Opening Up The Conversation on Kashmir

WHAT is notable about this juncture is that there is a greater willingness among common Indian citizens to question the official narrative on Kashmir; a greater openness to discuss democratic rather than military ways of responding to the Kashmir protests. Many protests have taken place all over India in solidarity with Kashmir, there has been an opening up of conversations around Kashmir, and a range of diverse voices in India have spoken up with their views and suggestions for a political solution for Kashmir. Here, we present a selection of some of those opinions.

Communalism, Islamophobia, Now Mixed With Nationalism

(Liberation interviewed filmmaker Sanjay Kak, whose film on Kashmir, Jashn-e-Azaadi – How We Celebrate Independence, had helped open up conversations on Kashmir way back in 2007.)

Once again, after 2010, we are seeing a huge people’s upsurge in Kashmir, met with the most brutal repression. Has anything changed in the nature of Kashmiri protests?

People in India tend to see events in Kashmir only through these spikes - the protests, the pellet-gun blindings, the killings, and in the brutalities that are reported. What is much more sinister, and damaging in the long run, is the steady unwavering repression that most Kashmiris have to deal with. What does the story of Burhan Wani tell us? Humiliations heaped upon a fifteen year old, the senseless killing of a loved one – none of this is unusual in Kashmir. Where does that take someone like Burhan? Almost inevitably to the life of a militant, and to near certain death. In the aftermath of the 2010 protests everyday life had become unbearable even for those without a spectacular track record with the police and army, especially in the villages and kasbas. Relentless scrutiny by the armed forces, endless reporting to the police stations, physical violence. So the huge upsurge we are seeing is a consequence of the accumulation of the pressure that has been building up for the last six years, if not the last twenty five. What is new is what has been observed in the past few years - that the ranks of the militants are filled mostly with Kashmiris, and when there are encounters, or when militants are cornered by the para-military and Army, then people come out in droves to protect the young men, Throwing stones at the Indian security forces, often even while encounters are going on...

Is there anything new in the Indian State’s response to Kashmiri anger and aspirations?The PM has thanked all parties for backing up the Government on Kashmir. Has the attitude of the UPA Government been in any way more sensitive to Kashmir than that of the BJP-NDA Government now?

What is new is the very loud and obvious silence on the part of the Indian State. In that silence even a small step must be read as a big statement. The Prime Minister usual loquaciousness on the social media was missing completely when it came to Kashmir. The Home Ministry's initial concerns displayed an unseemly anxiety to 'normalise' the situation so that the Amarnath Yatra could proceed normally... I'm not saying that the previous governments, both in Delhi and in Srinagar, performed much better in the huge uprisings of 2008, 2009 and 2010. But at least one could not detect the desire to actually exacerbate the troubles. That is certainly new, and that is what is disturbing.

This time, defying a heightened hyper-nationalist narrative on Kashmir in sections of the TV media, there have been protests in support of Kashmir, by a variety of groups, in many cities – Delhi, Kolkata, Patna, Thrissur, Bangalore, for instance. There are plans to hold public meetings, readings, discussions in many places. Is this in any way a significant development?

This is very significant, and it is as necessary and important for Indians as it might be for Kashmiris. Behind the relentless brutality that has been unleashed over the past few weeks in Kashmir lies a very important new tactic of the BJP-RSS - to unleash another symbol for their future electoral mobilisation. The Kashmir issue is going to be their new Babri Masjid, the journalist Mahendra Mishra pointed out the other day, and he is right. There is a deadly molotov cocktail being prepared - their usual ingredient of Communalism and Islamophobia, but now mixed with Nationalism. They would want Kashmir to be on the boil for ever.

What should be the way forward on Kashmir? What steps do we need, that can foster a climate for a political solution?

There is no substitute for democracy to resolve the issue. And I'm not talking about the farce of elections. What measure of the people's will is the conduct of elections in Kashmir? The PDP came to power asking for votes to prevent the BJPs entry into Kashmir. Then ended up making an alliance with them! Is the rage of the people in South Kashmir difficult to understand then? We need real democracy, we need demilitarisation, and then we need a good and honest referendum. Its not an impossible set of goals, is it?

