Come and see the Blood on the Streets

A fact-finding team investigates why the body count was so high during last year's uprising in Kashmir
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

As Kashmir braces for another summer of protests, there is little hope that security forces will act any differently from what they did last year. "They are calculating how many deaths it will take for the people to succumb," says Delhi-based filmmaker-activist Sanjay Kak.

Last summer indeed was bloody, with long spells of curfews and closures, and at least 100 Kashmiris shot dead, mostly youngsters. According to a recent Amnesty International report, A Lawless Law, nearly 20,000 were detained for long periods without trial under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) and tortured. For instance, Khalida Akhtar, a woman detainee, "...during her eight-day stay in the SOG (Special Operations Group) camp... was brutally interrogated... one of her teeth was broken. She was given electric shocks. Her head used to be drowned in buckets of water... Sticks used to be put between her fingers and then pressed. Rollers were also used on her body..." 

To investigate why so many people fell to police bullets, a fact-finding team comprising human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, veteran journalist Sukumar Muralidharan, and academics Ravi Hemadri and Bela Bhatia, visited the valley in October 2010. Their report, Four months the Kashmir valley will never forget: An enquiry into the mass uprising of 2010, was released recently in Delhi. Some startling findings: 

No less than 27 of the 112 persons reported killed may have been juveniles, says the report. Many bereaved parents told the visiting team that they had known not only of their children going for the demonstrations, but also that they might not return home alive.

Samir, an eight-year-old, was playing in the alley behind his house on a day of curfew in Srinagar, when he encountered a CRPF picket and was killed, because he probably raised an Azadi slogan. "Eyewitnesses speak of Samir being administered a very violent blow across his head with a rifle butt and a lathi being thrust down his throat. The boy was then abandoned where he fell," notes the report, adding that his family insists he was attacked without provocation. Local police filed an FIR stating he was killed in a stampede.

Faizan Buhroo, a 12-year-old student from Baramullah, was beaten on his head and thrown into a river by the security forces on July 17, 2010, just before his mother arrived on the scene: "She was told that a child had been thrown into the river... he had been flailing his arms and showing obvious signs of distress... people had been unable to go to his assistance because of intimidatory tactics adopted by the security forces." The child's murderer is allegedly one Kaka Mir, an ex-militant and now an officer with the J&K police. 

Terror unleashed by security forces on ambulance operators and medical practitioners is nothing unusual in Kashmir. But, on July 30, 2010, the CRPF shot dead 12-year-old Adil in the Pattan hospital premises. Earlier, he had been shot during a protest in village Palhallan and then brought to this hospital: "But soon after Adil was admitted... his wound staunched and an intravenous (IV) drip administered... CRPF personnel raided the premises, ripped out the IV cord from Adil's arm, pulled him off the bed and shot him dead at point-blank range." In Palhallan alone, there were reportedly eight deaths during the protests, but no one has filed an FIR. "Who should we file an FIR against?" a witness asked the visiting team, "Against all of India?"

Security forces resorted to bizarre acts of violence even in mosques. In Palhallan, "Munna... came out through a door on the side to avoid the tear gas fumes... the first of the worshippers to emerge, and as he walked towards the front of the mosque to retrieve his footwear, he was reportedly shot dead on sight. Ali Mohammad Waza then emerged from another mosque in an adjoining mohalla and walked towards the spot where Munna had fallen, perhaps to retrieve his body. He too was shot dead."

The story of injuries suffered by Kashmiris during the unrest is as shocking as the story of the deaths. As many as 515 persons - the official figure - were injured between June and mid-October 2010. "CRPF does not allow the injured to be attended to immediately. This has resulted in many deaths. If there is a delay of even half-an-hour... somebody who has received a bullet injury can die due to blood loss... Only when they know that pura khoon ho gaya (the person has died) do they allow the body to be lifted."   

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2011