Indian police officers arrest a Kashmiri boy protesting during curfew in Srinagar, India, Saturday, July 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
It is the long held tradition in human history that given members of society have painted conflicts in the light of an oppressor (aggressor) and the underdog. Yet in most fights that have taken place throughout history there has rarely been a clear cut aggressor and a pure victim. When the facts are laid out there are often reasons for why and how a conflict has played out. The side that has had the upper hand is rarely as evil as the sympathetic onlooker might paint them. And likewise, the apparently victimized side is rarely innocent in the overall scheme of the conflict.
This generalization of war can be applied to most conflicts between organized states. A certain level of antagonism takes place as the two sides size one another up like grade school boys. The larger one generally attempts to flaunt it's muscles like a bull pacing the fence. While the smaller challenger more often than not just tries to save face as it puffs up it's chest and prepares to attempt to outlast it's foe. It is this simplistic approach to generalizing war between states that can be given to outdated battles and wars of days now past. It can't however be applied to modern crises where a third party finds themselves trapped between old world style conflicts.
In Kashmir the third party happens to be the people who lived upon the land prior to the development of the two rivaling states. They are an innocent bystander in a conflict that places two egotistical foes against one another. Leaving the Kashmiri people trapped between two sides that so selfishly utilize the land and it's people as pawns in a power struggle from which no one will ever benefit.
In a simplified version of war the Kashmiri people just simply wouldn't exist. Either they would be Pakistani or Indian. And that bloody, densely militarized, zone of "control" would be void of life. That would be the portrayal of war with which the Western world is familiar. A landscape of no-man's lands where only the dogs of war dare stray.
But Kashmir isn't a land of burnt foliage and bomb craters. It is a land of rich and deep heritage that fills the Kashmiri people to the brim. It is a land where dusty roads and green trees hide in the shadows of looming mountains. It is a land of picturesque waters dotted with houseboats and old men wasting the days away at the water's edge. And yet for all it's beauty, Kashmir is also a land where Islam and Hinduism have been forced to violently butt their heads like rams.
This struggle is one in which the two sides, India and Pakistan, are forced to hold their positions while keeping the Kashmiri people in check. To do so India has relied upon some of the most heinous of atrocities and tactics to keep the will of a broken nation beneath it's heel.
Holding The Line
From the moment the British left the Kashmir valley has been plagued by death and destruction. This bitter legacy of bloody hands on both sides has left the valley divided and distributed amongst three glutenous countries. The hellish fighting that led up to this modern "cease fire" culminated in countless stalemates. In the end the main scar that has remained upon the land itself is the "Line of Control" (LOC), or "Asia's Berlin Wall".
Much like Korea's divide, Kashmir's scar is pot-marked with guns, soldiers, tanks, planes, and anything that can kill. Most horrifically however are the weapons that don't simply walk away if the war was ended tomorrow. One silent killer, the ever present stalker, will live well past the end of Kashmir's divide. The landmine.
Placed by the two brutal armies of India and Pakistan, the landmine is a weapon that is impossible to keep track of and contain. In Kashmir these weapons of war have, as they always do, killed an maimed countless civilians as the two armies place the blame on the opposite side. And yet regardless of who places them, these weapons continue to claim more lives even when relative peace is established along the LOC.
Landmines are a weapon that have long been utilized due to their ability to hinder the advancement or movement of an enemy combatant. Yet with every weapon there are trade offs that the military often callously labels as "collateral damage". For the landmine the trade off is the inability of the device to determine who exactly it is about to kill once the bomb becomes active. It has no ability to determine if the victim is a fully armed combatant or just a child running past. Either way, the damage is unable of being stopped once the weapon has been triggered. And it is for this reason that the landmine is often deployed... there is no escape.
For the civilian population along the LOC in Kashmir the threat of landmines lingers well after the threat of war has passed. In 2002 the area was flooded with landmines as India and Pakistan began to prepare for open conflict over the disputed region. India is believed to have placed just over 200 thousand landmines in the area along the LOC in Jammu region alone as a response to the Pakistani troop surge along there. One can only guess as to how many more were placed in Kashmir as the Indian Army prepared for invasion along the LOC fences in the Kashmir region.
Today the Indian Army claims to have cleared at least 80% of the landmines it placed in 2002 when it prepared for a war that fizzled out. However in 2007 a rash of landmine explosions plagued the Jammu region as wildfires, cattle, and civilians all triggered the deadly sentinels. This outbreak of death and destruction highlighted the fact that (then) 16,000 acres of mine-affected land in Jammu and 173,000 acres in Kashmir were still extremely lethal killing fields.
India currently, as it has for the past decade, resisted identifying ares afflicted with mines and disclosing just how many mines it has laid along the LOC. Instead of warning civilians in the region, India allows civilians to live in afflicted areas so as to conceal the locations from Pakistani intelligence. This means that India permits innocent civilians to be maimed and killed by it's mines so as to hide the locations from an enemy it has yet to openly fight.
In 1997 the world was given the Mine Ban Treaty. 158 countries became signatories to an international agreement that would officially ban the use and maintaining of landmines and mine fields. India and Pakistan have refused to sign the treaty (along with Russia and China). Despite 40% of the signatories showing that you can sign the treaty and simply create laws of your own to permit domestic use of mines, India refuses to sign the treaty.