Beyond the Crossroads Democratic nationalism in Kashmir must get a genuine chance

(Excerpts from a piece by historian Partha Chatterjee in the Telegraph, July 21, 2016)

Faced with the mass fury and a mounting death toll, the authorities - once again, predictably - blamed it all on Pakistani machination. Over the years, an image has been cultivated in the corridors of power in New Delhi that is profoundly colonial in its denial of any kind of mature rationality to the people of Kashmir: the latter is thought to be either so childlike in its simple-mindedness or crazy as the mentally unhinged that Pakistan is apparently able to turn the tap of mass unrest on and off at will. Burhan's death was expected to cause some outrage in the valley but the massive scale of the protests, according to official spokespersons, could only have been enabled by Pakistan's activation of its militant machinery....

Alongside, the effort is on to tar Burhan's iconic image as a radical hero, not only by highlighting his alleged role in acts of terrorist violence but also by spreading slanderous stories about his relations with women. Senior ministers castigated the national media for publicizing Burhan as the idol of the Kashmiri youth and thus romanticizing terrorism. Most Kashmiris, however, seem to think that the martyred Burhan will become a far more powerful mobilizer than he ever was in life....

As a historian who has long studied India's struggle for national freedom, I find much of this eerily similar to what I discovered in the archives about events from a hundred years ago. Let me give you an incident that took place in Calcutta in 1908. I choose this episode from the history of revolutionary nationalism in Bengal because the act of violence that led to the event is hardly susceptible to a romantic narration.

The Alipore conspiracy case was the first major trial in which a revolutionary group - the Jugantar - including in its ranks Aurobindo Ghose and his brother Barin, was accused of waging war on the State. British officials would come to describe such nationalist revolutionaries as 'terrorists'. It is worth remembering this in order to rid ourselves of the idea, unthinkingly held by many, that terrorism began with 9/11. One of the accused, Naren Gosain, had turned approver and was expected to testify against his leaders and comrades. Kanailal Datta, another accused, managed to smuggle a revolver into Alipore jail and killed Naren. There was no possibility of escape, of course. Kanai was tried and hanged on November 10, 1908; his body was then handed over to his family. To describe what happened next, let me turn to the official report. "An extraordinary scene was witnessed at Kalighat at the time of the cremation of Kanai... Crowds thronged the road, people pushing past one another to touch the bier... Many women, to all appearances of a highly respectable class, followed the funeral procession wailing, while men and boys thronged around shouting ' Jai Kanai'!"

Kanai's funeral procession was said to be the largest Calcutta had seen until then. The report made one more extraordinary observation. "After the cremation his ashes were being sold in Calcutta, as much as Rs. 5 an ounce being paid by some enthusiasts. It is believed that the supply was made to suit the demand, and that the vast amount of ashes sold in Calcutta as the ashes of Kanai Lal Dutt was fifty times the genuine amount that ever existed." …

Why were the men and women who jostled to follow Kanai's body to the cremation ground so moved by his death? … British officials were perplexed by this. They could not see that the specific nature, reason or effectiveness of the violent acts of Kanai or the other revolutionaries mattered little to their admirers. What made the revolutionaries figures of love and reverence was the pure selflessness of their acts, their refusal to calculate costs and benefits, gains and losses. It is this that turned their violent acts into acts of self-sacrifice because what came at the end was their inevitable death for the cause. This was in total contrast with the everyday politics of routine politicians, sapped of idealism by their daily compromises and soiled by the grease of money and power. British officials were even more puzzled when, in the following decades, the call of armed action against the British would draw hundreds of middle-class Bengali young men and women with college education into the secret revolutionary organizations.

