Posts Tagged ‘Indian-administered Kashmir’

The Resentment Against Indian Rule Persists in Kashmir

August 10, 2010
By Raoof Mir, Foreign Policy Journal, Aug 10, 2010

People of Kashmir carry the body of a man shot by Indian police in Srinagar on August 3, 2010 (Press TV)
People of Kashmir carry the body of a man shot by Indian police in Srinagar on August 3, 2010 (Press TV)

Recently I was asked by one friend of mine who works as a reporter in a ‘reputed’ regional Telugu daily, the reasons for ‘gun culture’ and ‘stone pelting culture’ in the Indian administered Kashmir valley: “Why is it that people of Kashmir don’t peacefully complain about their problems to the government?”

I replied to him that it is the cynicism and the distrust of the people with the system. My friend didn’t ask me what that actually meant. I wanted to explain to him about the life of common people in Kashmir, the diabolical role of Indian army, and their impunity for human rights violations.I wanted to explain to him how a knock on the door late at night or sneaking away to smoke a cigarette at night sends spasms of anxiety through the people, afraid that this might be their last breath.

Continues >>

Kashmir death toll rises as India faces fresh protests

August 8, 2010
Women attend the funeral of Mohammad Iqbal, a Kashmiri youth, in Srinagar this week. Kashmiri separatist leaders have appealed for calm in the biggest anti-India protests in two years, which have killed dozens of people. Photograph: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

RAHUL BEDI in New Delhi, The Irish Times, August 7, 2010

THE DEATH toll from the recent round of recurring clashes between demonstrators and the security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir province is now close to 50.

Most of the dead were shot by the security forces for defying a curfew.

Since the middle of June, the Kashmir valley has been rocked by violent agitation. Protesters, angry over decades of repressive Indian rule over their disputed Muslim-majority Himalayan province, have hurled rocks and set government buildings and vehicles alight.

The demonstrators, mostly young men, have been joined by thousands of women, some carrying sticks and stones and chanting: “We want freedom” and “Blood for blood”.

Continues >>

More deaths in Indian-Administered Kashmir protests

July 6, 2010
Al Jazeera, July 6, 2010

Farooq called for an end to “killing of innocent
people” in Kashmir [AFP]

Three more people have been killed in continuing unrest in  Indian-administered Kashmir after police opened fire on demonstrators venting their anger over recent spate of killings in police firing.

The three, including a 16-year-old-boy, were shot dead on Tuesday after a large crowd took to the streets shouting “We want freedom” and hurled stones at the security forces in the city of Srinagar.

Mohammad Afzal, a police official, said, the fresh protests broke out after a body of a Kashmiri teenager was fished out from a rivulet.

Locals said the boy had jumped into the water in Srinagar and drowned while being chased by security forces during a demonstration on Monday evening.

Police said the teenager had pelted stones at security forces and and set fire to a police building.

Indian security forces have been accused of killing 15 people, mostly protesters, in less than a month in Kashmir, triggering the biggest anti-India demonstrations in the last two years.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a prominent separatist leader who led rallies on Tuesday, called for an end to the “killing of innocent people”.

“Protests and civil disobedience will continue until India withdraws its security forces from all populated areas, and punish those found guilty,” Farooq said.

“These killings will not deter us from pursuing our goal of independence.”

Separatists in Kashmir have fought against Indian rule for 20 years, campaigning for independence or for the region to join neighbouring Pakistan.

Rape and murder in Indian-held Kashmir

August 11, 2009

Militarization of Kashmir with impunity

By Angana Chatterji | ZNet, Aug 8, 2009

On May 29, 2009, as has been variously attested, Asiya Jan and Neelofar Jan were subjected to rape, reportedly by more than one perpetrator, and murdered. Ms. Asiya Jan and Mrs. Neelofar Jan were Muslim residents of Shopian town, in Shopian district, in Indian-administered Kashmir, and 17 and 22 years of age, respectively.

The security forces of India were implicated in the brutalization and death of Asiya Jan and Neelofar Jan.

For our report, and related photographs, short video clip, map, and secondary resources, see:

The events in Shopian of May-July 2009 are contextualized within a continuum of past violences and violations by the Indian military and paramilitary, and reciprocal relations between heightened militarization and social and gendered violence in Indian-administered Kashmir. The population of Shopian district numbers 2,00,000-2,50,000. The population of Kashmir was recorded at approximately 69,00,000 in 2008, with Muslims constituting approximately 95 percent of the population. Across Jammu and Kashmir, which includes Ladakh, approximately 67 percent of the population was of Muslim descent. Shopian town is home to approximately 60,000-70,000 residents. The military and paramilitary are hyper-present in and outside the town. At its limits are the police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camps. Beyond, the locality is surrounded by the Rashtriya Rifles (military) and various camps of the CRPF, in Gagaran, Batpora, Balpora and on Mughal Road. The Rashtriya Rifles stage flag marches and the CRPF regularly patrols the area. Since May 29, 2009, the CRPF established another camp near the site of the incidents, close to the police residential quarters, across the Rambi-Ara nullah (a tributary of a stream) beyond the edge of Shopian town. Approximately 3,000 police and personnel of the Special Operations Group (SOG) monitor the area. Further, about 20,000+ security forces personnel are deployed across Shopian district.

