Death in Kashmir

1.

The village of Chitisinghpura is in the southeastern corner of the valley of Kashmir, a few miles from the highway that runs from the capital, Srinagar, across high mountains to the Indian plains. A steep, winding, dusty road takes you to a high plateau where, beyond a few miles of rice fields, the village lies in a little hollow muffled by pine, walnut, and chenar trees.

It has none of the wretchedness you associate with rural India. In fact, the brisk stream of cool, clear water that divides the village, the meadowed bank with the bathing cabin of rough timber and the leafless willows and the grazing stray cow suggest the romance of an isolated and self-sufficient pastoral community. The villagers are apple, almond, and rice farmers. Some of them own transport businesses—there is enough money around for the village to have two gurudwaras, domed prayer halls with courtyards, one for each side of the village. The houses are large in the expansive Kashmiri way, unplastered bricks stacked in timber frames, exposed lofts bulging with hay; each house has its own fenced-in compound where chickens run around vegetable patches; television antennae loom over the corrugated iron roofs.

The serenity of the place at first glance seems unreal: elsewhere in the valley of Kashmir, which is ruled by India, the Indian military has been fighting since 1990 a particularly brutal war with thousands of Muslim guerrillas. Almost all of the guerrillas have been trained in Pakistan by Islamic fundamentalists, and are fighting for integration of the Muslim-dominated valley with Pakistan, even though a majority of the four million Muslims who live precariously amid the violence caused by guerrillas and the Indian security forces in the valley prefer independence.

But the secular guerrilla outfits that were fighting for independence in the early years of the insurgency have long been overwhelmed by such Pakistan-based Islamic guerrilla groups as Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba, which also recruit jihad-inspired citizens of Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight in Kashmir. India, which has fought two wars with Pakistan over Kashmir in 1948 and 1965 and almost came close to a nuclear war in 1990, sees itself as fighting a “proxy war” with Pakistan in Kashmir, and the present Indian government in Delhi, which is dominated by Hindu nationalists, has sent close to half a million soldiers to Kashmir to suppress the insurgency.

This makes the Hindus in the valley very vulnerable, and approximately 130,000 Hindus, almost the entire Hindu population of the valley, migrated to India after a few hundred of them were killed by Muslim guerrillas in 1990. More recently, in early August, unidentified gunmen, alleged by the Indian government to be Pakistan-backed guerrillas, massacred over a hundred Hindus. But Chitisinghpura is populated mostly by Sikhs, who form just over 2 percent of the population of Kashmir, and have managed to maintain their neutrality all through the last ten years.

This explains why the community has never before been targeted at any time by either the…


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