Srinagar and New Delhi, India — In what the Indian media are calling Bloody Sunday, 10 people died yesterday in protests across Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Police forces shot and killed at least five during street protests. Another succumbed to wounds after being hit Saturday with a tear gas shell. The remainder died when protesters lit a police camp on fire, triggering a blast from explosive material kept inside. All who died were civilians, taking the total to 33 civilians and zero police killed in the current cycle of protest and deadly crackdown that began June 11.
The protests are part of a popular uprising against Indian rule and heavy-handed police tactics in Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan claim the Himalayan region in its entirety. In the 1990s, Pakistan supported a violent insurgency that was eventually put down by India. But the massive security apparatus – estimated to be as high as 700,000 security forces – remained.
The recent uprising appears to have no links to Pakistan. Instead, it is led by Kashmiri youth ranging from six to 30 who are using a mix of nonviolent defiance of curfews and rock throwing at security forces in a bid to win independence for Kashmir.
Veteran Kashmiri journalist Parvaiz Bukhari in the main city of Srinagar says the past weekend marks a serious escalation in this summer’s protest activity.
“This is the first time we’ve seen so many people defying curfew,” says Mr. Bukhari, noting that crowds remained out until 2:30 am in Srinagar and other parts of the valley.
He says that thousands converged on Srinagar’s symbolic “martyr’s cemetery,” named for those killed in the separatist struggle. And protesters attempted to torch a police station and ransacked the local administrative building in Uri, a town near the Line of Control with Pakistan that’s usually under tight control of the military.
Why Kashmir’s State Minister Wields Little Influence
The state’s chief minister appealed for calm.
“I know young people are angry … they see no hope. I want to lead them… but only if my government gets a chance to work,” said Omar Abdullah in a broadcast message.
Mr. Abdullah was summoned to New Delhi and met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today to discuss how to regain control of the situation.
Abdullah wields no influence among the frustrated youth interviewed by the Monitor recently. Instead, young people are listening to separatist leaders, to elders who know the history, and to each other through social media.
One history lesson from the elders, men like physics teacher Arshad Ahmed, is that violent separatism has been tried. The 1990s, he says, was “the moment of the militants who are supported by the people. Now this is the movement of the people themselves.”
“We are trying to talk in their language,” he says, referring to Indians. “We are trying to talk in the language of Gandhi.”
Youth Teach Protest Tactics via Facebook, Cellphone Videos
The youth also teach each other by posting articles and homemade videos of police clashes on Facebook. The videos include cellphone footage of police attacks or pictures found on the Internet set to music. Since most Kashmiris are not online, a few will download the clips and spread them through cellphones.
They hope these videos might get Indian and international attention for Kashmir, something they feel they lost when they gave up armed resistance. “The big advantage for armed struggle was that Kashmir was not in cold storage,” says Ubaid, a 21-year-old rock thrower who, like all young protesters who spoke to the Monitor, refused to be named for fear of reprisals from security forces.
The stone throwers say that their actions are spontaneous, not organized, and that there are no leaders. Two stone throwers, Shabir and a PhD student, say that they pay attention to the separatist leaders of the All Parties Huriyat Conference, but the connection with them is indirect.
Separatist Leader: ‘It’s Difficult to Control Anybody’
One of the Huriyat leaders, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, warns that the influence people like him have on the youth will fade if New Delhi does not get serious about putting forth proposals to settle the dispute.
“Right now, to be honest enough, it’s difficult to control anybody,” Mr. Farooq told the Monitor late last month. “But I’m sure given the situation, if all of us come together, I’m sure we can give it a direction.”
Not every youth is throwing stones, he points out. Those that are, he says, “I believe that you can talk to them, you can reach out to them – provided you have the right means to do that. And I don’t think they are going to listen to this politics of elections and incentives.”
The political parties in Kashmir that are allowed to contest elections are both in favor of autonomy but not separation from India. In another recent Monitor interview, Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the state’s opposition political party, said it’s important to help the young protesters get a sense of what’s realistic in the current context.
“The young people at this time are totally against the system, against the Army,” said Mr. Mufti. “But at some point in time we need to talk with them and give them a sense of what is impossible and what is possible because you cannot lead them on.”
Protesters Want Separation From India, Nothing Less
But anything short of separation from India sounds like the talk of discredited politicians, say the stone throwers. “We have nothing to do with the present government. We are just trying to achieve our ultimate goal,” says Ubaid.
That ultimate goal is the right to choose independence or – increasingly less popular – union with Pakistan. And, says Mahfooz, a young man already shot three times during protests, “I am prepared to die for this. For Kashmir, and for my brothers, and my sisters, and my mothers.”