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Frozen Rage in Kashmir

By Zaboor Ahmad

Post-independent Indian state has colossally failed in a systematic manner in Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah, the leader of politically polarized people of Jammu and Kashmir at the time of independence of India, decided to hitch the knot of Kashmir in alliance with Hari Singh, the last Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, with India because he found justice to be on the Indian side at the time. India assured Kashmiri people that it won’t gobble up their land. A Plebiscite was to be held to seek consent for the social contract, for it had to be voluntary and not a forced one. Ordering a Plebiscite was not unique in regard to Kashmir but a well-accepted policy of the Congress Party whenever matters were contentious like in the cases of Junagarh and Hyderabad.  Indian policy suffered from contradiction: on the one hand, it assured people of Kashmir of Plebiscite; on the other, it took the matter to the United Nations, which itself ruled in favor of Plebiscite. The Indian government denied both. As the Indian army landed in the heart of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, to fight the raiders from North Western Frontier Province, who descended on the valley, it began to drive them away from central areas towards the peripheries of the state. The enemies were known and locals supported them. But before the mission could be accomplished, the ceasefire line was imposed. But the fire never ceased. What ceased was the movement of well-connected people across what is now known as the Line of Control. India reneged back on its promise of holding Plebiscite, ostensibly because Pakistan had joined military alliances sponsored by America. But the promise was not made to Pakistan but to the Kashmiri people. This is seen as the first major treacherous act in the long laundry list of injustice handed over to Kashmiri people by the Indian state.

Given the limited terms of accession signed by Hari Singh, the Muslim majority character of state, the United Nations security councils’ involvement, the promise of Plebiscite, the unusual nature of the circumstances in which accession occurred – all this made it essential to provide a separate constitutional status to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The limited accession and this recognition and institutionalization of Kashmir’s right to self-governance represented the essential guarantee of stability of Kashmir’s relationship with India. Any tinkering with this was hence bound to enervate the edifice of this relationship, and produce dissatisfaction. As the Plebiscite option was scuttled, the Indian government had a second thought over the special status. Losing the only Muslim majority state to Pakistan would have sounded the death knell to the Nehruvian vision of a multi-religious state. India essentially saw the Kashmir conflict through a Hindu- Muslim prism and sought to keep Kashmir as a counter-narrative to Jinnah’s two nation theory. Extension of Indian constitution to the state happened at a time when the emotional attachment of Kashmiri people with the India was still raw. Over the years it has accentuated, for the real integration has to take place in the hearts of people. Gulzari Lal Nanda found Article 370 a gate not the bedrock of a relationship; the gate is regulated by the state government and when opened by giving concurrence, Indian constitution can be applied. It is now an open secret how politics in the state was manipulated to put stooges in power to ensure the gate remains open.

The dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah in a disgraceful manner by the Indian government with the connivance of security establishment started the process of constitutional integration through proxies. It has prevented the political fragmentation of India. But it has also made minds and hearts of Kashmiris to waver in support of India. The dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah brought the military jackboots back from the peripheral areas against the defined enemies to the core to quell the protests of the local people who have been seen as potential enemies in an undeclared war. The Indian elite, particularly the establishment of the time, was prepared to countenance various forms of malfeasance in Kashmir because of the state’s symbolic and strategic significance. The demands of autonomy have been characterized as a threat to India’s unity and the converse of it, which resulted in a concentration of power at New Delhi, a nationalistic move. The political autonomy became a threat to the absolute authority of the increasingly militarized state. “In the semantics of functional politics,” writes Prof.  Rasheed-ud-din Khan, “the term national integration means and ought to mean cohesion and not fusion, unity and not uniformity, reconciliation not a merger, accommodation not annihilation…” The Indian government gave precedence to the latter rather than the former perspectives while dealing with Kashmir. This political behavior is intrinsic to the political parties across the board but abhorrent to the Kashmiri people.

The double standards of the Indian state have become all the more evident. It allowed limited dose of autonomy to fulfill the aspiration of people in different states by giving them constitutional guarantees under Article 371, while in Kashmir, it has gradually eroded what was at the outset institutionalized in the Constitution, the capstone of social contract. India has shown its consistency in breaking its promises to the people of Kashmir. India has denied the promise and chance to the Kashmiri people to live under their own constitution to govern their own lives.  Every undemocratic exercise of power in a democracy is bound to increase the power of unaccountable agencies and institutions. The world’s largest numerical democracy has failed to remain democratic in Kashmir. The Election Commission has failed to function in an independent fashion, even though its jurisdiction was extended to Kashmir. What national interests have been served and what sort of national integration has been achieved over the years? Blatant rigging done to put stooges in power is now deeply etched in the psyche of people. People doubt the authenticity of every election because the result of a particular election is not decided by votes cast by Kashmiris but by the Indian government. The pattern of sustained disenfranchisement and marginalization is entrenched in the collective consciousness of Kashmiri. Therefore, it is not surprising to hear Ali Shah Geelani, one-time mainstream leader, now leading a separatist movement, reiterating that Kashmir is yet to see a ‘real democracy’. Those now advocating secession from India, both in a violent or non-violent manner, were full-time participants in the rigged election process, either as candidates, polling agents or supporters. Every injustice heaped on Kashmiri people resulted in the shrinking of pro-Indian supporters and swelling in sentiments for either independence from India or Pakistan.

