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A chilly reprieve

Winter has arrived here Kashmir and, finally, the spate of killings of protesters has halted. Every winter, the protests slow down, as people remain indoors to cope with the cold. This year, the winter has bought welcome respite to the exhausted residents of the most militarized zone in the world.

After a hectic summer of protests, where the Valley witnessed 123 killings of unarmed demonstrators who were demanding Azaadi (freedom) from the Indian government, the lethargy of winter will help give vent to exhaustion that has built up since last June.

In addition, the leaders of the separatist amalgam of the Valley, the Hurriyat, are behind bars. Still, the Kashmiris, since June, have followed the Protest Calendars issued by the party, calling for a strike, a sit-in protest or a march to any district where the government forces have shot demonstrators.

‘The top cadre of protesters is behind bars. This has hampered the co-ordination on the street. The police have intimidated the second rung. They have been picked up but not booked. The police call their families to the station and humiliate and threaten them. Also, now the police have their mobile phone numbers. There is immense psychological pressure on these protesters, who are mostly students,’ said a protest organizer from a district in Central Kashmir.

At Kashmir University, where nightly protests were common during summer, students are trying their best to prepare for exams after four months of not attending classes because of strikes and curfews. Despite objections, several students who hail from far-flung districts are not able to attend the exams. Protesters at the university are being threatened, alleges a student. ‘I am so distracted by what is going around that I can’t even think of preparing for exams.’

Most students who have been a part of the protests are unable to concentrate due to the pressures around them – many youngsters have been picked up and released and rebooked by the police under draconian laws that are completely contrary to the Indian Constitution. Also, because Kashmir does not have any juvenile courts or detention centres, the urgency of keeping their children out of jail gives many parents sleepless nights. Some have even had to bribe the security agencies to release their young ones. Others, who cannot afford to do so, have to live with the fact that their child will never be the same after his stint in jail.

‘This is almost as bad as the nineties, when those who could afford to send their sons away did so, so that they could live to see another day. Young boys are an endangered species here,’ said a parent, who in the 1990s had to choose which son to send out of the Valley.

With US President Barrack Obama’s visit to India, Kashmiris see a ray of hope in the resolution of the political imbroglio. ‘He can bring India and Pakistan together for talks,’ said a colleague. Unfortunately, that is not the US’s priority. Meanwhile, the number of injured in protests all across the

Valley continues to rise, as people refuse to bow down to one of the largest armies in the world.

‘India can blame Pakistan for this unrest if they like. But we know this is a people’s movement. There is a similar movement going on in Azaad Kashmir [Pakistan-administered Kashmir]. Will the Indians say that Pakistan is backing that too?’ asked a protester.

As people suffer the pain of politics, the campaigns on Facebook haven’t slowed down. Kashmiri youngsters are using technology to spread the word about what they are undergoing. A status message on the social networking site read: ‘Khoon ka badla, June me lengey (We will avenge the killings next June).’

Several protesters have complained that their Facebook accounts have either been deactivated, hacked into or their passwords changed by the security agencies. There have been attempts to book people who post videos of human rights violations by the security forces. A journalist who had posted a video of three unarmed youngsters being shot in South Kashmir is still on the run for the fear of being booked under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA).

Despite this mass campaign by the Kashmiris to make their stories heard, world powers have turned a blind eye to the gross human rights violations, always encouraging the world’s largest democracy, lauding it for it economic prowess. Here, capitalism wins the battle yet another day. After all, it is difficult to counter state propaganda and decades of international lobbying by India. But what stands true is what English author Aldous Huxley wrote: ‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.’

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