Mainstream, VOL LIV No 46 New Delhi November 5, 2016
Kashmir Unrest 2016: A Story of Agony and Animosity
Monday 7 November 2016
by Showkat Ahmad
To understand the Kashmir issue one needs to realise and accept its complexity. Depending on the side from where you view it, the conflict in Kashmir can be seen as a fight for identity, a fight against the political status quo, the remnants of partition, the result of religious assertion, long denied political promises and rights or India-Pakistan friction. More so, Kashmir has often been described as the unfinished business of partition by the Pakistani leadership and the finished business of partition by the Indian leadership. The former tries to test the theory of two nations and the latter weighs it with the secular model. In between these two models are the helpless people of Kashmir who want to live their life with dignity and without any state oppression.
The fortunate or unfortunate part of the fate of the people of Kashmir was that the State of J&K was a princely state and had been drawn into the clutch of partition-related issues at independence. Like other princely states, J&K was given the choice to accede to either India or Pakistan. This unfinished and finished discourse of partition led to several wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, wounded and displaced several thousands more and the economic costs too have been devastating. India and Pakistan were born in hate involving the physical separation of the populations and their lands and heritage. Underlying this continuous upheaval, the Kashmir issue since then became trapped in a number of narratives and discourses.
Therefore, the present mass uprising in Kashmir and the overall phenomenon of cyclic protests are rooted in the complex socio-political history of the region. One needs to see these protests against the backdrop of earlier mobilisations in Kashmir’s history. Over a period of time, these mobilisations have given way to certain interpretative frameworks. While defining the complex socio-political events in the history of Kashmir, they also show the marked collective sense of injustice and longing for a desirable closure. Years of cyclic mobilisations have nurtured and crystallised these interpretive frameworks, which continue to remain available to generations of Kashmiris. Whether it was the first organised protest of shawl weavers in 1865, the silk factory labour unrest in 1924, mobilisations against the autocratic rule of Maharaja Hari Singh in 1931, for demanding plebiscite from 1953 to 1975, the civilian uprising and armed rebellion against Indian rule in 1990, or the more recent mobilisations of 2008, 2009 and 2010, Kashmir has always resisted subordination, injustices and oppression.
The mass uprising of 2016, which was triggered by the killing of Burhan Wani (the Hizbul commander), has already crossed its 100 days. The uprising had resulted in total shutdown throughout the Valley with massive protest marches. To prevent the marches and public meetings for “aazadi”, the government came down heavily on the marchers resulting in clashes all over the Valley. The most brutal and harsh methods were used to quell the marches. Pellet guns, teargas, paper gas and even straight bullets were used to prevent assemblies and marches. Continuous curfew without relaxation was imposed throughout the Valley. It was a virtual siege and the Valley was converted into a huge prison with the induction of additional troops.
As per press reports, 94 persons were killed; over 15,000 were injured; 780 people were hit with pellets in the eyes with many losing eyesight permanently. As many as 9000 people have been arrested out of which 500 have been booked under the draconian Public Safety Act, 5500 youth are reported to be wanted. Scores have gone into hiding to avoid arrest. Nocturnal raids have been conducted all over the Valley. Forces vandalised residential places, destroying household goods, damaging vehicles, breaking window panes, beating up inmates and in some places burning of harvested crops and destruction of apples were indulged in. This was all done under the model of “Operation Calm Down”, jointly managed by the Indian Army and Jammu and Kashmir Police, along with the CRPF and SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal). Despite this, it did not deter the youth who were using stones against the bullets. This time the message was clear—‘Now or Never’, ‘We Want Freedom’ and ‘Go India Go Back’.
The sufferings of the people have come first in the form of curfew, the longest-ever Kashmir has witnessed since 1990, and now in the form of continued strikes called or protest calendars issued by the joint platform of separatists led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik. Apparently, there is nothing in sight that could promise a respite in the situation. The average Kashmiri youth (the third generation of the Kashmir conflict) is armed with a different weapon this time besides the stones in his hand. He believes it is a do-or-die situation for him and is “convinced” that this will lead to the political solution of the Kashmir problem which, in his thinking, is “aazadi from India”. The third generation in the Valley is completely different from the first two.
