(Adapted from a posting made earlier today on the Reader-List, Apologies for Cross Posting)
Even as the Indian state seems to be on the threshold of losing its grip both on hearts and minds in Kashmir and on its own wisdom, we have our own bunch of proud patriots making a heroic effort to convert the column inches of newspapers and the floor space of television studios into their own, special, battleground. Perhaps they might be consoling themselves with the hope that the turf battle of perception management in the media may yet be won, even if Kashmir is lost. Somehow, I am not so sure that this is going to be the case.
Unfortunately for them, to win in arguments, both – the state in Kashmir, and the Indian nationalist hard liners in the media and on other public fora, need some ideas, some attempt at reason, some amount of vision. I am afraid, that so far, neither the state, nor its hyper-loyal editorialists, sound-byte commandos and cyber-footsoldiers, have been able to display any. Instead, we have had bullets in Kashmir, and as I write this, news of midnight raids, arrests and the putting in place of the machinery of a major crackdown tomorrow, on those planning to assemble to protest peacefully on Lal Chowk in Srinagar, and restrictions on the freedom of expression. It is possible that a lot will happen tomorrow and in the next few days that will not filter through on television and the newspapers. It is possible that internet connections will be momentarily ‘down’ and that phone contact with the valley may be suspended. If it is not, then it is imperative that those who are in the valley, especially journalists of major international newspapers witness and report what might happen. If the worst does not come to pass, then, everyone will be relieved, and I really hope that is the case. We must remember, that in 1989-90, major massacres took place in Srinagar and in the rest of India, nobody really knew what was going on before it was too late. It is not as easy today for the Indian state to replicate the news blackout that accompanied the crackdown that took place in 1989, but certainly, the signs are that there might just be an attempt to do precisely that underway.
The PTI report quoted in a story just uploaded on the Indian Express website an hour before midnight, yesterday, 24th August, makes for chilling reading, especially if we read between the lines. It deserves being quoted in its entirety.
One killed in fresh firing, Curfew in valley imposed again
Press Trust Of India
Posted online: Indian Express, Sunday, August 24, 2008 at 2203 hrs
Srinagar, August 24:: In fresh violence, one person was killed and 40 injured when security forces opened fire and lobbed tear gas shells after curfew clamped in the entire Kashmir valley today was defied by protestors at several places.
Appealing for calm, authorities braced for the rally called by separatists at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk tomorrow and curfew imposed in all the 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley for the second time in a
week as a precautionary measure.
Several separatist leaders were put under house arrest ahead of the rally to protest against what they called the “failure” of the Centre to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Authorities also feared there may be some threat to the lives of the separatist leaders.
Police said a man identified as Ghulam Qadir Hajjam was killed when a stray bullet hit him when protestors attempted to defy curfew. His son also sustained injuries.
The incident took place in the Dalgate area this evening when the protesters tried to storm the battalion headquarters of paramilitary forces, police said.
Security forces had to resort to firing after repeated cane charging and bursting of tear gas shells failed to disperse the mob protesting against the clamping of curfew.
A CRPF spokesman Prabhakar Tripathy said the security forces had to open fire as the father-son duo tried to attack their camp, killing one person and wounding another.
Citing “absolutely imperative” reasons, the Jammu and Kashmir government meanwhile restricted local TV channels from broadcasting news and current affairs programmes with immediate effect on the eve
of separatists’ rally.
Read this again, carefully, and recognize the import of what it says. The signals, are transparent, and is recognizable even in the fact that this is a PTI Report, not a report authored by an Indian Express
correspondent in Kashmir. But just to be clear, let’s read the signs.
1. Blood has been spilt, when people attempted to defy curfey, it may be spilt again, tomorrow at Lal Chowk, or in the coming days, all over the valley.
2. There has been a crackdown. The leadership of the forces resisting the occupation have been arrested. With them absent, there may be no one to effectively restrain an angry and scared crowd, should there
be use of force against that crowd. This may lead to an escalation of violence, which is precisely what the state wants just now in Kashmir. It is fed up of a non-violent crowd, and wants to provoke at least a section of the crowd to turn violent. This is much easier to do if the leadership is locked away, and if a situation is created where passions may run high.
