Kashmir with its diverse geographies and histories has always seen the vicissitudes of fate both through the ‘statist’ narratives and home-bound proxy Psy Ops. This piece has been curated with the objective of clearing the hazy binaries being projected in an opinion piece by Sandeep Chaudhary, titled “TIME drew red X for Osama. But Western press humanised Riyaz Naikoo with pre-gun stories” (published in The Print on May 8, 2020). To begin with, the author’s bio listed at the bottom of The Print piece reads his position as an officer of the Jammu and Kashmir Police (SSP Anantnag). This cursory fact is in itself suggestive of the immediate dichotomies arising when it comes to the stark differences between the police and public/civilian narratives in Kashmir and how the former are constructed and then presented before the Indian media as unquestionable truth (in this case The Print).
The basis of this dichotomy between police and civilian accounts is one that the author of The Print opinion piece should be well aware of, particularly in the context of the intrinsic and normalised pattern of securitisation in Kashmir and the discourses that scaffold it. The basis of this false binary fizzles outright in the first paragraph when the Ishrat Muneer murder gets misappropriated as the author directly links her killing to Riyaz Naikoo’s men when The Wire on February 3, 2019, had already reported on Ishrat’s killing, quoting her uncle saying “The girl left home for college. We can’t say who abducted her and later executed her. Among my relatives, I visited Ishrat’s home most. A sister who was craving to see her commander brother (Zeenat-Ul-Islam) when he was active couldn’t be an informer”. Ishrat Muneer was the cousin of Zeenat-Ul-Islam—a commander of the Al-Badr group. The same The Wire news report further pointed out, “However, no militant group has taken responsibility for killing Ishrat yet”. This Wire article was the immediate response to the baseless ‘facts’ being purported in the name of drawing parallels that are not only exaggerated but fall flat on the side of a desirable conjecture blind to the lens of existing ground realities. The kernel and centrality of Chaudhary’s The Print piece revolves around this ‘murder mystery’ that the author has blindly draped and grossly misdirected.
The only line in Sandeep Chaudhary’s piece that I agree with and consider valid is “They say dead men tell no tales”, a very true and perfect example to cite for Kashmir and its population, which has been left hanging in the clouds of mourning, with funerals and severe human rights violations committed with a definite pattern and a patented ‘design’. There are too many examples to cite throughout Kashmiri history that is only lost to this pattern and ‘design’, but it would suffice to just cite the recent example of the 25-year-old youth, Mehrajuddin Shah from Budgam, who was shot dead by security forces at point blank range when driving his uncle, an ASI in J&K Police, to work (as reported by The Print May 14, 2020). On a broader three-decade-timeline, there are thousands of such cases where common civilians are made targets of such state violence witnessed by Kashmiris throughout their ‘lost history’ that goes unnoticed and is brushed off as non-existent in the police bureaucratic structures (despite the many reports in the press and detailed documentation from human rights organisations available). And any such cases of state violence against Kashmiri civilians would suffice to counter what the author of The Print piece has done in his indictment as opinion piece, which is simply to cite two examples to drive a larger, and conveniently generalised point, home, and that too at the expense of ignoring and undermining blunt ground realities. But here the point is to dig deeper into readily available documentation, press articles and reports by reputed human rights organisations and media and press organisations that since long have maintained a check on what happens in Kashmir beyond what is and is not made visible by the official lens of power.
To begin with, Amnesty International’s report from 2015 (“DENIED”: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir) documents that “3,642 “civilians killed by security forces” while the report estimated that “up to half of all human rights violations by security force personnel may have gone unreported in the 1990s and early 2000s” (p. 8-9). According to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) Annual Human Rights Review 2018, 1,081 civilians have been killed by security forces in extrajudicial killings between 2008 and 2018 (p. 8). As such, it is very true when “They say dead men tell no tales” but the tales of Kashmir witnessed by Kashmiris struggling to survive are bathed in blood and de-humanising accounts of untold sufferings and testimonies that are documented by the press and reported on by human rights organisations and soon forgotten by certain people and particular establishments.
False Associations and the Battle for Image
The author of The Print opinion piece then furnishes a flawed and myopic phenomenological testimonial within a ‘killer/defender’ dynamic that has been embedded in a contradictory manner without considering at all the larger conditions imposed on Kashmiris by the largest armed forces deployment in a concrete territory on the entire planet. The author gives no acknowledgement, and purposefully so, to the fact that in 2017 the state and its armed forces introduced “Cordon and Search Operations (CASO)” in Kashmir Valley—a much-criticised military strategy employed by the Indian state that is patently parallel to the state’s military actions in the early 1990s. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (Report on Kashmir 2019) “cordon and search operations enable a range of human rights violations, including physical intimidation and assault, invasion of privacy, arbitrary and unlawful detention, collective punishment and destruction of private property” (p. 4).
