Kashmir Women Risk Their Lives Aiding Militants Against Indian Army

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Indian-administered Kashmir has been in revolt for a long time. The territory is mostly Muslim, and it’s claimed by both India and Pakistan. The violence has gotten worse ever since a young militant was executed last summer. Protesters have become more aggressive. Three were killed just last week while confronting Indian security forces. NPR’s Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Traveling south from Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city, we turn onto a pockmarked road past apple orchards framed by snow-capped Himalayan peaks. The scenic hamlets of south Kashmir Valley, say locals, are a hotbed of militancy. A group of young women has agreed to meet us in secret to explain how they are now confronting security forces face to face, hoping to assist the militants.

ASIA: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: “As soon as people hear that the soldiers have cornered the militants, we come out and try to help them escape,” one woman says. Fearing reprisals, the three women have chosen different names. That was 28-year-old Asia.

We gather in the village of Frisal across the road from a house where Indian troops killed four suspected militants one night mid-February. Locals say gunfire tipped them off to the army’s operation. Come daylight, protesters from nearby villages began descending on the scene to intervene.

RIFAT: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: Rifat, who is 27, says she was on Facebook and saw people streaming for Frisal. “We came out of our houses to free Kashmir and end the repression. There is a passion in this battle for freedom,” says Rifat.

There is also great risk. Here’s how this new form of resistance works. Villagers attempt to breach security cordons that surround anti-militant operations in a bid to disrupt them. The three demonstrators killed last week were doing just that. I ask Arooja why young women like herself are risking their lives for Kashmiri militants.

Who are these militants, and who are they to you?

AROOJA: (Through interpreter) He’s picked up the gun to fight the injustice that is occurring in Kashmir. That’s why we want to save him.

MCCARTHY: Many in Muslim-majority Kashmir draw inspiration for the struggle from Islam. Both Rifat and Arooja, who wear veils that cover all but their eyes, say, our faith compels us to fight against injustice. For 28-year-old Asia, it was the killing of her cousin, a civilian, during the Frisal operation that enraged her most. He was at home when the militants sought refuge in his house. It’s not clear how her cousin died, but Asia says his death is a reminder of what she calls the oppression Kashmiris live under.

ASIA: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: “We hear about army encounters every day,” she says. “No one is safe. People are getting wounded. Some are blinded, and some lose their lives. We’re tired of it. We just want peace,” Asia says.

Authorities say in recent months, some 25 militants have escaped in the confusion created by protesters interrupting military operations. As confrontations escalate, Arooja says the protesters have gathered courage to face India’s armed forces and are not afraid to be killed.

AROOJA: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: Arooja says, “it’s better to die a dignified death than to live an undignified life.” Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Kashmir Valley.

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