3. Some people of prominence in the ‘separatist’ leadership may be assasinated – (this is the import of the statement – “Authorities also feared there may be some threat to the lives of the separatist
leaders” – these will then be used to sow dissension. An attempt was made to do this by the NSA chied Narayanan recently when he declared that Abdul Aziz did not die from a police of CRPF bullet. This
backfired on him because he could not demonstrate how he knew this, especially as the ‘bullet’ in question was not found during the autopsy of the body. But there is no reason why this tactic, which has been so successful in the past with regard to the assasinations of the present Mirwaiz’s father and Abdul Ghani Lone, may not be tried again.)
4. There will be a news blockade. This can be clearly read into the import of the statement – “Citing “absolutely imperative” reasons, the Jammu and Kashmir government meanwhile restricted local TV
channels from broadcasting news and current affairs programmes with immediate effect on the eve of separatists’ rally.”
Simultaneously with this ‘crisis management’ mode kicking into gear in the valley, there has also been the unleashing of the threat, through the loud and clear signals sent by hard-line commentators of
the bringing to bear of ‘sedition’ charges against anyone displaying the slightest hint of sympathy for the idea that the time for ‘Azadi’ in Kashmir has come. This threat has always been held out to people
in Kashmir. Now, it is being held out against all those (non Kashmiris) who are, or may think of standing by the people of Kashmir in this time of darkness. So, the threat of violence inside Kashmir goes hand in hand with the veiled, but clear threat of ‘being locked up with the keys thrown away’.
The ratcheting up of abuse, of name-calling, of loud and pathetic displays of rhetorical excess against all those, especially, but not only on the writer Arundhati Roy (as a response to her recent essay ‘Azadipublished in the Outlook) on the ground of ‘sedition’ needs to be seen in this context.
In the middle of all this. Not a single argument has emerged, either from the state, or from its minions in the media, or on this list, as to why Kashmir should continue to be held, by force if necessary. Please do not mistake the import of what I am saying. I mean ‘Why’ not ‘How’. We have heard a lot of ‘How’ Kashmir must be held. We have not heard a ‘Why’. Because there is no “why’ anymore.
To answer the ‘Why’ question, the proponents of the Indian states’ now visibly hardening stance on Kashmir would have to take recourse ultimately to the ethical and moral bases for justifying what is a visibly brutal occupation of a now voluntarily un-armed resistance. The United Jehad Council (the umbrella separatist militant’s organization) has called on all militants to not use or even display weapons, to take no recourse to violence. This call may be inspired by cynicism as much as it may be a tacit admission of the recognition
of the moral strength of non-violent resistance. Whatever the case may be, if bullets fly tomorrow, they will not fly from guns in militants’ hands. The people have disarmed. The state is arming itself. We must all pray that this situation does not degenerate into a bloodbath on Lal Chowk tomorrow. Let us hope that whosoever thinks they are in charge in the Government of India’s ‘handling’ of Kashmir does not get carried
away into thinking that India, like China or Burma, can ‘take’ the fallout of a certain number of casualties in its stride. That all you need after a massacre is festivity. And even if we don’t have the Olympics lined up like China did after cracking down hard on Tibet and all internal dissidence, we can always manufacture some beguiling image of ‘economic resilience’ or ‘cultural diversity’ to distract a possibly indignant world’s attention from the real possibility of dead bodies piling up on the streets of Srinagar. This robust ‘firm
hand theory’ might be wanting to have us believe that If China can do a Tienanemen Square and get away with it, surely, the other resurgent Asian power can afford a little ‘lali’ (a tinge of bloodied August redness) on the dirt of Lal Chowk.
All we have heard, in the meanwhile, is the tiresome repetition of the following –
1. The unity and integrity of India is paramount. Not an inch of
territory can be negotiated. Those who want to be ‘Azad’ should be
pushed, into Pakistan, leaving Kashmir, essentially an empty Kashmir,
so that the occupation can continue.
2. Too much money has been spent on Kashmir, so we can’t let go of it.
3. The people of Kashmir are misled by dangerous, fire-breathing,
Islamist radicals. Or, the people of Kashmir are dangerous, fire
breathing, Islamist radicals.
