Posts Tagged ‘military occupation of Kashmir’

Some Comments on Resolving the Kashmir Conflict

January 19, 2011

by Nasir Khan, January 19, 2011

Editor’s Note: Gorki wrote a comprehensive comment on my article ‘Resolving the Kashmir Conflict (Foreign Policy Journal, January 13, 2011 ) in which he offered his perspective and also raised some important questions. In reply, I have written the following remarks. For the sake of convenience, I have split his comment into a few parts followed by my reply:

Gorki:

Dr. Khan I find your article useful because it allows one to hear the views of the Kashmiris themselves regarding the Kashmir imbroglio.

On the face of it your statement “The best course left for India is to make a break with its previous policy, and accede to the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris. This will not weaken India; instead, it will show the strength of Indian democracy as well of the humane aspects of Indian cultural tradition…” sounds reasonable and taken in isolation such views even find many sympathetic listeners in India itself. However the Indians must keep other consideration in mind that cannot be considered imperialistic by any stretch of imagination.

Nasir:

Gorki , thank you for your balanced opinion on a number of points and the important questions you have raised in your comment. I will try to reply to some points.

My roots are in the Indian culture and I am deeply proud of our historical heritage. I am well aware of the Indian Civilisations stretching back to the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, some five thousand years old. Merely because of the hostile Indo-Pak relations since the partition of India in 1947, the Kashmir Issue has been the main cause of tension between the two states, I have regarded both India and Pakistan as parts of the same body, the body being the subcontinent of India that holds diverse races, cultures and mores showing much diversity while geographically belonging to the same entity. We can compare the subcontinent’s position with the broad geographical areas identified with Europe. In Europe there have been many languages, diverse cultures, political and religious conflicts for well over two thousand years. Despite all that various nations and people of this continent identity themselves with Europe and its civilisations, old and new. In a similar way, as an individual I identity myself with the subcontinent. My regional identity with Kashmir and the historical connection I have with with Kashmir is only natural; it is the affinity of part with the whole. As such they are mutually interdependent, not exclusive of each other.

Gorki:

The reality is that the entire former British India is organically connected and anything that happens in one part has an echo elsewhere in the sub continent. For example when a sacred relic went missing for 17 days from the Hazrat Bal mosque in 1963; there was rioting all over India. Thus any action in or regarding Kashmir cannot be taken in isolation.

While self determination and independence by themselves are honourable goals, anyone arguing for self determination only for the Kashmiris of the valley would either have to argue on the basis of some kind of Kashmiri exceptionalism or else should be willing to accept similar demands for self determination from others such as the Sikhs in the Indian Punjab and the Baluch in Pakistan. Conceding any such demands then would risks major man made disasters like the ethnic cleansing and huge population displacements that occurred in the wake of the partition in 1947.

Nasir:

Here your formulation about the organic connection has the Spencerian undertones! We have histories of India and Indian states before the British came. When the British gradually took over different parts of India by force of arms or by their political skills (and tricks), our people and many of our rulers evinced little concern to what happened to small or big states who were being devoured by the East India Company. Some of them had treacherously sided with the Farangis against those Indian rulers who resisted the British. This is also our history.

The instance of the disappearance of a holy relic in Kashmir you cite has more to do with religious feelings and identities than with the organic connection throughout the subcontinent. Such relics can also be seen as having extra-territorial dimension and impact.

In fact, we have seen major political conflicts and killing of innocent people by the Indian state (and also by Pakistani army in the Northwest Pakistan at the bidding of the United Sates as a continuing policy of crushing and eliminating those who resist and oppose the American wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Pakistan). The vast majority of these countries has not shown much resolve to oppose the policies of their governments. But, a religious relic or what believers may call a ‘religious place’ is something different! That moves our masses, and they do what they think is serving their deities!! We know how the religious passions of ordinary people inflamed by rightist forces in India in which the Indian rulers were implicated, led to the destruction of the Babri mosque by the Hindu mobs and the killing of thousands of innocent Indian Muslims in Gujarat.