All these over-arching and all-encroaching conditions in state narratives, including those propagated by certain media establishments, are continuously overlooked and ignored while things are reported and written about in a very framed and event-specific manner, with the larger context of conflict and militarisation assumed as normal, and therefore not mention-worthy. According to the author of The Print opinion piece, “The eulogy written for a terrorist mentions his life before he picked the gun. Which is absolutely right as far as story-telling about a man’s journey goes. But this eulogy, like biography, has to be written backwards. These ‘writers’ tell the story of a terrorist out of chronological order and add passages of comfortable details.” If one makes the effort to begin assessing the reasons, events, circumstances, causes and effects, the ultimate conclusion leads to the inhumane and unjust conditions enforced on a defenceless Kashmiri population in the most heavily militarised and surveillance-driven zone on the planet that has turned Kashmir into a police state.
The author leaves out major details in framing such an opinion piece from a very naive and self-serving manner, as if militants (who he calls “terrorists”) appeared out of nowhere to spearhead an insurgency against the Indian state. For that, one would have to visit the 1987 rigged elections where the MUF party was set out to win with a majority turnout and result, yet through a rigging process controlled by the Indian state, the losing candidates and their party were handed over the election, while more than 600 MUF and opposition party workers were put under arrest after what initially was supposed to be a democratically held election. From those years, even leaders of the Congress Party from that time like Khem Lata Wukhloo, recalled: “I remember that there was a massive rigging in 1987 elections. The losing candidates were declared winners. It shook the ordinary people’s faith in the elections and the democratic process.” Nearly 80% of Kashmir Valley’s population voted that year hopeful that their vote would count, but when the rigging took place, after decades of political campaigning ever since India landed in Kashmir, there was no other option. The then APHC Chairman, Abdul Gani Bhat stated that “Kashmiri youths participated in the 1987 elections with great enthusiasm and seriousness and after due thought. But the poll results fired them with anger. They decided to fight violence with violence.” Yet such things will be left out intentionally by people who write with a specific purpose, leaving out facts and well-documented accounts in books and major news organisations.
In view of such considerations, it would do the author well to recall such overarching and strategically imposed conditions in understanding inconvenient chronologies while biding for such stories “to be written backwards” (as he writes in his opinion piece). In all such understandings of chronology, Kashmir is rendered a warzone, a zone of conflict, a territory at the centre of nuclear and geopolitical dispute whose peoples are ignored as if they were invisible or exaggeratedly highlighted as if they were “terrorists” and “extremists” to the point of dehumanising them and dispossessing them of their voice, identity and personhood. At the same time, a consistent contradiction also abounds: the bid to project normalcy in Kashmir through the decades, while in the background all sorts of state repression and violence and counter-violence marks the tone. While people in Kashmir have a clear perspective based on lived experience on this matter of statist and particular media contradiction, in that too, a need to ‘understand chronology’ emerges for those who on the one hand report on “terrorism in Kashmir” while also reporting on “normalcy in Kashmir” almost in the same breath.
All such things considered, in The Print piece the author then brushes aside the legitimacy of a people and their struggle for a dignified life without torment, instead getting into his personal accounts from a concrete view that discards the larger frame while at the same time suggesting stories are “to be written backwards”. There have been huge crowds joining in the funeral rites of militants which were even there during the killing of Riyaz Naikoo, as reported by Aljazeera on May 16, 2020 when the state had restricted the movement of people and internet had been shut down, which has become the routine practice. And the fact that the author titles his piece as “TIME drew red X for Osama. But Western press humanised Riyaz Naikoo with pre-gun stories” again flows in tune with a failed attempt since post-9/11 to integrate Kashmir into the “war on terror” narrative when considering that the armed insurgency since the beginning emerged from an indigenous population fighting against the Indian state with a purpose of liberating it after the failure and undermining of a democratic process towards that goal. On top of that, TIME magazine as a standard for covers seems a bit off-track considering they have put Adolf Hitler, Putin and Trump on the cover as “Person of the Year.”
