People & Society

Kashmir is scarred by another year of rage and grief

Updated Jan 26, 2019 10:30pm

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Younger brother of Fardeen Khanday, 13, shouting slogans in his funeral. Fardeen, a slain rebel associated with Jaish-e-Mohammad, was killed in a gunfight after he and his two associates attacked a CRPF camp in Lethpora area of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Januay 1, 2018
Younger brother of Fardeen Khanday, 13, shouting slogans in his funeral. Fardeen, a slain rebel associated with Jaish-e-Mohammad, was killed in a gunfight after he and his two associates attacked a CRPF camp in Lethpora area of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Januay 1, 2018

The graves are still fresh and the soil has not yet settled. Behind the statistics of those killed in Kashmir in 2018 lie heart-wrenching stories. No one knows exactly how many are injured and maimed for life; only the dead find themselves counted. If CASO (cordon and search operations) was a common refrain, so were ‘collaborator’ and the ‘collateral damage’.

Children lined up at the funeral prayers for Liyaqat Ahmad, a Hizb rebel killed in an encounter in Tikken village of Pulwama
Children lined up at the funeral prayers for Liyaqat Ahmad, a Hizb rebel killed in an encounter in Tikken village of Pulwama

A father struggling to send his son to school – only to receive him in a body-bag even before his class tenth results were announced – is a disturbing reality. Numan has passed the examination; the results were announced a few days ago. Like him, there are 160 civilians who were killed this year, according to a report by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.

Thousands participate in the funeral procession of Adnan Lone in Pulwama district. Adnan, a senior Hizb-ul-Mujahideen Rebel, was killed in by government forces in November 2018
Thousands participate in the funeral procession of Adnan Lone in Pulwama district. Adnan, a senior Hizb-ul-Mujahideen Rebel, was killed in by government forces in November 2018

The year 2018 has been the bloodiest in a decade, with frequent confrontations between rebels and security forces across Kashmir, killing 159 Indian soldiers and policemen, and 267 armed fighters.

A woman grieves on the death of Firdous Ahmad, a local rebel who was killed during a gunfight in Balpora village of South Kashmir’s Shopian district on January 25, 2018. Women in Kashmir bear the brunt since the separatist uprising broke out in the region in 1989
A woman grieves on the death of Firdous Ahmad, a local rebel who was killed during a gunfight in Balpora village of South Kashmir’s Shopian district on January 25, 2018. Women in Kashmir bear the brunt since the separatist uprising broke out in the region in 1989

Most of the militants killed belonged to the four districts of South Kashmir, the area in focus after the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016.

Students and teenagers continued to gravitate into the militant ranks, leaving no one with a clear explanation why. Civilians in thousands continued to throng the funerals of the rebels, “martyrs” to them, offering multiple rounds of funerals.

This has no precedent in recent history.

The mother of Farhan Wani prays next to her son’s body in Khudwani village of Kulgam district. Eighteen-year-old Wani was one of the rebels killed in Larnoo village of Anantnag district
The mother of Farhan Wani prays next to her son’s body in Khudwani village of Kulgam district. Eighteen-year-old Wani was one of the rebels killed in Larnoo village of Anantnag district

Sixteen-year-old militant Fardeen Khanday of Tral, associated with Jaish-e-Mohammad, was the first militant killed last year.

What followed was something no one had even imagined: Frequent cordon and search operations, and civilians relentlessly intruding to try and save rebels from gunfights and nocturnal encounters.

Sharjeel’s body lying right before the eyes of his fiancé, Mahjabeena. Sharjeel was one of the four civilians killed during an encounter in Khudwani village of South Kashmir’s Kulgam district on April 11, 2018. South Kashmir witnessed a large number of civilian as well as rebel killings in 2018
Sharjeel’s body lying right before the eyes of his fiancé, Mahjabeena. Sharjeel was one of the four civilians killed during an encounter in Khudwani village of South Kashmir’s Kulgam district on April 11, 2018. South Kashmir witnessed a large number of civilian as well as rebel killings in 2018

The security establishment remains helpless to stop educated young people from joining the militant ranks: Mannan Wani, a research scholar at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) killed in Handwara district on October 11. Subzar Sofi, an IAS aspirant. Or Mohammad Rafi Bhat, a Kashmir University lecturer killed only hours after joining – even after police offered him safe surrender, on a video that went viral.

Locals inspect a destroyed house where two rebels, including Sameer Tiger, a top commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen,were killed on April 30, 2018. Such scenes were common in 2018
Locals inspect a destroyed house where two rebels, including Sameer Tiger, a top commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen,were killed on April 30, 2018. Such scenes were common in 2018

The Jammu and Kashmir Police took the brunt of the spiralling situation; 45 of its personnel were killed.

Following the alleged burning of militants’ homes and mistreatment of their families, militants called for police personnel to resign or face ‘consequences’. On September 21, three Special Police Officers (SPOs) were kidnapped from Kapran village in Shopian district. Their dead bodies were found in an orchard nearby.

Afterwards, many police personnel took to social media announcing their resignations. Internet services were shut down in the district.

Relatives surround the bodies of two civilians, Talib and Mukeem, in Laroo village of Kulgam on October 21, 2018. Talib and Mukeem, two teenagers from the same village, were among the six civilians who had thronged to an encounter site and were killed when a shell exploded there
Relatives surround the bodies of two civilians, Talib and Mukeem, in Laroo village of Kulgam on October 21, 2018. Talib and Mukeem, two teenagers from the same village, were among the six civilians who had thronged to an encounter site and were killed when a shell exploded there

Authorities shut down internet services around 127 times in 2018, taking a toll on all sectors. By one estimate, internet shutdowns cost Kashmiri subscribers around Rs 2.5 crore a day.

The younger brother of Aqib Gulzar, 20, mourns at his grave. Gulzar, was one of six civilians who lost their lives after an explosive shell went off at an encounter site on October 21, 2018
The younger brother of Aqib Gulzar, 20, mourns at his grave. Gulzar, was one of six civilians who lost their lives after an explosive shell went off at an encounter site on October 21, 2018

Security forces frequently blew up the houses in which militants were hiding, forcing families to live out in open. In one overnight operation on December 9, in which three militants –including two teenagers – were killed, six homes were damaged or completely destroyed.

A Kashmiri protester throws stones at Indian police and paramilitary forces. Stone pelting has now become a common trend in Kashmir
A Kashmiri protester throws stones at Indian police and paramilitary forces. Stone pelting has now become a common trend in Kashmir

On November 17, the Hizbul Mujahideen openly challenged the administration to stop their command council meeting in Srinagar to be held on the 21st of the month. Militants later uploaded photographs on social media to show their presence, including a picture of Umar Majid Ganie of Shuch Kulgam.

A young man wears a Guy Fawkes mask while facing the forces. Protesters liken themselves with global symbols of protest like this one from the 2005 dystopian political thriller V for Vendetta
A young man wears a Guy Fawkes mask while facing the forces. Protesters liken themselves with global symbols of protest like this one from the 2005 dystopian political thriller V for Vendetta

Days later, Ganie was killed along with his five associates in the same Kapran village, where three policemen had been killed earlier.

Numan also fell to bullets at the same place, while trying to intrude on the gunfight, and Kashmir would get its youngest pellet victim from the same encounter – two-year-old Hiba Jan – from yet another generation drafted into the pain and grief of the Kashmir conflict.


The writer is a freelance photojournalist working in Kashmir. All photos are by Waseem.


This article was originally published in The Wire.