But what sort of policies a state formulates and implements has a direct bearing on the political developments of a country. The same is true in the case of India; a wise political lead by responsible politicians influences and shapes the political landscape.

Now the question of ‘Kashmiri exceptionalism’ if India and Pakistan hold plebiscite to meet the demands of the people of Jammu and Kashmir: I myself, do not regard the case of Jammu and Kashmir an exceptional one; but no doubt there is a historical context to it. The circumstances under which India extended its control over Jammu and Kashmir is much different from other princely states. At the end of the British rule in India and the partition of India by the imperial rulers, there were 562 princely states, big and small, over which the British held suzerainty or ‘paramountcy’ as in the case of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. We know how these princely states were incorporated into the two new states. How India extended its control over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is relevant to the whole question of the Kashmir Issue. After the military conflict and the ceasefire mediated by the United Nations, both India and Pakistan agreed to hold plebiscite that would enable the people of J&K to determine their future. That promise still remains unfilled and the consequences of that denial have been catastrophic for India, Pakistan and especially the people of J&K.

The Kashmir Conflict continues to be the unfinished task of the 1947 partition. This conflict has not disappeared; neither will it go away because the bullet has so far overridden the ballot and common sense.

Gorki:

Letting Kashmir valley join Pakistan OTOH would in essence be conceding the two nation theory; again not without risks. As you rightly pointed out, India remains a home to some 130 million Muslims. Letting the Muslims of the valley to go join Pakistan would in no way enhance the security of the non-Kashmiri Muslims elsewhere in India and if anything would make them even more insecure and strengthen the very forces of Hindutva that you pointed out threaten India’s fragile communal amity. (Ironically this is exactly what happened to the Indian Muslims of UP and Bihar who had allowed themselves to be emotionally led into voting for the AIML’s election plank of a Pakistan in 1946 which then left them high and dry).

Even within the state of Jammu and Kashmir itself, there would be major upheavals in case the current structure is tampered with. What would happen to the minority Muslims in Jammu and Ladakh?
Also if one argues that Kashmir is a homeland for the Kashmiris then what happens to other non Kashmiri populations of the valley such as the Gujjars etc.? Where would their homeland be?

Nasir:

Here you raise some important questions and also some legitimate concerns. First, the ‘two nation theory’. In fact, the partition of India was on the basis of  the two nation theory. For the sake of argument, I will say that if the people of J&K join A or B country, or decide for some other option they should have the democratic right to do so. The organic linkage you seem to emphasise in case the Valley joins Pakistan is worthy of consideration, but what Kashmiri Muslims want is their right to determine their future and to gain freedom. What that freedom entails is the freedom from Indian rule. This is their wish and to crush their aspirations the Indian state has used more than half-a-million soldiers. They have killed more than one-hundred-thousand people. It is military occupation of a country where India has committed horrific war crimes.

Who contributed to such a perspective that shaped the political history of India and led to the division of India by the British? Well, an easy way for amateurs is to have a bogeyman to explain away the historical facts and blame the Muslim leadership for all that! Even before Mr Gandhi came to India from South Africa, one of the most prominent Indian politician at that time was Mr Jinnah, who was commonly known as the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’. He had the vision of a democratic, united India at the end of the British raj. But alas that was not to happen because this liberal, secularist lawyer was able to see the machinations of the Hindu leadership of the Indian National Congress and other Hindu militant organisations standing for the Ram raj and the Hindu domination of the whole sub-continent.

In my political work, at no time have I ever said what the people of J&K should stand for or how they should decide about their future. Neither have I ever advocated that the people of the Kashmir Valley should join Pakistan. That is something for the affected people to decide.

The Kashmiris’ demand and their struggle for Azaadi (freedom) is not directed against any other people, ethnic or religious minorities, who make up the population of their country. The people of J&K, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., have traditions of tolerance and inter-religious accommodation. In 1947, I was a six-year-old; I had seen how Hindus and Muslims had a shared and fraternal existence in our area. If the people of J&K are given a chance to live as free human beings and not under the terror of military power of India, then our age-old traditions of mutual respect and acceptance will reassert. That will be a good example for the Hindutva rightist forces that pose a great threat to the Indian democracy and religious minorities, Muslims being their major target.

