“There is only one solution—gun-solution, gun-solution,” mourners shout beside the bullet-ridden dead body of 25-year-old Nissar Ahmad Mir in Rathson, a village in Kashmir’s Budgam district. Nissar was one among the eight people shot dead by the Indian armed forces on April 9 during the course of widespread protests on the day of voting in the by-elections to the lower house of the Indian parliament.
Elections in Kashmir held by the Indian administration are a bizarre phenomenon. Before they take place, local candidates sponsored by Indian or pro-India political parties ask for votes in return for basic necessities like bijli, sadak, and paani (electricity, roads, and water—minimum development). They maintain that these elections have no bearing whatsoever on the larger political dispute over Kashmir where people are demanding independence or a complete merger with Pakistan. Election after election, post-voting Indian administrators dub the moderate voting percentages as “a referendum for India” even though “India” is the sole candidate in these elections held by India itself.
On April 9, along with Nissar, five others—Abbas, Faizan, Shabir, Akeel, and Aamir—were shot dead with bullets. One—Adil—was killed by pellets. Another—Umar—died when a tear-gas canister hit him on the head. All of them were young. Perhaps too young, if there is a thing like that anymore. Faizan was a twelve-year-old student in Class VII. More than a hundred other people were injured during the day. Many of them had bullet injuries.
Such news is not new in the region. Neither is the tradition of shouting, lamenting, echoing, singing the slogans of freedom in funerals, protests, and funerals-in-protest. The names and locations keep changing, but remain familiar too. They could be anyone, anywhere. Kashmir is a prison-valley in perpetual mourning and constant defiance. Yet, this particular slogan—of a gun-solution—has a strange ring to it, as it remains nestled among the prayers seeking forgiveness for the dead, and patience for the living left behind. It is a strange invocation of a solution. This is not because it seeks to challenge the armed might of the most elaborate military occupation in the world. That too has been perpetual in Kashmir. But because of what it seeks and what this urge signifies about the present situation in Kashmir. This has consequences for what will happen in Kashmir internally, and also to the Indian control over the region in the immediate future.
Unlike the slogans in Urdu, which precede and follow it, and are meant to convey a demand to a possible Indian audience which will understand the language, the slogan is in English. The collective conscience of India no longer seems to have any appeal for Kashmiris. Its visceral hatred and calculated sympathies are equally stifling for they depend, in their opening non-negotiable conditions, or the final analysis after a long-winded commentary, on the maintenance of Indian military control. Or at best, the oxymoron of a benevolent military control.
The slogan is perhaps meant for the wider world, for which this seven-decade-old occupation is a small blip as it pretends to solve the more urgent ones on its radar. But Kashmiris do not harbour too many illusions or expectations. The “expression of interest” by a diplomat of a powerful foreign country, when the dead in Kashmir add up to enough numbers to make it to the headlines of a New York Times or a BBC, might be an occasion for self-congratulation, followed by a letter or two from the pro-freedom leadership, but it does not mean much for the people protesting on the ground.
The slogan is not a question, like Hum kya chahtey? (What do we want?), to which an audience replies, Azaadi (Freedom). A way to answer the question of the imagined audience outside. To tell them that we want freedom from you. It is a statement, a declaration. Followed by another statement, another declaration— gun-solution! What most people will hear from such a cry is the word ‘gun.’ ‘solution’ will be muted. So will be the reasons why the two have been put together.
There is something else that needs to be understood about such a call. In Kashmir, the political education that life under occupation provides is unmatched, with a world-class curriculum. Kashmiris only know all too well that there are not enough guns for people to pick-up. This is not the early nineties, and the supplies of weapons are hard to come. Rebel fighters, in the recent past, have often had to snatch guns from Indian forces. At times, they have asked for and obtained the weapons from those who want to join their ranks. Therefore, the supply of guns—which people imagine could somewhat equal an extremely unequal fight—is not certain. The only thing which is certain is that there are enough guns and ammunitions against the people. Enough military personnel to crackdown on protests. Enough state and collaborator machinery to make normal life—going on about everyday struggles of life with dignity—impossible for Kashmiris.