Kashmiri nationalism stands at the same crossroads where Indian nationalism stood a hundred years ago. The democratic movement led by Sheikh Abdullah in the 1940s and 1950s which campaigned against the Dogra monarchy, carried out the most thoroughgoing land reforms anywhere in India, allied itself with the Indian National Congress and remained steadfast in its non-sectarianism, is now not even a distant memory. Both of its successor lineages led by the Abdullah and Mufti families, abetted by successive regimes in New Delhi, have squandered that legacy. The fact that elections are held and many people vote only means that they cannot do without the services that government provides; it says nothing about the people's political allegiance. The truth is that the entire state order in Kashmir has lost moral legitimacy.

That is how a new generation of Kashmiri youth makes sense of its condition. These young people are not militants; they do not shoot at the police. In fact, so-called terrorist violence and recruitment to militant organizations in Kashmir in the last three or four years have been lower than they have ever been since the 1990s. Young Kashmiris are now better educated than their elders and far more aware of what is going on in the rest of the world. They do not see the continuation of the present order as an acceptable option.

Azaadi is not the name for a blueprint of Kashmir's future political state. Rather it is a rejection of India's armed occupation and the declaration of the right of the Kashmiri people to decide its own future. Given the bankruptcy of the politics that has tried so far to accommodate Kashmir's national aspirations within the Indian federal system, there is a tendency now for the young to adopt an Islamist idiom to vent their demands. If this trend gets stronger, the best result might be a new popular movement, Islamist in temper but with deep roots in local communities. That is what happened in Palestine when Hamas rose to displace the discredited Palestine Liberation Organization. The worst outcome would be the burgeoning of jihadi groups that no one will be able to control.

To stop that slide, democratic nationalism in Kashmir must be given a genuine chance. That in turn will require a willingness to explore Constitutional options that are as yet taboo in India. Perhaps we should remember that Canada entirely rewrote its federal Constitution in order to resolve the Quebec question; even more radical was the political agreement that ended the Irish violence. No such breakthrough will be possible, however, as long as the current attitude prevails in both India and Pakistan of treating Kashmir as a site where the two countries are fighting a war, where every move is judged by whether it would go to India's advantage or Pakistan's, and where the lives of Kashmiri people are mere collateral damage. That is a recipe for treating Kashmir as a colonial possession.



(Excerpt from a piece by Arundhati Roy in Outlook, July 2016)

…While we denounce—as we must—the gunning down of unarmed protesters by the security forces, the attacks on ambulances and hospitals by policemen, and the blinding of teenagers with pellet guns, we have to keep in mind that the real debate cannot only be about the violation of human rights by Indian security forces in the Kashmir valley. Egregious though they are, those violations are the consequence—the inevitable and unavoidable consequence—of the militaristic suppression of a people’s struggle for freedom. Kashmiris are not fighting for the establishment of the rule of law or an end to human rights violations. They are fighting for azadi.

…It’s no use pretending that what the Indian government has on its hands is a fleeting law and order problem created from time to time by a fickle, volatile people. What is happening is a dangerous, spiralling crisis of unmanageable proportions in a region that is sandwiched between two hostile nuclear powers. For that reason alone it should concern the whole world.

If we really want address that crisis, if we really want to stop the endless cycle of killing and dying, if we really want to stem the haemorrhaging, the first step has to be a small concession to honesty. We have to have an honest conversation. However diverse the views may be, however opposed to one another—the subject of that conversation has to be azadi: What exactly does azadi mean to Kashmiris? Why can’t it be discussed? Since when have maps been sacrosanct? Should a people’s right to self-determination be denied at any cost? Are the people of India prepared to have the blood of thousands of ordinary people on their conscience? With what moral authority can we talk about all the other horrors being visited upon us, if we are prepared to swallow this one? Is the presumed “consensus” in India on the subject of Kashmir real or manufactured? Does it matter? In truth, it shouldn’t. What matters is what Kashmiris want, and how to arrive at that consensus in the most peaceful, democratic and informed way possible.

If there is to be a solution to this terrible, seemingly endless tragedy, we have to be able to think clearly, speak freely and listen fearlessly to things we may not want to hear. We have to find a new imagination. This applies to everybody, on all sides of the dispute.

Something beautiful could come of it. Why not? Why ever not?


