Story most Kashmiri men tell: ?I was beaten by security forces?
(In photo) Indian policemen beat a Kashmiri Muslim protester in Bemina area of Srinagar. Photograph: (Getty)
The killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, was followed by a mass, public outpouring of emotion in Kashmir – some two lakh people reportedly attended his funeral.
In other parts of India, it was followed by a more blunt cause-and-effect reasoning. "He was a terrorist and he got what was coming to him," people said. The most indelicate example of that, arguably, was a letter posted on Facebook and widely circulated on social media by a Major Gaurav Arya.
Arya ended his letter saying: “When you choose to fight against the Indian Army, know this; THEY WILL KILL YOU. Your supporters now want blood. So be it.”
Arya’s war cry was answered by a more sober letter by a young Kashmiri male, Wasim Khan, living in Mumbai. In his letter, Wasim talked about growing up in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
“When the army in Srinagar beat me up for the first time I was 10 years old. Ask me why, and I’ll tell you I don’t know. I seriously don’t. I was just walking on the road and a soldier decided to frisk me then slap me and then he and his fellow mighty warriors together kicked me,” he said.
The second time he was beaten up by the BSF, he says, he was still 10 years old. The third time he was beaten up, he says, he was still 10 years old and “then next fifteen sixteen times I was beaten up I was STILL 10 years old.”
One might imagine Wasim was an especially truculent child, prone to upsetting people in authority. But talk to young Kashmiri men on the street, and they all seem to have the exact same story to tell.
Arbaaz, 28, says he was going to math tuition in an autorickshaw back when he was in Class VIII when he was stopped by the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force).
“They asked me for my ID which I showed them.”
“Why are your hands in your pockets?” the policeman asked him. “Do you stand like that in front of your father?”
“My father’s not here right now,” said Arbaaz.
The slap was followed by a beating, until the auto driver intervened. “He’s a child. Let him go.”
The policeman began beating the auto driver.
The beating stopped after a bit and Arbaaz was walking away from the scene when another policeman appeared.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Arrey dekho yaar, they beat us up for no reason,” said Arbaaz.
“Yaar? Do I look like your yaar?” the second policeman asked, and another beating ensued.
Sameer, 27, was beaten on his way back from tuition class. He was stopped by personnel from the Border Security Force, who asked for his ID and his age.
“87,” Sameer said, meaning he was born in 1987.
“87!” the BSF man said, “Even my father is not that old.” And a beating followed.
Azgar, 28, says he and two friends had gone bathing near an army camp when a soldier walked up to them. They were in class VIII.
First he began to poke them in their posteriors with a stick, after which he said “murga bano.”
They thought he was joking, but he insisted. A beating followed.
They pleaded to be let off, saying they were children. That they had made a mistake and that they were sorry. The soldier said two of them could go but the third – “The one that is fat” – would have to remain.
Azgar and his friend left. After walking a little, the boys said that should something happen to their friend, his parents would beat them. And that it would be better to go back.
When they got back, they found the soldier poking a stick into their friend’s protruding belly.
“Was that the first time you were beaten?”
“No. When did I say that was the first time?”
None of these stories should be in the least bit funny, but the Kashmiri men telling them laugh and joke as they go about their storytelling. “The funniest bit is you go home thinking you’ll get some sympathy from your parents and they beat you too, saying ‘Why did you go out?’” says Arbaaz.
A lot less funnily, a 2015 Medecines Sans Frontiers (MSF) report says 45% of the adult population in Kashmir shows symptoms of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The report reads: “Fifty per cent of women and 37 per cent of men have probable depression, 36 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men have a probable anxiety disorder, and 22 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men have probable PTSD.”
That shows up in strange ways on the street. One man will not make eye contact, talk to another and take a step forward – because what he’s saying is interesting – and he will take two steps back. Take another step forward, and he will take another two back. This goes on until it becomes unnerving.
Dr Mushtaq Margoob, retired professor and head of the department of psychiatry, Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Kashmir, and chairman, Disaster Task Force, Indian Psychiatric Society, says this is a “man-made disaster and that you see feelings of anger and helplessness amongst the (Kashmiri) people.”
A senior army officer, who spoke to WION on the condition of anonymity, tries to put the seemingly everyday violence into context. “We were a very unprepared army, we were a very unprepared police force when we came here in 1989. And between 1984 and ’87 there was a lot happening elsewhere that was taking our attention away from Kashmir.
“Back then we were trying to stop the loss of territory and when an army is doing that, it will be unmindful of people’s rights. It will use hard power, rather than soft power. But when things settle down, they have to balance out their use of hard power and soft power.”
He also mentions the checkpoints that Arbaaz, Sameer, and Azgar were stopped at and beaten. “They’re humiliating,” he says. “But the army changed that when we began to do sadbhavana (goodwill) ’97 onwards. Which is why you won’t hear these stories about the army after ’97.”
Azgar disagrees. They themselves, with age and experience, have learnt how to get around the beatings. “If an army or a CRPF man stops me, I always talk to him in Punjabi,” says Sameer.
“But it still happens,” says Azgar.