Whenever Kashmir is reported on in the Western press and international media, there is usually a hesitating attitude for the ‘statist’ machinery. Such a sceptical attitude was best illustrated by the recent Pulitzer Prize coverage that laid bare the hypocritic and biased approach of most of these statist associations that the author’s bio line in his article reflects best. The free press and independent media and even those right-leaning media establishments bound by journalistic due diligence in presenting neutrality and objectivity into their reporting to a certain point are compelled to include the testimonies and accounts of those that the state and corporate media nexus strategically excludes and omits—and whose words are twisted towards particular narratives in certain cases and particular situations. How often such spins, twists and strategic reformulations occur, the Kashmiri readers of the news know all too well.
The Story of My Brother is the Story of Many Such Brothers
I remember my personal experience which follows the path of struggles and deep pains unaddressed by the major media outlets and expected to subside into silence. I lost my brother (a commander of Al-Badr) in an encounter in January 2019. The next day when I went to receive his body, I realised that the J&K Police or somebody under their command had stolen his shoes and watch. It was only after the intervention of the then IG JKP and SSP Srinagar that I got those belongings of a great value to me and my family back. But the story of his joining the ranks is far more painful.
A few days ago, Nadeem Ahmad Malik, a Shopian youth who joined the militant ranks last month, released an audio message, saying he had been “’forced’ to join militant ranks by a deputy Superintendent of Police in South Kashmir district whom he accused of torturing and committing incessant atrocities.” However, this was not the first time a Kashmiri youth in his early 20s or even younger thought of joining a brotherhood of rebels as a better (if not only) alternative than enduring the grave abuse and humiliations he received day in and day out. I hope the author of The Print piece remembers Zubair Turray (as he was the SSP Shopian then) and many others who narrated the same stories. Despite such recurrent testimonials and first-person accounts by such youth or their families about their reasons for joining militancy being published in the press, never was any police officer taken to task, and in several cases, some of them were promoted. The cop who committed the same abuses and violations targeting my brother Ruban is the same one who forced Zubair Turray to choose a path where such boys believe “Death with Dignity” is the only goal and option—apart from keeping the flame of armed resistance lit for the freedom of Jammu and Kashmir, where for many like them, resisting against torturers and abusers is resisting the system that enables and empowers their continued abuses and tortures.
Nadeem, the 11-day-old Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant when the 3-minute audio message surfaced, stated that “I am not alone to be subjected to torture by the DSP but hundreds of other youth from Shopian had been or continue to be his victim”. A few days later the IG of J&K Police Vijay Kumar IPS assured the family targeted by his “police officer” that if they come forward with a formal complaint, he would take action, stating “My advice to his parents would be to meet me and lodge complaint against my officer. If it found to be correct, we will take action against him”. But in an environment dominated by state power, heavy military presence, internet shutdowns, restrictions and curfews, with the press taken out of circulation and even internationally-published journalists summoned for police interrogation, how encouraging and reassuring are such words under such circumstances?
How I Lost My Brother Ruban
I remember my personal experience when on June 17, 2018, my younger brother was beaten by men belonging to the Army’s 44 RR and JKP Shopian. Kashmir Reader’s Suhail A. Shah covered the incident in his report, but nobody else called until Ruban left to join the ranks of militants a month later. And immediately once Ruban joined his militant brothers, I was summoned by the then IG JKP S.P. Pani and then the then DIG South Amit Kumar IPS, who I talked to on July 21, 2018. Upon hearing my account of how Ruban had been treated, both assured in the same way that they will look into the matter and will take action against both the JKP officer and the army personnel who beat Ruban. But till date, nothing has happened other than both being promoting, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not.
On December 17, 2017, Ruban had been taken in by the then SHO Keegan on orders of the then DySP Op and SP Op. My father had received a call to bring in his younger son, my younger brother Ruban, to the Keegam Police Station. My father was told to leave Ruban there and to come back again in the evening in order to take him back home. Once Baba (my father) went back to the police station to take Ruban back, the SHO there said the DySP Op and SP had taken him to Cargo (Gagren Shopian). When my father asked about the charge sheet, the FIR or any document where they at least acknowledged on paper that Ruban was in their custody, they hurled abusive and intimidating words at him.
At that point, I was in Pune. I remember getting the call from my mother regarding the whole incident. The next day, I booked a flight and travelled straight to Srinagar, the summer capital city of India-administrated Jammu and Kashmir. For the next eight days, I travelled from pillar to post and knocked on everyone’s doors, from top officials of the police to officers and bureaucrats in the administration, but the only reply was “we will see but till date no FIR was launched on any charges” for which my brother had been taken into police custody that day.
