This Week in Asia

Silence of the lambs: the forgotten victims of Kashmir violence

When a gunfight broke out between Indian troops and local militants in the sleepy village of Adoowa, Southern Kashmir, farmer Ghulam Hassan Bhat lost everything.

The Indian troops had traced the militants to the village before chasing them out of their hideout and finally cornering them in a stable belonging to Bhat.

In the gunfight that ensued, the structure was burnt down, along with all the livestock inside - a flock of 50 sheep and a cow that provided Bhat's primary source of income.

"I asked the Indian forces to allow me to let the sheep out but they refused," Bhat's son Imtiyaz Ahmed said. "I could hear the terrified howling of those sheep while they burned to death."

The loss was devastating; Bhat had spent his life savings of about US$10,000 on the livestock - no easy feat in a land where per capita income is about US$1,200. While they have applied for compensation from the local government, more than a year after the fighting last January they are still waiting.

Ghulam Hassan Bhat lost his entire livestock during the gunfight last year. Photo: Burhan Mir

Bhat's case is no anomaly. Last year, 586 people were killed in fighting between separatist insurgents and Indian government forces in Kashmir. Of these 160 were civilians, many caught in the crossfire. While there are no official figures kept on animal casualties, the president of Kashmir's Veterinary Doctor's Association, Pervaiz Ahmad Bhat, said strays and domestic animals were regularly killed during gun battles in Kashmir's rural areas - suggesting they are a significant, if forgotten, victim of the fighting.

In Batmurran village, also in Shopian district, a cowshed belonging to Mohammed Yaqub Bhat was targeted during a gunfight in December 2017.

"We had kept two cows inside the shed, one belonging to our neighbour Abdul Ahad," Yaqub's wife Naseema Akhter said.

Both cows were pregnant, increasing their value. While the gunfight was ongoing, Naseema pleaded with the Indian troops to let the cows out. "They threatened me and told me to care about my life, not the property," Naseema said.

The fighting obliterated the shed. "We only recovered their ashes and skeletons, and buried them in a ditch nearby," the neighbour Abdul Ahad said.

The family also lost their house in the fighting. Like Ghulam Hassan Bhat, they are still waiting for any compensation from the local government.

Around an hour's drive east of Batmurran lies Kachdora village, where a fierce gunfight raged in April 2018. Eleven people including five armed militants, three civilians and three Indian soldiers were killed.

In Kachdora village, multiple structures were blown up. Photo: Saqib Mir

When the South China Morning Post visited the village last year, residents were trying to recover the bodies of slain militants underneath the rubble of a blown up house belonging to Abdul Ahad Lone. The carcass of a cow, charred to death, was still smoking and stray dogs were scrounging through the remains. Two other houses in the neighbourhood were damaged and according to Lone's brother Mohammad Maqbool, they lost three cows in total.

Nikunj Sharma, the associate director of policy for People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India, said that as animals posed no threat to humans they should not be exposed to gunfire or explosives.

"For animals, there are no peace treaties, just our mercy," Nikunj said.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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