I am also conscious of the dangers you rightly point to if the ‘current structure’ is changed. But I don’t suppose you offer your solution as the continued rejection of the demands of the Kashmiris because that safeguards some ‘ideal’ unity of India, knowing that India has carried out a militarist solution to crush the demands of the Kashmiri freedom movement. Simply put, it has been state terrorism by an occupying power. This short-sighted policy will fail in the long run as it has failed in the past.

Gorki:

You rightly mention that Kashmir is currently a big source of contention between India and Pakistan. However how certain can anybody be that this will not be the case if this issue is sorted out? Former Pakistani president, General Musharraf once said that India will remain Pakistan’s considered foe even if Kashmir issue is resolved. There are people with strong following in Pakistan who argue for waging a war on ‘Hindu India’ to conquer the Red Fort and restore the Mughal Empire. What of those?

Nasir:

If the main source of conflict between India and Pakistan is resolved according to the wishes of the people of J&K, then we expect the two neighbours will live amicably side by side and their bilateral relations and socio-cultural contacts will increase which will benefit all the people of the region. What Musharraf said is his view and it should not be taken too seriously. Apparently, the climate of hostility and mutual recriminations between India and Pakistan since the partition, people on the both sides have been fed on cheap propaganda. The nonsensical slogans to restore the Mughal Empire is the daydreaming of some Rip Van Winkles who are living in past, not in the twenty-first century.

Gorki:

I agree with you however that the current stifling atmosphere in Kashmir has to come to an end; human rights violations need to be investigated in a transparent manner and the culprits have to be vigorously prosecuted. Kashmiris need to feel that they control their political and economic destiny in their own hands. For this to happen however both the Indian state and the Kashmiri separatists have to demonstrate courage and pragmatic far sightedness.

The state has to take the above listed steps in the short run. In the long run it has not only to deliver on the economic measures promised previously but also to scrupulously avoid the mistakes of the past such as blatant rigging of elections as it did on the 80s in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.
For their part the Kashmiri separatists have to realize that the peaceful and constitutional methods of protest are in the best interest of all Kashmiris and the constitution is their best ally. India is not an empire; it is a Republic and a civic nation.
The constitution does not hold the rest of India in any special position over Kashmir; if anything it is the Kashmiris who hold a special place within the constitution.
Today if the separatists were to come to power via electoral politics, there is absolutely nothing that such a government could not do within the existing framework to better the life (or freedom) of an ordinary Kashmiri that it could do if they had complete ‘Azaadi”.

Nasir:

Some suggestions you make and the prognosis you offer are reasonable. If Kashmiris hold a special place in the Indian Constitution, then obviously Indian control over Kashmir was unlike any other princely state. That also shows that the Indian government had political considerations to accord special status to Kashmir within the Union. But what stops the Delhi government from acceding to the demands of the people of J&K to plebiscite? Why should a great power like India be so afraid to listen to the voice of the people instead of using state terror to crush them?

It is also possible that the vast majority may opt for India. Thus by a generous and courageous political move, India has the power to defuse the conflict for ever. If that happens, then those who stand for separation from India will lose and the consequences will pacify all sides. This can usher in a new era of improved inter-communal and regional relations. Religious fundamentalists and rightist forces on the both sides will not be able to exploit the religious sentiments of the people any longer. That will be a victory of the common sense over emotionalism and communal frenzy.

Gorki:

There is already a precedent of such a dramatic change in political struggle within India. In the 1980s many Sikh leaders were charged with sedition and jailed for demanding a Khalistan and burning copies of the Indian constitution as protest. Today, one of those former separatist is an all powerful Chief Minister in Punjab and there is no opposition because the remaining separatists cannot list a single point in which way the life of an average Sikh would be different in an independent Khalistan.

I do hope to hear form you.
Regards.

Nasir:

In India there are still many regional and ethnic conflicts. I don’t think the Khalistan movement ever had any justifiable political stance and I am happy it reached its cul de sac. But we should be aware of the pitfall of equating Khalistan with the Kashmir Conflict.

