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EDITORIAL: In a shocking illustration of the old adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" the heart-wrenching image of a toddler sitting on the chest of his grandfather's bullet-ridden body is a profoundly graphic example of how Indian security forces use arbitrary power with impunity in occupied Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). According to witnesses, the elderly victim, Bashir Ahmed, was travelling in a car with his three-year-old grandson in Sopore unaware of an earlier battle between the resistance fighters and the security forces when he was stopped, dragged out of the car and shot dead right in front of the frightened child. Thousands of outraged Kashmiris came out to protest against the killing, shouting "we want freedom" from the Indian rule.

It is the most moving image of the ongoing bloody repression in Indian-held Kashmir. But away from the cell phone cameras, Indian soldiers routinely commit such atrocities. Reports regularly speak of soldiers entering private homes, beating up and taking away young men before their distressed families, in some instances, never to be seen again. Since the revocation of Article 370, jails in the occupied J&K have been overflowing with prisoners, custodial killings are common, and so is sexual harassment of women. Independent rights organisations as well as the UN Human Rights Council have been expressing grave concern over the situation. Sadly, that does not seem to bother Western governments, the self-styled standard bearers of human rights. They miss no opportunity to criticise their rival states but have no qualms about letting India's ultra right Prime Minister Narendra Modi get away with blatant violations of Kashmiri people's rights, duly recognised by UN Security Council resolutions. Their silence has encouraged New Delhi to go ahead with its plan to change the demographic structure of the disputed region. It has issued, as a first step in that direction, Kashmiri domicile certificates to 25,000 non-natives - something prohibited under the original dispensation.

This is a recipe for disaster with wider repercussions. Many sensible people inside India have been warning that the Kashmiri youth feel humiliated and are not afraid of dying. Repression only strengthens their resolve to resist. In that they have the full support of local populations. During clashes they come out in large numbers, at the risk of their own lives, to throw rocks at soldiers so as to divert their attention from fighters. According to a rights group, the Coalition of Civil Society, since last January, at least 229 people have been killed during over 100 military operations across occupied J&K, including 32 civilians, and 54 government forces. Yet the Indian government tries to cover up its crimes by accusing Pakistan of fomenting trouble and resorting to violations of the ceasefire agreement of 2003, which have resulted in the loss of many innocent civilians' lives. The latest Indian shelling across the LoC claimed the life of a 13-year-old boy. Pakistan, of course, has been responding in kind. But any miscalculation on India's part, like the February 2019 bombing in Balakot - which led to a retaliatory strike and the downing of two Indian fighter jets and capture of a pilot - could endanger the peace of this entire region. It can only be hoped India's influential Western friends are seized of the inherent implications of escalating tensions and willing to instill some sense in the heads of its reckless rulers before things spiral out of control.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020