What is the ‘truth’ of the matter, who are in the know, and what is being shielded? While investigations into the events of May-June 2009 in Shopian have emphasized the procedural conduct of the police in their handling of the investigation, they failed to focus on the actual crimes that were committed, or the conduct of state institutions. The investigations in Shopian have not focused on the identification and prosecution of perpetrators or on addressing structural realities of militarization in Kashmir that foster and perpetuate gendered and sexualized violences, and undermine rule of law and justice. The investigations have instead concentrated on locating ‘collaborators’ and manufacturing scapegoats to subdue public outcry. ‘Control’ rather than ‘justice’ has organized the focus of the state apparatus, including all processes related to civic, criminal, and judicial matters.

Beginning May 30, 2009, throughout June, until July 16, 2009, for forty-seven consecutive days, civil society protests continued in Shopian town, led by the Majlis-e-Mushawarat and other groups, seeking justice, joined, in solidarity, by others across Kashmir. Daily life remained interrupted, economic and social life overrun. Through non-violent means, civil society continued to dissent the horrific events that transpired, the relationship of these events to military and paramilitary forces, the actions and impassivity of security forces and institutions, and those of the state. Civil society members reiterated that civil disobedience was the sole mechanism available to them via which to seek justice.

The events in Shopian and the broader structural and sustained context of militarization portray the reach of the security apparatus in Kashmir under what is not termed ‘military rule’. The conflict in Jammu and Kashmir has been ongoing since October 1947. A will to peace in Kashmir requires an attested commitment to justice, palpably absent in the exchanges undertaken by the Government of India and its attendant institutions with Kashmir civil society. The premise and structure of impunity connected to militarization, and corresponding human rights abuses, bear witness to the absence of accountability inherent to the dominion of Kashmir by the Indian state, and a refusal to take seriously the imperative of addressing these issues as the only way forward to a just peace. The international community continues to engage India in trade, commerce, military, nuclear, and cultural relations, without insisting on answerability for the violations committed by its government and military and paramilitary forces.

The events in Shopian marked the inability of the state apparatus to deliver justice in Kashmir. It remained incumbent on civil society institutions and international human rights groups and those working with issues of social justice to seek accountability.

Angana Chatterji is Convener of the International People’s Tribunal in Indian-administered Kashmir and Professor, Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies.

A Just Peace in Kashmir?

August 9, 2009

Reflections on Dynamics of Change

By Richard Shapiro | ZNet, Aug 8, 2009

Richard Shapiro’s ZSpace Page

What are the various roles that diverse constituencies must play to facilitate political processes that undo militarization and subjugation in Indian administered Kashmir? How can systemic structures that institutionalize violence, cultural annihilation, economic impoverishment, and political disempowerment be countered through non-violent, ethical resistance? What alliances are necessary to allow hope for overcoming cycles of oppression and breaking with histories of domination? How can international, national, and local actors and institutions work together to disrupt socially unnecessary suffering and ameliorate the conditions of existence? What forces must cohere to enable a just peace to emerge in a democratic Kashmir in the foreseeable future?

Numerous obstacles present tremendous challenges to movements for social justice. The current world order is predicated on systems of inequality that hierarchically divide countries, peoples, cultures, classes, genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and faith traditions to the benefit of the few and the detriment of the many. Dominant powers prescribe the rules of the game to their advantage and utilize knowledge, technology, and markets to structure social relations in their interests. The new global order presents itself as the best of all possible worlds in which sovereign nation-states organized through representative democracy, rule of law, free markets with government regulation, Enlightenment rationality, and human rights are promised as the solution to the problems of poverty, war, ecological devastation, genocide, and terrorism.

This dominant narrative of progress through the spread of capitalism organized in nation-states and guided by knowledge has attained hegemony as it has captured the imagination of postcolonial nations like India. Postcolonial nations have largely reproduced the structures of colonial oppression and organized themselves to become players in the existing global order as militarized, hyper-masculinized, nuclear powers measuring their worth on the basis of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Emerging middle-classes of massive proportion in postcolonial nations like India buttress this process of nation building that mirrors and enforces dynamics of globalization through the production of unparalleled poverty, massive and multiple dislocations, genocide of indigenous peoples, ecological disaster, and abundant psychological malaise. India is embraced by the international community, meaning largely the United States and Western Europe, precisely because it marches in step with the new world order. India amasses great cultural capital as “the world’s largest democracy” in spite of the fact that it is home to 40% of the worlds most economically destitute, and seeks to constitute itself as a nation through policies that disregard the needs of the vast majority of its population.

India is inventing nothing new in its self-constitution as a powerful nation-state. National identity is being fabricated through the equation of India with Hindus, in blatant form in entities like the RSS and BJP, and in more subtle form in the Congress and progressive Indian citizens for whom nationalism linked to ‘Hindu cultural reassertion’ is an unreflective response to a colonial past. The equation of Hinduism (unity in diversity) and Christianity with tolerance for difference, and Islam with terrorism, backwardness, and fanaticism, functions as a global trope supportive of unleashing disproportionate violence on Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine, as well as within the territory of India in Gujurat, Orissa, and in the ‘disputed territory’ of Kashmir. India forms itself as nation with unexamined Hindu majoritarianism at its base, just as unexamined Christian cultural dominance organizes the United States, rendering explorations of the links between religionization, nationalism and particular secularisms close to impossible. India is also typical in its self-formation as nation in fashioning internal and external enemies as crucial to defining itself, and super-exploiting its most proximate ‘others’ to fuel its prosperity. European nations had the Jew as internal enemy. The United States is founded on the backs of its twin others – enslaved Africans and massacred Native Americans.

