That’s was my first reaction, when I saw the picture of a small child, sitting on the dead body of his grandfather, killed in crossfire between militants and forces in Sopore on July 1. Sopore, which is not only famous for its apples but also its graveyards. The graveyards are filled with the dead bodies of innocent people, children, women, young and old, killed in this decades-old armed war.
The image brought tears in my eyes. The image went viral in seconds and was compared with the picture of Aylan Kurdi who was photographed lying dead on the seashore. This brought forth the migrant crises, which have had arisen out of the wars fought in the middle east and Arab world. But, in that picture Aylan was dead, and in Sopore the child was alive, but sitting atop his grandfather’s dead body. He was alive but traumatised. The trauma will probably never leave him and might haunt him through his life.
The incident also reminded us of the killing of Palestinian child Muhammad Durra in September 2000, whose father tried to save him from Israeli bullets, taking several injuries. The image of screaming Durra behind his father is still etched in the memory of people and haunts them today. And today, pictures of encounters and crying, and children blinded by pellets in Kashmir continue to make headlines.
Kashmir is a disputed area and disturbed too. Peace is a far cry. Daily encounters, militant and civilian killings have ravaged Kashmir and its people. Every day some woman is rendered a widow, some child an orphan, some mother and father lose their child, some sister and brother lose their brother or sister, and some close friends in the cross-firing. Bullets fly every day and houses are raised to the ground within minutes and turned into rubble by IED blasts.
Schools, colleges, and universities in Kashmir have mostly been shut since August 5, 2019, when Kashmir was stripped of its semi-autonomy. There has not been any schooling since then. Children have been sitting at home and only a few could migrate to other places to study. Kashmiri children have suffered immensely on the education front. Then there is no proper internet connection and 2G internet is snapped for days whenever an encounter happens in some town or district.
Children in Kashmir have suffered psychologically and emotionally. Some have turned to drugs. Some have died by suicide and some have left their homes never to return. Some have been killed in mountains. Mothers are still waiting for their children to return to their homes.
Hundreds have seen their fathers’ and brothers’ coffins and they live and die with this trauma. Hundreds of children have been blinded by pellet guns in recent years. Many have been killed in recent mass protests.
Hundreds have been injured and rendered physically injured for life in cross-firing, IED, and grenade blasts. They suffer on every front. Some carry a stigma for life. Some live like corpses. There is smoke everywhere, hope is nowhere.
For a Kashmiri, to live another day is like to live another life.
The war has traumatized us all. Our daily lives are traumatising Everything is traumatising. Humanity seems dead in these times. Propaganda seems to win the battle. Empathy is nowhere, and our lives have been miserable in this unending war. We are treated as lesser mortals. Humanity seems dead when it comes to Kashmir and Kashmiris.
I have seen children crying, in the 1990s, whose brothers, cousins, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends were killed in cross-firing, encounters, and fake encounters, and at the hands of militants. And those whose dear ones died in forces’ custody. Whose brothers disappeared in custody; whose brothers and fathers were kept at undisclosed locations by both militants and forces and later only their dead bodies returned.
I and my cousins have cried a lot too during this time. I have seen my orphan niece crying and asking for her dead father, killed in militant infighting during the 1990s. I have seen my widowed sister and mother crying and living with this trauma. I have seen dear ones and friends disappear before my eyes, some taken away by forces and later killed, some killed by militants in rivalry, and some thrown into rivers and some into forests and mountains.
The trauma is still with me, and it is with every Kashmiri who has seen militancy of the 1990s closely and suffered at the hands of both forces and militants. The war has inflicted immense misery on us Kashmiris.
In the 1990s, I would daily hear that some people or children have been killed in a grenade attack, mine (IED) blast, firing (encounter). The scars are deep inside. The trauma is not going anywhere and still with me. Thousand of orphans, widows’, brothers’ and sisters’ cries still reverberate in my ears.
The haunting image of Sopore is a dark reminder of what Kashmiris are going through and have been since the early 1990s. The child in the picture has to bear this traumatic experience all his life. The daily lives of Kashmiris are a nightmare and traumatic beyond imagination. It was called paradise on earth some centuries ago, but it resembles hell today. The killing and blinding of children, young and old, and women have become the norm here. This has been happening for decades, and sadly and unfortunately, there seems to be no end in sight.
About the author: Ashraf Lone, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Note: This article was first published here.