Let's stop lying to ourselves about Kashmir

(Excerpt from a piece by Aakar Patel, executive director of Amnesty International India)

…This time, I was struck also by how lightly it was reported, and how easily it had been digested, that newspapers were banned in Kashmir. Business Standard wrote that the papers “claimed that their printing plates were confiscated by state police. These actions were not, reportedly, accompanied by any legal documentation—the newspapers’ editors said that the police neither registered a case, nor disclosed any particular reason for seizing copies.”

Would we accept that in Mumbai or Bengaluru? Representatives of the state with no paperwork being sent to shut down newspapers? No. Actually, make that yes. If soldiers regularly opened fire to kill and maim protesters in those cities, I assure you its journalists would not defy orders not to print.

The bravery of journalists, and all the bombast about protecting our freedoms, comes from the knowledge that we will not be manhandled in the manner India has the Kashmiris for decades.

…How should we respond today to Indian papers being refused the right to publish and distribute? Something we only imagine as happening in dictatorships? I think all of us editors, former and current, should hold a dharna in Srinagar. Arun Shourie, Shekhar Gupta, M.J. Akbar, Dileep Padgaonkar, Pritish Nandy, the assorted non-English press and—why not?—television and Web editors—Barkha Dutt, Ravish Kumar, Prannoy Roy, Rajdeep Sardesai, Arnab Goswami, Naresh Fernandes, Siddharth Varadarajan and the rest. That would show real solidarity for the cause, for integrity. And for the absolute rejection of the censoring of journalists.

The least we can do is to say no to propaganda, which continues to dominate the narrative.

No amount of slandering through nomenclature—jihadist, Pakistan supporter, terrorist, separatist—will make the murder of children by Indian forces acceptable to me.

I notice many here in government have begun to use the words of Pakistani politics. Such-and-such is a “sensitive issue” and because of that we must tiptoe around it. I cannot abide by this. I have no interest in letting this or any other government lecture me on what national interest is. I totally reject the idea that opposition to a state that is reckless and violent is wrong in any way.

For too long we have been silent about the manner in which the Indian state has conducted itself in Kashmir, the North-East and the Adivasi belt.

It is 2016 and it is embarrassing to lie about it to myself any longer.


Burhan Wani is dead but he'll live on till we find out what Kashmir really wants

(Excerpt from a column by Shobhaa De, July 17, 2016)

Kashmir is burning. It has been turned into an inferno of anger and inflamed passions. There is no way this blaze can be doused either by bullets or platitudes. Let’s yank off those blinkers and admit we may have failed spectacularly. If a tipping point was needed, 22- year-old Burhan Wani provided just that....

... No matter which label one sticks on the man (whose funeral attracted thousands this week), the incontrovertible fact is that Burhan Wani was seen as a powerful symbol of the unrest we are refusing to confront. By denouncing him and his supporters, neither will the unrest disappear, nor will Burhan Wani be forgotten. ...

... we have shut our eyes and minds. We don’t want to hear or see the naked reality of a tortured land that is suffering because of political decisions taken decades ago. Nobody is willing to ask Kashmiris the question: “What do YOU want?” Both warring sides are busy engaging in brutal tactics without bothering to find out what those most affected by the violence actually desire for themselves. It’s time we did just that. Before more lives get sacrificed, while successive governments play dangerous games with the populace.

... Why not display enough moral courage, and talk? Let sane voices prevail over lethal bullets. Tough. But not impossible. Let’s see if the present government has the guts to go ahead with a referendum to resolve the Kashmir crisis once and for all. Let’s end the lingering pain in the region and allow Kashmiris live in peace, with the dignity and harmony they are entitled to.


India's moral defeat in Kashmir

(Excerpt from a 2011 article in Al Jazeera by London-based Kashmiri novelist Mirza Waheed.)