The scene of a generic gun-battle with the Indian forces is of a few rebels trapped in a house, against hundreds, often thousands, of well-trained armed forces, inching closer in battle formations. The rebels are ridiculously outnumbered, while Indian soldiers have a range of sophisticated weaponry, armoured vehicles, explosives, bullet-proof jackets, and camera-drones at their disposal. Usually, the rebels have a Kalashnikov each. A handful of magazines. A hand-grenade or two. Of late, they carry mobile phones to make a final call home or record a final message. The hushed conversations are usually about seeking forgiveness, repaying debts, transience of life, supplication for patience, and some parting advice to place affairs in the hands of God. The battles could last from a few hours to a few days. The end in death is the only certain thing for rebels.
Then there is loss of property for those who give them shelter. Houses are blown up. In addition, there are people, who for the past many years now, have increasingly been rushing towards the sites of gun-battles and throwing rocks at Indian forces to distract them, force a break in their extensive cordon, and thereby help rebel fighters escape. In some instances, such efforts have succeeded. Often, they have not. Kashmir must be the only place in the world today where civilians actually follow and rush towards the sound of gun-shots, and not away.
In February, the Indian Army Chief threatened that protestors at encounter sites will be treated as “anti-national elements” and “over-ground workers” of rebel militant organizations. The threat was firm and clear. On 28 March, three people were shot dead and 28 injured at the site of a gun-battle in Chadoora, 25 kilometres south of Srinagar. The killings of civilian protestors in Budgam were further confirmation of the shift in Indian military strategy. Eight people killed on a day of seven percent voting was a chilling cue that bullets, stones, and bare-hands will all be treated equally—with bullets.
In a re-poll, days later, the percentage plummeted to a lowest ever 2 percent. This embarrassment of the Indian administration was complemented by an increase in the instances of brutality. However, news from the Valley trickled out only slowly since internet had been shut immediately after the killings on April 9. Farooq Ahmad Dar, a 27-year-old man, was severely tortured and tied in a state of unconsciousness to the front of a military jeep, while the personnel of the Indian Army’s Rashtriya Rifles paraded him as a human shield through eight villages. Videos emerged of army beating young men inside a vehicle and forcing them to shout anti-Pakistan slogans and abuses. In another, a young boy was pinned down by two armed personnel while a third beat him with sticks. In Pulwama, armed forces entered a government degree college and beat up at least 55 students.
One more video of Aqeel—a boy killed on April 9—shows him throwing rocks at military personnel near a polling station in Budgam. Gun shots are heard. While his friends move away, he stands his ground, only a few metres away from the armed men. One can almost imagine that if the well armed military men would take two longish steps, they would be standing right in front of him. Instead, a few gun-shots are heard, and he falls. On April 15, Sajad Hussain, an 18-year-old from Tangmarg, who worked in Srinagar’s Batamaloo area, was shot in the head. Among pictures of Sajad circulating on the social media, there are two stark poses of the young man—one with a stylish haircut, looking intensely into the camera with a hint of a smile; the other of his perforated and bloodied forehead lying static on a stretcher.
Again, instances of these kind in Kashmir are not new at all. These days, they are only more visible through mobile recording and social media. Kashmiris have been fighting defiantly against the Indian occupation for seven decades now. They will continue to do so. Against the increasing brutality of the Indian state, the calls for a gun-solution might become ever more frequent. Of course, this will give the Indian state a convenient excuse to shore up its already enormous military presence in the region, and commit more brutalities. Their actions are already provided impunity by laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is as lawless a law you can get to kill and maim, or destroy property, on mere suspicion, as long as the claim is of acting in the line of duty. But it is in the interest of everyone that the hyphenated part in the opening slogan of this piece be heard and recognized, rather than pushing people continuously against the wall. Recently, a video of a masked Kashmiri youth asking a known militant commander to arrange for people who could provide military training to locals and arrange weapons for them surfaced. If there is no movement towards a political solution, such requests might be entertained sooner than anyone can imagine. A political solution to the Kashmir dispute is now more important than ever.
A third generation of Kashmiris witness to the bloody nineties is at the forefront of rebellion now. Having grown up amidst war, they have no nostalgia for a serene past. They are a most fearless generation and will be ready to act and resist as long as life in Kashmir remains an exercise in every-day humiliation.
Many young people will leave their homes in search of guns to return fire. There will be blood on the streets—young, defiant blood. The funeral prayers will be strange.
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