Finally, it has been a pleasure to respond to your wise and erudite comment.

Cordially yours

Nasir Khan

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Kashmiris seek independence now, not Indian poll!

October 12, 2008

Not by Curfews alone, Mr. Governor!

By Dr Abdul Ruff Colachal | Kashmir Watch, Oct 11, 2008, Part 32

Muslims are being tortured and killed almost everywhere, in conservative countries, autocracies and the so-called democracies.  Anti-Islamic regimes kill them to quench their blood thirst, while the Muslim nations do the same in order to appease the terrorist nations led by the USA which many developing countries vie to gain nuclear contracts. Muslims are being butchered in Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere and yet none is capable to raise their serious concern against those waging poisonous tails against Muslims. In anti-Muslim Hindu conservative India, even Muslims are made to be work against their own legitimate interests.

Terrorist India that occupies its neighbor Jammu Kashmir by brutal force has over decades created a terror force to kill Kashmiris and groomed a band of anti-Muslim militant-minded journalists to pursue the state agenda of anti-Muslimism who in the name of combating terrorism only keep the inter-civilization wedge intact  if no t further fueling it. They promote only anti-Islamic opinions in the media under their control and influence abroad especially in developing world, more importantly in Middle East. Indian journalists, thriving on “terrorism” cash, see only terrorism in Indian and Kashmir Muslims in one form or the other. They denounce anything “not pro-India’ and term them as ” anti-India” and terrorize even the non-Muslim journalists who make living on terrorism theme.

India is country of hidden agendas at home and abroad. State terrorism has remained the hallmark of Indian policy. As soon as it clinched the nuclerism with USA, it went further to showcase its power to Jammu Kashmir. Indian leaders, including the military top brass, are yet to admit the fact that terror forces are illegally occupying Jammu Kashmir. India has repeatedly asked Pakistan to stay away from Kashmir issue and let the Kashmiris seek independence all by themselves. It is very particular that Kashmir is kept out of purview of any bilateral talks between them. Will India, then, resolve the issue now and surrender Kashmir for good?

Indian and JK governments have complicated the life of freedom leaders particularly Syed Ali Geelani who is being repeated arrested and mentally tortured. During the recent curfew clamped by Vohra regime in Srinagar has further deteriorated the health of this veteran leader.  The Majlis Shoura of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC-G) has appointed Ghulam Nabi Sumji as acting chairman of the amalgam because of the ill-health of Chairman Shah Geelani, who has been advised to get his pacemaker replaced and is being shifted to Delhi for treatment. The condition of Geelani had deteriorated because of his continuous detention and house arrest. He was admitted to a local hospital on October 5.

Geelani criticized the authorities for imposing curfew in the valley and arresting separatist leaders and asked the people not to heed rumors and foil any attempt by miscreants to harm unity. However, in a message to the people of Kashmir, he stressed the need for unity among all pro liberation groups.

People’s power is indeed great and purposeful. Kashmiris have shown that if people are united and fight for a just cause the rulers would be ruined sooner than later.

Discovered by UK in 19th century, the Amarnath temple structure outside India has all of sudden become a Hindutva symbol of Hindus in India and Jammu region of Kashmir. India and its Hindu representatives in Jammu Kashmir seem to have accorded to the Amarnath the status of NRI. After the destruction of Babri Mosque on the pretext that it was once Hindu structure, the Hindu India has taken up a new agenda in Hinduizing occupied Jammu Kashmir. They were under illusion that what they want to do in India and Jammu Kashmir will have to be accepted by Muslims as the final law. But Muslims Kashmir are totally different form those in India made with completely pro-Hindu mindset, and they don’t want to be a part of terrorist India that has killed over lakh [100,000] Kashmiris so far.

