Monday, September 15, 2008

Sentiments in Kashmir


Maryam Sakeenah

Kashmir burns... It has been, since the maharaja's fateful manoeuvring in 1947 that sealed Kashmir's miserable plight; however, not perhaps with so much passion and fervour of the mass-man on the streets in the face of indiscriminate brutality perpetrated by the army of one of the world's biggest democracies.

The string of mass demonstrations started after Indian troops brutalized protestors against the land transfer of Kashmiri forest land for the expansion of the Amarnath Shrine that attracts hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims annually. A blockade was imposed on the occupied valley as protests intensified. The streets caught fire with the shooting by Indian police, of Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz during a demonstration.

As Syed Ali Shah Geelani commented, the land transfer was quite a non-issue. It merely acted as the glowing splint when it is inserted in a jar of highly inflammable substance. What is there today in the streets of Kashmir is public sentiment full of hurt, ire, helplessness, frustration and anger over the reign of terror and oppression unleashed in the region since its sixty-odd year old occupation. Today, the numbers of Kashmiri prisoners languishing in Indian jails suffering torture and abuse that is obscured by India's propaganda machinery is appallingly high. Kashmiris refuse to forget the fathers, brothers and sons killed or 'disappeared', the mothers, sisters and daughters raped. And the sentiment in the streets states clearly, 'we remember.' As the victimized always do. Leaders of Kashmir's freedom fighting movement labour in prisons; others including Yasin Malik are hurt or wounded, put under house arrest or with mobility strictly limited.

Yet the tide of popular sentiment refuses to be held in check by barricades or barbed wire. The people carry their leaders on their shoulders as they march through the streets braving batons and bullets, in the face of curfews, checkposts and routine Indian ruthlessness.

The message emerging from this spontaneous outpouring of raw grief and unafraid passion stands clear as day. Kashmir has suffered too long. It cries out today for freedom and the right to self-determination enshrined in the charter of the United Nations. Ironically, India lays claim to permanent membership of the United Nations' Security Council. Kashmir simply wants to decide its own fate_ a right given to it by all canons of international law.

The Indian government has perhaps kept its head buried in the sand too long. The convenient fiction of a militancy engineered by the ISI trained infiltrators into Kashmir at best sounds like an old joke too frequently told that fails even to make anyone laugh anymore. The recent events in the valley have shattered that fiction, and written in bold blocks: Azadi. As Arundhati Roy stated, 'it is the only thing Kashmir wants. Denial is delusion.' She observes and understands the meaning in the slogans that today have become the battlecry for a nascent Kashmiri revolution: "Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people swarm around places that hold terrible memories for them. They demolish bunkers, break through cordons of concertina wire and stare straight down the barrels of soldiers' machine-guns, saying what very few in India want to hear. *Hum kya chahte? Azadi*! We Want Freedom. And, it has to be said, in equal numbers and with
equal intensity: *Jeevey Jeevey Pakistan*. Long live Pakistan…Everywhere there were Pakistani flags, everywhere the cry, *Pakistan se rishta kya? La ilaha illa llah*. What is our bond with Pakistan? There is no god but Allah. *Azadi ka matlab kya? La ilaha illallah*. What does Freedom mean? There is no god but Allah…Another was *Khooni lakir tod do, aar paar jod do* (Break down the blood-soaked Line of Control, let Kashmir be united again). There were plenty of insults and humiliation for India: *Ay jabiron ay zalimon, Kashmir hamara chhod do* (O oppressors, O wicked ones, Get out of our Kashmir). *Jis Kashmir ko khoon se seencha, woh Kashmir hamara hai* (The Kashmir we have irrigated with our blood, that Kashmir is ours!). The slogan that cut through me like a knife and clean broke my heart was this one: *Nanga bhookha Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan* (Naked, starving India, More precious than life itself—Pakistan).