India has as its main ‘internal other’ the Muslim, who can take no solace in also occupying the role as external enemy in India’s dominant narrative. This double site is what the state uses to legitimate the brutalization of the Kashmiri people. Firstly, there is India’s need for a majority Muslim state within its borders to legitimate itself as a progressive, pluralistic, secular nation. Without a Muslim majority state within India, India cannot as easily legitimate itself as a progressive member of the new global order. Secondly there is India’s need to establish national identities that take precedence over regional, local, traditional identities. As a nation, India is in the process of seeking: (1) to establish territorial dominion over the current boundaries of the nation, (2) attain a monopoly on the means of violence, and (3) organize human and natural resources to enhance the productivity and power of the nation. Every nation that has achieved the normative status of modern democracy has utilized sustained and prolific violence to realize these three imperatives and in the process establish its identity. India is in a very vulnerable moment in this process as is evident from an examination of the myriad territories and forces fighting for autonomy in some form from the Indian state. Part of the strategy to foster national identity, simultaneous to providing very little to the vast majority of its population, and in fact fostering mal-development that impoverishes and displaces poor, rural ‘citizens’, is to fabricate an ‘us’ that must protect itself from ‘them’. Without internal enemies India cannot unify itself as a nation.

This internal enemy is also resolutely claimed as integral to India. The state and its loyal subjects repeat the same refrain: ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India.’ ‘Kashmir is integral to India.’ Kashmir is the other that is integral to the self, a difference that is integral to the identity of India. How then does India treat this other, this integral difference? To debase, devalue, disrespect, destroy the people, culture, history, land, waters, aspirations, imaginations, passions, thoughts, of this other that is claimed as integral to self reveals much about India’s current state of existence. What other measure is available to us to assess ourselves as ethical entities than how we treat the other, how we engage the differences to which we are ethically obliged to respond? What nation has satisfactorily answered to this call? If a day arrives when Kashmir is ‘a nation unto itself’, independent and sovereign, an equal to all other nations, will Kashmir point the nation-state in a new direction? Will the differences integral to Kashmir be respected, affirmed, heard and engaged? Will ‘the other’ be the call to ‘the self’ to practice hospitality? Will the Gujur, the village woman who buried loved ones and waits in silence for words of/from other loved ones, the atheist, the ardent believer, the Shia, the Sufi, the pundit, the Buddhist, the differently abled, the homosexual, the beggar, the prostitute, be welcomed as participants in constructing a nation that will be ‘a light unto other nations’? Will the other be welcomed without the demand or structural incentive to assimilate, to mirror/mimic dominance to be recognized as human? These questions are too much, perhaps even unfair. Yet, is it not necessary to raise them?

Kashmir occupies a literal and imaginary border as inside and outside of India in ways that structure an impossible predicament. The state (and its elites and middle-classes) does not trust Kashmiris whose allegiance is always presumed to lie with Pakistan as an Islamic Republic, thus denying Kashmiris the rights of citizens of India, while asserting the inviolability of its sovereignty over Kashmir as a secular, democratic nation governed by equality under rule of law. The distrust legitimates military rule organized through special laws as necessary to provide law and order as a matter of internal security. Thus, on the basis of being part of a democratic state, the rights granted citizens of such a state are denied to Kashmiris. Inclusion in nation is coupled with dispossession from historical memory, rights, and life. India legitimates its mistreatment through a logic originating with European nation-states. This denial of civil and human rights, rule of law, and the freedoms of citizenship to Kashmiris is because the state must protect itself from forces within itself that threaten its character as a lawful, democratic nation. India must violate what is most inviolable, through a state of exception (the use of law to suspend law as definitive of sovereignty), to protect itself. The discourse requires the allegiance of the Kashmiri people to India, as proof that Kashmiris are not what the nation suspects – traitors and terrorists, as precondition to access to the rights of citizenship. These same rights of citizenship provided by the nation, while denied to Kashmiris, are used by India to justify its claims to being a legitimate state entitled to act as it does in Kashmir. As a legitimate state, India is predicated on civil rights and rule of law that it may legitimately suspend in the name of national security. Kashmiris must align with India given this legitimacy, while living as subjects without rights in so far as the state defines them as a threat to its sovereignty. India must violate what gives it legitimacy in order to protect itself from the internal enemy integral to it. India must destroy itself to protect itself. The state of exception produces a state of autoimmunity. India is also asserting itself as superior to other regional nation-states, and an emerging player in relation to Western Europe and the United States. Like other powerful democracies, India is entitled to do whatever is necessary to fight terrorism and strengthen itself as a powerful, sovereign, capitalist nation, aligned with the movement of progress (dominance).

Kashmiris are placed in a situation where allegiance to India as prerequisite to participation in a lawful democracy involves allegiance to a state that has no rational basis to demand or expect allegiance from the people of Kashmir. India needs to exaggerate the degree of cross-border infiltration and armed Islamist militancy to rationalize 500,000+ troops, blurred boundaries between police and army, and massive intervention in daily life through systematic surveillance, land seizures, checkpoints, torture, disappearances, gendered and sexualized violence, fake encounter deaths and countless daily humiliations calculated to break the spirit of the Kashmiri people. This reality is currently resisted through mass demonstrations, regular protests, strategic use of elections, strategic boycott of elections, navigating restrictions on ‘free press’, civil society mobilizations, legal cases, an International Tribunal, and regular acts of dignity, courage, and faith that characterize the present in Kashmir. India demonstrates the persona all too common in the ‘league of nations’ – to act with impunity and disregard for international law and local demands for justice. India uses this fiction of the Kashmiri as existing in the shadowy space of inside/outside the nation to legitimate an occupation that ignores the historical particularity of Kashmir and the promises made to the people of Kashmir to determine its own future. The plight of Kashmiri pundits also becomes an opportunity for the state to legitimate regularized violence and systematic oppression of Kashmiris. Were all Kashmiris, whether currently residing in the state of Jammu/Kashmir or elsewhere, to be given voice to express their will, free from coercion, retribution, and manipulation, the outcome would not be in doubt.

