The Kashmiri Poetics of Freedom
By Adil Bhat
The desire for freedom is as practical as the brutal occupation. However, Kashmir’s poetics of desire have troubled the Indian political class as well as a tiny section of the philistine intelligentsia that indulges in inconsequential political jibes, bringing them short-lived fame among the ‘nationalists’ of their ilk. Displaying her smugly narrow mind, Tavleen Singh, an Indian reporter, writer, and columnist, in her “politically incorrect acknowledgment” on August 14, 2016, brazenly remarked, “… [Kashmiris] are very bad children who have become addicted to violence of an ugly Islamist nature. So addicted are they to violence that they are ready to ruin their own future by plunging the Valley into chaos… These ‘children’ need punishment for extremely bad behaviour and not sympathy.” In her attempt to draw the “red line”, she suggests her ‘humble view’, stating, “Once it is clear that there is going to be no ‘Azadi’, the violence will abate on its own.”
It is in this painful rhetoric, coupled with state-killings, that Kashmir has been seething till date. There is no point in answering such Indian fanatics, who have been blinded by power and obsessed with Pakistan and symbols of Islam. Kashmir’s poetics of Azadi will not and cannot be deterred by lame suggestions and venomous narrative. It is a struggle that has been going on and will continue. In this movement of resistance, it’s the pen, not the sword, that is leading the struggle. With India’s high military spending in Kashmir, the pen, too, gathers speed. We are not “bad children”, as Singh erroneously puts it, we are fighters non-intimidated by shrewd power and authority, giving voice to our pain. The ceaseless vulgar display of military strength in the interiors of the Valley eerily evokes India’s own colonial past under the British.
As Kashmiris strive to reconstruct a vision of their homeland in their writings, I see the Valley writhing in pain under colonial hegemony and divisive communal designs. There has been no let-up in state-backed violence since its occupation. The current crisis is evidence of India’s hunger for power that often succumbs to cheap nationalism and militaristic chauvinism. As a result of the often mischievous and deceptive state policies, the Valley has, once again, erupted in anguish.
This time the anguish and the turmoil are the result of the extra-judicial killing of 22-year-old young commander, Burhan Wani. His death sparked mass protests across the Valley. More than 50,000 people congregated to mourn his death and joined his funeral procession. Popular among the younger generation of Kashmir, Burhan articulated the resentment of the Kashmiris over India’s occupation. His killing flared up the situation with mass protests and subsequent clampdown by the Indian state machinery. The Indian forces have used excessive force to dispel the protestors and mourners gathered at the funeral procession of Burhan.
In the most gruesome exhibition of force, the Indian troopers flouted all ethics of humanism by committing hostile violent acts against medical personnel, medical facilities, ambulances, and patients. The pattern of abuse has gone far to violate the rights and practice of the health-care givers. On July 9, 2016, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) attacked ambulances that were carrying the wounded persons from South Kashmir to Srinagar hospitals. Causing massive damage to the ambulances, the gun-wielding men in uniforms also brutally thrashed the medical staffers, the injured civilians, and the people accompanying the wounded.
At the time of writing, the heavy-handedness of the Indian armed forces resulted in the death of 60 civilians. More than 7,000 people are reported to be injured, thus indicating a possible increase in the death toll. The exorbitant number of injuries is a result of firing of pellets, bullets and teargas shells by Indian troops and Police personnel on aggrieved protesters across the Valley. Another horrific reality of the ongoing protests is the blinding of youth, disabling them for life. Expressing their concern over the life-long damage caused by pellet guns, doctors in Kashmir in the first week of protests that recorded 1,365 injuries had said that Indian forces were deliberately using rubber pellets to inflict maximum physical damage and psychological trauma on protesters without risking further fatalities.
Demanding immediate ban of pellet guns, Farooq Ahmad Ganie, the General Secretary of Medical Employees Federation (J&K), on August 12 expressed his resentment and asserted, “We may be Government employees, but we are not any different from Kashmiri people. Every drop of our blood is with the people of Kashmir. If the Government tells us that Government servants are a part of the Government, then we, as part of the Government, are asking them to stop using pellet guns.”
Posing enormous challenges to health care delivery in Kashmir, the state repression has reached a new height where the armed troopers have singled out hospitals, doctors, and ambulances in their attack on the protesting civilians. Intimidated by the Indian troopers, the on-duty doctors in the Valley were thrashed and detained for offering care to people in greatest need. The targeted attacks on hospitals and medic are just another aspect of the widening menace of state-terrorism that has flourished across the Valley. The health care workers, who provide medical care in Kashmir, risk coming under attack by troopers on a daily basis. This occupational hazard not only makes the delivery of health care impossible to the victims but further exacerbates the restive situation in the Valley. A health worker in the Valley explained their situation to this scribe, “We are helpless. What can we do? We are not being attacked by the raging protestors but the Indian troopers and Policemen who are acting as goons. There are no means to protect us – we can only voice our pain and powerlessness through any available channel.”