Instead India continues to place hundreds of thousands of it's four to five million mines along the LOC dividing line. Instead of taking a step toward peace, India continues to place these gatekeepers to hell along the LOC. With no regard to the safety of the Kashmiri civilians, India actively places and maintains it's landmines in Kashmir.
Striking At The Soul Of Kashmir
February, 1991 a detachment of Indian soldiers in Kunan Poshpura, Kashmir gang-rape at least 53 Kashmiri women. Accounts of this incident are varied in numbers. Witnesses to the crime have at times disappeared. And those who dare speak out are routinely threatened or made to be quite by the Indian military.
Officially, according to the Indian government, the mass gang-rape in Kunan Poshpura did not happen. Despite countless credible accounts and documented evidence of the crime, India's government refuses to investigate or hold the soldiers accountable. Like so many other such cases the Indian government has taken a stance of silence in the face of absolute barbarism.
You only have to step far enough back to realize that rape cases like this one are not spontaneous acts of sexual deviancy perpetrated by hormone driven savages. To rape 53 (possibly more) women a group of men must have the apparent authority over their victims and/or the threat of immediate death to subdue their victims. The crime must be organized and orchestrated in such a manner as to prevent the act from being interrupted or discovered at the time it is being perpetrated. The victims must be restrained or confined in such a manner as to keep the assailants from sustaining bodily harm while inflicting it upon the victims. And the officials in charge must be informed of the crime so as not to end it unintentionally.
These are obviously sanctioned crimes in the fact that they are rarely if ever punished by the government or military itself. The fact that they are targeted at communities that have shown resistance to the weight of India's government upon the backs of the Kashmiri people. Where signs of resistance emerge the use of rape as a weapon has often followed in India's occupied areas of Kashmir. Thus it is undeniable that this crime is not only directed and encouraged but an intrinsic part of the Indian strategy to demoralize the Kashmiri people.
In war the use of rape is usually defined as a method of conducting psychological warfare. Many voices on the use of rape as a weapon often state that its use is meant to inflict pain on the targeted society by humiliating and shaming the community at large. It is also classified by the United Nations, in accordance to the relationship to it and the conflict at large, as either an act of war, crime against humanity, war crime, or a constitutive act with regards to genocide. Thus meaning that it's intent is in direct relation with the intended outcome of the crime genocide given the nature of the Indian occupation of Kashmir itself.
“It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”
~ Major-General Patrick Cammaert, former UN Peacekeeper Commander DRC
One of the most horrific aspects of the rapes being committed by India's troops is the tragic affects they have on the community at large. Punishing the men by forcing them to watch and punishing the women though it's application; rape destroys the community at as a whole. Even when the women are killed in mass after being gang-raped (sometimes dieing during the attacks) the mental wounds are permanently affixed to the victimized community. Children who have had to see their parents made helpless, having to see their sister and mothers raped, do not forget these grotesque crimes.
In Bosnia the scars that were left behind due to the extensive application of rape as a weapon have remained open for decades after the genocide there. Cambodia's rape victims were even more ignored as the genocide there came to a close and Vietnamese troops began to apply rape during their advances into Cambodia. The crime was even less mentioned or recognized as we go back to World War Two and see how Japan's victims were marginalized as the Japanese were removed from their occupied territories (especially Nanjing).
One can only attempt to imagine what nearly 60 years of rape in Kashmir will leave upon the fabric of Kashmiri society. Entire generations have grown up in a time and place where rape has been an ever lingering threat hanging over their heads. Women, girls, and even boys have been victimized in ways that the Delhi government has refused to recognize or even prosecute.
The Mouse Under A Box
Crimes committed against an entire community are crimes that cannot be forgiven by the individual. These are crimes that if left unaddressed will continually come to the surface, and often violently. The urge to fight back against an aggressor is a motivation that will persist even after the aggressor has ended their attacks. It is for this reason that India's persistent application of brutal means of oppression only serve to fill the lungs of Kashmiri youth with screams... bloody cries of resistance.
It can be compared to a mouse trapped beneath the weight of a box. Unable to move on it's own the mouse will continue to gasp for air as the box pushes each breath from it's lungs. Slowly suffering from asphyxiation the mouse will fight for each next breath as it twists and turns to find an advantageous position from which to draw it's next breath. The fight wears at the muscles as oxygen slips away and the trapped mouse uses more strength to push back against the crushing weight upon it's back. Yet despite all this the fight continues on and on as the mouse flares it's nostrils and attempts to find each next breath.
If the weight on a people becomes so oppressive that they risk losing the very things they rely upon to bond them to one another, such as culture and shared customs; the people will push back. Even if the fight they choose is nothing more than pelting their aggressors with rocks; the people will find a way to fill their lives with a purpose... a common struggle... and a reason to take that next breath.
For Kashmir the oppressive heel of the Indian government cannot keep them from pushing back against their oppressor's weight. They are a resilient people, a proud people, and despite all the atrocious acts committed against them; they are a people still united.
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