Kashmir is the longest standing disputed area in the United Nations, the most militarized spot on earth, and a drain on the hopes for prosperity, peace and freedom for people throughout the subcontinent, and the world. There is no moving toward peaceful coexistence between India and Pakistan, no stabilization of the region, no possibility for global nuclear disarmament, no hope for forms of development that prioritize sustainability and cultural survival over militarization, urbanization, and middle-class consumerism, no space for the impossible healing through mourning/memorializing the trauma of Partition, without granting self-determination to the people of Kashmir.

The realization of that which is demanded by rationality in service of justice and emancipation is always against the odds. In relation to Kashmir, a more peaceful future requires at least four interrelated movements: (1) Massive, non-violent, ethical dissent within Kashmiri civil society must continue and expand, attentive to alliances that build stronger relations between men and women, youth and adults, various faith communities, urban and rural, rich and poor, facilitative of inclusive forms of polity that enable a diverse, pluralistic movement for freedom. (2) Leadership must form a unified coalition that activates and learns from the multiple constituencies that make up Kashmiri society. Divergent desires and imaginations regarding the future of Kashmir should be encouraged and discussed, outside the search for homogeneity or conformity. A Kashmir free of subjugation should enable multiple forms of life through participatory democracy, just governance, and economic practice promoting health, education, and individual and collective prosperity. Natural resources, like water, should be both safeguarded, and utilized for sustainable development. Cultural heritage should be understood as an inheritance of all Kashmiris to fashion a unique society nurturing hospitality, innovation, and multicultural polity. (3) Education and mobilization to shift public opinion in India must be undertaken throughout civil society to expand pressure on the Indian state. Citizen delegations from the various states and communities of India must visit Kashmir to learn first hand about the atrocities, resistances, hopes, and concerns prevalent in Kashmir. Such delegations must bring their new understandings to their neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and places of worship to facilitate discussion and reflection that expand the voices of those who demand that illegal and immoral action in Kashmir done in their name immediately cease. Institutions in India must sponsor delegations from Kashmir, composed of diverse peoples who constitute Kashmiri society, to share the realities they have suffered and the need for alliance toward justice. Hindu faith communities must forge relationships with social justice movements in civil society in Kashmir to oppose Hindu majoritarian dominance and insist that the Indian state demilitarize the state of Jammu & Kashmir, become accountable to international agreements, rule of law, and human rights as the first step on the road to affirming the right of Kashmir to self-determination. Universities and the press must play a strong role in addressing the history and present of Kashmir to empower students and the citizenry of India to participate as informed members of a democratic republic, whose resources and conscience are systematically misused and violated by their government. (4) International solidarities from citizens, governmental and non-governmental organizations, students, workers, professionals, public intellectuals, faith communities, and all interested parties must be organized to educate, inform, advocate, and mobilize for the liberation of Kashmir. International institutions must be both utilized and strengthened as legitimate sites able to hold nation-states legally accountable for their actions. Research, education, and publication on the reality of present-day Kashmir and its modern history must be supported by and within universities, think tanks, and civil society forums. Campuses must become sites where students mobilize themselves to exert public pressure to ethically resolve the situation in Kashmir. Resistance in all four ‘sites’ must struggle to establish alliances, clarify goals, mobilize resources, deconstruct desires, and carve out space where different forms of polity and community, promoting ethical dissent, may live.

To commit to these practices secures no guarantees. The process must draw from the resolve of Kashmiris to struggle for justice and strengthen this resolve through principled alliance that breaks the isolation and despair that accompanies any people subjected to brutal mistreatment. The multiple legacies that inspire and haunt us must become the very sustenance that, through sharing, nurtures our struggle. Allow me to conclude by drawing from a source common to the three Abrahamic traditions, and of universal relevance in the present, Deuteronomy 16:20, Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue.

Richard Shapiro is Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

India: Violent Gods

August 2, 2009

A ZNet Book Interview

By Angana Chatterji | ZNet,  July 31, 2009

Angana Chatterji’s  ZSpace Page

A Book Interview on Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present; Narratives from Orissa

Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, “Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present; Narratives from Orissa” is about? What is it trying to communicate?

Violent Gods’is an exploration of Hindu nationalism in India today. It details the mobilization of Hindu militant organizations as an authoritarian movement manifest throughout culture, polity, state, and economy, in religion and law, and class and caste, on gender, body, land, and memory… across the nation. The book explores that ways in which Hindu cultural dominance is manufacturing India, an emergent empire, as a ‘Hindu-secular’/Hindu majoritarian state.

As a woman of postcolonial India, of Hindu descent, ‘mixed’ caste heritage, the book is a journey in speaking with history. In freeing itself from British dominion in 1947, the Indian nation was shaped, in great part, by the will of the Hindu majority. Hindu cultural dominance has substantially defined what constitutes the ‘secular’ and ‘democratic’ in India today. Accountability demands that those of us with privilege in relation to ‘nation’ speak up, intervene. Telling a story of Hindu dominance in India is an intervention, ‘telling’ is a call to action.

Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

This book maps what I have witnessed — the architecture of civic and despotic governmentality contouring Hindu majoritarianism and nationalism in public, domestic, and everyday life. It chronicles the sustained and unchecked violences against minority Christian and Muslim communities, Adivasis (tribals) and Dalits (former ‘untouchable’ groups), and women, as well as sexual identity groups and children.

The book is a genealogical exploration of Hindu nationalism in India, with an ethnographic focus on Orissa, in eastern India, where Hindu nationalism’s terror has been prevalent since the 1990s, and where planned riots against minority peoples were carried out in 2007 and 2008. The research was conducted between 2002-2008 in urban and rural settings across Orissa in 66 villages, 11 towns, and four cities. The book records spectacles, events, public executions, the riots in Kandhamal of December 2007 and August-September 2008, as we witness the planned, methodical politics of terror unfold in its multiple registers.

In writing the book, I have made eighteen research trips to Orissa, and engaged in advocacy work on the issue. In 2005-2006, I convened the Orissa People’s Tribunal on Communalism, which was targeted, and its women members threatened with violence, by Hindu militant groups. See Human Rights Watch:

The book is situated at the intersections of Anthropology, Postcolonial, Subaltern, and South Asia Studies, and asks questions of nation making, cultural nationalism, and subaltern disenfranchisement. As a Foucauldian history of the present, this text asserts the role of ethical knowledge production as counter-memory. Through situated reflection, experimental storytelling, and ethnographic accounts, it excavates Hindutva/Hindu supremacist proliferations in manufacturing imaginative and identitarian agency for violent nationalism.

What are your hopes for “Violent Gods”? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

At the release of the book in Orissa in April 2009, I was asked if the book would provide solutions for undoing Hindu militancy and dominance in India. Books, if we are so fortunate, complicate matters further. I remain hopeful that “Violent Gods” will energize discussion, debate, contemplation about India’s present and future, the role and violence of majoritarian states and groups globally, about privilege and subalternity, security, rights, and entitlements, about freedom and dissent. I remain hopeful that the many and powerful subaltern voices and narratives in the text will compel reflection.

The learning and advocacy that led to the book has engulfed and motivated me since 2002, and facilitated shifts in my thinking, empowered me to act, to take risks as an intellectual and activist. And, for people with prolific courage that supported its writing, with their stories, their lives, at risk of reprisal — I am grateful.

In India, we witnessed the ethnic cleansing of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in 1984, genocidal violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, calculated and sustained brutality against Christians in Orissa in 2007 and 2008, and the continued subjugation of Indian-administered Kashmir. On and on… We need to think, act, change. NOW.

“Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present” by Angana P. Chatterji, from Three Essays Collective, released March 2009. More information at:

To look inside the book:

What freedom means in Kashmir

September 16, 2008

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Srinagar

A pro-freedom procession in Kashmir

People have raised Pakistani flags in recent demonstrations

The newspaper headlines in the mainly Muslim valley in India-administered Kashmir say it all.

‘Freedom is sweet, no matter how it comes’, says one. ‘People pray for freedom,’ chimes another, reporting on Friday prayers in the valley.

A row over transferring land for a Hindu pilgrimage escalated into a nationalist upsurge in the valley in recent months. Some 30 people have died after security forces fired on protests here. Many say the relative calm at present is just the lull before another storm.

In the eye of the storm is the demand for azadi (freedom) for people living in the valley; the latest bout of unrest has brought the contentious issue back into the limelight again.

For many Indians the demand strikes at the heart of the ‘idea of India’, of a nation that is capable of handling diversity and staying united.

State of mind

But for many of the majority Muslims living in the valley, freedom is the only way to get their pride back. It is the only way, they say, India can redeem itself in the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri.

No wonder, the streets in the valley were agog with cries for freedom during the huge protest processions that the recent crisis triggered off.

People have waved Pakistani flags and belted out pro-Pakistani slogans although, as Booker-prize winning writer Arundhati Roy says, it “would be a mistake to assume that the public expression of affection for Pakistan automatically translates into a desire to accede to Pakistan”.

This time, the call for Kashmiri freedom is coming from a generation of young and restless men and women who grew up during the troubled 1990’s when the valley was wracked by separatist insurgency.

On Kashmir streets, the yearning for freedom is a state of mind.

In a middle-class neighbourhood in Budgam where two young men were killed by security forces during recent protests, Sheikh Suhail, a 24-year-old mass communications student, makes no bones about it.

“We want azadi,” he says, days after he buried a friend who was shot down in the protest.

A Srinagar resident being frisked by Indian troops

People say they want ‘freedom’ from Indian forces

“Nobody quite knows what it will mean for us. We don’t know whether we will survive it. I only know that we want freedom from both India and Pakistan,” he says.

Across town, in the bustling Dalgate area, Sayed Zubair, a government school teacher, is seething after the security forces shot down his elderly neighbour during a recent curfew.

“We live in fear. A free Kashmir is the only solution to make us feel safe,” he says.

His neighbour, Hilal Ahmed, a bank manager, says freedom can help Kashmiris get rid of a twin “stigma”.

“India says it is the biggest democracy in the world. Living in Kashmir, we do not get any sense of that. Being a Kashmiri is a curse, being a Muslim is a crime. So we are doubly disadvantaged in these troubled times.

“The only way to set things right is to India get out of our lives and leave us free.”

So what does freedom mean for most Kashmiris?

Does it mean a sovereign state? Or does it mean greater autonomy? Many people here say that they prefer a form of self-rule. Does freedom from India mean accession with Pakistan? Or does freedom mean India pulling out its half a million or so troops in the state?

