Mourning and Resistance in Kashmir after India Revoked Special Status - The Intercept

Article by Soumya Shankar for The Intercept (14th Sept. 2019)

On the eve of Eid al-Adha last month, 17-year-old Asrar Khan lay in a vegetative state at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, a hospital in downtown Srinagar, Kashmir’s largest city. The unconscious teenager was barely hanging on to life, connected to a ventilator and blinded in one eye — the result, his family says, of pellet injuries at the hands of India’s armed forces.
Six days earlier, on August 5, India’s government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm, had unilaterally abrogated a constitutional provision that gave special rights and a degree of autonomy to Kashmir, one of the country’s only Muslim-majority regions. Kashmir, already one of the most militarized places on earth, has been under near-total lockdown since then, with a communications blackout, mass arrests, and an intensified military presence.
After arriving in Srinagar on August 11, I made it to the hospital by passing through nine checkpoints manned by paramilitary forces, which I navigated with the help of a local reporter. The next morning, on the first day of Eid, I visited Khan’s mother, Shaheena, at her family’s home in the Ilahibad neighborhood of Srinagar, where she lives with her husband and Khan’s two siblings. With her son in the hospital, there was no qurbani — the ritual sacrifice that is the focus of the four-day Muslim festival. Instead, there was a palpable sense of doom.
She stared at me for some time, as though she were vetting me, before breaking her silence with an air of defiance. “I challenge Modi to give my son’s eye back. Modi’s government is the killer of small children. He keeps saying all is calm in Kashmir. Is this calm?”
Shaheena, who is 37 years old, told me that on the evening of August 6, she had warned her son not to go out to play carrom — a board game — with his friends. “Am I a stone pelter?” Khan responded, ignoring his mom’s advice and noting that he would not be joining the Kashmiris in the streets who were fighting back against the Indian forces. “Nothing would happen to me, I am a studious kid.”
Shortly after sunset, a cavalcade of army vehicles withdrawing from daytime deployment passed through the neighborhood, launching tear gas and firing pellet guns, three eyewitnesses told me in interviews. His friends and family members described Khan, who attended the well-known Kashmir Harvard School, as an excellent student and cricketer. “He didn’t want to play state level, but international-level cricket,” said Khan’s childhood friend and next-door neighbor, who asked for anonymity out of fear of retribution. “Asrar told me, ‘One day, I will definitely play international cricket [for India].’”
Khan’s father, Firdous Ahmad Khan, told me that his son’s education had been of paramount importance. “The gun is not going to give us our sustenance, education will,” he said. “We need our boys to eat, study, move ahead. All we want is peace.”
A review of Asrar Khan’s medical records, shared with me by his family, revealed extensive pellet injuries to his head and eye. His doctors told me that he had suffered severe brain hemorrhage, but that he was likely to survive.
On September 4, a few days before his 18th birthday, Khan succumbed to his wounds, becoming the first confirmed civilian death in Kashmir Valley caused by security action during the current period of unrest, according to the New York Times. The authorities have denied culpability, claiming that Khan was part of an unruly mob engaged in stone pelting and was responsible for his own death. “There is not a single death in security forces action since August 5,” Munir Khan, a police official in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, told reporters. Eyewitnesses, however, reject that account. “There was no stone pelting happening that day,” Asrar Khan’s friend said. “It was just so sudden and inexplicable.”
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