4. The Kashmiri pandit population has had a really bad time.
5. If Kashmir goes, everyone else will want a piece of Azadi.
6. Kashmir must remain in India, because its continued existence
within the Indian union as the only muslim majority province is proof
of India’s secularism. if Kashmir goes, what will happen to Indian
In everything that I have read and heard till now, these are the six core arguments. Earlier, there used to be a seventh one. Which went like this. “The people of Kashmir love India, it is only a handful of the ISI inspired terrorist subversives who are the root of all the trouble in Kashmir. Once they are dealt with, the people of Kashmir will return to the bosom of the motherland. They will be seen, plying their shikaras, casting their non-votes in non-elections, weaving their carpets, painting their laquer, carrying pilgrims on their backs and selling their apples and being extras in the Hindi movie set which Kashmir must remain so that Indians can enjoy their little bit of home grown Switzerland. In other words, the people of Kashmir
really, truly, deeply love having the Indian armed forces occupy their land and torture them.”
Unfortunately, this seventh argument, which was the really top-drawer, shined and polished argument, is no longer available for use. It has been consigned to the dustbin of history by the visible evidence that we have all seen of the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Kashmir peacefully stating that their only desire is liberation from the occupation.
So, the only arguments available are the 6 outlined above. Unfortunately, none of these six arguments take into account what the people of Kashmir may or may not want. They all hinge on what people outside Kashmir may or may not find desirable for India, for Kashmir and the for the people of Kashmir. To me, that is just as reprehensible as the justification of the occupation of Iraq by an invading army on the
grounds that actually this is happening because Haliburton wants it this way, or that the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops in 1968 was justified because the politbureau of the Communist Party of
the Soviet Union (which represented neither the people of Czechoslovakia, nor the Communist Party of the Czech Republic) wanted it this way.
The only argument that rested, or relied on the will of the people is the one that has quietly had to exit in the last few days, the one about how much the people of Kashmir loved their continuing occupation.
Since, none of the arguments rely on, or even feel the need to take cognizance of the will of the majority of the people of the Kashmir valley, we have to come to the conclusion that following these arguments through to their logical conclusion must require the Indian state to either empty the valley of its inhabitants, or to beat them into submission to an extent that they are left with no will. To do that will be to follow Betolt Brecht’s irony laden advice to the ruling powers in the former GDR’s (during a swift repression of a
workers uprising in East Berlin in 1953( of the need to “dissolve the people and elect another in their place” .
Now, it is debatable as to whether a state can continue to call itself democratic with any honesty (it could of course call itself democratic in the manner of the former ‘peoples democracies’) if it has to rely on such drastic measures in order to ensure that the will of the people in one of its parts actually not prevail. If the state is such that it gears itself to make war upon the people, is it at all unrealistic to assume that some people, in return will seek to defend themselves by means (which may be non violent, which may just
include peaceful assembly, writing, speaking, thinking, having conversations) that nevertheless can be read by those who are partisan to the state as acts amounting to ‘causing disaffection towards legally constituted authority and making war upon the state’
What should such people,(who are so accused of ‘causing disaffection and making war upon the state’) and those who stand by them do? What should Arundhati Roy, and mainstream commentators like Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar, Jug Suraiya, Rajmohan Gandhi (and even Vir Sanghvi, who reaches the same conclusions throgh a very different route) do? What should I do? What will you, who is reading this, and so may be complicit in what might be my alleged ‘sedition’ do?
Should we and they (the people of Kashmir) ‘make love’, not ‘war’ on that state that reveals with its every word and deed that it is making war upon them/us? Is that what those who are so quick to jump to the
‘sedition’ gun want?
Asking for that to happen is a bit like asking a woman who is going to be raped to love her rapist. To save her ‘honour’ by marrying the rapist. And if she is ‘married’ to that rapist, to not insist, ask or even dream of a divorce so that the ‘unity and integrity’ of the marriage can continue.
She can criticize it, she can complain occasionally, (as some, amongst the less shrill of the commentators who balk at the thought of ‘Azadi’ so graciously suggests) but does she not know that when rapists assault
women, or their wives, they do so out of deep affection? And what they demand in return is the gentle reciprocity of in-house criticism, not the ungrateful churlishness of a demand for separation, of Azaadi. Those who do so, are determined on impressing upon us that rapists do what they do to their victims
only to prove how much they really care.
