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A war is not a war, as long as Kashmir alone pays the price

A young man inspecting the damage of his neighbour's house after cross border shelling, in Nambla, Uri. (FPK Photo/Fouziya Tehzeeb)

Recently when an attack in Pulwama pushed the two nuclear armed countries India and Pakistan to the brink of war, anti-war hashtags and campaigns started doing rounds. But as the conflict keeps consuming lives and property in Kashmir, the world remains oblivious to the human tragedy and the costs the region has paid. 

Constant fear in the minds of people about the escalation of border tensions has been a reality in Kashmir for as long as India and Pakistan have existed. Could it turn into a full fledged war, is a question on people’s conscious and subconscious mind, all the time.

The feeling was brought to the fore in August, 2019 as Article 370 and 35A had been abrogated, and realities had changed.

People were eagerly waiting for September 27, when Pakistan’s Prime Minister was scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly.

Everyone was anticipating war. 

On the eve of the address, we received news that my cousin, Aashiq Mir was injured in a road accident in Chandigarh.

The family was imagining worst case scenario. The communication blackout had left us in the dark. We were wondering whether his legs were amputated, his skull broken or whether he was still breathing in the ICU.

The only son of his parents, his four sisters were praying hard for him.

On September 27, before I could even get to hear Imran Khan and the world discussing the future of Kashmiris, we received Aashiq’s dead body.  

Ashiq Mir died on 26 September. His family didn’t get a chance to speak to him for one month due to the communication blockade. They saw him last on his death bed.

Gloom engulfed my entire community in the village of Panzgam, Kupwaram when his body arrived.

Moments before, my youngest cousin had told me, “Baaji, before we receive his dead body, why don’t India and Pakistan launch a war and kill us all.”

I wasn’t hearing these words for the first time. They are now used in the colloquial language.

After three months, I felt the need to explore this question, “do people really want a war? Why this hopelessness? How does this reflect upon the mental condition of the people of Kashmir?”

I spoke to many people. To individuals living in the border areas, in north Kashmir, south Kashmir; to pellet victims, to mothers of young people who are booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), to victims of cross border shelling; to NGO workers and students.

Amidst this uncertainty and war hysteria, deep inside, Kashmiris wished for peace. But the reality speaks otherwise to us.

Personally, I decided to choose hope in that moment. However, that hope was short-lived.

The Indian army started heavy firing and shelling amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. This time the war started just less than 1 km from my house in Panzgam in Kupwara.

It resulted in the killing of four people, amongst them an 8-year old child.

One of my best friends called me to ask about the situation here. Before he ended the call, he said, “both these nations have turned me mad. Why don’t they finish it off, once and for all?”.

His words hit me and reminded me of another man who uttered words similar to my friend. Nazir Ahmed from Chowkibal, Kupwara who was injured in the shelling.

Nazir Ahmed had just returned home from his office, and was removing his shoes on the porch when a shell landed a metre away from him. He had to undergo two surgeries.

Nazir Ahmed was injured due to cross-border shelling and had to undergo surgery twice. (FPK Photo/Fouziya Tehzeeb)

Now bed-ridden since three months, he tells me, “let both these countries wage a war. Those who will die, will die. Those who will live, will see the freedom and the spring flowers blooming across Kashmir”.

The death wish comes from cynicism, and betrayal. Why would the Kashmiris trust the Indian Government, when their talks and actions don’t align? Every single regime in New Delhi has sold the dream of peace to Kashmir, and maimed it at the same time. Dreams of jobs are sold, but jail is given instead.

Parvaiz Ahmed from Handwara, a private school teacher and the sole breadwinner of his family was detained under the Public Safety Act on August 7, 2019.

He was later shifted to Agra Jail. While his old father is numb, his mother says, “my heart was weakened by this everyday. Let India announce a war. Let the world turn upside down. Let it burn into flames. What was dear to me has been snatched away”.

Mother of Parvaiz Ahmed sharing her struggle, while her son is detained at Agra jail. (FPK Photo/Fouziya Tehzeeb)

The starting point of the trajectory set by the state was betrayal, and it was followed by a series of betrayals. The trajectory is now filled with blood, and hopelessness.

Since August 2019, students have been out from the academic institutions. Now, with the Covid-19 crisis, as students elsewhere have been using online platforms to learn, Kashmiri students face communication blockades.

When the same students have to compete, it has lead to increase in anxiety among students.

A university going student, Khushboo from Kashmir University told me , “resuming education is nowhere in sight. It is all in shambles and I don’t know what I am living for. This situation happens in the war-torn areas like Syria. Isn’t it better that a full-fledged war should happen here as well? Instead of continuing to live with this notion of peace?”

The conflict in Kashmir has been taking a toll on the mental health of people for many decades now.

In 2015 a study by Medicine Sans Frontiers and Srinagar based Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience, found that nearly one in five people in Kashmir show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Tabinda, a valley based counselor told me, “violence in Kashmir is affecting the mental health of people of all ages. At some point, people do want peace and when it’s a distant dream they feel death is the only viable solution. People are done with carrying the baggage of fear all the time and now they don’t fear war, or death.”

People share grief, and pain, and the narratives around this conflict eventually lead to the same thought process for most people.

Even though the war in Kashmir continues to be waged in the border regions and in the interiors of the valley during this Covid-19 crisis, no world body seems to be serious about putting an end to this armed conflict.

A young man inspecting the damage of his neighbour’s house after cross border shelling, in Nambla, Uri. (FPK Photo/Fouziya Tehzeeb)

No #SayNoToWar campaigns are trending in support of Kashmir.

In March, 2019 the #SayNotoWar campaign had trended on social media after the Pulwama attack when wing commander Abhinandan was captured by the Pakistani Army. As people in India and Pakistan feared a war, and uncertainty loomed, as the tension between the two nations had escalated, flight operations hit, they remembered that war was bad.

The #SaytoNoWar brigade was out on the streets and on social media in the metropolitan cities of India and Pakistan to “promote peace”. These privileged people had realised that their own backyard could be under fire.

Children playing on snow in Uri. (FPK Photo/Fouziya Tehzeeb)

But it seems, for them, war is not a war unless the capital city of New Delhi and Islamabad are faced with the threat of being bombed.

Till then, Kashmir will continue to live in this ugly war. People will either get killed, or live to face the agony. 

 

Fouziya Tehzeeb is an International Relations graduate. She identifies herself as an ‘all rights activist’. You can reach her on [email protected]

 

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