Indefinite curfews are imposed to restrict any civilian movement. Internet and telephone facilities are taken off air, local newspapers are not allowed to go for printing and the Indian media organisations go by the dictates of the intelligence agencies. An atmosphere of fear is created to silence the people.
In common parlance, Kashmir is synonymous to heaven. This misrepresentation needs to be dispelled at the outset. It is an imperialist construct, carried forward by the Indian state from the British rulers to give legitimacy to its (mis)rule in Kashmir. Trapped between the multiple versions of history and the struggle for identity, the people of Kashmir have become victims of visible and invisible, known and unknown forces of occupation.
The contesting contours of Kashmir’s history are hard to traverse. The unfolding narratives, however, manifest how Kashmir as a territory never belonged to its people and also, how Kashmir as a population was never controlled by foreign rulers. Much of the scholarship on pre-colonial Kashmir, however, provides abundant insight into the absence of any ideological, social, cultural and religious discord in the region among its people.
The present crisis in Kashmir, recognised by the international community, has its roots in the creation of India and Pakistan as independent nation states in 1947. In one sense of history, Kashmir is a legacy that the British left India and Pakistan with. Kashmir, since the partition, has been a focal point of war between the two neighbouring nuclear powers.
The Fight for Identity
All social and political movements derive from their ideology a particular identity. The discourses around Kashmir’s fight for self-determination are mostly of the state-sponsored variety. Therefore, any ideology that may have influenced the people of Kashmir to rise in rebellion against Indian military occupation has been systematically overshadowed by the “integral part” rhetoric to a large extent. The established institutions have successfully disallowed the truth to come out in its real form and contributed to the formulation of popular discourses. The upsetting achievement of the Indian policy of denial and misrepresentation on Kashmir has been continuing the murder of identity.
The decision of the youth to wage a guerrilla battle against India in the late 1980s was a sudden transformation from a peaceful struggle to an armed one, “inspired” by an undemocratic state of affairs. All peaceful options had ceased to exist and a sustained armed struggle appeared to be politically rewarding to the beleaguered people. The shift did not mark any ideological transition in the freedom struggle, as the dominant discourses tend to suggest. The Muslim United Front, mostly comprising of pro-freedom leaders, had decided to contest the 1987 Assembly elections and push forward their political agenda democratically. The Indian establishment, through state apparatus, ensured the defeat of Muslim United Front by conducting a mass rigging of the elections. This paved the way for the transition in the mode of struggle; the ultimate aim, however, remained the same.
Azaadi (freedom) from the Indian rule has been central to Kashmir’s resistance movement. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) became the first armed group to fight for the cause of freedom. The Indian army unleashed a reign of terror following the formation of the JKLF. Under the garb of what it called ‘anti-insurgency’, the Army killed scores of innocents and JKLF sympathisers. The JKLF with its pro-freedom ideology was marginalised and soon replaced by militant outfits based in Pakistan. The involvement of different other militant organisations in the Kashmir struggle gave it a communal colour. From a purely political movement, the Kashmiri struggle for freedom was construed as a religious movement. The Indian media played a key role in shaping the public perception. The term ‘militants’ was replaced by ‘Islamist terrorists’ and Kashmir’s pro-freedom leaders came to be known as ‘separatists’.
The formation of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organization for all pro-freedom organizations, in 1993, gave a new direction to the struggle. It adopted a peaceful approach and held a series of unsuccessful dialogues with different political parties in power in Kashmir and Delhi. India’s flawed Kashmir policy ensured that no solution comes out. The status quo approach constantly pushed for the legitimacy of India’s presence in Kashmir. Later, the infighting within Hurriyat, the factionalism, all went in favour of India when the amalgam broke.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Chairman of one of the factions of Hurriyat, has long been the face of Kashmir’s struggle. Criticised for his pro-Pakistan policy, Geelani has found mass acceptance among young and old alike. His consistency to the cause has been phenomenal in shaping Kashmir’s struggle. However, he has focused on protests and shut downs as a strategy to fight the Indian rule. History bears testimony to the fact that struggles for political sovereignty are not won by street protests. Also, Geelani is seen as a hard-core Islamist who wants an Islamic state. But he has constantly reaffirmed that the fate of independent Kashmir will be decided by its people and not by him in person.