Unlike the slavery minded Muslims in India who even don’t have the capacity to fight for the reconstruction of the Babri Mosque demolished by Indian Hindu terrorists, Kashmiris continue to demand freedom from occupying India. Muzaffarabad March sacrificed a prominent freedom leader among others, but it evoked the inner consciousness of freedom seeking Kashmiris who are overwhelming in Jammu Kashmir.  After protestors thronged the United Nations Military Observer Group’s (UNIMOGIP’S) office in Srinagar demanding the resolution of Kashmir dispute the United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has formulated plans to pay a visit to India towards the end of this month or early November. Ban has criticized the India terrorism in Kashmir but, as usual, prompted resented by India. UN chiefs visit to India will be closely watched by the pro liberation camp in the Valley. Many pro liberation leaders are planning to seek a rendezvous with the UN chief and plead for his intervention in resolving the six decades old Kashmir sovereignty issue.

Pertinent to mention that freedom leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani had during a rally held at TRC grounds on August 18 asked Ban Ki-moon to pay a visit to the Valley and ascertain the facts, besides getting a firsthand account on the uprising in Kashmir. Hopefully, UN chief’s visit to this “democracy’ killing Kashmiris for fun will pave way for freedom of Jammu Kashmir.

Not by Curfew alone!

A high level meeting held in New Delhi discussed the Kashmir situation and unanimously decided to impose curfew in the Valley to scuttle the Lal Chowk March. The security agencies were already directed to erect long iron-made barricades at various entry points including Kokerbazar, Amira Kadal, Jehangir Chowk, Regal Chowk to prevent people from marching towards Lal Chowk. “Massive deployment of troops has already been put in place and Lal Chowk will be made out of bound for the people. Meanwhile, authorities have imposed section 144 in Ganderbal and Baramulla districts of Kashmir to prevent assembling of more than four persons at a place.

The curfew comes in the wake of Lal Chowk Chalo March call given by Coordination Committee, a freedom conglomerate, to press for its demands which include opening of Line of Control roads for trade, release of all detainees and revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act. A number of freedom leaders, including Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yaseen Malik were put under preventive custody. Hardline freedom leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani was shifted to a hospital after he complained of pain in lower abdomen. Among those placed under house arrest were Chairman of moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith chief Maulana Showkat besides senior separatist leaders Abdul Gani Bhat, Bilal Lone and Sajjad Lone.

A virtual siege was laid around Lal Chowk as a large posse of gun-toting security personnel took up position in and around the area. All entry and exit points in Srinagar city have been sealed. There were some sporadic protests when the paramilitary forces refused to entertain curfew passes. However, the issue was resolved later. The new anti-riot vehicles, procured by the Jammu and Kashmir Police recently, were positioned at strategic locations, especially those which had witnessed violence earlier. Due to indefinite curfew imposed by the authorities in Srinagar and elsewhere in Kashmir and the government’s failure to provide adequate number of curfew passes to our staff, distributors and hawkers, the print editions. Some of the local newspapers failed to hit the stands as publishers decided not to print them accusing the government of not providing enough curfew passes to their staff, a charge denied by the government. A private television channel — Sen TV– was banned for allegedly inciting people to disturb public peace and tranquility.

Indian agents in Jammu Kashmir headed by Governor Vohra are trying all tricks including state terrorism techniques to quell the freedom move in Jammu Kashmir by clamping curfews intermittently adding more harm to the Kashmiris. After creating enough trouble for the Kashmir Muslims the Hindu “brethren” in Jammu region are enjoying life by being agents of New Delhi.

Continued . . .

For Kashmiri Muslims the meaning of independence from Indian occupation of their land

September 14, 2008

Kashmir is in crisis: the region’s Muslims are mounting huge non-violent protests against the Indian government’s rule. But, asks Arundhati Roy, what would independence for the territory mean for its people?

Arundhati Roy| The Guardian, Friday August 22 2008

A Kashmiri Muslim shows a victory sign during a march in Srinagar, India

A Kashmiri Muslim shows a victory sign during a march in Srinagar, India. Photograph: Dar Yasin/AP

For the past 60 days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half a million heavily armed soldiers, in the most densely militarised zone in the world.

After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government’s worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage. This one is nourished by people’s memory of years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been “disappeared”, hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, and humiliated. That kind of rage, once it finds utterance, cannot easily be tamed, rebottled and sent back to where it came from.

