Haunting ‘Dead Eyes’

In 1929, Sir Albino who for two years had been Foreign Minister of Hari Singh had observed that the rulers had been treating the majority Kashmiri community as worst than “cattle.”

Ninety years later, when the idea of governance in the world has undergone a sea change, and colonialism has crashed the mindset of those in the corridors of “hegemonic authority” in the state has not changed. That the ‘ruling elite’ even in the second decade of the twenty-first century considered the people of Kashmir as wild quadrupeds were manifest in 2010 when for silencing the dissenting youth it introduced guns meant for hunting of animals. And troops the same with impunity in the state. Ironically, the pellet gun with its single cartridge spewing about five hundred lead-pellets on a finger touch was added to the deadly arsenal of the state as a ‘non-lethal weapon’ by the ‘central government.’ Of course with the consent of Omar Abdullah the then chief of the unified military command in the state. The 5.5 mm wadcutter, domed (round nose), hollow point and pointed lead pellets are deadlier than those used in air guns for animals. Intriguingly, Kashmir is the only place where this weapon is used for controlling the civilian protest.

In 2010, summer hundred and twenty-six children and youth were killed by the troops and the state police, thousands injured and some fired with pellets in face and eyes lost their vision. The state using all coercive tactics in its arsenal and brute force in dealing with the situation that across the world was recognized as Kashmir ‘Intifada’ had stirred the international media and caused editorials and reports in almost 1800 newspapers and web portals across the globe. It also had pin pricked the conscience of scores of conscientious citizen and writers in India. The killings of children, the insensitivity of the state and the impunity that soldiers have been enjoying under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act deeply moved some writers and set them to rethink about New Delhi’s policies in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, many of them concluded that “after six decades of effort, Kashmiri alienation looks greater than ever.”

Some of them through their writings had endeavored to update the knowledge of a new generation about the Kashmir problem that had caused four wars and taken a toll of ‘country’s economy- half a population of India living below the poverty line. Swaminathan S Aiyar had written, “Many Indians say that Kashmir legally became an integral part of India when the Maharaja of the state signed the instrument of accession. Alas, such legalisms become irrelevant when ground realities change. Indian kings and princes, including the Moguls, acceded to the British Raj. The documents they signed became irrelevant when Indians launched an independence movement. The British insisted for a long time that India was an integral part of their Empire, the Jewel in its crown, and would never be given up. Imperialist Blimps remained in denial for decades. I fear we are in similar denial on Kashmir.”

The uprisings during the summers of 2008, 2009 and 2010, had convinced even a section of leadership in India like P. Chidambaram, the then Home Minister that the laws like the AFSPA, seen as the darkest of dark laws by people of the state need to be withdrawn. Nevertheless, the lessons learned that the coercive tactics and brutish handling of the resistance instead of improving the situations compound them further, and the dialogue was the only way forward of resolving the problem were unlearned after 2014, with the policy of denying even an inch of space to the voices of the dissent in the state. More particularly, through hate media blitz; some televisions channels orchestrating insulting ‘dominant discourses’ bordering on sullying self-respect of a nation with richest culture and traditions, and punitive and strong-arm tactics policies a section of youth to the wall was driven to the wall – and it continues to be so even to this day.

In the recent past 2016 has been one of the grisliest years the New York Times had rightly observed that in the history of Kashmir it would pass as the year of ‘Dead Eyes’ Epidemic. In that year thousands of children with ‘eyes ruptured’ by lead pellets fired by paramilitary troops and police ‘armed with pump-action shotguns’ were brought to the hospitals. More than thirteen hundred suffered impaired vision, and hundreds of others pelleted to blindness pushed into darkness for rest of their life. From important newspapers in the world to the Amnesty International to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights every organization concerned about the human rights violations raised their voice against blinding of children and demanded to ban of the pellet guns. Even, the National Human Right Commission defending human right records of India before the UN Commission on Human Rights had described the use of pellet gun during 2016 turmoil as “controversial.”

For the past three years, the Commission has been showing concern about the human rights situation in the state and asking Islamabad and New Delhi for providing unbridled access to the state on both the sides of the transitory dividing line. Interestingly, despite, voices raised in various international forums against the use of pellet gun on civilian protestors and blinding of children as young as four years, boys and girls nightmares of ‘epidemic of dead-eyes’ continue to haunt people. In fact, the ground situation during past three years has not changed. In past twenty days of April, only roughly sixty to seventy people were hit with pellets, many in the face and the chest. Hardly, there is a day when stories with headings like “Kashmir’s many Inshas and their dark, shattered lives” or “Kashmir pellet injuries bring back memories of 2016” are not reported in the newspapers. So far New Delhi, despite having assured abandoning the use of the pellet has not responded to the clarion calls from international human rights organizations. In this tormenting bizarre scenario some days back a word experience was distinctly visible in the statement of Army Chief, candidly saying that not the gun but ‘dialogue’ was a way forward. It is high time, for the present dispensation in the capital to pick up the word of experience and make a beginning for initiating a dialogue with all contesting parties by revoking the AFSPA and retreating the pellet gun.