COMMENTARY
 
Sugarman’s ‘Kashmir: Paradise Lost’
The Nation
October 5, 1997
“Inside the emergency room of the Bone and Joint Hospital in Srinagar, Ghulam Dar, 23, was being treated for severe torture wounds. His jaw was broken and extensive bruises were visible on his shoulders and back. He gritted his teeth as he adjusted his dangling left arm which had a deep cut severing it below his shoulder. He described his ordeal: "'An Indian soldier ordered me out of my auto-rickshaw. He hit my face with his rifle butt. He said I was a militant. I told him, ‘I’m not a militant, but a rickshaw driver.’ He told me to admit that I was a member of the Hezb-ul-Mujahidin. The other soldiers dragged me off and blindfolded me. In the truck they kicked and punched me. They wanted me to confess that I was a militant. While in the interrogation center, I was stripped and electric shock was given to my genitals and other parts of my body. They hung me upside down and hit me with a wooden stick. I begged for my life. Before letting me go, a soldier took his knife and sliced my arm, warning me that the next time it would be my throat. India must go. We just want our freedom.’

“Ahmad Shah: ‘There was a crack-down in my village. The Indian army picked me up and accused me of being a militant. I told them I was not a militant, but a headmaster at the high school. They insisted that I identify some of my students as militants. I told them, ‘I don’t know any militants.’ They started to beat and torture me. First, they set my beard on fire. Then they stripped me and gave electric shock to my eyes, tongue and genitals. I’m blind in one eye. They wanted me to confess that I was a militant. I begged them to stop. I told them I was a schoolteacher, but they didn’t want to listen. They called me ugly names. There was a small stream of dirty water with broken glass. They pushed me into the stream, forced me to stay in the stream for five hours. They walked over me many times with their boots. My head was badly bruised from the rocks. I lost consciousness. When I woke up, they beat me again. Finally, they let me go. They said the next time they would kill me. I’m scared. I ‘m afraid to go back to the village. I swear, I’m not a militant. I’m just a school-teacher.’

“Ashfaq: ‘The Indian security forces in the middle of the night kicked my door down and ordered us to get out. A soldier took my father’s Quran and tossed it on the floor and jumped on it with his muddy boots. They ordered my daughter to go to the back room. She crawled out of the window. She was afraid of being raped. When they saw my sixteen-year-old son, they accused him of being a terrorist. They demanded his confession. Again and again he denied he was a terrorist. They pushed him outside and beat him with rifles. I tried to stop them, but they hit and kicked me. They kept beating him until he was unconscious. They dragged him off in the back of a truck. My neighbour found my son naked and shot in the back down the road not far from my house. My son wasn’t a militant and did not care about politics. All he wanted was to become a doctor.’

“In a dimly lit, over-crowded ward inside the Children Hospital in Srinagar, a physician, who asked not to be named, stood beside a six-year old boy dying from viral meningitis. The physician said, ‘Each day, I watch this boy die slowly. Each day, I am reminded of Indian cruelty. Many children have died because the government won’t send us.'”

These are only a few of the first-hand accounts by American journalist Martin Sugarman in his 1993 pictorial account of the life in the occupied Kashmir, Kashmir: Paradise Valley. Martin drew world media attention when on August 13, 1997 he was deported from Delhi to London by the Indian authorities from the Indira Gandhi International Airport within just over two hours of his arrival from London—despite the fact that Sugarman had a six-month multiple visa for India, issued in July by the Indian Consulate in San Francisco. The US-based Human Rights Watch and Committee to Protect Journalists have strongly condemned Sugarman’s deportation.

This Tuesday when I met Martin in Islamabad, where he had come as part of his nearly three weeks sojourn to Pakistan, I fond him bitterly critical of the Indians for “the invisible dirty war that they have been waging against the Kashmiri people since Partition.” He was also critical of the international media because, in his opinion, it was not giving the coverage that the Kashmir tragedy deserved.

To him, there is an endless number of tales like those of Ghulam Dar, Ahmad Shah, Ashfaq and the surgeon, as quoted above. Tales of torture, rape, death and destruction by Indian occupation forces in the held Kashmir. The entire population of Kashmiris under Indian occupation, according to this American journalist, lives under constant terror twenty-four hours.

