In Kashmir, Growing Anger and Misery

Oct 1st, 2019 | Category: Articles

The conflict turns messier, and everyday life suffers, as the disputed territory remains on lock down. Here are images from the front lines of the Kashmir crisis.

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For nearly two months, the flash-point region of Kashmir has been locked down. The Indian government has flooded it with troops. The internet has been cut off. Mobile phones don’t work.

Soldiers have ordered people to stay inside their homes or they will be shot. Anti-government militants have killed and threatened civilians as well. People can’t get to the hospital, they can’t communicate with loved ones, they can’t go to school or work. Everyday life has been paralyzed.

This all began Aug. 5 when India announced stunning news: It was stripping Jammu and Kashmir state, India’s only Muslim-majority state, of the autonomy it had held since the 1940s. The territory will soon be cut in half and each piece will become a federal enclave.

The Indian government, which is controlled by a popular Hindu nationalist political party, says these moves are necessary to bring peace to Kashmir. For decades, the region has been racked by unrest, rebellion, warfare and bloodshed. Pakistan, India’s rival, also claims parts of Kashmir and is accused of stirring up an anti-India insurgency.

Indian officials knew that stripping Kashmir’s statehood would be deeply unpopular. And the Kashmir Valley, the most restive part of the state and home to as many as 8 million people, remains under a punishing blockade.

The photographer Atul Loke spent four weeks in Kashmir over two trips in August and September for The New York Times. Here is what he saw.

A Friday protest in the Anchar area of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, this month.
A police officer uses a shotgun to fire pellets at demonstrators on Sept. 7.
A 14-year-old boy injured by pellets shot by government forces during Friday protests in Srinagar on Sept. 13.
Relatives consoled Zahida Jan, whose brother had been detained, in the Kashmiri city of Pulwama in August.

Sporadic protests keep breaking out. Security officers blast shotguns and tear gas into crowds. Dozens of demonstrators have been seriously wounded. Many are scared to go to the hospital, fearing they will be arrested. Instead, they stumble into nearby mosques, their faces bloody, their bodies shaking, to be wiped down and bandaged by sympathetic volunteers.

The Indian security forces have arrested thousands of people. Most are being held without charges under what is called preventive detention. Almost Kashmir’s entire leadership class — democratically elected representatives, teachers, students, intellectuals, and prominent merchants — is now behind bars.

Aerial view of Srinagar on Sept. 20.
A protest outside Srinagar turned violent after the police fired tear gas on Aug. 16.
Security forces in Srinagar in August.
Residents watching a protest in the Soura neighborhood of Srinagar this month.

The arrests and the blockade have left Kashmiris feeling unsettled, demoralized and furious. Zahida Jan, a high school student, collapsed in grief just talking about her older brother, Fayaz Ahmed Mir, who was arrested in front of her in early August. The family says he is innocent. His job was driving a tractor in apple orchards. They say the reason authorities arrested him was that he had joined a protest nine years ago. They have no idea where he is.

Children as young as 8 have poured into the streets. With schools closed, they have little to do. Many hang around the mosques. Among the slogans they bark out is: “There is only one solution. Gun solution! Gun solution!”

Protesters throwing stones in Srinagar  on Aug. 8.
Residents run from the security forces’ tear gas and riot guns in Srinagar on Sept 7. 
Afshana Farooq, 14, was treated in a Srinagar hospital on Aug. 9 after she was hurt in a stampede when Indian forces opened fire on demonstrators.
Children join a demonstration in Soura, Srinagar, on Sept. 20. Schools in Kashmir have been closed for weeks.

Several young men have claimed that they were tortured by security forces. The Indian government has denied it. The young men, who were arrested on suspicion of aiding the militants, said government soldiers hung them upside down, hit them with bamboo sticks, applied electric shocks and forced them to drink large amounts of a noxious liquid. A month after he said he was tortured, Abid Khan, a shopkeeper, showed deep black lines on his buttocks. He said four soldiers stripped him naked, pinned him down and beat him again and again with wooden poles.

A woman with her nephew in Srinagar  on Aug. 8.
The aftermath of an independence day observance in Srinagar on Aug. 15.
Barricades and checkpoints have made movement difficult in Srinagar.
Idress Malik, 28, says he was detained and abused by the Indian Army in southern Kashmir's Shopian district last month.

But the tensions are no longer as simple as protesters versus security officers. Kashmiri separatists are conducting their own clampdown, threatening or even attacking civilians in a campaign to destroy any semblance of normality that may be trying to creep back.

Anti-government militants recently shot the family members of a wealthy apple trader. The militants are trying to stop the apple business, a lifeline for many Kashmiris, as a form of protest against the Indian government. The militants even shot a 5-year-old girl, officials said.

Indian officials have not indicated when they will lift the security restrictions or release people who have been jailed.

Gathering for Eid holiday prayers in Srinagar in August.
Gh Mohiuddin Mir, 65, at his apple farm in Budgam, worries that if the Kashmir crisis is not resolved by harvest time he will be financially devastated. 
Paddy harvesting in central Kashmir this month.
A handloom weaver at his home in central Kashmir this month. 

Indian officials have not indicated when they will lift the security restrictions or release people who have been jailed.

Ajit Doval, India’s national security chief, blames Pakistan for Kashmir’s problems. If the internet were restored in Kashmir, he says, Pakistan would flood it with misleading information and stir up hatred. If the Indian soldiers relax, Pakistan would exploit the situation and send in more militants. He said lifting the restrictions would depend on “how Pakistan behaves.’’

Pakistan has denied those accusations. And its prime minister, Imran Khan, just spoke before the United Nations to accuse India of atrocities in Kashmir. He has asked for international intervention to help the crisis from escalating into war between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed.

Atul Loke is a freelance photojournalist based in Mumbai, India. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times in the region. @lokeatul

Jeffrey Gettleman is the South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi. He was the winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for international reporting. @gettleman Facebook

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