In mourning and under siege – A despatch from Srinagar: Saadut Hussain

Guest post by SAADUT HUSSAIN

Photo: Getty Images

The evening prior to Afzal Guru’s hanging, Kashmir was being prepared for a siege. The state had already started working towards barricading the entire population of Kashmir and enforcing curfew. A backlash in Kashmir was already anticipated, not only because Afzal was a Kashmiri but also because in Kashmir he is perceived to being an innocent man, used as a pawn by New Delhi in the larger political theatre of mainland India.

Even though Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Saturday claimed that he “was informed at 8 pm on Friday night that Afzal Guru would be executed this morning” other media sources claimed that “Omar was informed about the decision when he was in New Delhi on January 31 where he met several leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi.” Clearly the differing reports on claims (or denial) of his knowledge about the hanging had more political reasons to it.

Afzal’s trial has itself left many unanswered questions, which India has been evading. Why did Afzal not have any lawyer from the moment of his arrest (the date of his arrest on 15th Dec 2001) to the filing of the charge-sheet on 14th May 2005? Did the trial by media, which had started immediately after his arrest, create a pre-trial mindset to adversely affect the trial? The weak defense provided to Afzal and the methods Delhi Police Special Cell has been known to use against Kashmiris, also created a general distrust about Afzal’s trial. The number of loop holes that were ignored in the Afzal investigation and the weak defence provided to counter the prosecution, were simply astounding.  Was the system fast forwarding the case in a rush to achieve results, norms of justice kept aside?

In its August 2005 judgment, the Supreme Court admitted that, “The conviction under section 3 (5) of POTA is also set aside because there is no evidence that he is a member of a terrorist organisation, once the confessional statement is excluded. Incidentally, we may mention that even going by confessional statement, it is doubtful whether the membership of a terrorist gang or organisation is established.” But the court also concluded, “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” Satisfying this ‘collective conscience’ was seen in Kashmir as using Kashmiris as a scapegoat; in doing so, India couldn’t care less about a Kashmiri’s life.

The political strings in Afzal’s hanging are evident. One news report says, “Even Sonia discussed the issue with Omar on the same day. Though Omar had some reservation about the consequences on the streets in the Valley, the central leadership convinced him that there was no way out but to hang Guru to silence the right-wing BJP leadership.” The family of Afzal had not been informed about his hanging, denying them even the basic right of meeting him one last time. On Thursday 7 February, the Union Home Secretary of India, R K Singh said that a communication about the hanging had been sent to the family of Afzal Guru, through Speed Post. Till Sunday no Speed Post communication had been received by Afzal’s family while they already knew about the hanging through TV news. On Monday morning the Speed Post was delivered by the local postal department, while surprisingly the head of the Kashmir circle of India Post claimed that the letter had been dispatched (from New Delhi) on Friday (8th Feb). This admission by postal authorities put in the dock Union Home Secretary of India, who had on Thursday (7th Feb) already claimed about the dispatch of this communication. Surely, New Delhi was playing dirty political games with this hanging.


While Kashmir saw this trial and the hanging as a serious miscarriage of justice, the state laid its own siege to the Valley Saturday morning. By daybreak, curfew had been put in place, all public utility services had been halted, communications blocked out, mobile internet shut and neighbourhoods barricaded by force. Columns of armed personnel were already on the streets enforcing a calm. They knew Kashmir was simmering beneath, seething with anger.

Kashmiri Muslim protesters shout slogans, defying a curfew as one of them, left, holds a photograph of the founder of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Maqbool Bhat in Srinagar, India, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Sporadic violence left two people dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir despite a curfew that was extended into a third day Monday in the wake of the execution of a Kashmiri man convicted in a deadly 2001 attack on India's Parliament.(AP Photo/ Mukhtar khan)
Kashmiri Muslim protesters shout slogans, defying a curfew as one of them, left, holds a photograph of the founder of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Maqbool Bhat in Srinagar, India, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Sporadic violence left two people dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir despite a curfew that was extended into a third day Monday in the wake of the execution of a Kashmiri man convicted in a deadly 2001 attack on India’s Parliament.(AP Photo/ Mukhtar khan)

Curfews and Kashmir have had a long relationship; the state uses this tool with impunity whenever it has no answers to our questions. Curfew is the first and last resort to contain public resentment, to muzzle our voice. But curfews where communications systems, internet and TV channels are all blocked and shut out, stand oddly out from the countless curfews Kashmir has earlier experienced. The state here not only ensured that people were caged in their homes, it also ensured that access to information was tailored as per state convenience. News channels were blocked on all cable networks, working in tandem with a mobile internet ban and newspaper stoppages, thereby ensuring a total news blackout. Was the state here afraid of letting the truth be known to common people, or was it afraid of letting the truth of the common people out to the world? Both.

