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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Suffering Kashmiris stand up for rights
By Matthew Grant
BBC reporter in Kashmir

Indian soldier patrolling in Srinagar, Kashmir
Amidst wrangling over Kashmir, its people are suffering

The village of Lam is two hours drive south of Srinagar, literally at the end of the road. But when we arrived it was a hive of activity.

The train of events began when militants planted an improvised explosive device under the path of an Indian army convoy, killing two soldiers.

This is one of the latest attacks in Kashmir. India controls the bulk of state, but Pakistan claims it too.

Pakistan is accused of aiding terrorists, India is blamed for human rights abuses in Kashmir. Once again it is the Kashmiri people who are suffering.

The next day the soldiers came back. The militants had fled, but the villagers say the troops took out their anger on innocent locals.

Staging a protest

"They beat whoever was coming out of their house," one man tells me. He says the soldiers even turned on the women, exposing themselves to them before beating them too.

What is remarkable is that the villagers refused to accept their fate. They staged a protest - stopping traffic on the national highway - and forced the politicians to listen.

Meehbooba Mufti, president of the ruling People's Democratic Party, says the Jammu and Kashmir state government is pursuing a "healing touch policy".

"The difference now is when there is a human rights violation, the chief minister [also her father] will go there and action will be taken," she says.

The policy is a start but more will be needed in a society where violence has scarred everyone and everyone has a story to tell.

At least 10 people are killed every day. The official death toll is 40,000 - the true figure may be higher.

'Popular struggle'

When the insurgency began 15 years ago, Kashmiri Muslims who wanted to break away from India rushed to take up arms.

"The armed struggle was very popular initially," says Firdous Syed, who says he was a militant commander for six years. But he says Kashmiris are sick of the killing and few now become militants.

"If you have 10 militants killed, six or seven of them are not from Kashmir," he explains. "They might be from 20 other countries, but they are not from here."

But politicians like the leader of the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, describe the armed struggle as a compulsion forced upon them by the Indian Government, which has refused to hold a referendum on the future of the disputed state.

Everyone here says they want the killing to stop.

But with no clear alternative, violence will remain the means of protest for some time to come.

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