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From An Outsider In Kashmir: ‘The Unbearable Agony Of The People Is Awaiting An Outlet’

By Gitanjoli Dasgupta:

“Sweet love of youth, forgive if I forget thee,
while the world’s tide is bearing me along;
Sterner desires and darker hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!”

I think of these verses from Emily Bronte as I sit in my balcony in the picturesque view of Srinagar, the summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir pondering over the tragic situation out here with a very heavy heart.

As by nature I am philanthropic, I was more than happy to land here in the Kupwara district of Kashmir to work with ‘Borderless World Foundation‘, a Pune-based NGO focused on improving education and building capacity amongst girls that have had family histories of conflict. It’s been 2 months since the time I’ve moved here and in such a short period of time I have already experienced the wave of unrest in Kupwara, occurring every other day. Civilians pelting stones at the armed forces and on the police establishment is a usual scene, when a militant is caught or a protester is arrested.

I drove to Srinagar, on July 7 for just about 2 days for some work but soon violence erupted after the death of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a 21-year-old militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, a Kashmiri militant group. I am now stuck in my office in Srinagar for the last fourteen days. The situation here is very tense with each death fuelling the anger.

I’m not sure whether to consider myself fortunate or unfortunate to be present here in this situation. It has taken the whole state of J&K by a storm and it is a matter of utmost concern. My 20-year-old self surely is in a state of shock.

We need to admit to the gravity of the situation that has developed in Kashmir – militants like Burhan Wani become popular icons and serve as an output of outrage over a history of exploitation, harassment and subjugation.

The humiliation that an ordinary Kashmiri tolerates is traumatising and, of course, it isn’t easy for the Indian Armed Forces as well but is the excessive use of lethal force that leads to the death of protesters, a way out? It will only make things worse.

Kashmir Protests Fueled By Death Of Second Teenager In A Week
Source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

There are periodic anger outbursts, people ranting slogans: “Wani tere khoon se aazadi hum layenge” (“From your blood Burhan Wani, freedom we shall bring”!); “Hum kya chahte? Azaadi!” (“What do we demand? Freedom!”); “Inquilab aayega” (“Revolution will come”); “Koi to humse pooche, hum kya chahte?” (“Why doesn’t anybody ask us what we want?”); “Kashmir ke mujahidon, hum tumhare saath hain!” (“Kashmir’s armed strugglers, we are with you!”) There’s tremendous grief and wrath throughout Kashmir contrasted with the straightforward jingoism from many across the rest of India. To me, they seem completely misguided on the subject. Ignorance of the masses on Kashmir’s atrocities is an outrage and they surely need to heed the lessons of history before hoping against hope that things will settle down. It’s high time we accept the ground realities.

The current situation is a reminder of the alienation of the people that exists in Kashmir and, that too, in such an extreme form.

What have we done? Is there no limit to being ham-fisted about things?

What does it mean to be an Indian and who decides that? What about those who do not view themselves as Indians?

I could see from my balcony, the angry crowd pelting stones at the army and the army in return resorting to firing. Tear gas being used inside the hospital in front of my office, people being severely injured including policemen who had to be rushed to the hospital. So many civilians killed, blinded, tyres are being burnt to block the roads for protests and the citizens are barred from coming out of their homes due to curfew. Moreover, the essential services continue to be snapped.

As per my interaction with the locals, these things aren’t new, many Kashmiris see India as an aggressor and an occupier, against their wishes.

Coming from mainland India, Pune, the privileged lives that we have is a far cry for the people of Kashmir. The problems, the misery, the deaths and the constant fear that they come across everyday, have filled me with remorse.

I feel helpless and lost wishing that everything returns to normal. The terrible and unbearable agony of the people is awaiting an outlet.

According to Voltaire, “Tolerance is a law of nature stamped on the heart of all men.” In the present scenario, people believe that roses can be had only by tolerating the existence of thorns.

Kashmir is a complex issue which has long been under neglect and the people in Kashmir need to be taken into confidence and should be provided with numerous opportunities so that they reap the benefits of a fast-emerging economy in the world. The people here need to be heard, there has to be dialogue, negotiation, and compromise.

On the other hand, I feel the Union Government should curb the atrocities of the army on the Kashmiris and do away with emergency powers like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that gives protection to the armed forces against prosecution and makes them act with impunity. The Supreme Court of India recently came out with a verdict that now demands for allegations of violations to be investigated through a thorough enquiry.

I heard people say with the lapse of time, it is possible that people might forget their grievances, but no, there’s a deep wound in the Kashmiri psyche, which might possibly mitigate to a great extent if the government shows seriousness in resolving their issue.

It is undeniable that the significance of love, death, and friendship lies in the unity of universe but logic and sermons never convince the scarred and the agonised. I am confined to the four walls of my abode, pained at the misfortunes of mankind without going into the cause of suggesting any remedy.

Lastly, to quote Walt Whitman, “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”

This article was originally published on Medium

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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