India's democracy deficit in Kashmir

About the author
Farooq Siddiqui is chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.

The current "peace process" between India and Pakistan has moved from the de-escalation of troop build-ups to cooperation on "terrorism", but there seems no end to the problems faced by Kashmiris or any real progress towards the resolution of the Kashmir crisis. As always, the official Indian response to local demands for self-determination has been to portray the Kashmiri freedom struggle as terrorism and a threat to Indian "democracy". The insistence of this rhetoric borders on hypocrisy. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh claimed in his speech before the US Congress in 2005 that "the real test of a democracy is not in what is said in the Constitution, but how it functions on the ground." Yet while India describes itself as the world's largest functioning democracy, its democratic aspirations look risible in the context of the ongoing denial of rights and violations of international law in occupied Kashmir.

Does a democracy need garrisons and army brigades to impose its authority on civilian cities, towns and hamlets on a daily basis for decades? The answer is "No". As very rightly observed by the head of the ad hoc delegation to Kashmir of the European Parliament, John Walls Cushnahan, Kashmir is "the world's most beautiful prison".

Democracies empower people to make decisions. They offer opportunities for people to even secede from state unions, as was afforded the Quebecois in Canada. Such are democratic principles. Real democracies don't issue endless draconian laws like the Special Arms Act, the Public Safety Act and the Defence of India Rule. In a working democracy, we do not find people arrested and disappeared for good while family members still live in hope of seeing them again.

India's justification for the imposition of such laws and the maintenance of its massive troop presence in Kashmir is based on the threat posed by resistance fighters in Kashmir and the so-called "cross border infiltration" from Pakistan. We have on record various Indian Army generals quoting the number of militants operating in Kashmir as 1,500 to 2,000 in an area of 84,000 square miles. It defies any sense of logical proportion that an army of 800,000 needs to be deployed in civilian areas throughout Kashmir to manage such a miniscule rebellion.

In truth, it is the fear of democracy in Kashmir that forces the deployment of the army. If the siege on Kashmir is lifted, the streets will swell with the masses as has happened in Romania, Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine and other places of the world where the will of the people has prevailed over authoritarianism.

It is in the interest of India, if it wants to play a role in the globally interdependent world of the 21st century, that it accepts that Kashmir is not an "integral part" of its own territory. There are some Indians who are realizing that India needs to change its policy on Kashmir for larger strategic reasons. Given its economic rise in Asia, India must also re-evaluate its commitment to democratic principles so that its political and moral place in the world community is not eroded.

Kashmiris have always encouraged and supported a dialogue between India and Pakistan with the hope that the two countries develop a greater sense of responsibility towards resolving the Kashmir issue. We expect them to behave as mature states in delivering what is expected of them and demanded by their own people. The unconditional support given to the peace process by Kashmiris should not be seen as a dilution of their aspiration to the right of self determination, which is enshrined in the United Nations Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1, signed by both India and Pakistan. The UN Resolutions on Kashmir are a witness and reminder for both India and Pakistan to discharge their obligations under international law.

The concept of an "independent Kashmir", to which both India and Pakistan are guarantors and Kashmiris become partners in safeguarding the geopolitical interests of their neighbours, cannot be erased from the minds and hearts of people of Jammu and Kashmir for which they have made sacrifices in every era to realize the dream of freedom and dignity.

The international community, despite Indian reluctance to include it in deliberations on Kashmir, remains integral to the peace process. In particular, the European Union, which has won significant support in the streets of Kashmir for its continued engagement and role both in advocating a peaceful settlement through dialogue and the participative inclusion of Kashmir's diverse body public, must put greater pressure on India to stay true to its democratic principles, lest they be further exposed as hypocritical.

This article is adapted from a piece originally published in Kashmir Affairs. Reproduced with permission from Kashmir Affairs.