The first generation had faith in the leader-ship, the second generation was in search of new leaders and the third generation does not want to be led by any leader. They are desperate to end the status quo and tired of getting killed and humiliated on a daily basis. This generation is educated, confident, converses with the outside world, cherishes the values of equality and freedom, and wants to live a life of respect and dignity. It is time for India to frankly tell these angry youth what is the maximum they can expect. If they agree on that, it is good for all. If they do not, at least both the country (India) and the Kashmiri youth will be better placed to know their future course of action.
The overall scenario of these protest move-ments here, since 1947 and before, calls for a critical appraisal to ascertain the rationale and reasons behind them. One can locate a number of reasons. First, despite a decline in militancy, there has not been much change in the ground realities. The much talked about confidence-building measures have not materialised. One often hears about the release of political prisoners and undertrials not charged with serious crimes, yet no policy-decision has been taken in this context. What is worse, there is continued violation of human rights by the police and armed forces. The call for zero tolerance to human rights violations has not been effective in restraining the number of civilian killings. With every such killing, the separatists as well as the mainstream parties raise the demand to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and to reduce the presence of the military in the civilian areas. Second, the peace process that had raised the expectations of the people during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government has been stalled. The dialogue initiated by Vajpayee with the Hurriyat Conference was reluctantly continued by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government, but after two rounds of ineffective talks, it was substituted by Round Table Conferences convened by the Prime Minister. These did not have much space for separatists and were attended by political actors mostly belonging to the mainstream political space. The non-engagement with the separatists has generated a feeling that the Central Government is not ready to approach the Kashmir problem in a political manner and all its initiatives in Kashmir have been limited to offering economic packages and development policies. The direct consequence of the lack of political engagement with Kashmir has been reflected in the growing disillusionment and cynicism in the Valley.
Third, a feeling of isolation has been generated by the changed international realities of the post-9/11 world in general, and Pakistan’s internal troubles in particular. With no international pressure on India to resolve the Kashmir issue, there is a fear in the minds of the Kashmiris that the issue might be put on the backburner and the momentum created by the militancy might be dissipated. The people of Kashmir also believe that India had always defamed the mass movement against its political interests as sponsored by Pakistan at the international level by conducting covert operations like the Uri attack and Chattisingpora-like incidents. The operation of the post-Uri attacks, that is, surgical strikes, though described by India as a major setback to Pakistan, was actually a political tool against Pakistan to isolate it diplomatically at the global level. Not only this. Both India and Pakistan have played their foreign policies by using the Kashmir card in different forums. With least care and concern for the suppressed Kashmiris India and Pakistan were trying to further their political interests instead of extending any moral support and constructive political engagement to ease the tension and help these helpless people of Kashmir. Moreover, assertion of separatist sentiments in an intense manner is a response to this fear.
Fourthly, the political discontent of the Kashmiris is always met by the state’s brute force, followed by the announcement of economic packages and creation of jobs. This approach not only denies the Kashmiri people their agency, it also keeps India and its masses blind about Kashmir, whose quest for a political solution remains obfuscated till another cycle of protests and ominous killings returns.
Lastly, as long as elections were being conducted, the inflow of tourists increased, cultural programmes were organised and any “threat” to the state was eliminated. There was no breach of the normative order of its domination over the people. This normative order was being projected as “normalcy” and “peace” which it is not.
