At the time of writing, 37 people are dead in protests following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Hundreds of others have been injured, many with eye wounds from pellet guns that could cause them to lose their sight. Amongst them is a 14-year-old girl, shot by forces from within her house.
As curfew continues in the Valley, the front pages in New Delhi have shifted attention to India’s statement to the United Nations denouncing Pakistan’s use of ‘terrorism as State policy’. On TV channels, talking heads either focus on perfidious Pakistan or bemoan the growing alienation amongst Kashmir’s young and angry.
There are casualties on both sides. On July 11, protestors pushed a police vehicle into the river Jhelum near Sangam, drowning its driver Afroz Ahmed. Close to 100 officials and 2,000 civilians are reportedly injured. There are reports of ambulances being attacked. Depending on which side of the argument you are hearing, these attacks are either by security forces or by protesters.
These are our people, our citizens. Can you imagine the outrage if 2,000 people were injured by forces during a protest anywhere else in India? Can you imagine the consequences if instead of water cannon and tear gas, police in Delhi in December 2012 had used pellet guns?
Yet, on social media, there is such prevailing vitriol that I am taken aback. Protestors are ‘pigs’. Those who ask questions about the crackdown are ‘Islam apologists’. Let them go to Pakistan, or elsewhere. We should have bombed those who attended Wani’s burial. One news channel even suggests that instead of a burial, Wani should have been burned with garbage.
“What kind of people celebrate the death of people they never met, never knew and whose existence does not impact them at all,” questions a blog posted by a ‘Rich Autumns’.
Social media does not represent official State policy. It does, however, give a broad indication of a prevailing mood. I am not making a case for Wani. I do not for a second condone Pakistan’s involvement. Yet, when thousands of our own citizens are out on the street should we not be concerned? Can we claim Kashmir as a piece of real estate minus those who — no matter how misguided in some eyes — live in it?
Twitter’s nationalist snipers are quick to pick out journalists who report the ‘other’ side as anti-nationals. And it takes a brave reporter to tell the story of anguish from the ground. In this environment, news gets co-opted to peddle a certain type of narrative through magnification or black-out. Nobody is just reporting the facts.
For Delhi papers, ‘the civilian death toll…is a statistic’, writes Manisha Pande in Newslaundry. But ‘for the Kashmiri media, dead protestors are not a mere number, they’re actual people’.
We don’t want to see the other side any longer. In the narratives we weave, Kashmiri citizens are denied the right to protest and must be blamed for their own swift and brutal repression. In the Kashmiri narrative, the crackdown is yet another instance of the mainland’s immoral suppression of the natural Kashmiri longing for azadi. Neither side is prepared to hear the other. And the cycle of violence continues, each fuelling and fanning the other.
Why should we stand up for people who don’t apparently believe in India? It’s quite simple really. The land does not come without its inhabitants. Keeping it by force is costly for both sides, nor has it produced a solution so far. No State — no matter how strong its will or its army — can afford to have in its midst a large group of alienated citizens. If there can be no India without Kashmir, then surely it logically follows that there can be no Kashmir without Kashmiris.
In an unequal battle of stones versus pellet guns, it’s clear how this round will eventually end. The State will assert its might and a sullen normalcy will return. But unless we learn to listen first, you can be sure that the lull will not last for long.