September 25, 2010


Touch and Go: India is losing Kashmir. This much is clear (Basharat Peer, 9/25/10, Open)

If one had to think of a singular image that has widened the gulf between Kashmir and New Delhi, it is the killing of eight-year-old Sameer Rah in Srinagar’s Batamaloo area on 1 August. On that afternoon, Sameer asked his father, a fruit vendor who was home because of the curfew, for Rs 5 to buy sweets at a corner shop in an inner lane that was open. Fayaz, his father, gave him Rs 2, and the class 2 student rushed out of the house. Sameer, carrying a cricket bat in his hand, had raised some slogans in the street without realising that a group of CRPF men was around. According to eyewitnesses, the men in uniform caught hold of the eight-year-old, beat him up, trampled upon him till he fainted, and then threw him on the road. Of course, the CRPF claims the boy was killed in a stampede. The crowd that gathered to pick up the eight-year-old’s body was tear-gassed. The doctors at SMHS hospital in Srinagar couldn’t save Sameer.

How does one process that? What effect does that have on a people?

To make things worse, J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s callous government has continued a relentless curfew, which has not even made exceptions for pharmacies and medical laboratories. Hospitals have been facing a serious shortage of medicines and the impossibility of conducting various medical tests that depend on private pharmacies and medical facilities. In the intensive care unit of SMHS hospital, where the eight-year-old Sameer Rah died, Dr Mustafa Kamal and his colleagues spoke of the desperate need for medicines and certain foods. Over the weekend, I spoke to one of Kashmir’s foremost eye surgeons, Dr Bashir Chapoo, who runs a hospital in central Srinagar. Troops hadn’t let him travel to his hospital for more than a week. “I have patients with eye injuries who might lose their sight if I don’t reach them soonest,” Dr Chapoo told me. Seventeen of his patients had pellets fired by the police and troops stuck in their eyes. I called him a few days later. “I am still stuck at home despite two curfew passes. Most of my patients have left the hospital now, and I have no idea where they are and in what condition,” Dr Chapoo told me Tuesday afternoon. “I couldn’t help. I couldn’t reach there. Two have already lost their eyes in my hospital, and that is one small hospital.”

The curfew continues with a few hour breaks once a week. The bustle of Kashmiri mornings has been replaced by an eerie silence. Stray dogs stroll leisurely on our street and the sound of chirping birds dominates the day. The publication of morning papers stopped after the troops beat up the newsagents. Internet and Facebook updates by young Kashmiris, giving details of what they witnessed in their areas, are chilling.

I had a glimpse of the sorrow and anger that is swelling in Kashmir on Friday, 17 September, when Yasir Sheikh’s body was flown back from Delhi for burial. Hundreds of men and women stood in grieving circles outside his house. The men raised loud slogans for freedom from India, but it was the women and girls, dressed mostly in floral printed suits, who articulated the loss. As Sheikh’s body was brought out in a wooden coffin, the women sang the songs they traditionally sing for a groom when he leaves to get his bride. The lyrics, sung in Kashmiri, praised the slain boy’s beauty and youth. “Raju morukh begunaah!” (An innocent Raju was murdered!) went the refrain. Raju was Yasir Sheikh’s nickname. As the pallbearers moved past the spot where he had played his last game of carom, a thousand tears dropped. His distraught old father followed, showering him with almonds and confectionery.

Kashmir has seen this moment thousands of times earlier. I walked away wondering: how much sorrow can a people bear? How many more deaths will it take for Delhi to come up with a significant political response?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 25, 2010 6:53 AM
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