Kashmir is a Political Problem not one of Law and Order
Like other protest movements (since 2008) this movement was also categorised as a law and order problem. Basically all these mass uprisings are the culmination of the unsettled nature of the Kashmir dispute. Often our former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had said that Kashmir is a political problem and it needs a political solution. Kashmir has acceded to, not merged with, the Union of India with certain conditions spelt out under Article 370, and India has totally failed to comply with those conditions. Consequently it led to a deep alienation of the people of Kashmir and a wide gap between Kashmir and the Union of India. Apart from this, knowing the fact that this mass movement of 2016 and other such actions were totally indigenous, the government still for its political ends has dubbed them as the handiwork of Pakistan and a handful of elements who want to keep the pot boiling for their “own interests”. Again, to quote from Mirwaiz Omar Farooq’s recent press conference when he was approached by the five-member delegation led by former Union Minister and BJP leader Yaswant Sinha, “India wants to dilute the perspective of the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination by calling it names like Pakistan-sponsored agitation, law and order situation, economic problem etc. But the reality, which they refuse to acknowledge, is that Kashmir is a political problem and it needs a resolution either by implementing the UN resolutions or initiating a political dialogue with Pakistan and the Kashmiris.”
Actually what is important to mention here is that the government has hardly done anything to bring about a change in the situation; instead it has only resorted to the use of force which has led to escalation of tensions. The visit of the all-party delegation also ended without any positive outcome. When the first delegation, led by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, came, the Hurriyat displayed a reluctant approach to meet them and hold any dialogue which, they felt, would—like in the past—conclude without any result. Moreover, even school-going children are seen protesting on the streets, holding placards that read: “No to exams, no to education till the K-issue is resolved, blood and ink cannot flow together, and first peace then exams.” Though the government claims to have opened schools in many rural areas, the general trend belies this. The government also announced the schedule of examinations for Classes X and XII, but the separatists opposed it.
However, this has not gone down well with many people who in subtle ways are questioning the wisdom of the separatists to endorse the continued closure of educational institutions. But a large chunk of the population has this opinion that the politicisation of education coupled with efforts of making exams instruments of restoring ‘normalcy’ are deemed to sabotage the intellectual and emotional development of our children. In other words, there is a general impression that education, more particularly Board Examinations in our case, falls in the category of ‘repressive’ means with ‘political ambitions’ of ending the present turmoil in Kashmir. Why this hysteria? Because India and J&K today are governed by a regime that has no empathy with us (Kashmiris) as a people. It is defining itself by aggressive and assimilative nationalism and arrogance of power that is antithetical to the recognition of marginal groups and communities and their aspirations. It is insensitive to the sufferings and protests of the oppressed Kashmiris. This attitude in a way further vindicates the people’s (Kashmiris’) perception that we don’t belong to it (the Union of India).
At the same time, the war hysteria whipped up after the “surgical strikes” has diverted attention from the plight of the Kashmiri people. Instead, the people are applauding the hard line adopted by the government towards the Kash-miri civilians as a way of teaching Pakistan a lesson. All this when even former National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan recently wrote that the movement in Kashmir was “home grown” and neither Lashkar-e-Taiba nor Jaish-e-Mohammed was leading it but the indigenous Hizbul Mujahideen. Yet even such voices are being ignored, ridiculed and drowned out by the corporate media that caters to the baser instincts of the Indian society by preaching hatred of Pakistan and Pakistanis, a line that also increases their profits and viewership. While voices of sanity are few and far between in India, it is obvious that the media is using the fig-leaf of “national security” to kowtow to an amoral and dogmatic ruling party and its cohorts.
However, the intention of the present dispen-sation seems to be in no mood of any political reach-out to address the voices of the helpless Kashmiris because the ideology of the party in power based on hatred of Pakistan and Muslims prevents them from resiling from its “frog-in- the-well” approach. Moreover, taking the ground level situation into consideration what one can do is to urge the ordinary Indians to realise that what is at stake is not just what happens to the people of Jammu and Kashmir but also that all of us will be singed by the consequences of our government’s folly and failure to search for a democratic solution. If we do not care or show compassion for fellow citizens now, India’s unity and integrity will be undermined in ways never imagined before. There is a dialectical unity between India’s democracy and freedom for the people of Kashmir because the truth is that Indians cannot be free if we enslave and brutalise a people for demanding aazadi from India.
