A gritty black and white photograph shows a students’ protest rally in Indian-administered Kashmir’s capital Srinagar. It is winter of 1988. The marching students of Islamic Students League (ISL), a dissenting group formed in the 1980s, which revived student activism after a hiatus, head towards the office of the United Nations’ mission in Kashmir.
Clad in pherans (a traditional closed-cloak), they are marching for Palestine amid intense state surveillance. ‘It was raining and snowing, 29 February,’ recollects Shakeel Bakshi, an erstwhile ISL leader, who is now in his early fifties. Pointing to the photo, he recalls they were all wearing black and blue berets with union logos. ‘We called them Maqbool Bhat caps [named after a pro-independence leader who was killed in an Indian jail in 1984]’
In the photo, Bakshi – then a young man – is seen managing queues of marching youth. Armed struggle, as a mass movement, against Indian rule in the region is only a few months away. Some of the marchers went underground shortly afterwards and took to arms for Kashmir’s independence.
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It is the summer of 2014. A queue of vehicles, with young boys atop and inside, crosses Srinagar city in Kashmir. Tri-colour Palestinian flags flutter over cars, electric poles and shops. A teenage boy, surrounded by others atop a car, pierces the summer air with his Down with Israel slogan. In the same breath, he cries: ‘Go India! Go back’.
Kashmir children taking to the streets, protesting against Israel’s brutality and facing Indian armed forces cannot be baffling for the state. Resistance and solidarity can make borders porous; a source of paranoia for aligned oppressive states, India and Israel.
The Kashmir region has witnessed a series of spontaneous pro-Palestine protests and shutdowns since early July. India, like Israel, exhibited its military might – it opened fire on civilians, killing teenager Suhail Ahmad in southern Kashmir. Amid teargas shelling, firing, baton charges and pepper spray, youngsters pelted stones at government forces armed with sophisticated gear. Suhail is just another number for the state, which has ordered an investigation into his death to buy time.
Students from various academic institutions across the Himalayan region came out onto the streets in large numbers against Israel’s offensive. The Red Square in the summer capital city of Srinagar reverberated with ‘O warriors of Gaza, we are with you’ slogans.
A mammoth gathering of girls took to the streets expressing solidarity. Nineteen-year-old Munaza says she and her fellow students decided on a silent protest in her college. ‘We wrote slogans on sheets of paper and 16 of us gathered. Gradually, the crowd swelled.’ After a disagreement over the silent protest, girls began pro-Gaza chants and marched on the roads.
‘Demonstrations can’t stop the killings, but it reflects our belief… shows on what side we stand,’ says Munaza. The Indian government, fearing this solidarity, ordered educational institutions to shut for an untimely summer break. However, protests for Gaza continued.
On 28 July, during the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr, congregations in different parts of the region said prayers for Gaza before government forces barred them from marching. There were clashes, and protesters torched Israel and Indian flags. Several resistance leaders were put under house arrest.
An amalgam of Kashmir entrepreneurs decided to boycott Israeli products and appealed to people to join them. The anti-Israel protests were not restricted to youths. Associations of lawyers, employees, and other groups also rallied for Palestine.
The government in response swooped down on young demonstrators and maintained tight surveillance using high-end technology. Police admitted using CCTV to track protesters. Several boys have been on the run for the past month; police raided their homes arresting their parents or relatives as intimidation tactics.
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The Kashmir and Palestine conflicts are over half a century old. India continues its military control over Kashmir; Israel continues its war on Palestine. There is a growing defence co-operation and strategic relationship between the two countries, with India becoming the largest buyer of Israel’s defence equipment. Tel Aviv has provided high-end defence and surveillance equipment, expertise in ‘counterinsurgency’ and intelligence to India.
On 15 July, as a show of support, India, led by the pro-Israel Hindu right, refused to pass a resolution condemning the Gaza offensive. While these two countries are related by a common desire of domination, Kashmir and Palestine share a bond of solidarity.
Pro-Palestine protests in Kashmir in recent years have a history. In the 1960s, protests rocked the region over the desecration of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, resulting in deaths and an unrelenting curfew.
According to Dr Sheikh Showkat, a law professor in Kashmir, it is not a one-sided solidarity. ‘Resistance groups working at grassroots levels in Palestine have always supported the Kashmir cause’, he says.
Hajj Amin el-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921 and an important Muslim leader during the Second World War, was a key figure of the Palestinian movement; he was also vocal against India’s stance on Kashmir.
A Palestinian man called Mahmoud travelled to Kashmir at the onset of insurgency in 1987 and joined the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group to fight India. He was arrested in 1993 and died of an illness while in prison.
Save Gaza graffiti dots walls in Kashmir and thousands of miles away a wall in Gaza speaks loudly: Save Kashmir.