Sunday, February 21, 2016

Kashmir attack hits too close to home

Last July, during my visit to teach peace journalism in Indian-administered Kashmir, I often sat on the front steps of the guest house where I was staying, gazing in the direction of the stunning, fog-shrouded mountains in the distance.

My guest house was part of a three-building EDI government complex that also included a training building and youth hostel. Saturday, militants attacked an Indian army convoy, then retreated to the training building, where they are currently holed up. Five have died so far. The training building (the white building on the right in the picture) is perhaps 100 meters from my guest house. 

Top-EDI Center in July. Bottom-EDI Center, taken Sunday.
I was very saddened to hear that one of the casualties was a gardener who worked on the immaculate grounds at the complex. If he is the same gardener who worked there last summer, I met him and chatted with him briefly, but did not really know him. He was shot in the stomach while he pruned flowers—the most innocent victim imaginable.

I am relieved to hear that the 4-5 young men who ran my guest house were all safely evacuated. I did get to know them well, especially the manager of the guest house with whom I chatted about politics, and life, for many long and enjoyable hours.

I don’t know what to do next. I had planned, literally, to send off a Kashmir peace journalism project funding proposal tomorrow. I’m supposing I shouldn’t let this deter me. In fact, it should encourage me, since unrest in the region is the reason we need a project there in the first place. However, selfishly, I’d really like to avoid firefights and evacuations in armored vehicles.

What I am sure about is how my perspective about matters like this has changed since visiting Kashmir. Before, I would have chocked this incident up to yet another mindless terrorist attack. Now, things are less black and white. Are these attackers terrorists? Or are they freedom fighter who have attacked occupiers and oppressors? This is, after all, how many Kashmiris view India, particularly the Indian army. Interestingly, the New York Times calls the attackers in this instance “rebels,” while a local newspaper, Rising Kashmir, calls them “militants.”

My last day in Kashmir, at my last university lecture, a student raised her hand and earnestly asked me if I had a solution to the ongoing conflict in the region. Today, especially, I wish I had an answer.

UPDATE: The stand off ended on Monday, according to a BBC report.

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