After some nine days, and after the intervention of Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and most importantly ER Rashid—who arrived in Shopian for a sit-in protest along with me, right in front of the Shopian police station to demand my brother’s release from illegal detention—we succeed in getting Ruban back alive. Once he was back in our family home, it took him almost two months to get up and walk on his own, while we saw the marks of hot iron on his legs slowly begin to heal. I remember everything from that time, still fresh in our memory. It has been nearly two and a half years now since that incident, but till date the JKP has not launched any FIR and till date they haven’t proved or substantiated any claims at all against my brother.
A Few Final Words About a Widespread and Sinister Practice
Coming back to the point, in one of the latest cases of Kashmiri youth joining militancy, Nadeem Ahmad Malik in his way of conveying a clear message refers to the apathy and turning a blind eye by the administration, suggesting perhaps that at some point, he had faith in it, but they let him down without fail. As a result, the question here is: will the government investigate the issue with all the transparency it requires? The answer to this question—at least by my personal experience and that of several others—is no. However, they must reach out to his family, give them confidence and persuade the youth to return home. At the same time, I believe this all is a futile exercise now as the young man himself says in the audio clip that he has left once for all to join armed resistance.
From personal experience—and that of others targeted in such ways who have had to go through the same process from corner to corner trying to seek mediation and conciliate with top cops, administrative officers and persons of power and influence within government—I can say nobody, and not even an order from high above can bring him back if he personally is not willing. The rest is up to the Almighty. Beyond that, and going by The Print opinion piece writer’s recommendation that such stories are “to be written backwards,” the question will remain: who forced him to take up arms and join a militant group? The immediate answer, if one goes by his own statements, is the J&K Police.
All such things considered, and as discussed previously, this is not a new revelation, just yet another case in a long list of many Kashmiri boys pushed to such paths. The Army and the Police are jointly part of a counter insurgency that benefits them in overt and covert ways when the militancy is fuelled further in cases like these and throughout the years, nothing else changes and such occurrences keep on surfacing as a Kashmiri civilian population is subjected to the close proximity of the most heavily militarised establishment in the world. The point here is that after a few days, months, a year or a few, this poor boy from Shopian with no formal military training, equipped maybe with a pistol, a grenade and few bullets, will be killed in an ‘encounter’ and conflict entrepreneurs will claim victory after killing a “Pakistan sponsored Islamist terrorist”. The Indian news headlines will follow their self-styled standard reporting procedures to place such headlines on frontpage news.
One doesn’t need to look further than the accounts taken by human rights organisations and media outlets to see how the system works. Take for example the case of Shabir Ahmad Mango, a 30-year-old college lecturer who was taken into Army custody and beaten to death there, and the subsequent J&K Police FIR against 23 Army personnel accused of torturing him to death in August 2016 in Pulwama. That case, again, as always, didn’t go anywhere. In another instance just last year on March 17th, 29-year-old Rizwan Assad Pandith, a school principal was “taken to Cargo, headquarters of the J&K Police’s Special Operation Group (SOG) in Srinagar” and tortured to death in police custody. From torture till death to severe traumatic abuses, there is a larger story that certain media and officials conveniently leave out of the picture in trying to drive a particular point home, my response here to The Print opinion piece comes from making such strategic omissions and oversights apparent.
Lastly, it should be noted how Burhan Wani—the charming iconic figure of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen—was beaten and abused by cops working for the Jammu and Kashmir Police, which then became the turning point of his life as well as that of many Kashmiri boys who experienced the same treatment and followed the same fate. Burhan was 22 years of age when he was gunned down by “security forces”, the same age as Amir Nazir Lattoo, a Delhi University student shot down during the 2016 protests that followed after Burhan was martyred. My brother Ruban was also 22 years of age when he joined the militant ranks.
What more is there to be said besides acknowledging that the design of ‘facts and truth’ too is being securitised while anyone with an opinion or perspective—that is not in tune with those who write and publish such opinion pieces like the one in The Print—are being scrutinised? Meanwhile, a machinery of war that does not quantify human loss and suffering, and certainly not on equal terms, thrives on the most prolonged conflict in modern human history—and its divisiveness—engulfing in its grip a Kashmir where common Kashmiris do not have the liberty nor the luxury to publish opinion pieces and think pieces that others elsewhere can so easily elaborate in all sorts of state and corporate backed public forums.
The views and opinions presented in this piece are the author’s own.
Syed Tajamul Imran
About the Author
Syed Tajamul Imran is the older brother of Militant Commander Syed Ruban, who was gunned down in January last year. Tajamul Imran is a Kashmir-based student activist, storyteller and columnist, with writing published in Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Life, Rising Kashmir, Pakistan Today, India Today (Daily O), Kashmir Leader, among others.