The Indian media in Kashmir invariably resorts to convenient half-truths, often censoring their stories in the larger interests of New Delhi, sacrificing truth-telling at the alter of Indian nationalism. Today, again, the Indian media’s foot-soldiers were seen scurrying around to report between pro-Delhi political residences and obscure roads outside their secure hotels. None of these reporters went down to the common people under siege, to report about life behind the state’s barricades.

Curfew means life at a standstill, denying us the right to exist. Reports of denied milk deliveries, stopped by state forces, soon began pouring in from Srinagar and other towns of Kashmir. Day One passed on the previous day’s essentials. The curfew started to bite from Day Two and well into Day Three. With essentials running out and a total blockade of these services by the state, people were down to rationing. Children without milk, the ill without medicine. Helplessness. The state often points to economic losses due to general strikes called by pro-freedom politicians, while refusing to even acknowledge the miseries such curfews bring to the people. During strikes, unskilled labour and the non-salaried class at least walk to their work-places to earn for the day, and essential supplies work within the internal arteries of the city. In curfews everything is locked down by the state, the daily-wage earners and the poor are put to extreme hardships by these curfews.

The cover of an information blackout

A communication blackout by the state not only means that people are denied access to news, but also that the ‘security’ forces can do anything without the fear of the world getting to know. A communication blockade ensures that an unaccountable state can get away with brute force without the fear of facing immediate public wrath. But such blockades often backfire for iron-fisted states in the long run, breeding a deeper sense of alienation between the ruling state and the denied subjects. Such alienation has been ever widening in Kashmir. The state is not bothered about the welfare of common people, perching itself far above the ground.

In a world as inter-connected as ours, where physical distances have shrunk and information travels with or without such blockades, such acts of the state are futile. Sooner or later, the truths return to hound the state and hold it responsible for using brute force against a civilian population and subject them to collective punishment. People in Kashmir have already begun to compare 2013 to 2010, when more than a 120 people, many of them minors, were killed by ‘security’ forces. In 2010, the powers that be had given up their control to the ‘security’ forces. It had openly become a state v/s people war. Comparing today’s situation with 2010 may not be out of place, keeping in view that the sparks of 2010 mayhem were similar to what the state is doing right now. As I write, 3 protesting youths have already been killed, including a 13 year old, a 9th class student who was shot at by the Central Reserve Paramilitary Force in Wattergam (north Kashmir). Scores are reportedly injured, many of them seriously. Two of the dead had drowned in Sumbal (near Ganderbal) when the CRPF were chasing them.

An additional 10 BSF and 14 CRPF companies were flown in from Jammu to Kashmir, today, a clear indication that the state was inclined to use all possible force in Kashmir. Did that indicate that the government was pushing to extend the siege for long and enforce it harsh? Media on Sunday had already reported (quoting official sources) that curfew and curbs on local media were likely to continue in Kashmir till Friday. And as if curfew and services blockade were not enough many areas reported that armed forces were resorting to vandalism of homes in order to terrify the population. There are reports of deliberate damage to civilian property and beating of civilians inside their homes (including women and a children). Such situations can’t merely be seen as state attempts at containment of anger. This is a situation where armed forces assume greater powers than the governing state.  The governing state with its elected head turns a blind eye to the acts of the security forces, for simply wanting to survive in power at the pleasure of New Delhi.

Unending blockades, denial of essential services to the needy, locking down entire populations and wielding of the state barrel on unarmed populations creates a psyche within the common people who see the state as their biggest enemy. When the state treats common people as aliens and uses force to control them, the people also see the state as a draconian one, which has to be rejected and fought back. This makes any rapprochement between the governing state and the people nearly impossible.

It is this ‘pushed to the wall’ psyche that has been moulding young minds in Kashmir for decades, portraying the state as a perennial enemy, and reoccurrence of such events (2008, 2009, 2010) has only reinforced such feelings. The feeling of denial of justice and alienation in Kashmir is also reinforced when Kashmiris compare ‘water cannon’ actions against protestors in India Gate against the above-the-waist firing in Kashmir. The discriminatory bullet that kills Kashmiris when we protest exacerbates the divisions between mainland India and what it calls its ‘atoot ang’, Kashmir.

