Kashmir Dispatch November 2021

The World Kashmir Awareness Forum strives to keep you updated with the latest happenings in Kashmir. Often, many of the stories that we share are not available through mainstream media sources – some of this is a result of the deliberate effort by occupation forces to hide their misdeeds, but it can also be difficult for localized stories to break through the constant deluge of news and events that transpire around the world every day. This month we have chosen the following six stories as the most pressing developments in Kashmir.

Journalists live under the shadow of the gun

Journalism is not a crime. Yet, every year, journalists are murdered for doing just that. UNESCO estimates that in 2020, 62 journalists were murdered worldwide.

Kashmir continues to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to operate under and 19 members of the media have died here since 1989. Occupation forces routinely detain, harass, and assault journalists. The Indian government can also prevent journalists from free traveling, not only in India but around the world. They have also been charged with violating anti-terror laws just for the act of reporting.

But journalists also find themselves in the crosshairs of non-state actors. This was the case of Shujaat Bukhari – who was assassinated in June of 2018. After leaving a meeting with his staff, he was gunned down by unidentified assailants while climbing into his SUV. Click here to read more about the difficult circumstances journalists face every day in Kashmir.

Far-right politician charged with hate speech

Vikram Randhawa – a far-right politician belonging to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after he called for his supporters to “skin them [Muslims] alive.” Randhawa’s comments came in a viral video where he called for violence against Kashmiri Muslims who were cheering for the Pakistani cricket team.

He has also called for those who have cheered for Pakistan to have their Indian citizenship revoked.

It is important to note that while charged, Randhawa has not been arrested. However, students who cheered on the Pakistani team have been charged with sedition.

You can read more about this troubling story here.

Occupation forces seize unprecedented amounts of vehicles

“From bikes to doors of three-wheelers, they are seizing everything that is moving,” said one unidentified man who has been a victim of the occupational forces unlawfully seizing his vehicles.

Another man had his scooter impounded as he pleaded with a police officer to return the vehicle.

“It is an emergency,” telling the officer that his sister was in the hospital. His pleas, unfortunately, fell upon deaf ears and the man and others like him spent fruitless hours waiting at Shaheed Gunj Police Station. Police have forced those seized vehicles to prove that they are the owners.

“I have been coming here to know when my bike will be released as it is affecting my livelihood. I work at a private company where I am a salesperson, and my duty is to drop products at different locations in Srinagar. How am I supposed to do that and feed my family when my bike is here,” a bike owner said.

Amid the seizure, there have been widespread reports of internet blackouts.

When Free Press Kashmir asked the Sub Inspector of Police about the seizing of bikes, he only said that “We are following orders.”

Read more of this story here.

India arrests human rights activists amid crackdowns

The unlawful detention of journalists, human rights leaders, and civil servants shows no sign of slowing down as a prominent defender of human rights, Khurram Parvez, was arrested by India’s anti-terrorism agency on November 22nd.

The anti-terrorism agency launched multiple hours-long raids at his home and office. The agency declined to answer questions as to why Parvez was arrested or elaborate on the nature of the charges.

Parvez, 44, is the program coordinator for the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, or JKCCS, a group that for decades has monitored and investigated human rights violations — including issues such as mass graves and allegations of abuse by Indian security forces — in Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region claimed by India and Pakistan.

India has used anti-terrorism laws as a cudgel to punish people it perceives as enemies who often expose the human rights violations of the Modi Administration.

You can learn more about India’s targeted campaign of harassment against Parvez here.

Military barricades make a chilling comeback

Makeshift military barricades are popping up throughout the Kashmir valley in a chilling reminder of the 1990s when a similar strategy had been enforced. Back then, people would have to wait in long lines, sometimes hours to be frisked by the military before they’d be allowed to go on their way.

The bunkers’ placements drew severe scrutiny as they seemed designed primarily for intimidation and not for providing security. A bunker was placed outside the Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences – the largest hospital in the Kashmir valley.

At a bus stop, the guards have their weapons exposed toward the passengers.

Twenty-seven-year-old Saima Khurshid is one of the passengers. Saima, an employee at a private bank, is waiting for a bus with her eyes down.

“You see those eyes,” she said, pointing towards the gaze of the military personnel at them, “I hate that gaze.”

You can read about the full impact these bunkers have on the people living in the region by clicking here.

Family fights to get the body of loved one released from authorities

Mohammad Altaf Bhat was used as a human shield by militants before being executed in a gunfight with police forces.

Members of the Bhat family staged a protest at the Barazulla bridge in Srinagar and demanded answers from the authorities. “My uncle has been murdered. He was used as a human shield in a staged encounter. He runs a hardware shop and owns the complex where the forces had come for checking,” said Samia Bhat, Mohammad’s niece.

Police have so far denied releasing Mohammad Bhat’s body to the family, classifying him as an Over Ground Worker or a “militant associate.”

Samia Bhat disputes the official claims. [He] was “used as a human shield and had no affiliation with any militant group”.

You can read more about the story here.

Final thoughts

There’s a concept known as asymmetrical warfare. Typically, this is deployed by a weaker force against a stronger force – attacks such as hacking, ransomware, and other acts of attrition are engaged upon the larger force because the larger force will not engage in open warfare at minor slights, but it does cause real-world harm to the larger force. The cost would be too prohibitive – and the response negative from the community or world at large.

However, asymmetrical warfare can be engaged upon by a large force against a smaller force as well. Wars – or large-scale military mobilization and assaults in the modern era – tend to draw unwanted attention from the rest of the world, and antipathy toward the larger force.

This is what we see in Kashmir. It is not necessary to use planes, bombs, and tanks to crush a population. One can easily accomplish this with arbitrary detentions, destruction of communication, and the utter breakdown of civil society. If people leave, suffer, or are killed it does not matter to the occupying force, because this was the plan – destroy a people and culture, but it comes with a benefit of a shrug from the rest of the world.

That is why we see occupation forces do what they do. Taking a bike may seem like a minor thing when compared to the other atrocities – but when people have to struggle against the government for the basics to live and work – it makes it harder to shake off the shackles of oppression.

That is why we share these stories – so that these acts of asymmetrical warfare do not disappear into the mists of history. That people’s stories can be told – and the occupational forces will be seen for what they are – terrorists who wear the flag of a sovereign nation.