To understand the presence, we need to look at the past. Kashmir is under a communication blackout since 122 days, but a glance at the decades before is essential to understand what’s going on today. 2018 was the deadliest year in a decade and the Valley witnessed daily atrocities. This is just one of these days, when a young man became the face of how dehumanisation works as a main component to execute things beyond legal and moral limits and comprehension.
It took me a little while to react. It was not the first time horrific images flickered by from Kashmir. Not my first time seeing these pictures and feeling like a hard punch just hit solar plexus. This was no exception. Nothing new. Brutal as every other day. And then the reaction. I just couldn’t digest what I saw. Stomach ache and disbelief pouring in the veins. India already killed the man. Soldiers/police pumped 35 bullets into his body. They did it when he was taking care of his animals, carefully closing the door to the sheep shed.
Unarmed, alone and most likely still in the pyjama and yet dozens of soldiers emptying their guns in his chest. 35 bullets and nothing will ever be the same. What they did after left me breathless and convinced that humanity is already as dead as the young boy on the stretcher. They already killed this bag-maker and his body is lifted to the sky by friends and family. His body is doing its last journey with thousands of Kashmiris attached to him like a grieving tail. That’s when gut punch number two hits.
Because Saleem Malik is already dead, already killed for no reason. 35 bullets in one torso. But I see Indian forces stopping his mother from reaching the body. I see his father beyond this world in grief when tear-gas rains over his lifeless son’s body. The air is thick of smoke and the boys are navigating stoically to not drop Saleem. They run and try to balance the dead body and it rocks from side to side.
Saleem’s face is pale and the voices are urging the tail forward. My throat feels narrow and my mind is full of questions. They already killed him, why attack his funeral procession? Where are the limits? The very normal boundaries that kick in when other humans are injured. The limits that stop us from hurting others and make it impossible to indulge in acts that of course are crimes when we look at it from a legal perspective, and even more so a disastrous collapse if we have our moral glasses on.
Saleem’s body is safe on the shoulders of these young men. They carry him through the tear-gas towards Srinagar’s historical EidGah. In any other place, regarding any other people, the headlines would not give these images a break and our politicians would condemn strongly in one unison voice. Saleem Malik would be known across the globe and his culprits would be hunted down before dawn. Marches would take place and sanctions would be called for.
This is where punch number three kicks in. Because instead of condemnations and images flooding the news, there is nothing like that to be seen. Instead we see Indian media frantically pumping out the news that militants were hiding in the area and that Saleem could even be one himself. That his family and all witnesses tell that ‘no’ militants were in the house or even in the area, is brushed under the thickest rug.
On social media a large “defence brigade” shout from the top of their lungs that he deserved it, he was a terrorist and many called for more Kashmiris to be killed without hesitation.
In the rest of the world we hear nothing at all. A young animal lover and son is brutally murdered, to the rhythm of a compact silence. 35 bullets pumped into an unarmed man and the headlines all scream terrorist. The characters scream terrorist about an unarmed boy, with more bullets in him than years lived, lying in a pool of blood, with a mother left with nothing but pain and a billion questions.
This is just one occasion of uncountable amounts of similar attacks by Indian forces on civilians, where no normal restraint is shown, no laws are followed and no remorse is visible. Kashmiris are reduced to some form of nothingness below the value of an animal. It is shocking and it is poisoning our minds to disregard everything that is normal, legal and morally acceptable any other day. It twists our brains to be forced to view the Kashmir issue through the Delhi lens and accept every line that is projected to us from the Indian news desks.
Kashmiris are getting humiliated, raped, tortured and killed to the beat of prime time TV and we don’t even blink. Young Kashmiris get their bodies penetrated by hundreds of lead bullets, women and men get tortured in ways we can’t imagine, often with sexual violence involved (See newly released report*), but we join the chorus and label them fanatics, secessionists and terrorists. Thousands of Kashmiris wait in vain for their sons, who left and never came back some 20 years ago. Young men like Saleem are executed in their homes with no mercy, and we echo the Indian version and jump into the bandwagon of blaming the victim.
The dehumanisation is not only seen and used by Delhi against dissident Kashmiris, it is passed on and nestled into our living-rooms, where we swallow the news as pistachio kulfi, with no reflections or fair objections. We buy the already parcelled perceptions and thus the images we produce of Kashmir and Kashmiris are fixed and ready. Our minds are saffronised and almost taking the shape of the tricolore, and under that banner we hide the reality on the ground, that has been haunting the Kashmiri people for seven decades. In that fog of deception, we refuse to give the victims the right to narrate their stories, even after their death.
“The words we use about them, the stories we tell about theme, the images of them we produce, the emotions we associate with them, the ways we classify and conceptualize them, the values we place on them (Hall 1997).”
It took decades to change the view of the “oriental”, during the process of decolonisation. In the start it was a handful people who challenged the current arguments, which were consolidated since hundreds of years. With time they managed to put forward valid ethical arguments and appeal to a larger audience. When the new norms started to win ground, governments were also forced to make statements and avoid destructive policies.
Humne kisko thoka? Who did we shoot?
Indian forces shot a young Kashmiri bag-maker, who didn’t only love animals and his family, but also cared for those in need of extra care, like his neighbours autistic son.
Indian forces pumped 35 bullets into a young Kashmiri man and killed not only him, but also all the people that loved him.
It was not only Saleem that got killed in #Kashmir, but our humanity. The dehumanisation of “the other” tricked also our ability to see this as the crime and moral collapse it really is. The challenge and cure would in this case be a large dose of reality, thoroughly examined and respectfully revaluated, until it takes the shape of a new discourse. A framework where we can feel shame, despair, fear, depth of injustice and sorrow for each humiliated, injured and killed human. To complete that cure, we must emphasise the ‘every human’ and include even Kashmiris in it. Not as a scope. Not as a headline when attacks are executed. Not as a curse-word. Not as a victim. Just as an obvious part of that connection beyond the frames that differentiates us. A place where our lives are valued the same, cried for the same, and justice is served as universally as we claim it should be. It really is as simple as that.
That is the non saffronised truth.