More importantly, the resistance leadership in Kashmir should also realise that in the current vitiated atmosphere, there are no chances for a serious dialogue to begin either. Therefore, the pressure we should be building up has no takers. So why perpetuate our sufferings when these don’t get registered locally and fail to make the necessary impact globally. Therefore, the resistance leadership needs an intellectual introspection to think beyond the protest calendars and hartals. Further, we hope the talks of the recent delegation, led by Yashwant Sinha, a former Union Minister and BJP leader, though non-political and track-two, with the resistance group will bear some positive outcome for starting a meaningful and constructive political dialogue to end this long-pending Kashmir dispute forever.
What is the Way Out?
There is a phrase, “where there is a will (honest) there is a way”. Though it seems a boring old platitude, it certainly points towards the right direction in the face of all sorts of argu-ments, both domestic and international. If the parties in conflict truly want it, the difficulties may well be as good as solved; if they do not, the whole dreary business can drag on for generations. Even with the best will in the world, of course, a problem may, for reasons both theoretical and practical, simply be incapable of resolution. When such realities as physical and human geography and history are combined with divergent cosmological and philosophical perceptions, though not always based on objective facts, it may never be possible to hit upon a single formula to cover all the variables, be it from India or Pakistan or for that matter even from Kashmir, unless they have a will to start a roadmap for peace-building measures with all their heart.
But what we have seen from the last sixty- eight years with regard to Kashmir is that there is a lack of sincerity and will power which resulted in innocent killings, hartals, curfews, paralysed life, uncertain future and hopeless future. In conferences, seminars, workshops, both national and international, Foreign Secretary-level talks, Cabinet meetings, Prime Ministers’ meetings, dining halls, hostels, school assemblies, in class rooms and even in shops, the Kashmir issue is discussed and swallowed like a banana or grape. Everyone tastes it in his own way and none cares for the innocent people of Kashmir and no one comes forward with the good intention to resolve it. Therefore, the first and foremost prerequisite for peace-building in Kashmir is to have a “strong will power” to carry out the peace process for a final solution of the dispute. The Kashmir dispute can’t be and must not be resolved militarily. There can be no progress in talks if they are not accompanied by practical measures to restore an environment of non—violence in Kashmir. Negotiations can’t be carried out in an atmosphere of violence and uncertainty. Therefore, all military activities must come to an end. There can’t be and should not be any conditions imposed on any party other than the commitment to negotiations. All shades of opinion or all parties to the dispute must get seriously engaged in the search for a final settlement. Talks can only be useful if they reflect a sense of urgency and prepare the ground for an earnest effort to frame a step-by- step plan of settlement. Mere continuance of talks, that too at a leisurely pace, will in no way defuse the situation. There is a need to develop a democratic, federal, plural and non-centralised type of formula that can ensure harmony among diverse identities of the State.
My appeal to the leaders and organisations engaged in the resistance movement is that they should define their ideology, come out of the tantrum of accession and focus on a few points of convergence and thereby set up a united leadership. The last and perhaps the most deciding factor is that peace will not come in Kashmir without justice and justice shall not prevail without sacrifices. Each party to the dispute will have to be ready to make some concessions and compromises to find a lasting and long-awaited solution of the tragic dispute.
Therefore to conclude, we can say that the Kashmiris’ long fight for the right to live with dignity has been always used by the powers around its territory as pawns in the ‘NewGreat Game’ played by Russia, America and China through India and Pakistan as the regional players.
A very famous Kashmiri poet (Bahar Kashmiri) had beautifully captured the plight of the Kashmiris in a poem written in the 1940s in these words (Quoted from Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, and the Making of Kashmirby Chitralekha Zutshi, 2004):
From all sides I am assaulted,The English, the Indians, the Afghans, the Pakistanis,To whom should I complain, to whom should I tell my fate?Capitalists, tyrants, oppressors, and friends, all want me to become their accomplice,With whom should I agree, whom should I disagree with?To whom should I complain, to whom should I tell my fate?I am poor and downtrodden; whose side should I go?If I agree with one, the second will be angry, the third will impale me on the sword and the fourth and fifth strangle me.To whom should I complain, to whom should I tell my fate?
Dr Showkat Shah Ahmed is an Assistant Professor (Political Science), Department of Law, University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He can be contacted at e-mail: sohilshowkat[at]gmail.com