Trigger Warning: Torture, Terrorism, Police Violence, Suicide
I honestly don’t know how to name this blog post. For the past few days, I’ve been reading bits and pieces of a report by the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons, a loose organization based in Indian-occupied Kashmir. This particular report is about pellet guns used in 2016 by paramilitary, military and police forces, and about the stories of the victims who were hit, and blinded, by pellet guns. Pellet guns are prohibited in India to use for hunting animals, but are routinely used by armed forces since 2010 for ‘crowd control’. They are made of metal, and when shot disintegrate and hit everything in a certain range around them. Long story short: Many of the victims who go blind aren’t actually involved in the protests. In fact, one officer of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) told the J&K High Court in July 2016 that “bystanders and curious teenagers who continue to remain present after these warnings and use of lesser force before the pellet gun is used become part of the unlawful assembly and do not remain innocent anymore”.
The stories the report tell are inevitably moving. They are predominantly about civilians coming home from work, or from the mosque, or even going to find their relatives at a protest to take them home. The report gives most statements in the form of personal narratives – the victim’s testimony is recorded, translated and reproduced in English. Many testimonies sound something like this:
I had many dreams and life seemed filled with possibilities. I was happy that I could fulfill my dreams. I was studying with utmost passion and used to plan my life. But these plans, all my dreams, all my aspirations have been shattered. I have been disabled and dependent. My family has spent around INR 100000 on my eye besides the money I had saved for my education. After the incident, I have been suffering from various other ailments. I cannot hear properly: I hear muffled voices only and I cannot see sometimes even with my left eye. I get irritated and agitated very easily which has made my relations with people bitter. More than this, what pains me is my mother and father’s condition. I was meant to be their support in their old age, but instead I have become dependent on them. They had dreams about me, and I feel guilty that I failed them. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t have been born here and I shouldn’t have gone out that day. Other times, I am angry at the state.”Jahangir Ahmed Bhat, 15 years old in 2018, so likely 13 at the time of the incident
Several testimonies are similar – they describe how they have developed suicidal thoughts, but do not want to leave their family behind.
I am writing this blogpost because I stumbled across one particular statement. The narrator, in fact, is the only person in the whole report who threw stones at police and paramilitary forces (or at least admits to it), and who therefore perhaps somehow may be argued to have provoked his being shot at with a pellet gun. I reproduce the testimony here in (almost) its entirety, with the source being the report.
It was Sunday. I was at home. I was annoyed due to daily fight which usually happens with my father and stepmother. I was so fed up with my life that I thought to end my life. I have studied till class 8th. Due to economic constraints and a family that didn’t support my studies, I was forced to leave my studies in 2014. My father is a daily wage laborer who earns 9000/- a month working at a brick kiln. My mother died when I was a child, barely three or four years old. I have two siblings from my stepmother. But I don’t get any type of support from my family. I even have to ask my stepmother multiple times for food. My father asked me to earn my livelihood and for them also. My father tells me that he is getting old, but he is only 36 years old. […] On a Sunday, it was the 10th of July 2016 when I went for stone pelting. Special task forces and Paramilitary forces were on patrol in the area. So, we started pelting stones on them. They fired pellet guns on us, and I got injured with pellets in my left eye. I am the first victim of Kupwara. Fellow protestors took me to the govt. Hospital (SMHS). I was there for ten days and underwent surgery after which, I was discharged from the hospital and allowed to go home though I was asked to come after some time for the second surgery. I was admitted twice there for 5 & 3 days respectively within a gap of few days. My surgeries went on for a span of 3 months. In this period, police from Police station Kupwara used to raid my house trying to arrest me. But I fled away every time. Police had lodged 3 FIRs against me. I don’t know the charges except for stone pelting which has been applied on me. […] I don’t have money for medicines. Because my father doesn’t support me and still forces me to work with him. That’s why I wanted to do any job far from my home without any disturbances from my father or stepmother. Initially, for 6 months, I was paid only 20/- for a day due to training period which bears my travelling expenses from my home to the garage. Later, I was getting paid 4000/- a month. But that was not enough for my father. He asked me to come with him to the brick lane so that I could earn more, and my father can build a new house. Now, I have problems in both of my eyes. Whenever, I used to step outside, Sunshine causes irritation. I don’t want to go again for stone pelting. As it has impacted my life adversely. Earlier I used to go for work. But now I can’t go due to problem in vision. Then also, I wanted to take any job so that I can avoid the arguments with my family which occurs daily and can support my grandparents. I want to be a free man and live my life on my own terms without being questioned by anyone. After the incident, my life has gone sour. I am in despair and have been thinking to kill myself. There is no hope for me.Sakib Ahmed Tanzo, 16 years old in 2018, so likely 14 at the time of the incident
The narrative this boy, Sakib, gives, makes me incredibly sad. He starts his narrative not like the others in the report with the incident in which he was partially blinded itself, but circles in on his family situation. Evidently suffering from severe depression already (on top of puberty), with suicidal thoughts, he has no support network. His throwing stones at security forces is therefore a symptom of his wider discontent, his lack of a a vent for the emotional turmoil he is is from growing up in the world’s most militarized place (civilian-security force ratio of 1:20) without a support network. As I have written elsewhere, the greatest protective factor for the development of any psychopathological illness (aka PTSD, depression, etc.) in children in war zones is the availability of a caregiver.