The popular uprising in held Kashmir is in its eighth year now. It has claimed more than 50,000 lives. During this period, hundreds of cases of rape and gang rape of Kashmiri Muslim women by Indian occupation forces have been reported by the press. Thousands more have gone unreported, since the Indians prevent press reporting in the held Valley.

Thousands of Kashmiris have left the occupied areas and sought refuge in Azad Kashmir. Thousands of others languish in jails without any court trial, being tortured to death. And, all this for a people whose only crime is that they are fighting for their right of self-determination, a right which was guaranteed to them in the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Martin’s book Kashmir: Paradise Lost would have mostly gone unnoticed had the Indians allowed him to visit Jammu and Kashmir again last August. This book contains 120 photographs, with a five-page introduction—which illustrates Indian brutalities in held Kashmir. Some of its other worth-quoting parts: “In late November 1993, I visited Kashmir to document the social and political turmoil and the massive human rights abuses there.

Due to the government of India’s restrictions on journalists visiting the area, I applied for a tourist visa and found the means and assistance to work under-cover for a month or so before the Indian authorities learned of my true purpose. Under very threatening conditions, I managed to escape with all my films and interviews.

“The Kashmiris have been demanding their United Nations’ endorsed right to self-determination and have been struggling for freedom from the Indian rule. India claims that Kashmir is its integral part and sees the current conflict in Kashmir as a secessionist movement led by Islamic fundamentalists and aided by outside forces. All of this is evoked to justify its brutal hold on the Kashmiri people…

On December 6, 1993, the western town of Sopore came under heavy attack by Indian artillery and machine gun fire. Many people were feared dead and injured. The market area was hard hit and burning out of control. After the shelling, the entire town came under curfew and military crackdown, with intensive house-to-house searches being carried out. All phone lines from the town had been cut and there was no outside communication.

No person or ambulances were permitted to enter or exit the town. Many people prayed for God’s help in delivering the unarmed people in Sopore from Indian atrocities. The desk clerk in the only operational hotel in Srinagar said bluntly, ‘it will be a night in hell filled with terror, torture and death.’

“Tragic events in Kashmir, like the shelling of Sopore, have been unnoticed in the world media because the government of India prohibits international journalists from visiting the region. When on rare occasions it does grant visas to journalists, the government of India controls what they see and hear. Moreover, all materials, documents and photographs are subject to confiscation. Knowing these tight restrictions, many journalists don’t even attempt to cover Kashmir.

Going to Kashmir as a reporter, you run the risk of being injured or killed. In the town of Bejbehara, during the Hazratbal siege, there was a demonstration that proceeded peacefully until the Indian army sealed both ends of the street and opened fire, killing forty people and wounding many others. Two journalists who happened to be there were arrested by the army, beaten up and all their material was destroyed.

Next day, both were expelled from the region…In addition to subverting the media, the government of India has undermined most other major institutions in Kashmir, resulting in the breakdown of social order.”

Like Martin Sugarman, there are many other internationally renowned journalists who have narrated the tragedy of Kashmir, for what it is. One of them is Barbara Crossette of The New York Times who has reported from India for many years.

Then, there are many Western human rights organizations, such as the Amnesty International and Asia Watch of the Human Rights Watch, which, in their annual reports, have kept on highlighting the brutalities being committed against the Kashmiri population by well over 600,000 Indian forces. Every year, these Western bodies report numerous incidents of plunder, torture, rape and murder of innocent Kashmiri Muslims by the occupation forces.

If, on one hand, the Indians are playing this game of death with the innocent Kashmiris; on the other, they want the rest of the world to continue acknowledging their country as “the largest democracy.” A pretty shameless approach, indeed! How long will the Indians be able to sustain this shameless behaviour?

Only time will tell. Last year, the Indians stage-managed elections in the held Jammu and Kashmir. Despite that, nothing has changed. And nothing will change. For the Kashmiris will never compromise on one thing: their right to live as a free people. The war in held Kashmir is not for territory. It’s for people. The Indians will never realise this. At least the world community should.