Eroded autonomy

For people like Suhail freedom is an intense sentiment. It is, they say, a breaking off from the “oppressive shackles” of the Indian state. For others like political scientist Dr Noor Ahmad Baba and women’s activist Dr Hameeda Nayeem, it is something more substantial.

Many analysts say that the autonomy that Kashmir enjoys under the Indian constitution has been eroded considerably and it is time that the Indian government worked out a new deal for its people.

Dal Lake in Srinagar

Tourism is a big draw in Kashmir

Dr Noor Ahmed Baba says that when most Kashmiris say they want freedom, they do not necessarily mean seceding from India.

“The overwhelming people here want independence. But it does not mean a sovereign state. It could be a higher degree of autonomy rooted in a larger understanding with India and Pakistan, both of whom who would pledge not to interfere.

“For us freedom also means more choices about reviving our old trade, cultural and economic roots. We want to come out of seclusion,” he says.

Dr Hameeda Nayeem says Kashmiris want self-governance and great internal sovereignty – that is what freedom could essentially mean.

“Let us define self-governance. Whether it will be more autonomy or self-rule. Our borders could be jointly managed by India and Pakistan. We want soft borders and free flow of goods.”

She points to the example of the tiny kingdom of Bhutan and wonders why Kashmir cannot have the status of a “protected state” of India like Bhutan.

How could a beautiful valley – with an approximate area 15,520 sq km, only a sixth of the size of Bhutan – cope as an independent country?

‘Not realistic’

Omar Abdullah, head of the mainstream National Conference party, admits that that “freedom sentiment” is serious, but has grave doubts about its feasibility.

“How realistic is it? Will Kashmir ever be really free even if it becomes independent, surrounded as it is by India, China and Pakistan?” he wonders.

A pro-Kashmir protest in Kashmir

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir

“How free can it be? What happens to Pakistan-administered Kashmir?

“Freedom is not an option. I have yet to see a model of freedom which convinces me that Jammu and Kashmir as a viable independent entity”.

The irony is that nothing that is being debated in the valley is new.

The builder of modern India and its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, spoke about a plebiscite in Kashmir and independence for the state with its defence guaranteed by both India and Pakistan.

And Mr Nehru’s letter to the maharajah of Kashmir four months after India’s independence in 1947 was also chillingly prescient.

“It is of the most vital importance that Kashmir should remain with the Indian Union,” he wrote.

“But, however much we may want this, it cannot be done except through the goodwill of the mass of the population.

“Even if military forces held Kashmir for a while a later consequence may be a strong reaction against this.

“Essentially, therefore, this is a problem of psychological approach to the mass of the people and of making them feel they will be benefited by being in the Indian Union.

“If the average Muslim feels that he has no safe and secure place in the Union, then obviously he will look elsewhere. Our basic policy must keep this in view, or else we fail.”

Protests continue in Kashmir

August 16, 2008
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Srinagar, Aug 15: It seemed all roads of the City Friday led to Lal Chowk where thousands of people hoisted green flags on the historic Clock Tower forcing the otherwise trigger-happy paramilitary CRPF troopers and policemen to flee from the spot.
It was a complete reversal of roles at the Clock Tower as in the morning senior CRPF officers had hoisted Tricolor there, recited National anthem and distributed sweets among troopers to mark the Independence Day.
Hours later thousands of youth from various parts of the city assembled near the Clock Tower, shouted anti-CRPF and pro-freedom slogans and hoisted green flags on it. The CRPF troopers on duty nervously looked on.
As more people kept pouring on the spot, the CRPF troopers fearing trouble took positions behind their armored vehicle. Sensing the aggressive mood of the protesters, the CRPF troopers later ran away from the spot.
In the meantime, the senior superintendent of police, Srinagar, Syed Afadul Mujtaba, reached the spot with large number of policemen. As the cops, laced with batons and tear smoke guns, led by the SSP gradually walked towards the protesters, they abruptly stopped after hundreds more joined the protests.
Emotions ran high when the angry protesters started to move towards the cops. However, some elders among the protesters formed a human chain to prevent clashes with the police. To prevent the situation from escalation, the SSP ordered his men to move away from the spot. Before dispersing, some cops and CRPF troopers took pictures of the procession.
When the procession gradually dispersed through Budshah Chowk, a group of youth formed a ring, huddled and shouted pro-freedom and anti-CRPF slogans.
“The Indian troops have been hoisting Indian flags on the clock tower on January 26 and August 15. Unfurling green flags on the tower is our symbolic way to register our protests against illegal occupation of Kashmir,” they said.
The CRPF troopers residing in a nearby building peeped through the windows as the procession dispersed. After an hour, the CRPF troopers appeared near the tower. As deafening sounds of tear smoke shells from the nearby Habba Kadal area rattled the air, the CRPF troopers watched the green flags being waved by the strong evening breeze.

Oh the Pangs of Reunion: Reversing 1947

August 11, 2008

Tanveer Ahmed, August 8, 2008

Blunt realism can lead one to the depths of darkness and despair, idealism invariably provides scope for hope…

Indeed, it’s time for people in Jammu and the Valley to trade in their verminous polemics and self-destructing demeanour to prepare for the lofty heights of economic dynamism, communal cohesion and environmental revitalisation. Meanwhile, the governments of India and Pakistan should each swallow an ample dose of sober medication and realise it’s time to confess; “We tried for almost 61 years to control the tempo, fracture the identity and dictate the destiny of Kashmir: We’re terribly sorry, it hasn’t worked out well for any of us, not least because we attempted to defy nature: It’s over to you folks, we both hereby concede that you’re more than capable of reversing the mess we’ve put you in.”

