As tensions between India and Pakistan continue to build, many people in Jammu and Kashmir see their issues getting lost amid the escalating rhetoric on either side.
The attack on 18 September on an army base at Uri that killed 19 Indian soldiers and the surgical strikes by Indian armed forces on terror launch pads across the Line of Control (LoC) have shifted the attention from three months of civilian protests in Jammu and Kashmir, in which 90 protesters have been killed, and over 11,000 have been injured, including 800 persons who have suffered pellet injuries.
The prospects of war after the Uri attack, along with mass arrests of students, religious-political leaders, and civil-society members and the arrival of harvest season, have stemmed widespread protests in the valley. But the situation has still not returned to normal. Last week, separatist leader Syed Ali Shah extended the weekly â€śprotest calendarâ€ť to October 6.
â€śThe Indian government only focused on this attack ahead of the UN summit and ignored 90 civilian killings of the last three months. Such measures only add fuel to the fire in Kashmir and increase people's anger,â€ť says Fahad Shah, a journalist who has reported extensively from South Kashmir.
At the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar, the inflow of injured has slowed but has not stopped entirely. Nayeem*, (19), recently received pellet injuries during a police â€śsearch and seizure operationâ€ť in his village in Kupwara district.
â€śThey came in the night to arrest some boys. When the villagers came out to raise their objections they started to beat people up and fired pellet guns. Two other boys were also injured with me,â€ť he alleged.
The Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government has come down strongly on protesters since mass protests first began following the death of the militant commander Burhan Wani. But many in the valley believe the Uri attacks have strengthened the governmentâ€™s resolve to quell the protests with a heavier hand.
Over 3000 persons have been arrested in police raids so far. Among the many persons arrested and subsequently booked under the Public Safety Act is the human rights activist Khurram Parvez, arrested on September 15. On Sunday, the Jammu and Kashmir government also banned the daily newspaper Kashmir Reader on the grounds of â€śinciting violence.â€ť
â€śBut one has to keep in mind that diverting attention from the uprising or even ignoring it in the media doesn't solve the problem. The issue remains there like a fostering wound, and by not solving the political issues through political measures, it is only paving the base for another bloodied summer in coming years," says Fahad.
Mohammed Ashraf Mattoo agrees with him. The death of Mohammed Ashrafâ€™s 17-year-old son Tufail Ahmed led to mass civilian protests in 2010, in which 120 people were killed. Tufail was going to school when he was hit by a tear gas canister in the head.
â€śPeople can be suppressed by use of brute force but it canâ€™t change their aspirations,â€ť says Mattoo, who has been fighting his sonâ€™s case for the last six years without any signs of satisfactory resolution.
The cost of border skirmishes
Last year in August, this reporter traveled to a picturesque border village in the Poonch district, Sandote. A few days earlier on August 15, the sarpanch of the village, a teacher, and two young boys were killed in cross-border shelling along the LoC.
The Uri attacks and Indiaâ€™s subsequent surgical strikes across the LoC have brought the public spotlight onto activities along the LoC. There have been a few skirmishes between the two countries involving mortar shelling after Uri. But for people living in villages along the LoC, these skirmishes are just the latest in a long line of frequent, and often deadly, episodes.
74-year-old Khadim Hussain lost his son, Abdul Rehman on that day last year. A teacher at the primary school in the village, Abdul had received a call about some student trapped in a house that had come under shelling. Rushing out to help them, his car was hit by a shell on the way.
Unlike many people on both sides drawn to the exchange of attacks and counter attacks, and perhaps even war, Khadim has borne the cost of human loss of such events too many times. He lost his wife and his left leg to a similar shell in the 1965 Indo-Pak war. In 2004, his daughter was killed in a firing incident along the LoC. And last year, he lost his son.
â€śIndia and Pakistan have fought three wars but we have always been at war. It doesnâ€™t matter if itâ€™s India or Pakistan firing the shells, it ultimately kills one of us here,â€ť Mohammad Fazil Khan, 82, one of the elders in the village told this reporter. Like most people in Sandote and other villages, Mohammed Fazil has relatives living on the other side of the LoC whom he hasnâ€™t met in a long time.
â€śBoth countries should sit down and put an end to this madness through dialogue. The armies on both sides have bunkers to save themselves in case firing starts. We are simple farmers who have nowhere to go. We have suffered like this for a long time for no reason,â€ť said Mohammed Fazil.