|Indian Border Security Force soldiers patrol the picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir. Once a tourist hotspot, the only visitors to this magnificent landscape these days are Indian soldiers. Ami Vitale
I made this image in 2003 in the disputed Indian-controlled state of Kashmir, the site of a long-standing proxy war between India and Pakistan.
Kashmir was once a tourism center, and these boats, called shikaras, are traditionally meant for tourists, couples and honeymooners. But nowadays these symbols of new beginnings are sometimes used by Indian border control officers to patrol for militia members and hunt insurgents.
Thousands of lives have been lost in Kashmir as the insurgency and the fight to control it have intensified. Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital, once bustled with life and laughter, but by the time I began working there, it was the most militarized conflict in the world. Hotels had become barracks with guns poking out of the windows and soldiers lined the city’s streets, pockmarked from the frequent grenade attacks.
The Indian military insists that it remains there to protect innocent Kashmiris, but many locals claim otherwise. Complaints of abuse and extra-judicial killings are commonplace. Members of the Indian military truly believe they have been mobilized to protect innocent people and uphold civil liberties. But the pursuit of terrorists has trampled liberty for ordinary people, and martial law reigns. This in turn further inflames the insurgency.
The shikaras are a poignant symbol of the conflict’s tragic contradictions.