(An imaginary and quite wishful quote no doubt – but to paraphrase the venerable Kashmiri pandit film-maker Sanjay Kak “The obnoxious silence has to break.”)


The Kashmiri people, be they Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist, are an incredibly accommodating lot. Judging by how they’ve overlooked and tolerated the rule of ‘outsiders’ in these past few centuries; functioning as a tug of the pernicious post ‘47 two-nation theory was an absolute given. Pakistan tried in earnest to make the Muslim much more of a Muslim than he needed to be while India gradually did much the same to the Hindu. Where did that leave the poor Hindus in Pakistan or the hapless Muslims in India? Marooned in their very own ancestral abode!

The millions of ‘desis’ that had been forcibly uprooted from either side of the un-natural divide, found it excruciatingly difficult to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones, left behind or killed in cold-blooded communal frenzy. The Sikh of Rawalpindi (undivided India and post partition Pakistan) who escaped with his bare life to Jallandhar (India), didn’t merely change his address in the Punjab, it was a blood-soaked divided Punjab. His centuries old identity and ancestral roots were ripped in exchange for a new identity, which defined his roots as enemy territory. The Muslim from pre-‘47 Agra (India) led a contorted existence in Karachi (Pakistan), her family members who didn’t migrate with her became her nascent nation’s enemies.

As the decades passed by, progress and development for India and Pakistan was a laborious struggle. Amongst other factors, unprecedented population growth and unhealthy military expenditure made post-colonial restructuring nigh on impossible for both countries. Whilst poverty in the region rippled; education, health and infrastructure were coldly sacrificed. Intellectual and artistic advancement was and still is sadly, deemed a luxury, ill-affordable to a pair of overly paranoid nation states.

Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India were an existential threat to each other and so sermonised Doordarshan and PTV, not to forget Radio Pakistan or All-India Radio. Their favourite playground for battle was of course Kashmir, attrition after attrition. The intelligence agencies of India and Pakistan, in conjunction with local lackeys; ensured that the Kashmiris were forever obliging hosts. Dissension or god-forbid obstruction was never an option. Pakistan’s “Jugular Vein” (Shah Ragh-Urdu) and India’s “Integral Part” (Atoot Ang-Hindi) were loaded oxymorons that quite literally made morons of the Kashmiri mentality.

Setting aside the moral liability of nuclearisation for just a moment, 1998 was a year of technological accomplishment for the region. Both countries demonstrated vigour to defy the “International Community”. Nevertheless, Kashmir as an issue that accompanied the creation of Pakistan and independence of a crippled India was the perfect binary foil that prevented the “International Community” from prolonging its dismay. The “Islamic” and “Hindu” bombs were here to stay.

1999 and Kargil’s fiasco; followed by 9/11 have mercifully in retrospect, changed the modus operandi, if not modus vivendi, from the proverbial ‘war-war’ to ‘jaw-jaw’.

Dialogue and communication as a means of conflict resolution, is not only plausible, efficient, cost-effective and positively natural. For Kashmiris of whatever persuasion, it’s the only possible method; an alternative simply did not and will not exist. It would be far too rich and ludicrous for either India or Pakistan to suggest any indigenous provocation of violence. Contrary to what some Kashmiris and others have suggested, there is little evidence of any of the many ethnicities in Kashmir espousing martial instincts.

Moving on to the “irreversible Peace Process” initiated in January 2004; this has thankfully proven to be the freshest of fresh airs since 1947. Both entities have shown an element of maturity and resolve, tit-for-tat provocations notwithstanding. Dialogue between Indian and Pakistani civil society has invoked and propelled fresh thinking as well as nostalgia of an un-divided past. Ruefully, at the insistence of both countries, most of this ‘dialogue’ has taken place outside the region in the wider “International Community”. Both governments still feel it un-nerving and unsafe for barrier-breaking intra-dialogue and initiatives to take root in the region.

Of utter frustration to the Kashmiri is that any peace dividends that have accrued so far have been primarily gobbled up by the Indian and Pakistani national. Movement between the two countries has increased exponentially while between the two parts of Kashmir, it’s still barely a trickle. The contrast is startling if one considers that many ‘well-connected’ Indians and Pakistanis have travelled to each other’s country on numerous occasions and at will, to “merry-make” while there are ample Kashmiris belonging to divided families, who have yet to meet their siblings after 61 years!

Intra-Kashmir movement and dialogue, though unprecedented has been lacklustre to say the least. By extension, reference may be extended to economic activity, cultural interaction, administrative reform and well…the list is endless. In short, India and Pakistan have not kept pace with global socio-economic/geo-political changes: Elements of an ‘Iron Curtain’ reminiscent of the ‘Cold War’ are starkly evident, particularly in Kashmir. Their respective administrative mechanisms are not quite equipped or even focused on speeding things up, both having a tendency of getting bogged down in inevitable cul-de-sacs. Old habits do die hard!

A bit of historical perspective

It’s an indisputable fact that pre-colonial India was an economic powerhouse of global proportion (in relative terms, way ahead of it’s current trajectory) and a fabulous specimen of world-class culture and art; driven by an amazing array of diversity in food, clothes, language and construction; organised and administered by a harmonious fusion of Hindu/Muslim spirit.

