When my 7-year-old son's Skype class started Thursday, a disturbing message popped up in the chatbox. A parent of one of his classmates said his son could not attend the class because their neighborhood in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, was very tense.
Police claimed they had killed three militants in Batamaloo, a warren of densely populated streets inhabited by pro-freedom people. A woman was also fatally shot while accompanying her baker son to his shop.
As a general practice, authorities shut internet services after such incidents to block news from spreading through social media and as a result, quell protests for the slain militants or civilians.
The parent went on to say the Indian troops broke their window and were standing just outside the door. The teacher said a prayer for their safety. The student lives about 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) away from my place.
Scores of people protested on the streets that night against the woman's killing.
In the class the next day, no one mentioned the incident or asked questions from the student. In fact, he had a jovial chat with another teacher.
This has been the story of Kashmir for the past 30 years. Exposure to prolonged violence and an uncertain future have damaged every aspect of Kashmiri life.
'Peace is alien'
For Irfan Ahmad, a researcher born in 1991, a year after the raging anti-India insurgency started, the "very idea of peace is alien."
He said that as a child, seeing Indian forces raid his home was routine because his uncle was a militant. "I grew up witnessing violence or hearing about it almost every day. I become irritated when my parents talk about the halcyon period of pre-insurgency Kashmir having cinemas, late-night weddings. I blame them for our plight as they had waited for long to resist," he said.
One of his cousins, Ahmad, added that he gave up his studies after being detained by police twice during the mass protests of 2016.
"He was only 12 when they detained him. Something snapped in him after his release. A police officer threatened him with sexual violence on his mother if he were to protest again. To me he appears like someone itching to explode," he said.
Sociologist Farrukh Faheem said Kashmir has been witnessing political strife since 1947, but the last three decades of armed insurgency have been the most intense. He said that in such a small and close-knit place, "Every death or injury resonates and traumatizes the entire population."
There also appears to be no escape from the violence, even when one is removed from the place, says Zahid Rafiq, a Kashmiri who is studying creative writing at Cornell University in the U.S.
"There are days when I really want to forget that people are being killed, tortured, subjugated while I walk into a bookstore of a cafe for a good meal. But the violence in Kashmir lingers stubbornly at the back of my mind. At times, I hope, like a child to see Kashmir free where we could finally live in peace, without fear, shame and subjugation," he said.
He said every fresh eruption in Kashmir creates anxieties among hundreds of thousands of their kin working or living outside. During the communications blackout in August last year, Zahid said he was unable to speak to his family for several days. His son was born only a month earlier.
Last year, prospects of peace were jolted when India scrapped the region's autonomy and divided it into two federally ruled territories. Since then, several laws introduced by New Delhi have triggered fears that Indian Hindus would overwhelm the native Kashmiri Muslims, who are the majority. Locals are worried that they will lose control over their own resources in addition to losing jobs to outsiders. Almost all key positions in the administration are currently occupied by non-Kashmiris.
While abrogating the special autonomy laws, the Indian government said Jammu and Kashmir would develop economically and that the new system would help the local population better integrate psychologically with India, in addition to curbing insurgency.
Suhail Bukhari, the spokesperson for People's Democratic Party, which shared power with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) until 2018, said last year's changes dealt a blow to the prospects for peace and that they "added one more layer of complexity to an already complex issue."
"Nobody can deny that peace in Kashmir goes beyond Kashmir. Peace in Kashmir is necessary for peace in entire South Asia. We believe there is no alternative to reconciliation and dialogue," he said.
According to Ashok Kaul, a member of the BJP, however, reconciliation is "only a few months away." He said the government has taken steps to ensure a lasting peace but that the disturbances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic created hurdles.
"Peace will prevail, especially in Kashmir," he told Anadolu Agency (AA).
More than 180 militants, 45 civilians, and 49 Indian forces personnel have been killed in insurgency-related incidents, while 26 civilians and 25 troops were killed in cross-border firing between the Indian and Pakistani militaries since Aug. 5 last year.
The apparently hopeless situation has not killed off people's craving for a truce, says Faheem, who teaches at Kashmir University.
"But not the peace of the graveyard enforced at gunpoint. It is the just peace that recognizes people's civil and political rights. We have seen how so-called peaceful periods quickly evaporated in air," he said.
Prospects of a negotiated settlement are becoming bleaker by the day. Kashmiri academic Abir Bazaz told Anadolu Agency that condemning an entire people to a "life of uncertainty and perpetual war is simply inhuman."
"Even those who must pay the price for the strategic calculus of nation-states, as Kashmiris do, reach a threshold beyond which the status quo is impossible to endure. For Kashmiris, there is no end in sight to the war," said Bazaz, an assistant professor at India's prestigious, Ashoka University.
He said "the most one can hope in such a hopeless situation" is that the Kashmiris will continue to rely on their cultural and political resources to keep demanding their right to a life of tranquility and justice "without succumbing to the temptation of counterviolence."
Kashmir, a Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver is also held by China.
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