... There are clear statutes in international law that apply to the treatment of civilian protesters and prisoners in conflict regions - the killings of 2010 may not go to The Hague, but there were what could be seen as 'acts of mass murder' throughout the summer of that year. It is also important to remember that no one has been held accountable, let alone punished for any of those murders, which by itself is a shameful indictment of the state's behaviour. And that is one of the many consequences and expressions of the abnormal structures that the state employs to deal with dissent and enforce normalcy - no one is held accountable, and therefore no one among those who wield the reins of power feels responsible even for mass murder....

... On the street, then, amidst a brutalised people who are expected to behave normally as an acquiescent citizenry, the state that wants the world to believe that Kashmir is an integral part of India is often found speaking the language of conquest. Martin Luther King's 'arc of the moral universe' does not bend towards justice in places such as Kashmir, it does not even begin to stir, because the compass is not still - it is comatose.

How does this almost completely dehumanised 'conflict management' (for neither India nor Pakistan have demonstrated any serious intent to resolve the dispute) impinge on the lives of ordinary people, and what are its goals with regard to the aspirations of those people?

... And conflict is very personal. When you grow up in Kashmir, you are troubled by some very fundamental questions: Why are my people being killed? Why am I in this crackdown? And why do they always use expletives when they talk to you? When a member of the armed forces talks to you, you are never addressed normally. You are always a 'maderchod' or 'behanchod'. Even an 'abeyy' would be honourable. Therefore, you see, you feel, you think, and even walk differently once you have witnessed your share of the brutality in play.

During my first year in Delhi, I was once walking near Pragati Maidan when I saw a Delhi police vehicle parked on the roadside. Instinctively, I started to run, to look for a place to hide.

That to me is complete brutalisation of a people. Apart from occasional shootings by unknown gunmen, and genuine battles between the armed forces and militants (it is hard to tell in the haze created by the fake 'encounter mafia' that rears its head from time to time); there is only one kind of terror that chills the hearts of parents of young men in Kashmir - the terror of the man in uniform.


Kashmir: A Second Babri Masjid For The BJP

(The Prime Minister thanked all parties for backing his Government and ‘speaking in India’s interests’ on Kashmir. While there were some parties that spoke up against the repression and stressed the need for dialogue on Kashmir, largely, even the main Opposition parties have indeed been part of the repressive ‘consensus’ on Kashmir. In Parliament, the debate on Kashmir witnessed the Samajwadi party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav declared that China was using Pakistan snatch Kashmir from India. On television, Congress spokesperson Alok Sharma said the BJP Government’s mistake was to hand over Burhan Wani’s body to his family; the UPA Government, he said approvingly, had buried Afzal Guru in jail. The question arises, can the agenda of secularism in India afford to ignore Kashmir? If Kashmir is the latest BJP-RSS vehicle for communalism and Islamophobia – as was witnessed in the JNU episode as well – surely the task of building democratic empathy and solidarity for Kashmir must become a crucial task for the secular movement? An excerpt from a piece by journalist Mahendra Mishra, translated from Hindi, makes an important point.)

Kashmir is a second Babri Masjid for the BJP. But it does not want to make the same mistake here that it made with the Babri Masjid. It does not want to demolish and thereby end it. The BJP will gain more by keeping the Kashmir issue alive than by resolving it. Therefore, it is not only stoking this fire, but wants to spread the flames all over the country. It sees many simultaneous gains in doing so. The issue is flavoured by the sweet-and-spicy double seasoning of communalism and nationalism. Moreover, the possibility of making it into another Gujarat 2002 is always there; a possibility Mr. Modi that earnestly seeks. Therefore, to expect a resolution to this problem while the BJP is in power is to build castles in the air. Communal politics is the first criterion of the BJP-Sangh Parivar, and their ultimate goal is the establishment of a fascist Hindu Rashtra. Until that goal is achieved every problem needs to stay alive.

It is no happenstance that a strange solution to the (Kashmir) problem is suggested in the inner echelons of the Sangh - that of dividing Jammu & Kashmir into three parts: Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. They speak of saving Jammu and Ladakh through this supposed solution, even if the price is to give away the Valley. Such talk gives strength to BJP’s argument that the Muslim community cannot live with India because they are not loyal to India; therefore we cannot live with them within the country, or, if they must live inside the country they must do so as secondary citizens. To give them rights would mean a new partition.

