By Arif Khan
The state of Jammu and Kashmir is unique not only in terms of its beauty but also for being the only state with a Muslim majority in an otherwise predominantly Hindu country. Kashmir has witnessed chronic conflict and the gross violation of human rights for several decades. Expectedly, the violence experienced by the Kashmiri people has generated deep fears for their own safety and the safety of their loved ones. A ubiquitous fear is of family members not returning after leaving home in the morning. In fact, years of violence have created a large number of “half-widows”—women whose husbands have been subjected to enforced disappearance but are not declared dead. The impact of the conflict on mental health has been direct and grave. In this long-drawn conflict, the psychological distress and specific psychological disorders are common among people in Kashmir.
Although a significant proportion of the population in Kashmir is Muslim, it has been home to a sizable number of Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist people. Kashmir is thus best understood as multi-religious and multilingual. Historically speaking, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been ruled by different dynasties over a period of time. Kashmir’s history shows it to have been a great centre for Buddhist and Brahminical art in ancient times. Several well-known Sanskrit scholars were from the Valley, and Kashmir is regarded as the birthplace of the Hindu sect, ‘Kashmiri Shaivism’, devoted to Lord Shiva. Centuries of Hindu rule ended in 1339, when Shah Mir, a Muslim adventurer who had acquired substantial political power, seized the throne. In later centuries, Kashmir came to be ruled by the Mughals, followed by brief periods of Afghan and Sikh domination. Eventually in 1846, Kashmir became part of the Hindu Dogra kingdom, when Maharaja Gulab Singh signed the Treaty of Amritsar with the British in 1846; Kashmir remained part of the Dogra kingdom for the next 100 years. In 1947, after independence, power shifted from Jammu to Srinagar when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah assumed leadership, first as an emergency administrator (October 1947) and then Prime Minister (March 1948).
Kashmir conflict is a decades-old problem between two nuclear-armed countries, India and Pakistan, both making claims and counter-claims over the territory. The Indian state maintains that the conflict is a result of orchestrations by Pakistan to destabilize India. Pakistan argues that the Kashmir conflict is an ongoing freedom struggle of Kashmiri Muslims against Indian occupying forces. To reign in the insurgents, large numbers of paramilitary forces and the Indian army were and continue to be deployed in Indian-administered Kashmir. These forces have been granted sweeping powers to use lethal force to quash civil unrest. They have also been awarded protection from prosecution for acts committed in the discharge of duty. One of the main facilitators of impunity for the armed forces is the much debated Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1990. According to an Amnesty International report released in 2015, the law continues to feed a cycle of impunity for human rights violations, twenty-five years after its introduction. With the enforcement of legal provisions like AFSPA, access to legal remedies for victims of human rights transgressions and their families remain extremely limited. There are a number of reported incidents of crime, including rape, mass killings, enforced disappearances, and torture against the civilians, all of which result in humiliation of Kashmiris. These are grim atrocities neglected in the narrative of the Indian state. But these tales of horror and sorrow remain central to the collective narratives of people in Kashmir. In the name of creating security, homes are searched, vehicles stopped, and people detained without explanation, which in turn creates resentment and discontent among people, who then respond through violent protests and demonstrations. These experiences do not differ very significantly among different segments of the Kashmiri population and thus strengthen a collective marginalized identity.
The disruption of democracy in Kashmir is apparent on many fronts. It explains that democracy in the region would be synonymous with the restoration of full citizenship rights to Kashmiris, including freeing civilians from harassment by the police and the army, the revocation of tyrannical legislations, the end of unlawful killings, the protection of civil rights, and creating public accountability for Kashmir’s human rights tragedies. The aura of this movement and the response of people provided a diverse exposure to fight against the brutality and coercive forces. The present conflict affects every corner of the society – loss of human lives, decline of economy, trade, and local craft. Its effect is hard for common people, especially peasants and daily wage labourers who have no means of survival.
The problem gets compounded when educated youth from the Valley join militant ranks. This is something over which the government needs to think. The PDP-BJP govt has miserably failed to bring “peace” in the Valley. Instead, the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti reiterated her view that the violence is the handiwork of “5%” of the people as the rest of the population is keen on peace, while stating that the “children of the poor” are victims in the violence wracking the Valley since July 8, 2016.
Referring to the previous protests during the time of NC-Congress government (2008 and 2010), she said that there was a reason for the anger among people to come out and protest, but this time an encounter with a militant sparked off the violence. The recent unrest in Kashmir, which triggered after the killing of Hizb Commander Burhan Wani, the ‘Poster Boy’ of the so-called new age militancy, is not showing any sign of waning. It affects the daily life terribly, especially those of the students who are unable to attend regular schools due to the constant state of unrest and curfew in the Valley. The presence of heavy paramilitary forces and curfews ensure that not only do schools stop functioning but also other working places remain dysfunctional. Further, Mufti said, “There were encounters before… even now and will be in the future.” It clearly suggests that there was a plan behind the current spike in violence.
In his Indian Express article, “Kashmir’s Hidden Uprising,” Jean Dreze writes, “The government of India’s sledgehammer response, aside from being inhuman, does nothing to solve the problem. If the root of the problem is the alienation of the Kashmiri people from India, then state repression can only make things worse. It also undermines Kashmir’s peaceful traditions and pushes Kashmiri youngsters towards armed resistance and radical Islamist groups. The possible consequences, not only for Kashmir but also for India, are too horrible to contemplate.”
The recent uprising, threatening statements by administrators and the subsequent escalation of conflict have yet again brought suffering to the Valley and its people. With this, the hopes of a peaceful settlement of Kashmir issue remain shattered. Unfortunately, once again an apprehension seems to have set in that nothing tangible has been accomplished in return for incalculable deaths of young people and pellet-induced blinding of children as well as elderly men and women. The people are disenchanted with the policies of not only the govt but also that of the pro-freedom groups. Kashmir issue and people’s long sufferings seem to not end even though people enthusiastically respond to the calls of protest and follow the “protest calendars” rigorously.
It is true that the intensity of the recent upsurge is diminishing. But does it mean that we are heading towards “normalcy” as pro-freedom groups intend to release new protest calendars? The question now facing all of us is whether this so-called ‘normalcy’ endures or falls like a house of cards.
Arif Khan is a Research Scholar, Department of History, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
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