A sudden twist of fate, an ill-conceived move over the transfer of 100 acres of state forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board (which manages the annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave deep in the Kashmir Himalayas) suddenly became the equivalent of tossing a lit match into a barrel of petrol. Until 1989 the Amarnath pilgrimage used to attract about 20,000 people who travelled to the Amarnath cave over a period of about two weeks. In 1990, when the overtly Islamist militant uprising in the valley coincided with the spread of virulent Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) in the Indian plains, the number of pilgrims began to increase exponentially. By 2008 more than 500,000 pilgrims visited the Amarnath cave, in large groups, their passage often sponsored by Indian business houses. To many people in the valley this dramatic increase in numbers was seen as an aggressive political statement by an increasingly Hindu-fundamentalist Indian state. Rightly or wrongly, the land transfer was viewed as the thin edge of the wedge. It triggered an apprehension that it was the beginning of an elaborate plan to build Israeli-style settlements, and change the demography of the valley.

Days of massive protest forced the valley to shut down completely. Within hours the protests spread from the cities to villages. Young stone pelters took to the streets and faced armed police who fired straight at them, killing several. For people as well as the government, it resurrected memories of the uprising in the early 90s. Throughout the weeks of protest, hartal (strikes) and police firing, while the Hindutva publicity machine charged Kashmiris with committing every kind of communal excess, the 500,000 Amarnath pilgrims completed their pilgrimage, not just unhurt, but touched by the hospitality they had been shown by local people.

Eventually, taken completely by surprise at the ferocity of the response, the government revoked the land transfer. But by then the land-transfer had become what Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the most senior and also the most overtly Islamist separatist leader, called a “non-issue”.

Massive protests against the revocation erupted in Jammu. There, too, the issue snowballed into something much bigger. Hindus began to raise issues of neglect and discrimination by the Indian state. (For some odd reason they blamed Kashmiris for that neglect.) The protests led to the blockading of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, the only functional road-link between Kashmir and India. Truckloads of perishable fresh fruit and valley produce began to rot.

The blockade demonstrated in no uncertain terms to people in Kashmir that they lived on sufferance, and that if they didn’t behave themselves they could be put under siege, starved, deprived of essential commodities and medical supplies.

To expect matters to end there was of course absurd. Hadn’t anybody noticed that in Kashmir even minor protests about civic issues like water and electricity inevitably turned into demands for azadi, freedom? To threaten them with mass starvation amounted to committing political suicide.

Not surprisingly, the voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar. Raised in a playground of army camps, checkpoints, and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. Not even the fear of death seems to hold them back. And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second largest army in the world?

There have been mass rallies in the past, but none in recent memory that have been so sustained and widespread. The mainstream political parties of Kashmir – National Conference and People’s Democratic party – appear dutifully for debates in New Delhi’s TV studios, but can’t muster the courage to appear on the streets of Kashmir. The armed militants who, through the worst years of repression were seen as the only ones carrying the torch of azadi forward, if they are around at all, seem content to take a back seat and let people do the fighting for a change.

The separatist leaders who do appear and speak at the rallies are not leaders so much as followers, being guided by the phenomenal spontaneous energy of a caged, enraged people that has exploded on Kashmir’s streets. Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people swarm around places that hold terrible memories for them. They demolish bunkers, break through cordons of concertina wire and stare straight down the barrels of soldiers’ machine guns, saying what very few in India want to hear. Hum Kya Chahtey? Azadi! (We want freedom.) And, it has to be said, in equal numbers and with equal intensity: Jeevey jeevey Pakistan. (Long live Pakistan.)

That sound reverberates through the valley like the drumbeat of steady rain on a tin roof, like the roll of thunder during an electric storm.

On August 15, India’s independence day, Lal Chowk, the nerve centre of Srinagar, was taken over by thousands of people who hoisted the Pakistani flag and wished each other “happy belated independence day” (Pakistan celebrates independence on August 14) and “happy slavery day”. Humour obviously, has survived India’s many torture centres and Abu Ghraibs in Kashmir.

On August 16 more than 300,000 people marched to Pampore, to the village of the Hurriyat leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who was shot down in cold blood five days earlier.

