The Unhealed Scars of Kashmir

Kashmir, a country known for its mesmerizing natural beauty, lush green meadows and snow-clad mountains, is today, the largest militarized zone in the world.

The region has been politically unstable for decades; and human rights seem to have become paper aspirations because of relentless use of force by Indian government forces. Human rights violations continue to take place. Likewise, the struggle for freedom is a long running political movement against Indian rule. Families have lost their loved ones to misadventures against paramilitary forces and police. According to human rights activists, 8,000-10,000 persons are missing, buried in unidentified graves, or killed in fake encounters.

However, the situation in the region may seem to have improved over the last couple of years, as the number of tourists visiting the valley from all over the world has increased concomitantly signifying “the return of peace” in Kashmir. But the scars of the past have not been healed, and they have left an indelible mark on the psyche of the people. Hundreds of persons who were brutally beaten up by the paramilitary forces during the mass uprising were left maimed and are bedridden for life.

In the years 2008, 2009 and 2010, the unrest in this volatile region burst out as a volcano that added a new dimension to their freedom struggle against Indian rule.

According to a report by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society during these years, more than 350 persons were killed, mostly teenagers and as many as about 6,000 youth sustained injuries either by receiving bullets, tear gas shells, pellets or ruthless beating. Besides killings, there are scores of youth who received grave injuries and are disabled for life.

Javid Ahmad, aged 20, wanted to become a cricketer. He was the main bowler of his team. His dream of becoming a cricketer vanished the day a bullet was fired into his knee. He lost his leg and has become dependent for his lifetime.

Glenn McGrath was his favorite bowler and Javid practiced the way he bowled. He received appreciation from everyone as he had good pace and would swing the ball the way McGrath did. “I have lost my dream of becoming a cricketer and hardly think of cricket anymore. My career vanished before it started” says Javid.

Here in this Himalayan region, the story of despair and pain is in every street. A boy from Maisuma, the centre of Srinagar’s Lalchowk area after coming back from the school received a teargas shell on his head. The impact has left him disabled for life. He lost his ability to speak and became mentally challenged.

17-year-old Yawer, then the lone son of his parents smiles as if not knowing what has happened to him, as if he is in some fantasy dream. Since that day his family has been in a trauma. “I had a lone son and he was my last hope. I have lost my hope. We did all what we could have done to treat him. We have lost everything we had. Now our condition is so miserable that sometimes we afford his medicines and sometimes we skip” Yawar’s Mother said.

People do not feel secure in a conflict-ridden state. Even a simple hiss in the neighborhood scares whole area. Jan Mohammad’s family has yet not come out of the shock. The scenes of the day are still proving to be a nightmare for them.

Jan Mohammad, aged 22, a laborer, left his studies five years back to become the helping hand to his poor father. Both son and father used to go to the nearby river daily to extract sand. In a veiling voice Salma, Jan Mohammad’s mother, narrates the tale of the day her son became the victim of security personnel.

“On a sunny day of July, 2013, Jan Mohammad was on his daily work coming home for lunch. A protest was going on in the old city area of the state’s summer capital and the security forces were chasing the protestors. Before he could have understood the chaos, the forces beat him to a pulp. He somehow managed to escape and took shelter in a nearby house. He was chased there as pushed down from the first floor”

His spinal cord received an injury and his body below the hip is paralyzed. He cannot walk; nor can he go to wash room. A urine pipe remains attached to him.

This young man, who once would take a bucket full of sand on his shoulder, now is unable to stand on his legs. He has become totally dependent on his family. He spends his days watching television and staring at the wall clock.

Under the beautiful mountains and mesmerizing landscape of Kashmir, martyrs graveyards echo the tales of the struggle. Behind the curtains of political gimmicks, untold stories in this part of the world still feature large.

Ahmad Mukhtiyar is a photojournalist based in New Delhi, India, who tells important stories through the lens of his camera.