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Videos showing brutality of soldiers in held Kashmir stoke anger against India

Videos showing brutality of soldiers in held Kashmir stoke anger against India

SRINAGAR: One video showed a young Kashmiri man strapped to a patrolling Indian army jeep as a human shield against stone-throwing protesters. Others showed soldiers beating local men with sticks as other troops stood by with guns drawn.

As Shabir Ahmed watched the crude clips, captured on mobile phone cameras and uploaded to Facebook, he felt terrified. They reminded him of his own 2001 detention by Indian army soldiers who suspected him of being a rebel sympathiser; he said they subjected him to beatings, waterboarding and drinking water mixed with chilli powder.

“For two nights I couldn’t sleep. I was not shocked but exhausted” after watching the recent videos, said Mr Ahmed, 38. “I have suffered a great deal in torture by soldiers. Suddenly, I felt as if demons reopened my old wounds and started haunting me.”

Rights groups have long accused Indian forces of using systematic abuse and unjustified arrests in held Kashmir. The Indian government has acknowledged the problem exists, but denies it is part of a wide strategy to intimidate residents.

Kashmiris have been uploading videos and photos of alleged abuses for some years, but several recent clips, captured in the days surrounding a violence-plagued local election on April 9, have proven to be especially powerful and have helped to intensify anti-India protests.

“Welcome to the world of social media,” said Siddiq Wahid, historian and former vice chancellor of a Kashmir university. “You don’t need verification and you don’t need proof. The optics are so clear.”

One video shows a stone-throwing teenage boy being shot by a soldier from a few metres away. Another shows soldiers making a group of young men, held inside an armoured vehicle, shout profanities against Pakistan while a soldier kicks and slaps them and hits them with a stick. Yet another clip shows three soldiers holding a teenage boy down with their boots and beating him on his back.

The video that drew the most outrage was of young shawl-weaver Farooq Ahmed Dar tied to the hood of an army jeep as it patrolled villages on voting day. A soldier can be heard saying in Hindi over a loudspeaker, “Stone throwers will meet a similar fate,” as residents look on aghast.

“When they were driving me around, they were saying, ‘We will shoot (you),’ and were throwing stones at my head,” Mr Dar told The Associated Press. “I was told not to talk. In one of the villages, an elderly man begged for my release but they didn’t listen to him.” Police have since registered a criminal case against unnamed Indian soldiers in that case, for the first time citing a video as evidence. In addition, an army’s “internal inquiry has been initiated into the jeep video”, according to spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia.

But India’s top law officer, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, lauded soldiers for managing to defuse a “nasty situation” by containing the protests and saving the polls.

“Why so much noise?” he asked about the complaints. “Military operations cannot be subject of such discussions on social media,” he told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

Students across Kashmir have been rallying this month at anti-India demonstrations, facing off against heavily armed riot police and paramilitary soldiers.

“Most students like me use social media, and some among us use stones to protest against India. Our brothers (militants) use guns for the same purpose,” said Aslam, a 22-year-old science major at the University of Kashmir who gave only his first name out of fear for police reprisals.

Viral videos showing police officers beating civilians or soldiers forcing children to do push-ups in public have “not only outraged the residents here, but also strengthened their belief that the remedy lies in relentlessly seeking justice to end these foul practices,” said Khurram Parvez of the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.

The rights group has conducted decades of research and estimates that at least 200,000 people have been tortured during Kashmir’s decades-long conflict fuelled by anti-India sentiment among the population and a deployment of hundreds of thousands of troops.

Among the angriest now are Kashmiris under 35, who have grown up in a politically radicalised society amid the brutal armed conflict and high unemployment. They are also among the most tech-savvy and engaged in social media, and make up two-thirds of the territory’s population of nearly 13 million.

Anti-India militants have also adopted social media. One charismatic militant commander, Burhan Wani, became a household name thanks to his rousing Facebook posts. His killing last year by Indian forces sparked demonstrations and street clashes across Kashmir.

Meanwhile, pro-India activists appear to have countered with their own videos, including two recently circulated showing militants forcing people to chant anti-India slogans at gunpoint.

Authorities have charged three men with attacking an Indian paramilitary soldier after they were allegedly seen in a video heckling the man.

The Indian chapter of Amnesty International has condemned videos from both sides for inciting anger and violence, and urged an investigation.

Indian police and paramilitary officials accuse agitators of using social media to instigate violence.

Kashmiris accuse India of doing too little to combat abuses. Military courts-martial have convicted 164 soldiers since 1990, punishing them with jail or dismissal from military service, according to an army officer. He said that 96 per cent of the more than 1,000 complaints received since 1990 were found to be false and fabricated.

The disputed region’s government itself cannot pursue abuse cases involving soldiers without permission from New Delhi, which has never been granted despite requests to prosecute more than 50 cases in the past two decades of alleged murder, rape and other abuse.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2017

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