Kashmir and the Arab spring

In Kashmir, a 63-year-old conflict, some people find inspiration in Egypt’s revolution
Fahad Shah
2 April 2011

Every war or revolution has repercussions. When a thirty-year-old rule crumbled in ashes, world conflicts found a ray of inspiration and hope flooded people’s hearts. In Kashmir, a 63-year-old conflict, some people find inspiration in Egypt’s revolution and the other mass movements in the Middle East while some believe Kashmir is an entirely different case.

Does Tahrir Square in Egypt resemble Red Square (Lal Chowk) in Kashmir: certainly not in architectural design. But the protesting masses are there. Last summer, on a sunny day, thousands of people from all the corners of the Indian-administered Kashmir valley marched by various roads towards Lal Chowk. The year of mass protests in Kashmir passed away with more than 115 young boys and a few women, killed by Indian forces with the full cooperation of the local police. What is next?

It is April, 2011 and the new summer is arriving. All are focusing their eyes on Kashmir. Young boys of the valley who last year made the slogan, “We want freedom” heard by the whole world are well acqainted with events in the Middle East. With the successful uprisings of Egypt and Tunisia a curiosity for the latest news has made the rounds. Certainly India is not waiting to see whether Middle East developments affect the Kashmir situation or not. The Indian state is working hard to uproot resistance from every part of the valley. “Hundreds of people are detained each year on spurious grounds without charge or trial. In 2010 alone, about 322 people were reportedly held from January to September,” says the Amnesty International report A ‘Lawless Law’: Detentions under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, on how many people in Kashmir are arrested under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and then imprisoned in different jails of the state.

A 21-year-old college going student, Muzaffar Majeed says Middle East developments will have some impact: “Being witness to the history of world conflicts every revolution inspires people who are under siege.  Though, in the Valley now the freedom sentiment is weak,” Majeed observes.

This youth from Kupwara, a highly militarized district, believes that people are having second thoughts about the separatist leaders. After the fading of the passionate summer movements people hardly believe that leaders play a vital role: “They have had it. Any development in Kashmir will definitely take inspiration from the Egypt revolution, and that uprising will be leaderless.”

It was moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who welcomed Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak’s decision to step down from the country’s top post and last month asked the people of Kashmir to exhibit the same perseverance, steadfastness and discipline to reach its goal: "If we continue our struggle peacefully and exhibit discipline and unity, with Allah’s grace, we too will meet our goal. We need to follow and learn from Egypt". The opposition People’s Democratic Party drew a parallel between the response to Egypt’s protest and last summer’s uprising in Kashmir. Party president, Mehbooba Mufti said that while the people in the Arab country did not face any charges, the leadership in Jammu and Kashmir had been dubbing the protestors, "drug addicts and Lashker-e-Toiba agents". She congratulated the people of Egypt for their victory, and praised the role of Egypt’s army saying it was, “laudable as it seemed that they were protecting their people”.

Opinions differ among the Valley’s youth. A Mass Communication student from Amity University, Adnan Bhat, says that our struggle is different from Middle East countries, “We have a government in Kashmir which purports to be democratic. We only come out to fight for our rights when any innocent is killed: otherwise most of us are so lethargic, we don’t seem to care,” says Bhat.

However on March, 17, the Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Muhammad Sagar in the state legislative assembly said 5255 persons, including 799 students, were arrested between January 1, 2010 and February 28, 2011 across the state for allegedly resorting to ‘stone pelting’. But he added  ‘only’ 264 stone pelters were still in police custody.

Amnesty International has called on the Government of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian Government to:

•    Repeal the PSA and end the system of administrative detention, releasing all detainees or charging those suspected of committing criminal acts with recognized offences and trying them fairly in a court of law.

•    End illegal detentions and introduce safeguards ensuring those detained are charged promptly, have access to relatives, legal counsel and medical examinations and are held in recognized detention facilities pending trial.

•    Carry out an independent, impartial and comprehensive investigation into allegations of abuses against detainees and their families, including allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, denial of visits and medical care, making its findings public and holding those responsible to account

•    Invite and support visits of UN officials, including the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Revolutions are never planned. A small pebble in Kashmir can become a giant mountain.  

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