Two Deaths in Kashmir Gun Battle As Tensions Rise

Megan Caldwell

In the disputed, Indian-administered Kashmir, two people were killed in a gun battle that took place on August 21st in the Ganie-Haman area of the Baramulla district, costing the lives of a Kashmir militant and an Indian police officer. The clash denotes escalating frustrations following the revocation of Article 370 of India’s constitution in early August, ending Kashmir’s seven-decade long status as a semi-autonomous state.

According to Al Jazeera, the skirmish is the first to be reported by the authorities since the dissolution of the Article. Police told Al Jazeera that Kashmir militants fired a grenade at a police cordon-and-search party, sparking a gun battle that lasted over eight hours. A militant, identified as a member of the rebel group Lashkar-e-Raiba, was shot as well as two policemen wounded, with one later passing away at the hospital.

This recent violent outbreak is part of a larger story of continuing tensions on the Indian subcontinent. Squeezed between the historically feuding and nuclear armed countries of Pakistan and India, the mountainous valley region of Kashmir has been a long-standing hotspot for the waging countries since the 1947 partition of British India.

The Muslim majority Pakistan and the Hindu majority India both have political and social connections to the Muslim majority Kashmir. Despite occasional terrorist attacks and military intrusions throughout the decades, Pakistan and India have maintained a rocky stalemate in terms of Kashmir, even with portions occupied with their military forces. However, India’s decision regarding Article 370 has not only taken away Kashmir’s statehood, but is also a challenge to Pakistan’s influence in the region.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu Nationalist Party, won reelection by running on a promise to revoke Article 370. Without consulting Kashmir prior to the decision, the revocation went into effect on August 5. In a tweet made the following day, the prime minister boasted of freeing the people of Kashmir from shackles and that ending the Article would bring about a “new dawn” and a “better tomorrow” for Kashmiris.

However, Kashmiris’ reaction was anticipated to be negative. According to Al Jazeera, thousands of troops were sent into Kashmir to patrol streets and checkpoints. Communication channels were shut down, including internet, landlines, and cable. Only the latter has been restored. Important political leaders have been arrested. Strict curfews have also been enforced.

As a response to India’s decision, protests have been occurring since early August. However, Indian authorities have attempted to cover the signs of public discontent, insisting that the situation in Kashmir is peaceful and that the outcoming media material that show protests occurring are either fake or old, according to the Washington Post. Protesters have begun to write the date on their posters to prove otherwise. Also, because of video and photos captured and distributed despite the lockdown on communication channels, the Indian authorities had to admit to the use of pellet guns and tear gas.

In a personal account given to Al Jazeera, Sasha Bhat, who grew up in Kashmir, told of the discontent within the region, describing the increased Indian military presence, scenes of protests in the city of Srinagar as well as a moment where a pepper spray canister had been thrown into her home by the military. She expresses her anger over the Indian authorities’ downplaying the situation in Kashmir. She writes,

“I watched the news and broadcasts from the central government, celebrating democracy and freedom. … I marveled at how a nation of a billion people can rejoice over the misery and occupation of others.”

Pakistan has promised to downgrade its diplomatic relations with India, Al Jazeera writes, which is concerning because of their already truculent relationship. Pakistan also has said it will take India to the International Court of Justice because of the dispute.