On the night of August 17 the police sealed the city. Streets were barricaded, thousands of armed police manned the barriers. The roads leading into Srinagar were blocked. On the morning of August 18, people began pouring into Srinagar from villages and towns across the valley. In trucks, tempos, jeeps, buses and on foot. Once again, barriers were broken and people reclaimed their city. The police were faced with a choice of either stepping aside or executing a massacre. They stepped aside. Not a single bullet was fired.

The city floated on a sea of smiles. There was ecstasy in the air. Everyone had a banner; houseboat owners, traders, students, lawyers, doctors. One said: “We are all prisoners, set us free.” Another said: “Democracy without freedom is demon-crazy.” Demon-crazy. That was a good one. Perhaps he was referring to the insanity that permits the world’s largest democracy to administer the world’s largest military occupation and continue to call itself a democracy.

There was a green flag on every lamp post, every roof, every bus stop and on the top of chinar trees. A big one fluttered outside the All India Radio building. Road signs were painted over. Rawalpindi they said. Or simply Pakistan. It would be a mistake to assume that the public expression of affection for Pakistan automatically translates into a desire to accede to Pakistan. Some of it has to do with gratitude for the support – cynical or otherwise – for what Kashmiris see as their freedom struggle, and the Indian state sees as a terrorist campaign. It also has to do with mischief. With saying and doing what galls India most of all. (It’s easy to scoff at the idea of a “freedom struggle” that wishes to distance itself from a country that is supposed to be a democracy and align itself with another that has, for the most part been ruled by military dictators. A country whose army has committed genocide in what is now Bangladesh. A country that is even now being torn apart by its own ethnic war. These are important questions, but right now perhaps it’s more useful to wonder what this so-called democracy did in Kashmir to make people hate it so?)

Everywhere there were Pakistani flags, everywhere the cry Pakistan se rishta kya? La illaha illallah. (What is our bond with Pakistan? There is no god but Allah.) Azadi ka matlab kya? La illaha illallah. (What does freedom mean? There is no god but Allah.)

For somebody like myself, who is not Muslim, that interpretation of freedom is hard – if not impossible – to understand. I asked a young woman whether freedom for Kashmir would not mean less freedom for her, as a woman. She shrugged and said “What kind of freedom do we have now? The freedom to be raped by Indian soldiers?” Her reply silenced me.

Surrounded by a sea of green flags, it was impossible to doubt or ignore the deeply Islamic fervour of the uprising taking place around me. It was equally impossible to label it a vicious, terrorist jihad. For Kashmiris it was a catharsis. A historical moment in a long and complicated struggle for freedom with all the imperfections, cruelties and confusions that freedom struggles have. This one cannot by any means call itself pristine, and will always be stigmatised by, and will some day, I hope, have to account for, among other things, the brutal killings of Kashmiri Pandits in the early years of the uprising, culminating in the exodus of almost the entire Hindu community from the Kashmir valley.

As the crowd continued to swell I listened carefully to the slogans, because rhetoric often holds the key to all kinds of understanding. There were plenty of insults and humiliation for India: Ay jabiron ay zalimon, Kashmir hamara chhod do (Oh oppressors, Oh wicked ones, Get out of our Kashmir.) The slogan that cut through me like a knife and clean broke my heart was this one: Nanga bhookha Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan. (Naked, starving India, More precious than life itself – Pakistan.)

Why was it so galling, so painful to listen to this? I tried to work it out and settled on three reasons. First, because we all know that the first part of the slogan is the embarrassing and unadorned truth about India, the emerging superpower. Second, because all Indians who are not nanga or bhooka are and have been complicit in complex and historical ways with the elaborate cultural and economic systems that make Indian society so cruel, so vulgarly unequal. And third, because it was painful to listen to people who have suffered so much themselves mock others who suffer, in different ways, but no less intensely, under the same oppressor. In that slogan I saw the seeds of how easily victims can become perpetrators.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani began his address with a recitation from the Qur’an. He then said what he has said before, on hundreds of occasions. The only way for the struggle to succeed, he said, was to turn to the Qur’an for guidance. He said Islam would guide the struggle and that it was a complete social and moral code that would govern the people of a free Kashmir. He said Pakistan had been created as the home of Islam, and that that goal should never be subverted. He said just as Pakistan belonged to Kashmir, Kashmir belonged to Pakistan. He said minority communities would have full rights and their places of worship would be safe. Each point he made was applauded.