Ideas, people, goods and services in whatever dimension flowed freely. If an artisan of Attock (NWFP/Punjab-Pakistan) decided one day that he wished to venture East for work…his destination may well have been no less than modern day Myanmar….traversing the breadth of modern day Pakistan, India and Bangladesh…others of his ilk had little hesitation in setting up home en-route, if a place took their fancy…indeed, Tagore’s “The Kabuli Wallah” fails to escape reminiscence.


In its current collective predicament and despite modern advancement in transport and information networks, the region has poisoned itself with a mad concoction of Westphalia and inappropriate religious fuel, amidst a rotten basket of other self-inflicted ills. As a consequence, entities within the historic ‘whole’, repeatedly fail to recognise the humane aspirations of those it has been programmed to categorise as the ‘other’, this blinds it from visualising the stupendous potential; that a harmonised region with an efficient governing structure can deliver.

Pakistan and India, despite their vast potential, have cultivated fractured societies with fault-lines in every direction. Pro & anti-US, extremist-moderate, local-national, Muslim-Hindu, pro-establishment & anti, Punjabi-Other, progressive-traditional, spiritual-material, Aryan-Dravidian even etc etc. Though both are unanimous on progress, they are blinkered on any form of reform or revision: In the meantime, those who consider themselves victimised and/or isolated, are screaming out for recognition and opportunity.

A major irritant is the glut of misinformation that public opinion is subjected to. There is only one way to make democracy work: to provide accurate, unbiased information and contextual education, particularly of our common history.

An example from another tormented region may be apt: Alan Hart is a seasoned British journalist with arguably unrivalled exposure to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The following is an excerpt from an interview he gave to last month.

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“Most citizens throughout the Judeo-Christian world are totally ignorant about the truth of history. I’m a classic example. I came out of my mother’s womb conditioned by Zionism’s version of history. It took me 12 to 15 years of being an ITN TV reporter to actually get to the other side of the story. I can understand how people who didn’t have my exposure to it don’t challenge.”

The Kashmiris are akin to being stuck in a sardine can, compelled to either defer to India or Pakistan. Lack of freedom to evolve their own identity, traps them in the communal mess that we repeatedly witness.


The current crisis in Indian-administered Kashmir has the un-needed potential of repeating the horrors of 1947. The symptoms are all clearly visible. There is ample human potential in the region, forever un-utilised and repressed; conditions perfect for dancing towards collective doom.

The peace process at its current pace is blatantly ill-equipped to neutralise the situation. India and Pakistan simply do not have the requisite time or the broad strategy necessary to solve a problem which has thus far, exasperated them and caused an unwanted shift of focus from their respective schedules. If anything, a hands-on approach on their part could exacerbate the tension. When people are suffocating on one side (Valley) and lava-laden on the other (Jammu), military instruction/obstruction or ‘intelligent’ manipulation could cause an uncontrollable eruption.

There is ample evidence to suggest that Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir are galvanising and by extension contemplating isolation of the minority Hindu community. As death tolls rise and economic activity on the Jammu road from the Valley dwindles to a complete halt, consequential blocking of India’s only surface route in and out of Kashmir could be a precursor to a communal division of the state. Anathema for the construction of a global “super-power”, forever exposing the region to become servile to the machinations of ‘others’.


Solidifying the whole region; not on communal lines but by re-aligning diversity to the whole region. Pakistan and India need to get over the idea of restricting movement via borders and imposing separate identities. It is important for both to not come across as inveterate narcissists who do not like to be crossed. They should provide an historic opportunity for Kashmiris to demonstrate how calmly they can, through penetrating dialogue and inspiring initiative, solve problems that have afflicted the State. This will change the perception of seeing the Kashmiris as a liability to witnessing them as a force that cements the region together.

Thus far, political rhetoric alluding to some of the above has not been translated into practice. Those who can instigate a change in approach are metaphorically tied in chains e.g. writers, artists, activists and other energetic members of civil society. Whereas, lackadaisical technocrats and bureaucrats, wearing the badge of either country are given the duty of enacting the rhetoric.

That doesn’t work. It raises false hopes at best and repeatedly exemplifies a frustrating inability to bridge the gap between political decisions and implementation on the ground. We’re not living in the 5th century BC; this is the age of instant communication, overt round-the-clock economic consciousness and unbridled movement of people and ideas.

If one were to sincerely make an effort to convert looming tragedy into benign opportunity, the current scenario could be viewed as “The Pangs of Reunion”, an actual desire by the public to revert the region back to it’s natural formation, minus borders of course.

A broad strategy could focus on provisioning a return of religious space to the Hindus and Sikhs who were forced to leave Pakistan and Pak-administered Kashmir. Hence re-vitalising their ancestral roots and giving those areas the much-needed diversity they have sorely lacked for 61 years. L.K. Advani and others should work vigorously with the Pakistani establishment to re-create Hindu space in Pakistan, especially in his home province of Sindh where remaining Hindus live in isolation.

Giving the Hindus and Sikhs who live in the border areas of Indian-administered Kashmir, an opportunity to rebuild their mandirs and gurdwaras in their ancestral land in Pak-administered Kashmir is a crucial part of this suggestion.

In light of all above, Amarnath is but a minor issue, perhaps not worth the environmental degradation and political agitation that it has evoked. Symbolising it as a landmark of the re-union of the sub-continent could have unlimited positive consequences.

The 61 year old Indo-Pak mess could be transformed into giving the Kashmiris what the Moghuls, Afghans, Ranjit’s Sikhs, the Brits and Dogra rule couldn’t give them…the freedom to utilise their abundance of talent.

The writer is a freelance journalist, activist and consultant



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