This is the strategy the Modi government is working on, and the results are beginning to be seen. Kashmir is once again headed in the direction of 1990 and Jagmohan Part-II is in process in the valley. As a result, the Kashmiri Pandits settled during the UPA government are returning to Jammu and are vowing never to go back to Kashmir. And finally, Modi’s desire to create an Israel and a Palestine within the country is being fulfilled.

Tu Han Kar Ya Na Kar

Tu Hai Meri K K K...

IN a Facebook post, in the context of Kashmir, AISA President Sucheta De recalled the sinister song by the obsessive stalker ‘hero’ of the 1998 Bollywood film Darr – ‘Tu Han Kar Ya Na Kar Tu Hai Meri Kiran’ (Whether you say Yes or No, you are mine Kiran). Here is a rough translation of what she wrote:

Those of you who say ‘Whether you say Yes or No you are an integral part,’ people are being killed every hour in Kashmir. Can you tell us whether those being killed there are sons or daughters of ‘Mother India’ as imagined by you? If you meant that why, instead of uttering a single word of mourning for them, are you celebrating?


Protests in Solidarity With Kashmir

CITIZENS and several progressive, democratic and left individuals and organisations have held protests in different parts of the country against the brutal assault by police, paramilitaries and armed forces in the Kashmir valley that have left over 40 dead, and several blinded and severely injured. These sections have come together in large numbers to condemn the violence unleashed by the state.

Delhi: On 13 July, several hundred including right civil rights activists, students, youth, artists, women’s organizations, left organisations and individuals, and several others gathered at Jantar Mantar for a silent protest march and protest meeting. Wearing black bands and holding banners and placards that carried names of those who had been killed during the protests, the protestors demanded an immediate end to these brutalities. Addressing the protest meeting, activist Shabnam Hashmi emphasized on the urgent need to end the ‘climate of impunity’ in Kashmir that allowed the state to become a murderer. She also pointed out the contrast in the way in which the violent, armed mobs were dealt in Harayana and Gujarat and the way the unarmed protestors were dealt with in Kashmir. Com. Kavita Krishnan, PB member of CPI (ML) spoke about the need to immediately repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the urgent necessity to initiate dialogue without preconditions with all sections of society in Jammu and Kashmir. She also stressed the need for all Indian citizens to come out and say that the Indian state cannot continue to butcher the people of Kashmir in their name. AISA leader and JNUSU VP, Com. Shehla Rashid also spoke about how the continued violence unleashed by the state and the humiliation meted out to the Kashmiris had led to young generations of Kashmiris feeling alienated. She stressed on the urgent need to demilitarize Kashmir.

Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu: On 17 July, CPI(ML) and AICCTU jointly organized a demonstration in Tirunelveli, demanding justice for Kashmiri people. Demonstrators held placards that read- “No to Bullets and Pellets and YES to political resolution of Kashmir issue”; ”No peace without Justice”, and “AFSPA should go”. Com. Kumarasamy, while addressing the protestors said that even as the Modi government says that Kashmir is a part of India, the people of Kashmir cannot be seen as enemies. The grievances of the Kashmiris demanded a political solution and not the army.

Patna: In Patna too, a protest of citizens led by CPI(ML) demanded an end to state violence in Kashmir. The protestors strongly condemned the barbaric killings of innocent citizens in Kashmir. The police responded to the protestors with the use of force.

Kolkata: Hundreds of protestors participated in a rally in Kolkata on 15 July to protest the ongoing killings in Kashmir by the Indian State. In Kolkata too the protestors carried placards with the names of civilians recently killed in Kashmir inscribed on it. Protestors raised slogans demanding withdrawal of AFSPA, PSA and the presence of the armed forces in Kashmir. Protestors expressed solidarity with the people of Kashmir and demanded that the Kashmiri demand for self-determination be addressed politically, not by repression.

Liberation Archive