who have sacrificed everything yet have never relented their heart’s command: ‘Kashmir banay ga Pakistan’.

Today, despite a world blind to their agony, each Kashmiri man and woman is a Burhan Wani, marching undeterred and unflinchingly towards freedom. The words from famed Kashmiri poet Mahjoor’s poem ‘Azadi’ resonate in their ears:

If thou wouldst rouse this habitat of roses/ Let there be thunderstorm and tempest, aye an earthquake/ O bulbul, let the freedom urge possess your soul! Bid goodbye to your cage, step out/ Mahjoor, throw away this yoke of bondage! From now, you are free as a bird/ Your heart commands, your voice obeys!

The writer is a freelancecontributor.

Email: [email protected]

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