Staring Down the Barrel of a Pellet Gun Is Making Kashmir Blind

Photo from Never Forget Pakistan Facebook page showing photoshopped pellet gun wounds on the faces of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bollywood actors and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Photo from Never Forget Pakistan Facebook page showing photoshopped pellet gun wounds on the faces of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bollywood actors and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Dozens of people have died and thousands more were injured in the most recent surge of unrest in Indian-administrated Kashmir. The latest episode began after security forces killed Burhan Muzaffar Wani, commander of the Kashmiri separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen. Protests turned violent on July 10, 2016, when Indian military forces opened fire on thousands of demonstrators who defied a curfew.

Home to around 12 million people, Indian-administrated Kashmir is geographically divided between India and Pakistan; both countries have been involved in a decades-long dispute over claims to the valley. A number of politicians, separatist groups and rebels have been fighting for a right to self-determination. Today, Kashmir is the most densely militarised zone in the world, with a reported half a million soldiers.

Over 50 people have reportedly been killed, with over 1,000 people injured. Indian forces have reportedly been using pellet guns to disperse crowds, resulting in serious injuries — some of them fatal.

According to The Hindu, one Kashmiri hospital that treats only critical patients from as many as ten affected districts, had received 933 pellet cases as of the first week of August.

By then, many people had had enough. Kashmiri activist and journalist Najeeb Mubarki — as well as other netizens — tweeted photos of victims affected by the crackdown:

What if it happened to someone you knew?

Once similar photos of red-eyed Kashmiris — some as young as nine years old — emerged, mainstream media began to pay a bit more attention, but the advocacy group Never Forget Pakistan felt the situation was even more dire. Will the world care more about the violence in Kashmir if it impacted people they know? This question was the impetus behind the awareness campaign #IndiaCantSee.

The campaign posted photos of famous celebrities like Indian premier Narendra Modi, cricketer Virat Kohli, actors Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachan, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, all with their faces photoshopped to show pellet injuries.

The campaign received a lot of traction, but critics say that it might have done more harm than good to the movement in Kashmir, since it was spearheaded by a Pakistani group. Kashmiri activists often face threats and smear campaigns, accusing them of working with the Pakistani state or extremist groups against Indian sovereignty. Indian writer and editor Chintan Girish Modi explained his reservations about the campaign:

This is why I'm skeptical of social media campaigns that grab eyeballs but are terribly thought through — causing more damage than good. After the Pakistani campaign that ran morphed images of Indian celebrities with make-believe injuries from pellet guns, there's now an Indian campaign with morphed images of Pakistani celebrities with similar injuries on their faces. The first campaign was done in the name of highlighting human rights abuses in Kashmir, and was appropriated by Pakistanis to talk about how Indian Administered Kashmir is so fucked up while Pakistan Administered Kashmir is oh-so-awesome. Zero ownership for how the Pakistani state supports terrorism/jihad (pick your term) in Kashmir. The second campaign was done by Indians who want Pakistanis to take a good long look at their terrible human rights record before they talk about AFSPA [the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts that give special powers to the Indian Armed Forces] and state sponsored armed violence/terrorism (pick your term) in Indian Administered Kashmir. I won't be surprised if Indians use this to prove their chest-thumping patriotism instead of looking at how we are alienating Kashmiris of all religions, and have our own terrible human rights record. Social media is such a powerful tool for dialogue and diplomacy but looks like it is being used for a digital war. Once again, the voices from Kashmir are being drowned out by Pakistanis and Indians.

Should pellet guns be used?

We turned to the Global Voices community to ask authors and editors from the affected regions what they thought of the use of pellet guns in Kashmir. There was unanimous condemnation of the practice. Vishal Manve, an Indian journalist and Global Voices author, said:

The use of pellet guns on innocent Kashmiris should be banned at the earliest. It's inhumane, unethical, severely physically cripples civilians and is a grave human rights violation committed by the state. There is nothing non-life threatening about pellet guns as claimed by the Indian government. They maim, hurt, damage and cripple young children, women and youngsters who sometimes lose their eyesight due to these dangerous weapons.

Sana Jamal, a freelance journalist and writer from Islamabad, Pakistan, was very clear about her denunciation of the practice:

One glimpse at the deformed faces and maimed bodies of Kashmiri people is enough to speak of horrors caused by pellet shotguns.

Independent activist and blogger, Kisholoy Mukherjee, added:

It is absolutely NOT OK to use pellet guns or any form of violent means on people in Kashmir. The state machinery needs to listen to the demands of the people in the region. The only legitimate government is the one that is of the people, by the people and for the people. So the only way to stop the violence in Kashmir is for the government to first carry out a formal referendum on whether people in Kashmir want to remain with India or not.

What about Kashmiri voices?

From Sringar, Kashmir, Facebook user Shahnawaz Khan expressed his frustration over the support of pellet guns being used on protesters:

When the Indian trolls justify the state brutalities by saying that ‘Kashmirs are attacking our soldiers with stones’ do they realise the point they are making. They do, and they know it is the same point we are making, that it is Us vs Them, that we are not one, that we have nothing in common.
We are Kashmiris, they are Indians. Two separate nations, two different identities. One oppressed the another oppressor.

Renowned Kashmiri author and journalist Basharat Peer, who regularly writes about the human rights violations in Indian-administrated Kashmir, was overwhelmed by the violence:

One of the hardest things I have ever done in my life was to look at the morning paper in Srinagar today. A 14 year old girl blinded by the pellet guns of Indian troops while she was in her home.

Mirza Waheed, renowned Kashmiri novelist and journalist, described the Indian government's actions in the valley as corrupt:

India's definition of ‘integral part’ is perverse to say the least. A moral system that allows you to kill, maim and blind children is a corrupt one, to say the very least.

It is quite clear then that India, in its empiric hubris, in the brute arrogance germane to occupying powers, treats Kashmiris as one thing and one thing alone–a subject race that must be punished, pulverised, into submission.

It's also Iabundantly [sic] clear that historically India has treated Kashmir as nothing but a colony, a territory of conquest, a trophy that must be won by any means.

Only other state that routinely brutalises a people is Israel. India's thinking classes should be ashamed it's being done in their name.

Any way you look at it, Kashmiris, as a people, as a society, are facing hitherto unseen collective punishment at the hands of a hawkish state.

India has kept Kashmir under a ruthless, punitive siege for nearly a month now. I hear of enormous suffering and resilience every day.

The Kashmir valley has been mired in conflict for three decades now and Kashmiri voices are often muffled by the tussle between India and Pakistan. Despite curfews, internet blackouts and campaigns accused of misappropriating Kashmiri voices, Kashmiris are increasingly speaking out for themselves. Their voices join many others protesting in Delhi and Calcutta, calling for immediate demilitarization of the region.

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