When Mehbooba Mufti was out of power, she could be seen protesting in the Lal Chowk, the heart of summer capital of the state, with a placard in her hand which read, ‘We want Justice’. While in power, her regime has surpassed all the records of human rights violation. Social networking sites have lifted the façade over the violent core of the Indian democracy. We have entered a new phase in the volatile politics in which Kashmiris no longer trust democracy. It is buttressed by the fact that voting is helping the government to add repression rather than lessening it. This has been precisely the narrative of the Indian government from the outset.  Behind the stone pelting, one could see a business of extortion and political haggling. The militaristic methods used for establishing control over the restive people have translated into political gains for the ruling formations and overall militarizing governance. Meanwhile, the security establishment has remained unaccountable. In just six months after the killing of Burhan Wani, 110 people have been killed, 13000 wounded, more than 120 crippled forever by pellets and bullets, and thousands rotting in jails. M.L. Koul commission formed to investigate the 2011 uprising in Kashmir has indicted security agencies for providing concocted justifications for the killing of innocents. All these brutalities have produced a huge army of stone pelters. It is not just those who got killed, maimed, injured, or jailed, but their families as well, which now stand opposed to the Indian establishment. It is naïve to believe that they can be loyal citizens of India.

Decades of grief, anger, and frustration have produced a tsunami of emotions that impels the people to risk their lives on the streets. An entire generation has grown up who see no other face of India except violence perpetrated by the state against Kashmiri people. Those who are on streets with a stone in hands find concerted wires, rampant internet clampdown, trespassing of rights at the will of military men, interrogations, and detentions. They have taken the message of the revolutionary poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, by heart: “Speak, for your lips are free”. Today the most visible manifestation of the political movement against Indian rule is no longer the gun toting insurgent, but the young boys hurling stones. They have the support of families and society at large. Arrests impart strength to the growing discourse of Azadi.

With Children or father either killed or in jail, justice elusive, the message has penetrated the women folk to come out of seclusion to share with men the struggle for attaining freedom. Martyrdom is increasingly becoming a spiritual condition and its attainment one of the loftiest goals in Kashmir. It is quixotic to see that people don’t grieve over the killing of insurgents, but shower petals. It isn’t Sufism that can deliver India from this predicament it has entangled itself in. By banking on religion, it is communalizing the public sphere. What impels the people against its own government is ‘frozen rage over accumulated injustices’ of over six decades, squeezing the rights of Kashmiri people even though their constitution has a long list of rights that the Indian Constitution provides.

The daily humiliation, check points, rampant frisking, and arrests – what now constitute “destiny effects” for Kashmiri people – are no longer bearable. Kashmiri people are forced to live under it, to give the impression of ‘enforced peace’ or what is called ‘normalcy’ in official discourse.  One can see the gun-toting military forces forming a continuous corridor from Jawahar tunnel to every lane and by-lane of Kashmir regulating the lives of people. Military forces behave as an occupation army in Kashmir. Military vehicles can be seen plying on roads with lights on even during day time, a bizarre behavior, probably unique in the whole world, and stopping the traffic to keep the military convoy moving and hectoring drivers if they overtake military vehicles. This is not consumable to the youth today, while it may have been for earlier generations. The militarized control has become more robust over the years, generating a feeling of vulnerability. The military camps, detention centers, police posts that dot the geographical landscape of Kashmir produce the reminiscences of grief, detention, humiliation, enforced disappearances, search and operations, surveillance in the minds of youth. They are fighting to change the attitude of the status-quoist state that India embodies as of now. There is nothing positive to look forward to in Kashmir.

The violence is directed against the insensitive, unsympathetic, and callous attitude of the state.  The violence directed against Kashmiri people is rendered invisible by the rhetoric of defending so-called the national interests. Unless something tangible is done in Kashmir, there is every chance that the game of blood spilling will drench the earth in Kashmir.

Bio:
Zaboor Ahmad is Lecturer-in-Political Science in Kashmir. Email: ahmadzaboor@gmail.com

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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘India at 70: The Many Partitions’, edited by Bhaswati Ghosh, author & translator, Canada.

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