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Kashmir 'human shield' video draws outrage

April 16, 2017

Video footage of a Kashmiri protester tied to an Indian army jeep - apparently as a human shield - has generated outrage on social media. India-administered Kashmir has been in the grip of violence for months.

Indien Srinagar Unruhen Sicherheitskräfte
Image: Reuters/C. McNaughton

The 11-second clip, which has gone viral on social media, showed an unidentified man tied to the front of an army vehicle as it passed through a street in the Budgam district. The area was the scene of violent demonstrations last weekend as Indian police and paramilitary forces clashed with protesters during a by-election.

A voice speaking in Hindi in the background of the video can be heard saying: "Stone throwers will meet a similar fate."

The army has ordered an investigation into the incident. The state police filed a formal complaint against the army and began its own probe following directions from state chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, a local police officer said Monday.

"The contents of the video are being verified and investigated," Colonel Rajesh Kalia, an army spokesperson, said in a statement.

Indian authorities in Kashmir were forced to postpone the local by-election due to violence that claimed eight lives, including those of troops who were pelted with stones by protesters.

Not the first time

Former chief minister of the Kashmir state, Omar Abdullah, also shared the video on social media and condemned the authorities.

"This young man was tied to the front of an army jeep to make sure no stones were thrown at the jeep? This is just so shocking!" Abdullah wrote on Twitter, demanding an inquiry.

The DPA news agency quoted a local police officer as describing the act as "self defense" as it allowed the security personnel to leave the area safely.

Anti-Indian Kashmiri activists claim such incidents have been happening since the late 1980s, when an armed insurgency against Indian rule erupted across the valley.

"These kinds of crimes have gone unnoticed here for decades. Now, because of an explosion in social media, it's finally coming out," activist Khurram Parvez said.

The incident comes shortly after another video went viral. It showed Kashmiri protesters slapping and kicking security personnel.

Last month, there was anger in Kashmir after the publication of the photo of an 11-year-old boy forced to do sit ups by Indian troops.

Protracted insurgency

The security situation in the Indian part of Kashmir has been volatile since the killing of Burhan Wani, a young separatist leader, in July last year. Protests against Indian rule and clashes between separatists and soldiers have claimed hundreds of lives since then.

Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the India-administered Kashmir - a region of 12 million people, about 70 percent of whom are Muslim. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming rebels in the territory it controls and sending them to the Indian side, a claim its neighbor denies.

Need for a political solution

Despite New Delhi's claims of Pakistani interference, anti-India sentiment is strong throughout India's portion of Kashmir. Many resent the deployment of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops, and openly voice support for rebels who have been fighting since the 1990s to demand independence or a union with neighboring Pakistan.

Some Indian civil society members believe New Delhi cannot exonerate itself from responsibility by accusing Islamabad of creating unrest in the valley. A number of rights organizations demand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government reduce the number of troops in Kashmir and let the people decide their fate.

Karte Infografik The Kashmir conflict - disputed territories

"The Indian state survives in Kashmir only by using the might of its army, and the force of its guns. The people are no longer scared of the bullet," Sumati Panikkar, a leftwing activist in New Delhi, told DW.

Panikkar's views are echoed by Aditya Sinha, an Indian author and journalist: "Despite 69 years of opportunity, India has not earned Kashmiri trust," Sinha wrote in a column for the Mumbai-based Mid-Day newspaper, adding that India had "turned the valley into a part-garrison, part-open air prison."

A complex issue

Syed Ata Hasnain, a retired Indian army corps commander who was deployed in Kashmir from 2010 to 2012, admits the situation in Kashmir is complex. "There is no denial in Delhi … that a problem exists," said Hasnain. "But no one seems to be clear on how to get into engagement with the people on the ground," he added.

Toqeer Gilani, the president of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, believes the best way to engage with Kashmiris is for both India and Pakistan to step aside.

"We demand a solution to the Kashmir conflict based on freely expressed wishes of the people. It is high time India and Pakistan announce the timetable for withdrawal of their forces from the portions they control and hold an internationally-supervised referendum," Gilani told DW.

But most Kashmir observers don't see that happening in the near future. They say that while the Indian strategy to deal strictly with militants and separatists in Kashmir has partly worked out, sooner or later New Delhi will have to find a political solution to the crisis. Secession, they say, does not stand a chance.

Shashi Tharoor on Conflict Zone