Therefore, during the course of Kashmir’s devastating history, freedom from India’s rule has been a common factor through all movements that have surfaced.
Society and the Loss of Life
Since Kashmir erupted against India’s rule in an armed struggle, torture, rape, murder, enforced disappearances have become common phenomenon here. The Indian army has committed unspeakable human rights violations on the civilian population that are akin to war crimes. The humanitarian losses of the Kashmir conflict have come in varied forms. A systemic pattern is easily discernible in the way the Indian army has dealt with the resistance movement. Much of what has been perpetrated on the people of Kashmir is to do with the undemocratic laws, like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which do not pass the basic tests of legality. Such laws provide the Indian forces with immense impunity to kill innocent people at will. Amnesty International has correctly labeled such laws as “lawless”.
The fact that the Indian troopers get away scot free after committing crimes provides rationale to the people to conduct their movement through more violent means. Violence from the people is therefore a response to the State’s brutal architecture that muffles all dissent and provides no justice. The people in Kashmir have lost a generation fighting, and the present generation has adopted new means to carry forward the struggle.
The 2008 Amarnath Land Transfer was an attempt to divide the state on regional lines. The people in Jammu were given an impression that “vested interests” in Kashmir have a monopoly over the entire land. The whole issue was given a communal colour and people in Jammu went up in arms against the common Kashmiris.
The three years of uprising and street protests saw more than a hundred youth killed. The struggle appeared to steam out when hundreds of stone pelting youth were arrested during night raids by the police and booked under Public Safety Act (PSA), another arbitrary law that provides the police with the power of arresting people at the pretext of ensuring “law” and “order”. Hundreds of youngsters continue to languish in jails, boys as young as 12 were booked for two years for demanding justice.
While thousands joined the popular street protests, a huge chunk of college students found the social media and the internet as a tool to express their anger. Websites like The Vox Kashmir (www.thevoxkashmir.com) have become a platform of expression which allows the people to narrate their own stories. Initiatives like these provide a feeling of belonging and oneness to which all Kashmiris can relate. They tell stories from Kashmir to the world that still lives under the illusion that Afzal Guru was a terrorist.
The hanging of Afzal Guru for his involvement in the 2002 Indian Parliament attack was the last nail in the coffin. It stamped the belief that no justice is possible for the people of Kashmir. Also, that if the Kashmiri people do not stop fighting for freedom, the response can be more dangerous. Indefinite curfews are imposed to restrict any civilian movement. Internet and telephone facilities are taken off air, local newspapers are not allowed to go for printing and the Indian media organisations go by the dictates of the intelligence agencies. An atmosphere of fear is created to silence the people.
In the Name of Culture
While the civilian population remains imprisoned due to perilous curfews, Beethoven is played out on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar. In the name of culture, India makes all attempts to establish credibility and give legitimacy to the military occupation. The fact remains that Ladakh has been completely cut out from Kashmir, and no cultural or literary exchanges are allowed. Bande Paat has been thrown into oblivion, and no regime has taken its importance seriously. Kashmir’s overall culture has been reduced to sports tournaments organised by the Indian Army and musical concerts by the CRPF.
In the name of promoting Kashmir’s culture, the Indian state has planted NGOs to conduct its affairs. These NGOs are used to tap the antagonism against India. In the workshops they conduct, Kashmiri students are narrated success stories from India. Art and culture festivals are sponsored by the state government with a precondition that nothing related to the Kashmir conflict should be allowed. Kashmir’s culture has become a commodity that India is selling in the international market as ‘peaceful’ and ‘normal’.