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Kashmir Is Inundated By Violence But This Cycle Is Unique


Over the last couple of months, over 10,000 people have been injured protesting for one idea. That idea is freedom from India. We're talking about a decades-old dispute over the territory of Kashmir, which is administered by India but also claimed by Pakistan.

And they've experienced many cycles of violence. But NPR's Julie McCarthy, who is there in Kashmir, is going to tell us why this dispute might be different. Julie, Good morning.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So why does this violence have a different feel to it?

MCCARTHY: First of all, there's this unprecedented kind of force being used. There's these high-velocity pellet shotguns for crowd control. And it's left thousands of people riddled with pellet injuries. And a lot of them have damaged eyesight. And some demonstrators have thrown stones, attacked police stations and government buildings. And, unusually, this started in rural areas. And it has spread throughout the Kashmir Valley. And it's lasted over 60 days. That's also unusual.

And it's overwhelmingly young. The youth are mobilized by social media. Many followed a militant who's popular for his homegrown radicalism. So he found mass appeal among young Kashmiris. And when Indian security forces killed him in July, it galvanized the youth. At least 78 people and two police have been killed since early July. And doctors at the largest hospital here in Srinagar report that most of the injured are 18 to their early 20s. No one over 40, they say.

GREENE: And you mentioned Srinagar, which is the main Kashmiri city where I know you're talking to us from. Can you just remind us what is at the core of all of this conflict? I mean, am I oversimplifying it to say that these are people in Kashmir who want to be part of Pakistan, but the Indian government is trying to hold on to this region and sometimes doing that violently?

MCCARTHY: Well, this is all about self-determination. The Kashmiris say, we need to be asked what we want to do. Do we want an independent state? Do we want to be attached to Pakistan? Do we want to remain with India? Put it to a vote, and we'll find out. And so that's really what this is about. This is about self-determination at its - at its core - these demonstrations. These young people see the Indian Army as an occupying force that needs to quit Kashmir.

In the past, these uprisings have been about something very specific, alleged army abuses. But now Kashmiri identity and determining their own fate is front and center. And one young woman seemed to speak for the crowd. She identified herself as Sarah (ph). She stood in a hospital ward filled with injured and summed up the attitude toward Indian authorities this way. The Kashmiris, she says, are just terrorists for them. Let's give a listen.


SARAH: They just want Kashmir without Kashmiris - nothing else. They just want paradise but without Kashmiris.

MCCARTHY: This paradise refers to the lakes and Himalayan mountains of Kashmir. Now, the Central Reserve Police Force will say these are disillusioned youth whose energies are being channeled by unelected separatist leaders who are partial to Pakistan. And they're susceptible to religious zealotry, according to them. Kashmir is predominantly Muslim. But the civil society says, hold on. This isn't about religion. It's political. They say the anger is directed at the military occupation and that young people don't need to be led by any kind of separatist outfit.

GREENE: Well, Julie, what might be next here? I mean, I listen to a voice like you just played of people who want to fight the Indian government here. What do they want next?

MCCARTHY: Well, people who identify themselves as sympathetic with this cause say, put it to a vote - a plebiscite overseen by the United Nations. The Kashmiris are saying the time has come for that. In fact, the time is overdue.

GREENE: All right, speaking to NPR's Julie McCarthy, who is in the disputed region of Kashmir this morning. Julie, thanks a lot.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.

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