Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Strike Day, Kashmir

A seriously cold day here in Srinagar, made even more so by the ride in an open autorickshaw to the village of Gandarbal, some 30 minutes to the north. Today is the first day of a three-day strike here to protest the disappearances of locals and the multitude of false “encounters,” the euphemism that the Indian military gives to the killing of suspected Islamic militants. Recently, the Senior Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent of Ganderbal were arrested for their alleged roles in a rogue army and police ring that was responsible for multiple staged killings of non-combatants and disappearances in the district.

One gets the feeling, when leaving Srinagar, of the wildness of Kashmir, the rushing mounatin streams, the snow-covered hills looming over the valley, the horse-drawn carts pulling fire wood and produce down the lanes. And what is also stunning, when speaking to the local Kashmiris, is that virtually everyone knows someone was has either disappeared after contact with the security forces or been murdered. As we paused before a shop selling provisions, men milling about wearing the region’s distinctive flowing faran gown and taking turns smoking the hookah-like jajir, the stories came quickly. Of laborers summoned to police stations, of electrical linemen disappeared without a trace. The security forces are friendly enough to my friend, a Kashmiri attorney, and I, as they sip tea and adjust their AK-47s, but then again there is little danger that we will be fingered as suspected militants, liable to execution by the security forces, or as informers, and thus at risk for murder by the militants themselves.

It has been an eventful trip thus far, meeting with Parvez Imroz, founder and president of the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society (JKCCS), All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and dozens of others, and I feel lucky to have the chance to glimpse this complex and beautiful land.

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