Unknown Gunmen: Another reality of Kashmir

The encompassing proclivity of the armed conflict since decades has engulfed every corner of life in Kashmir. It is that part of the world where gunfights, strewn bodies of soldiers, mutilated militants—interminable wails in-between—and everything that tends to wrench a human heart transpires daily. The adamant duo, India and Pakistan, the nuclear-heads stakeholders of Kashmir conflict aren’t coming on the negotiating table, has only dragged the situation to a dead end in the Valley.

During the 1990s, with militancy rising to a peak, the number of disappearances and unknown/unmarked graves filled the canvas in the Valley. Moreover, when one digs deeper, the various strands hovering around Kashmir, other than the government forces and militant outfits, but somewhere in-between—most dangerous, and notorious—are ‘unknown gunmen’.

In history, they go almost as early as the armed struggle; with the name, Ikhwanis, a state-backed notorious armed group, with an idea to counter militancy. As prescribed, they did everything to cow down anti-India sentiment in Kashmir—with impunity. During the process, Kashmir witnessed intense human rights violations.

While a few victims have been identified, an ample number of unmarked graves lie unchecked, with families waiting at the dinner table. Though—almost—every perpetrator, somewhere in some garrison, or now retired, sitting at home, has been marked safe by impunity.

Moreover, after 2016 civilian uprising, sparked after a popular Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander, Burhan Wani, was killed in a gunfight with the government forces in Kokernag, Anantnag, rejuvenated militancy in Kashmir.

However, the damage done in the aftermath of Mr. Wani is beyond repair. Kashmir lost its most potential resource—youth—to gun violence, quite a few of them highly educated. Although, parallel to this, unlike the ‘90s, the unknown gunmen have reemerged, resurfacing the violent gun culture that has predominantly defiled Kashmir.

From waking up to the front-page news telling the plight of civilians, abducted, injured or killed by unknown gunmen, somewhere in the Valley. Bullet-riddled bodies of young boys and girls are inexorably found in and around the river banks, forests, and roads. However, this unveiled side of conflict never makes it to TV screens, which are busy showcasing the unending debate on Article 370 and 35-A.

This new strand of unknown gunmen mushroomed in the valley, who slay anyone while the dead gets lost in an oblivious state. Are Kashmiris destined to this vicious cycle of death? The identity of perpetrators, what do they want, what are they fighting for—all of it is still a mystery. It’s probably not the visible guns, but these invisible guns, that keep the violence roaring, and peace at a distance.

When these unknown gunmen killed a revered journalist Shujaat Bukhari last year in June, I went into a state of paranoia. It made me think: if a journalist is killed with such ease, they’ll kill me too. Or someone associated with me. They want to kill everyone.

To understand the magnitude of pain and trauma, I remember an anecdote narrated by my economics professor at college. As he said: One of his relatives, who was abducted by unknown gunmen and never came back. But his mother since that day still serves food on his plate, with undying hope, that someday, from somewhere, he will come back. Her attachment with her child made her cling to the trauma. She couldn’t escape it.

This is the reality of Kashmir, and of unknown gunmen.

By Inayat ul haq