In this ongoing bitter conflict, the medical needs of the people have aggravated by subjecting health care facilities to violent attacks, intimidation, detention, and obstructed access. Regrettably, the brutal and blatant state repression in the Valley has not led to a single moment of compassion and empathy from the international health communities. The International Red Cross and Doctors without Borders have been mere onlookers as Kashmir bleeds.
I am haunted by two different actions. First is the image of blood-shot eyes of young protestors and non-protestors and second is the diplomatic silence and complete inaction maintained by the international community. The international community willfully watched the atrocities unleashed by the ‘most vibrant democracy in the world’ on unarmed young protestors, who are fighting for their right to self-determination. The use of steel and rubber pellet guns did not ruffle the hair of the preachers of democracy, human rights, and civil liberties. It was only after a month long infliction of state-terror that United Nations Human Rights Commission’s (UNHRC) on August 13 requested our colonial master, India, to visit Kashmir to investigate human rights violations in the occupied territory. Collective political voice that includes the ‘humanist’ left in India unanimously rejected the sluggish request of UNHRC.
All party leaders rejected the move saying it could lead to “interference in the country’s internal matters.” An ersatz model of left politics runs in the opposition, but sadly, speaks the language of the right in power. Waking up from his slumber, Sitaram Yechury, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM), suggested that the Government should, instead, send a team of its ‘own human rights bodies’ to assess the situation in the state. Such a suggestion reeks of political deception that the left politics has played over the years in India. From changing its stand on Kashmir’s self-determination, the left in India has come to call it “an integral part of India.”
The problem here is not specifically with Narendra Modi-led right wing government. In fact, the problem lies in the entire state structure and apparatus that have been misused and abused by those in power in New Delhi against a resisting civilian population of Kashmir. The political machinations over the years of occupation have fueled resentment among the Kashmiris. A unanimous all party voice rejecting the UNHRC request is the real politics of India, where voice of the oppressed drowns in the rhetorical cacophony of the oppressor, where maiming the helpless subaltern fetches vote, where Muslim minority lives in the margins of the urban high-tech cities, where the life of the ghettos and slums becomes the subject of cinematic art, and where the educational minority institutions are raided before the much-celebrated Independence Day.
I would like to draw the attention of the Indian Parliamentarians to these glaring, usually violent, “internal issues” of their country to which Kashmir is in no way a part, nor will it ever be a part. India is an everyday embodiment of violence. The ills suffered by the Indian society and sponsored by their political masters are far more threatening to its ‘integrity’ and ‘security’ than an occupied territory of Kashmir can ever pose.
However, the present rejection for fair, unbiased inquiry by an international body is not a case in isolation. There have been several such attempts by the Indian state, where organizations, bodies or individuals working to bring out the bitter truth of India’s occupation in Kashmir have either been unabashedly refused permission, deported or denied visa. In an of arbitrary act of censure and ‘discipline’, on September 23, 2011, Armenian-American academic, David Barsamian, was deported from New Delhi by the immigration authorities, who told him that he was “banned” from entering the country. Among other important meetings, Barsamian had planned to visit Kashmir. Given the culture of intolerance towards free exchange of ideas, alternative voices, and covering of uncomfortable truths about India, it is not surprising that India deported a figure of social and academic repute. While the intellectuals in India were dismayed by the “growing arbitrariness” of the Indian state, the power holders continued to use their idea of discipline as a weapon to silence voices of truth.
There have been attacks on human rights activists and media persons in the past, too. Way back in the 90s, these activists were picked up, detained, tortured, and later secretly murdered, only to be found on the banks of rivers in gunny sacks. It was a time when fear of reprisals desisted lawyers from taking up petitions on behalf of victims of abuse and torture. The planned murder of human rights lawyer, Jalil Andrabi, in March 1996 is still remembered and cited as an example of murky operations that continue in Kashmir. Further compounding the problem are state-appointed and sponsored renegade militias that have indulged in acts of threatening, intimidating, and attacking media personnel in the Valley. The systematic killings of such free and just voices have been the hallmark of India’s chest-thumping counterinsurgency operations in conflict-ridden Kashmir.
Instead, India chooses to adopt a clumsy approach each time by blaming Pakistan for the situation in Kashmir. No sooner did the protests start following Wani’s killing that India’s Intelligence Bureau in its July 14 Report stated, “every year almost Rs 100 crore [1 billion] is being funneled from Pakistan to Kashmir through hawala channel to create trouble in the state. The funds go straight to separatists who distribute it among young men to take part in protest rallies against security forces. Stone pelters are also being funded by the separatists.” This is the normal response from state institutions in India, and likewise in Pakistan. Both the countries have deceived the people of Kashmir – through military aggrandizement, state-inflicted torture that works within the structures of duplicitous state institutions.
Pakistan doesn’t defray stones to Kashmiris. These are our stones and our protests, our pen and our poetics of resistance, our land and our struggle for freedom. These ineffective and often absurd measures and conclusions that India jumps to make have failed in the past and are bound to fail in future. The call for peace lies in the history of an unfulfilled promise, that is, the promise of plebiscite.
A shorter version of the piece first appeared on Greater Kashmir.
Adil Bhat is Assistant Editor with Café Dissensus. He has contributed articles for Himal South Asian, Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Reader, Kashmir Life, and Café Dissensus.
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