When young children watch their elders abused and beaten by security forces for no reason, when they experience the denial of even basic human rights to them in barricaded curfews, an idea of India in created in their minds. When a trail of dead and injured is seen to fall to the brute force of the state’s armed forces, the young begin to identity these forces (and the state) as their primary enemy. This new generation that did not experience the pre-1989 denial of political rightsin Kashmir, or the brutality of the 1990’s, are experiencing more state brutality today.

Kashmiris have been experiencing the persistent recurrence of such crimes without any remorse or responsibility by the culprits. While the brokers of power in Srinagar conveniently blame New Delhi for denial of justice in crimes like Machil and Pathribal, it has itself stalled systems of justice in far more crimes here like the 2010 killings, the Shopian double rape and murder case and countless more. These incidents responsible for prolonging the conflict. The state fails to learn from the past. The implications of Afzal Guru’s hanging and the brute enforced by the state in Kashmir are going to be long-term, with most Kashmiris relinquishing any hopes with India. The state, rather than providing succour to the common population, has been pushing brutal armed force against genuine grievances of alienation, and the denial of political rights and justice to Kashmir. New Delhi (and their arms in the state) may use brutal force to contain these sparks for the short term, but these cinders will flare from beneath this enforced calm and take its toll.

(Saadut Hussain is a writer in Srinagar. These are his personal views.)

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23 thoughts on “In mourning and under siege – A despatch from Srinagar: Saadut Hussain”

  1. Mr. Hussain,

    “”The feeling of denial of justice and alienation in Kashmir is also reinforced when Kashmiris compare ‘water cannon’ actions against protestors in India Gate against the above-the-waist firing in Kashmir. The discriminatory bullet that kills Kashmiris when we protest exacerbates the divisions between mainland India and what it calls its ‘atoot ang’, Kashmir.””

    Please reflect on this—

    Protestors in Delhi were holding the Indian National Flag as they protested (You can see pics all across you tube) ….unlike protestors in Kashmir who abuse it and burn it…..can you complain about differential treatment??

    For protestors in Delhi India’s constitution is supreme (even if it means accepting Article 370, which I personally like many other Indians think should be scrapped)…….is it so for protestors in Kashmir who abuse the constitution of India despite getting preferential treatment in the form of Article 370….can you complain about differential treatment??

    Protestors in Delhi expected the Indian government to enforce the law laid down in the constitution even if that meant through force on the streets of Delhi unlike lawless protestors in Kashmir….can you complain about differential treatment??

    Please do not compare protestors in Delhi with protestors in Kashmir. It’s an insult to protestors in Delhi.


    1. So, you believe that burning the flag should result in people being shot dead? Sorry, but some of us do believe that people have a right to protest. Your comment strengthens the author’s point; it does not weaken it.


      1. You have a right to protest but not conduct anti national activities like burning of the national flag or tearing up the constitution. It is the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution that give you the right to protest.
        Sorry Shankar it’s not a one way traffic. If you have fundamental rights you also have fundamental duties under the constitution and as long as article 370 remains in the constitution of India is applicable in Kashmir too.


        1. People, and life is beyond flags and boundaries. It’s not out of blind hatred that Kashmiri’s burn the flag…it’s the repercussions of what Indian army’s done to them over 3 decades. And strangely all that goes out of media’s notice.


      2. Also, I am not expecting Kashmiris to hold my national flag or like my constitution but do expect them to respect my sentiments about my flag and my constitution just like I respect their right to dissent but in a peaceful manner. If you burn my national flag and my constitution, Sorry I cannot support your cause.


        1. Am glad that you respect our constitution…but why ‘ll there be this agitation for “Azadi” if they are allowed constitutional rights?? It’s time for us to introspect and understand ’em…rather being Jingoistic.


    2. “insult to protesters in Delhi” ???
      first of all Kashmir is not a part of India, no doubt it may look good on Map and your Geography teacher might have taught you the same. So, Indian flag is not our National flag in plain terms, in the same fashion as British flag was not yours at some time in the history. and yes we don’t need your support for our cause, we will throw you out of Kashmir very soon InshaAllah, you better keep watching Star Plus :)


      1. Faisal,

        I know my geography better than some of you who live in a state of perpetual “Alice in Wonderland”.

        The fact is India , Pakistan, China and “your Kashmir” are not what they were 65 years back.
        Kashmir is surrounded by 3 Nuclear Weapon States- India, Pakistan and China….so independence is totally out of the window.
        You have to only look towards your western borders and see the condition of Afghanistan. It’s a country that is at perpetual war within itself and in the geopolitical game between India, Pakistan, West, Iran and Russia.