For me, the difference between that demand for the display of ‘critical reciprocity’ to a rapists love and the demand for a divorce is the difference between ‘criticism’ and ‘sedition’. I want this cruel, suffocating, strangle of an embrace to end, and if that desire is sedition, then I would much rather be seditious than be
violated. Being ‘seditious’ in this sense is really not about embracing a daring idea, it is just about self-preservation, and the effort to retain for oneself, a semblence of dignity and self-
respect. That is all there is to it.
The argument against ‘sedition’ can be held to have some strength in a situation where a numbing continuity of violence is not a necessary condition of the persistence of the ‘union’ . When the reality of a state’s presence in the life of a people can only come to mean violence, then not to be seditious is to agree to be violated, on a daily basis, probably forever.
My question to those who are asking for the prosecution of those being labelled ‘seditious’ is as follows, do you really want to be complicit in this routine, banal, prolongation of daily violation? And if you do, what do you really intend to do, in order to carry out your threat against those who choose not to be complicit? Do you really want to lock them up and throw away the keys, in keeping with the proclamations of those you applaud today?
Once you have locked up all the ‘seditionists’ (and their tribe seems to be increasing) what will you do? A CNN-IBN poll on live TV, showed that 51 % of the viewers of a programme that discussed the pros and
cons for ‘Azadi’ for Kashmir, and featured rabid, ranting politicians, wanted ‘Azadi’ for Kashmir. A TImes of India poll indicated that 41 % of Indians in major metros indicated that they wanted ‘Azadi’ for Kashmir. I am not one given to taking opinion polls seriously, but clearly something is changing in the bigger picture. More and more ‘Indians’ seem to be giving the ‘Azadi for Kashmir’-option a serious consideration. If this wave of Indians who want ‘Azadi for Kashmir from India’ and “Azadi for India from Kashmir’ swells to a tide, what will the ‘anti-seditionists’ do?
Will they hunt ‘seditious’ sentiment wherever it is and lock its proponents and throw away the key? Will they make them ‘disappear’ just as people have been known to ‘disappear’ in Kashmir. Will they ensure that the channels through which ‘seditious’ sentiment is being expressed, mainstream newspapers, television channels, blogs, discussion lists, tea shops, class rooms, be tightly controlled and viciously monitored? Will they meticulously weed out every favourable reference to ‘plebiscites in Kashmir’ made by India’s first prime minister from the historical record ? Will they drop Jayprakash Narayan’s name from hospitals and
institutes because he had once said things just as seditious, and about Kashmir? Will they turn their beloved Secular, Democratic, Republic into a ‘People’s Democracy’ on the formerly Rumanian (ala Causescu model? Or will they ensure that their beloved state comes to resemble, more and more, with every passing day, their envied doppelganger, the People’s Republic of China, which has a very efficient, tried and tested mechanism for dealing with ‘seditionists’, which can be imported and Indianized, just as effectively as the idea of a ‘special economic zone’ has been? Will they expand the ‘occupation of Kashmir’ to the extent that it ceases to be an ‘occupation of Kashmir’ and becomes instead an ‘occupation of India by its own armed forces. In ordinary circumstances, such situations are known as coup- de-tat’s, and they happen with a depressing regularity in our neighbourhood. Is it time finally, then, for the anti-seditionists in India, to ensure that India enters the SAARC spirit by having at last, a respectable military, or quasi-military coup of it’s own (After all, the people in Pakistan and Bangladesh have had so much fun all these years, and all we had were those two measly years of an internal emergency in the now forgotten seventies !)
How far exactly are the anti-seditionists prepared to go to ensure that more ‘Indians’ do not get infected by the ‘Azadi for Kashmir’ bug?
