Kashmir: cri de coeur

Labelling Kashmiri anger "separatist" or "anti-national" does a disservice to the victims of violence while serving to cover up and excuse state repression, argues Seema Kazi.
Seema Kazi
16 July 2010

8 January: Inayat Khan (16 years) shot dead by CRPF, Srinagar.

22 January: Manzoor Ahmed Sofi (23 years), shot dead by the CRPF, Parahaspora (Pattan).

31 January: Wamiq Farooq (13 years) shot dead by JK police, Srinagar.

31 January: Zahid Farooq (16 years) shot dead by Border Security Force, Srinagar.

13 April: Zubair Ahmad Bhat (17 years) drowned to death by CRPF, Sopore.

11 June: Tufail Ahmad Mattoo (17 years) attacked and killed by JK police, Srinagar.

19 June: Rafique Ahmad Bangroo (24 years) beaten to death by CRPF, Srinagar.

20 June: Javed Ahmed Malla (22 years) shot dead by CRPF, Srinagar.

27 June: Shakeel Ahmad Ganai (17 years) shot dead by CRPF, Sopore.

27 June: Firdous Ahmad Kakroo (16 years) shot dead by CRPF, Sopore.

27 June: Bilal Ahmed Wani (21 years) shot dead by CRPF, Sopore.

28 June: Tauqir Ahmed Rather (9 years) killed by CRPF, Sopore.

28 June: Tajamul Bashir (17 years) shot dead by CRPF, Sopore.

29 June: Ishtiaq Ahmed Khanday (15 years) shot dead by police, Anantnag.

29 June: Imtiaz Ahmed Itoo (17 years) shot dead by police, Anantnag.

29 June: Shujat ul Islam (16 years) shot dead by police, Anantnag.

India’s war in Kashmir has, of late, acquired a particularly deadly edge. During the past six months, a disproportionately large number of teenagers and young men have been shot dead on the streets by the police or CRPF. It is far from clear as to whether all those who died were actually throwing stones. Be that as it may, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his administration have deemed stone-throwing a criminal offence punishable with death or a lifetime in prison. Having ‘legalised’ the repression of dissent, Abdullah, Home Minister Chidambaram, and Home Secretary GK Pillai hold the separatists and ‘anti-national’ forces responsible for the present crisis in Kashmir.

There cannot be a greater folly than to attribute the deep and overflowing reservoir of collective anger and outrage against a twenty-year-old occupation to the Machiavellian powers of a fragmented and fairly discredited separatist conglomerate. In no state, least of all in one that claims to be democratic, can the act of stone-throwing or public protest legitimise a shoot-to-kill policy. As democratic channels for dissent in Kashmir remain blocked, and the institutions meant for the protection of civilians (military and paramilitary) or the enforcement of the rule of law (police) deprive citizens of the right to life, stones, slogans and mass protest are all what the Kashmiris have to oppose and resist a shameful and scandalous state of affairs.


Grzegorz Komar/Demotix. All rights reserved.

To represent Kashmiri public outrage as a ‘separatist’, ‘anti-national’ conspiracy is an exercise in self-delusion and deceit; it also betrays a profound disrespect for Kashmiri public opinion. Separatist leaders may or may not support stone-pelting but to suggest that all the boys and young men shot dead were part of a grand separatist ploy is, at best, a patently tendentious claim. However unpleasant stone-throwing may be for soldiers or the keepers of law and order, it is, quite simply Kashmiri resistance against a relentless counter-offensive characterised by violence, dispossession and death.

Ever since the eruption of mass rebellion in Kashmir in 1989-90, New Delhi has lacked the moral courage to publicly acknowledge, much less redress Kashmiri grievance. The domestic political consensus on Kashmir has consequently centred on the denial of local Kashmiri grievance and a concerted focus on Kashmir’s external (Pakistan) dimension commonly referred to as ‘cross-border terrorism’. Global, especially Western fears regarding Islamist terror, Pakistan’s own dubious and destructive role in Kashmir, together with the tragedy of 26/11 allowed India to escape local democratic accountability within Kashmir. It has been relatively easy to claim that if at all there is a Kashmir problem, Pakistan and its terror machine are to blame. India’s self-created domestic crisis in Kashmir (that Pakistan subsequently exploited) has been consistently understated or overlooked.


Grzegorz Komar/Demotix. All rights reserved.

As a result of this political and intellectual dishonesty, the opinion and subjective experience of Kashmiri Muslims is ignored. India could mobilise over 500,000 soldiers to safeguard Kashmir’s territorial frontiers yet betray a cruel and callous disregard for the security, rights or dignity of the people within it. For two long decades, the use of coercive, frequently lethal force, resort to arbitrary detention, custodial death, fake encounters, rape and sexual abuse, extrajudicial killing, torture, and bouts of undeclared curfew has been the standard state response to accumulating Kashmiri grievance. The 2008 assembly elections are India’s answer to awkward questions regarding democracy in Kashmir.

But like any other oppressed people in the world, the Kashmiri Muslims have not been cowed down by force; nor have they ceased protesting India’s democratic deficit in Kashmir. Indeed, it is precisely during these moments that India’s feeble and tenuous claims to democracy and normalcy in Kashmir are forcefully exposed. The stones cast by a young, radicalised generation of Kashmiri boys today symbolise the unequal battle between truth and power in Kashmir. The truth is that the youth who throw stones and the masses of people who march with them raising ‘anti-national’ slogans wish to be rid of Indian hegemony in their contested homeland. They want the security forces withdrawn; those languishing in jails released; the extraordinary powers vested in the military curbed; public accountability for the disappeared; prosecution for those responsible for crimes against citizens; a chance to determine their own political future; a life of freedom and dignity. In short, the truth is that the Kashmiri Muslims vehemently reject their existing relationship with the Indian state.


Grzegorz Komar/Demotix. All rights reserved.

What is India – the de-facto ‘power’ in Kashmir – doing about this truth? Precious little. Bereft of imagination or morality, the Indian state focuses on the symptom of the malaise: by maligning and thereby de-legitimising Kashmiri public opinion as ‘anti-national, it seeks to legitimise its own authoritarian counter-offensive (curfew, arbitrary detention, a ban on sms and mobile services, restrictions on journalists and the media, restrictions on public mobility, a ban on public gatherings, etc.) that passes for governance and democracy in Kashmir. The possession of superior force and enforced curfew, it is hoped, shall eventually quieten things down. That shall indeed happen, as has happened for the past twenty years: curfew restrictions shall be relaxed, schools shall re-open, people shall go to work, tourists shall throng Dal Lake, and there will be traffic on the roads.

Yet, as ‘power’ well knows, the latent, festering truth of injustice and anger underpinning Kashmir’s deceptive veneer of ‘normality’ can erupt any time with terrifying intensity - with blood on the streets and swarms of stone-throwing and slogan-shouting crowds. As tragic and grievous as the loss of Kashmir’s young men is India’s refusal to concede the truth. Cornered and defensive, lacking the courage and conscience expected of a mature and self-confident democracy, India has no option other than digging in and playing for time. Sadly, neither time nor history is on India’s side. No people have ever surrendered to the untruth of the abuse of power. No state has ever erased a people’s history, memory or quest for justice.

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