In a recently published article by Ganie, he shows how youth throwing stones at armed forces may not be a non-violent form of resistance, but because it is unarmed and unprepared, it makes public the power imbalance between security forces and the local population. While media and government agencies frame pellets as necessary to counter the local (allegedly Pakistan-supported, terrorist-coordinated) resistance against Indian security forces, literal children throwing rocks at heavily armed forces signals: Geez, just look at the hypocrisy. What makes throwing stones so ‘popular’ among youth is not only the resistance spirit that is conveyed through pop songs – one has the lyrics: “I got no pistol, ain’t got no sword. I got no army, ain’t got no land. Ain’t got nothing but the stone that’s in my hand”. — Throwing stones also only ‘works’ if a dozen people do it. As opposed to shooting guns back, unarmed violence needs a group to engage in the act together – which, for a lonely boy like Sakib means finding a group he belongs to. Engaging in an act that he is needed in, in which his contribution truly matters.
I noticed that Sakib doesn’t really go into his hatred for the Indian government, and talks about his throwing stones at armed forces as if he was some kid in the Bronx spraying graffiti. And just like a kid in the Bronx, this is just the start of his disillusionment with the government. I recall reading, in another much longer report made in collaboration between the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society about how the repeated victimization of youth in Kashmir leads to their radicalization. The case of Zubair Ahmad Turray stuck with me (page 44):
Zubair Ahmad Turray from Shopian was arrested for the first time in 2003 when he was just a 13-year-old school boy. […] He was detained in the camp for the night and tortured, which his family onlycame to know about only when they saw torture marks on his body. He had been directed by the army men not to tell anyone about the torture. […] After a month, he was arrested by BSF from Bonur camp, Pulwama and detained for 4 days. This time also he was severely tortured. He was not able to move his arms; his clothes were torn when he was released. He had to take rest for about a month to recover. He could not even eat by himself and had to be fed. Zubair was arrested multiple times after that and tortured every time. Once, Zubair even confessed to having some weapons hidden at his home, just to get some respite from the torture. He was once sent from Chowgam camp to Balpur camp, Shopian, where he was made to sit on a burning heater and if he refused to sit, he was beaten mercilessly and forcefully made to sit on the heater. Zubair was arrested multiple times by Jammu and Kashmir Police and SOG. […] Every time his PSA would be quashed by the court, he would be illegally detained in a Police Station, new charges framed against him and booked under another PSA. […] Finally he fled from Police Post Keegam on May 1, 2017 and joined Hizbul-Mujahideen militant group. Upon joining the militant group, he released a video where he mentioned that he did not want to be booked under one more PSA for no reason and thought joining militant ranks was the only way out. Even his family and friends are of the same opinion. Zubair was killed in an encounter on April 1, 2018.
Hell, even the militant whose death sparked the 2016 Uprising, Burhan Wani, joined the Hizbul Mujahideen, according to his own statements, after him and his brother had been beaten up by police and made to draw a circle in the sand around their vehicle with their nose. It most definitely is correct that Pakistan is sponsoring terrorist organizations, and that Kashmiris are crossing the border to receive training by these.
But this blog post was primarily inspired by Sakib’s story. The boy whose testimony is so full of hatred, but for his own life. Who sounds like he has been betrayed countless times, and whose initial suicidality, in the context of having growing up in a war zone, shaped his personal life trajectory in a way that differs the other stories narrated in the same report.