Srinagar, June 16

Two Kashmiris, a policeman and a youth, returned to their ancestral village in Jammu and Kashmir on Friday, albeit in coffins. The policeman was killed by militants while the young man lost his life in firing by the security forces.

The two shared the same village, Ashtengo in Bandipora district -- and one more thing in death -- martyrdom, to different people.

While the policeman was honoured as a martyr by the government, the youth was laid to rest, also as a martyr for the Kashmiri cause, amid pro-freedom slogans by mourning villagers.

The policeman died fighting the militants to establish Indian authority, while the youth died in security forces' firing on stone pelters, who were out to erode India's authority in Kashmir.

Perhaps nothing narrates the tragedy of Kashmir more sadly than the village graveyards of the Valley where militants are buried alongside local policemen.

For families, relatives and friends, what matters most is that a dear one is lost forever to violence that seems endless.

Widows and orphans are left behind after gunfights, street protests and even by stray bullets during shootouts between militants and the security forces.

The security forces face resistance by civilian protesters during anti-militancy operations because many militants, especially in South Kashmir, are locals.

Officials say nearly 50,000 people have died in violence in the state during the last 27 years. Rights groups and NGOs say the figure is well over 1,00,000.

Every time guns boom on the Line of Control (LoC), it's the villagers on the border who suffer the most.

Bullets and mortar shells fired by India and Pakistan make no distinction between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs whose existence and livelihood are taken hostage each time there is a ceasefire violation on the LoC.

The tragedy is compounded by the fact that nobody is ready to talk about it. The government says violence must end before the talks can begin and the separatists say talks cannot be held unless the government accepts that the country's sovereignty on Kashmir is disputed.

The mainstream political parties including the ruling PDP-BJP alliance and the opposition National Conference are busy blaming each other for the mess.

As space for moderates shrinks on both sides, one tragedy begets another in Kashmir. The death of one protester sets in motion a cycle of violence that benefits none other than the gravediggers.

Some 120 people were killed in the 2010 unrest, while 2016 saw the death of 94 civilians and security men. Over 200 were permanently blinded in last year's unrest when the security forces used pellet guns.

The most common morning prayer for those in the Valley is that children and young persons return home safely from schools, colleges and their places of work.

Even today, author Thomas Moore's land of "Lalla-Rookh" has dazzling colours. Sadly, the most prominent of these is the colour of blood.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be reached at sheikhqayoom@gmail.com)

 

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