The street sentiment in Kashmir makes the truth about Kashmir_ which the Indian state propaganda machinery has been at pains to smother in lies_ only too obvious. The trouble in Kashmir is not about the ISI trained infiltrators fomenting an unpopular militancy. It is not about Pakistani 'terrorism' across the line of control. It is about the Kashmiris' rejection of Indian control over their land; it is about their rejection of an illegal occupation that has, over the sixty years, written their tale of woes in blood and tears; it is about an imposition of an unpopular, undemocratic and unscrupulous rule that needs the baton and the bullet to perpetuate itself; it is about the legitimate aspirations of a people who have been denied fundamental freedom; it is about foreign control that flies in the face of the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris which India itself committed to, through the promised plebiscite that was never let happen; it is about an occupation that never was, never has been, not is and never will be accepted by the people; it is about a people's desire to live the way they want, with dignity and freedom, beyond the shadow of gun-toting Indian soldiers.

India has covered up the reality in Kashmir with lies prepared by the State and fed into the public by its powerful media. Kashmiris today have broken through the fragile façade of state-authored fiction to show the world it is Kashmir against an aggressive, arrogant occupying power. The State is embarrassed by the outrage in the streets of Srinagar. In its shame-faced egotism, it intensifies its state-terror on a restive population. Kashmiris, however, have gone past the point where the hail of bullets could deter them. For them is Do or Die. Roy comments: "Raised in a playground of army camps, checkposts and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. They're in full flow, not even the fear of death seems to hold them back. And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second-largest army in the world?"

By a more finely tuned analysis, this is embarrassing not merely for India, but the international community that recognizes India as an upcoming superpower, a secular responsible democracy and an aspirant to a permanent seat in the Security Council. The US actively seeks a strategic nuclear partnership with India as a 'responsible democracy', while condemning Iran for suspected nuclear ambitions. Where is the condemnation of India's blatant human rights abuse in Kashmir? Where is the concern for the thousands killed, imprisoned, tortured with impunity by Indian troops holding their 'license to kill' approved by their Secular Democracy? Where is the censure, the international pressure, the otherwise so oft-used threat of sanctions? Where is international law? Where is the UN Charter that enshrines 'the right of self-determination of all peoples'? Where are the Security Council Resolutions calling for that long-forgotten plebiscite? Where are the champions of human rights, peace and freedom? The world's silence on Kashmir speaks loud of double standards, duplicity, hypocrisy, narrow self-interest and the merely rhetorical commitment to human rights and self-determination held by those at the helm.

What Kashmir pines for today is just what Pakistan had stood for and advocated since its inception, before things went topsy-turvy. Yet the country's U-turn on its principled stance on Kashmir and its lukewarm support to the aspiration of Kashmiri masses in the wake of its own war in the tribal north signifies the collapse of its Kashmir policy. Pakistan has failed to cash in on the moment, to reciprocate the trust and the deep ties the Kashmiris feel themselves to be held by with Pakistan. Pakistan has teetered on Kashmir, kept mum or merely feebly whimpered on crucial concerns in its pursuit of a narrowly selfish 'Pakistan First' policy conjured up in the Musharraf era. No clear condemnation of the mayhem in Kashmir has been issued, no word of support to the leaders of the freedom movement, no appeal to the international community to take notice of the unabated violence. Most conspicuously, the Pakistani media, perhaps also desirous of viewership in India and of ties with the media giant, has given no significant coverage to the recent events in Kashmir. The Kashmir freedom leaders' expressions of solidarity with Pakistan and aspirations to unite with it become embarrassing for Pakistan as it has so miserably fumbled on its tottering Kashmir standpoint.

Kashmir today stands alone, but it stands with pride and heroism soaked in blood, tears and an undying idealism. And it puts to shame the torchbearers of democracy, human rights and freedom whose vision is characterized by that 'blindspot' on Kashmir, as they narrowly pursue the agendas of self-interest. Suffering Kashmir stands tall in a world maddened by "the twisted logic of a country that needs to commit communal carnage in order to bolster its secular credentials. Or the insanity that permits the world's largest democracy to administer the world's largest military occupation and continue to call itself a democracy." (Arundhati Roy)