Kashmir once resembled heaven, but now it looks like hell
That was my first reaction when I saw the picture of a small child sitting on the dead body of his grandfather, killed in a crossfire in Sopore. Sopore, which is not only famous for its apples but also its graveyards. The graveyards are filled with the dead bodies of innocent people -- children, women, young and old, killed in this decades old armed war.
The image brought tears to my eyes. The image went viral in seconds, and was compared with the picture of Aylan Kurdi, who was captured lying dead on the seashore and brought forth the migrant crisis which had arisen out of the wars fought in the Middle East and the Arab world.
That picture is still in the minds of people and haunts them today. But in that picture, Aylan was dead, and in Sopore, the boy was alive but sitting atop his grandfather’s dead body. He was alive but traumatized. The trauma will never leave him, and will haunt him for his life. Kashmir is a disputed area, and disturbed, too. Peace is a far cry.
Daily encounters and militant and civilian killings have ravaged Kashmir and its people. Every day, some woman is rendered a widow, some child an orphan; some mother and father lose a child, some sister and brother lose their sibling, and some lose close friends in crossfires.
Bullets fly every day and houses are razed to the ground within minutes and turned into rubble by IED blasts. Schools, colleges, and universities in Kashmir have been shut down since August 5, 2019, when Kashmir was stripped of its semi-autonomy. There has not been any schooling since then.
Children are sitting at home, and only a few who migrated to other places for study could manage going to school. Kashmiri children have suffered immensely on the education front. Then there is no proper internet, and 2G internet is snapped for days whenever an encounter happens in some town or district.
Children in Kashmir have suffered psychologically and emotionally. Some have turned to drugs. Some have died by suicide and some have left their homes, never to return. Some have been killed in the mountains. Mothers are still waiting for their children to return home. Hundreds of children have been killed in crossfires between militants and forces in the last 30 years.
Hundreds have seen their fathers’ and brothers’ coffins, and they live and die with this trauma. Hundreds of children have been blinded by pellet guns in recent years. Hundreds have been killed in recent mass protests. Hundreds have been injured and rendered physically deformed in crossfires, and IED and grenade blasts.
They suffer on every front. Some carry stigma for life. Some live like corpses. There is smoke everywhere. Hope is nowhere. For a Kashmiri, to live another day is to live another life. The war has traumatized us all. Our daily lives are traumatized. Everything is traumatized. Humanity seems dead in these times. Propaganda seems to win the battle.
Empathy is nowhere. And our lives have been turned miserable in this unending war. We are treated as lesser mortals. Humanity seems dead when it comes to Kashmir and Kashmiris. I have seen children crying in the 1990s, whose brothers, cousins, sisters, mothers, fathers, and friends were killed in crossfires, encounters and fake encounters, and at the hands of militants.
Whose brothers disappeared in custody. Whose brothers and fathers were kept at undisclosed locations by both militants and forces, and later only their dead bodies returned. My cousins and I have cried a lot too during this time. I have seen my orphaned niece crying and asking for her dead father, killed in militant infighting during the 1990s.
I have seen my widowed sister and mother crying and living with this trauma. I have seen dear ones and friends disappear before my eyes, some taken away by forces and later killed, some killed by militants in rivalry, some thrown into rivers, and some into the forest and mountains.
The trauma is still with me. And it is with every Kashmiri who has seen militancy of the 1990s closely and suffered at the hands of both forces and militants. The war has inflicted immense misery on us Kashmiris. In the 1990s, daily I would hear that some people or children have been killed in a grenade attack, mine (IED) blast, or firing (encounter). The scars are deep inside.
The trauma is not going anywhere and still with me. The cries of thousands of orphans, widows, brothers, and sisters still reverberate in my ears. The haunting image of Sopore is a dark reminder of what Kashmiris are going through, and have been since the early 1990s.
The child in the picture has to bear this traumatic experience all his life. The daily lives of Kashmiris are a nightmare, and traumatic beyond imagination. It was called paradise on earth some centuries ago, but it resembles hell today. The killing and blinding of children, young and old, and women have become a norm here. This has been happening for decades, and unfortunately, there looks to be no end in sight.
Ashraf Lone is a writer associated with Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.