        Would suggest you come up with more sensible solutions to Kashmir than Jingoism. Your only other option would be turning into South Asia’s Afghanistan.


      2. And as for the British Flag…India was never 1 country. It was a federation of several Princely states that were later on administered as one entity by the British.
        We became a federation only after 1947.


  2. None of the kids killed in Kashmir ever handled the Indian flag, most of them were not even part of any protests. They were killed coldblooded, like 9th class student Ubaid Mustaq, who was shot yesterday by CRPF and killed while he was returning from his orchard. His friend is battling with brain damage, having been shot in the head. In such situations India is only extending its imperialistic aims in Kashmir, Democracy stops at Kashmir borders.


    1. I am not talking about the current situation.

      I do admit that the UPA government’s conduct has been utterly shameful in the least in the way they carried out execution though they may have valid reasons for the same.

      I do however agree with the hanging and believe that the law of the land must be upheld whether for Guru or for people like Sadhvi Pragya Thakur etc. If tomorrow the Malegaon accused are sentenced to death, I believe they must be hanged just like Guru even if the likes of Togadia may threaten communal violence across India if the sentence is enforced. The law of the land applies to one and all equally.

      It’s a general point I am making. You may agree with India’s constitution or disagree. But as long as Article 370 is enshrined in it, the constitution applies to J & K.

      When the writer raises the issue of differential treatment to the two kinds of protestors, I am merely pointing out the difference between the nature of protests- The Delhi protestors asking the government to enforce the law of the land enshrined in the constitution while protestors in Kashmir repeatedly questioning the law of the land.

      The constitution provides you the fundamental right to protest but also lays down fundamental duties that you need to perform. It cannot be a one way street.


    2. Saba, Please note we do accept that the UPA has been selective in whom it has chosen to execute and that is something even the rest of India is not buying.

      However you have to accept that the law of the land is supreme for one and all. If it has to apply to the Sadhvi and her gang that carried out the Mosque bombings it has to apply to Afzal Guru. You cannot pick and choose the law.

      Again, I do not expect Kashmiris to hold my national flag or like my constitution. But please do not hurt our sentiments by burning or damaging either of the two in the guise of protesting against India.

      For us the idea of secular India flows through these two. When you abuse the two you only reinforce the notion in the rest of India that you do not believe in a secular Kashmir and that point gets emphasized when we look at the state of affairs of the Kashmiri Pandits.


  3. The best option should be a referendum. Give them the freedom to make their choice – even if it is the mistake of aligning with a failed state like Pakistan. The Government of India can take its time – say 5 years, 10 years or more (if it wants)- and use it to educate the people of Kashmir, convince them with development and integration. But the right to determine its future – Azadi, India, Pakistan, Autonomy – should always rest with the people. Unnecessarily keeping the embers burning for the sake of ego and pride – it will get us nowhere.
    Kashmir must also realize that a stubborn standoff against the Indian state will get them nowhere..New Delhi is insulated – and nothing will ever wake them from their slumber. When they are cut off from the even the janta of Delhi, do Kashmiris think they can make their voices heard from the streets of Srinagar? A solution based on agitation or violence – is simply not going to happen. And please, keep Pakistan out. Nothing irritates Indians more than seeing Pakistan meddle – it only worsens the situation. It is not that they care about the Kashmiris – milking the issue for their own strategic depth.


    1. The issue is very complex. Anything that happens in Kashmir will have a direct bearing on muslims in India.


  4. I am a student researching on States of North East India which required me to live there for sometime. Saddat Hussain rightly points out that the Indian state appears to be the biggest enemy because of the every day abuse people face from the army, police and the government.. People in North East, resource rich tribal belt experience a similar treatment from the Indian state.. This is the nature of the Indian state- communal and fascist.


  5. Surely, the Indian National Flag is more important than the people of India. Surely, a symbol is more important than real lives. Surely, Independence was won for the Flag rather than people. I see that.


  6. Ya let’s hold a referendum. The wishes of Kashmiri Pundits thrown out of their homeland doesn’t matter.


    1. People and life are beyond religion.When I’m talking about Kashmiris…it means Kashmiris. You can confine your liberties to Kashmiri “Pandits”.


  7. Referendum? For J&K as people ostensibly in one part of the state (Kashmir valley) want to secede. Why not extend that privilege to every mohalla, every gully of India? After all, granularity of secessionist privilege should not end at the borders of a particular valley! As Arundhati Roy so famously proclaimed, it should stop only at the level of the individual!

    Of course, once we are through with every such referendum, we can pick up the pieces of what is left of a country most of us are proud citizens of.


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