I imagined myself standing in the heart of a Hindu nationalist rally being addressed by the Bharatiya Janata party’s (BJP) LK Advani. Replace the word Islam with the word Hindutva, replace the word Pakistan with Hindustan, replace the green flags with saffron ones and we would have the BJP’s nightmare vision of an ideal India.

Is that what we should accept as our future? Monolithic religious states handing down a complete social and moral code, “a complete way of life”? Millions of us in India reject the Hindutva project. Our rejection springs from love, from passion, from a kind of idealism, from having enormous emotional stakes in the society in which we live. What our neighbours do, how they choose to handle their affairs does not affect our argument, it only strengthens it.

Arguments that spring from love are also fraught with danger. It is for the people of Kashmir to agree or disagree with the Islamist project (which is as contested, in equally complex ways, all over the world by Muslims, as Hindutva is contested by Hindus). Perhaps now that the threat of violence has receded and there is some space in which to debate views and air ideas, it is time for those who are part of the struggle to outline a vision for what kind of society they are fighting for. Perhaps it is time to offer people something more than martyrs, slogans and vague generalisations. Those who wish to turn to the Qur’an for guidance will no doubt find guidance there. But what of those who do not wish to do that, or for whom the Qur’an does not make place? Do the Hindus of Jammu and other minorities also have the right to self-determination? Will the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits living in exile, many of them in terrible poverty, have the right to return? Will they be paid reparations for the terrible losses they have suffered? Or will a free Kashmir do to its minorities what India has done to Kashmiris for 61 years? What will happen to homosexuals and adulterers and blasphemers? What of thieves and lafangas and writers who do not agree with the “complete social and moral code”? Will we be put to death as we are in Saudi Arabia? Will the cycle of death, repression and bloodshed continue? History offers many models for Kashmir’s thinkers and intellectuals and politicians to study. What will the Kashmir of their dreams look like? Algeria? Iran? South Africa? Switzerland? Pakistan?

At a crucial time like this, few things are more important than dreams. A lazy utopia and a flawed sense of justice will have consequences that do not bear thinking about. This is not the time for intellectual sloth or a reluctance to assess a situation clearly and honestly.

Already the spectre of partition has reared its head. Hindutva networks are alive with rumours about Hindus in the valley being attacked and forced to flee. In response, phone calls from Jammu reported that an armed Hindu militia was threatening a massacre and that Muslims from the two Hindu majority districts were preparing to flee. Memories of the bloodbath that ensued and claimed the lives of more than a million people when India and Pakistan were partitioned have come flooding back. That nightmare will haunt all of us forever.

However, none of these fears of what the future holds can justify the continued military occupation of a nation and a people. No more than the old colonial argument about how the natives were not ready for freedom justified the colonial project.

Of course there are many ways for the Indian state to continue to hold on to Kashmir. It could do what it does best. Wait. And hope the people’s energy will dissipate in the absence of a concrete plan. It could try and fracture the fragile coalition that is emerging. It could extinguish this non-violent uprising and re-invite armed militancy. It could increase the number of troops from half a million to a whole million. A few strategic massacres, a couple of targeted assassinations, some disappearances and a massive round of arrests should do the trick for a few more years.

The unimaginable sums of public money that are needed to keep the military occupation of Kashmir going is money that ought by right to be spent on schools and hospitals and food for an impoverished, malnutritioned population in India. What kind of government can possibly believe that it has the right to spend it on more weapons, more concertina wire and more prisons in Kashmir?

The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all. It allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims in Kashmir.

India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as – if not more than – Kashmir needs azadi from India.

· Arundhati Roy, 2008. A longer version of this article will be available tomorrow at outlookindia.com.


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