How lovely that india would be. Standing tall with Ahmednijad ruled Iran, with the Ibn Saud’s nizam-e-more-stuffed Saudi Arabia, with the (some) People’s Republic of China, with Czar Putin’s Russia, with
Cuba (where the doctrine of Socialism in one country has been refined to Socialism within one brotherhood) with the Gerontocracy of North Korea (where the doctrine of Socialism in one country has been
refined to Socialism within one dynasty), with the United States under Mad King George, with Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the Burmese Junta’s Myanmar and oh, even that pesky neighbour, the inconsistently military barracks of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In each of these states, there are people locked away for sedition, with the keys thrown away. It is rumored that some of these people, especially in advanced tyrannies like Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea are writers and troublesome intellectuals. Perhaps, having realised and actualised this sedition-free utopia, the Indian government could then initiate a new grouping of states, to be known as the ‘Sedition Suppressers Group’ or SSG, to match the Nuclear Suppliers Groups
(NSG). And the benefit of membership of the first grouping (SSG) could be used to console the hurt pride of a Republic that may or may not be spurned by the non-proliferationary fundamentalism of some pesky non-entity members (with no impressive track record in sedition suppression) of the other group (NSG) in the coming days.
All these options are available to our proud patriots. And I would really urge all those who have been crying themselves hoarse to consider them in detail.
The occupation of Kashmir produces conditions of brutality that are no longer confined to Kashmir. The habit of state terror is contagious, once unleashed at one end, it itches to be unleashed elsewhere. It unleashes itself, everywhere. Farmers are shot in cold blood in a suburb of Delhi, a hundred or so die in Nandigram. Its not just India that occupies Kashmir, it is the habits learnt in Kashmir that return to haunt, and to occupy india. In the end, occupation corrodes the nominal occupier as much as it corrodes the nominal occupied. That is why, once again, India needs Azadi from Kashmir, as much as Kashmir needs Azadi from India. Such an Azadi will not autmatically end the spectacle of policemen pulverizing unarmed resisters in India, as is seen in this youtube videorecently uploaded from Srinagar. But it will give to every act of resistence to such indignities a fresh lease of life.
As I finish writing this, I have apprehensions of what the morning will bring. And the next many mornings. And I cannot but help end by ending this long post with a poem by Agha Shahid Ali that I have always thought of as prescient. Were he alive today, and how marvellously alive he would be if he were alive, all he might have done is to simply re-write this poem, word for word.
I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight
Agha Shahid Ali (from “The country without a post office.”)
One must wear jeweled ice in dry plains
to will the distant mountains to glass.
The city from where no news can come
is now so visible in its curfewed night
that the worst is precise:
From Zero Bridge
a shadow chased by searchlights is running
away to find its body. On the edge
of the Cantonment, where Gupkar Road ends,
it shrinks almost into nothing,
is nothing by Interrogation gates
so it can slip, unseen, into the cells:
Drippings from a suspended burning tire
are falling on the back of a prisoner,
the naked boy screaming, “I know nothing.”
The shadow slips out, beckons Console Me,
and somehow there, across five hundred miles,
I’m sheened in moonlight, in emptied Srinagar,
but without any assurance for him.
On Residency Road, by Mir Pan House,
unheard we speak: “I know those words by heart
(you once said them by chance): In autumn
when the wind blows sheer ice, the chinar leaves
fall in clusters–
one by one, otherwise.”
“Rizwan, it’s you, Rizwan, it’s you,” I cry out
as he steps closer, the sleeves of his phiren torn.
“Each night put Kashmir in your dreams,” he says,
then touches me, his hands crusted with snow,
whispers, “I have been cold a long, long time.”
“Don’t tell my father I have died,” he says,
and I follow him through blood on the road
and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners
left behind, as they ran from the funeral,
victims of the firing. From windows we hear
grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall
on us, like ash. Black on edges of flames,
it cannot extinguish the neighborhoods,
the homes set ablze by midnight soldiers.
Kashmir is burning:
By that dazzling light
we see men removing statues from temples.
We beg them, “Who will protect us if you leave?”
They don’t answer, they just disappear
on the road to the plains, clutching the gods.
I won’t tell your father you have died, Rizwan,
but where has your shadow fallen, like cloth
on the tomb of which saint, or the body
of which unburied boy in the mountains,
bullet-torn, like you, his blood sheer rubies
on Himalayan snow?
I’ve tied a knot
with green thread at Shah Hamdan, to be
untied only when the atrocities
are stunned by your jeweled return, but no news
escapes the curfew, nothing of your shadow,
and I’m back, five hundred miles, taking off
my ice, the mountains granite again as I see
men coming from those Abodes of Snow
with gods asleep like children in their arms.