Kashmir: The Hidden Occupation

Guest post by YASMIN QURESHI

Yasmin Qureshi grew up as a member of India’s Muslim minority before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a social justice activist who traveled to Palestine in 2007 and to Kashmir last year. This article is a reflection on her trip to Kashmir.

I wanted to go to Kashmir ever since I visited Palestine in 2007. There are many similarities in the nature of the occupation as well as the struggles, both being nearly 63 years old.

One difference is that while Israel is seen as an external occupying force in Palestine, the Kashmir issue is considered an “internal” matter or a conflict between Pakistan and India, and the voice of Kashmiris is often lost. As a result, there are fewer international organizations monitoring the region, and little information about the extent and impact of the occupation gets out.

A layoff from my company in August 2009 gave me the opportunity to visit the region, called “a paradise on earth” by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The unanimous message I heard as I traveled and spoke to journalists, taxi drivers, pony riders, waiters, students and teachers was that they want “azadi,” independence from the occupation by India.

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GROWING UP as a member of India’s Muslim minority, it took me some years to take a position on the Kashmir issue. My visit to Palestine forced me to analyze why I could show solidarity with Palestinians, but remain unsure about Kashmir. I was also falling into the trap that many Indian Muslims do: If only Kashmiris would give up their struggle against the Indian government, there would be peace for Muslims in the rest of India, and the scars of partition would be gone.

The first striking view of the capital city Srinagar from the airplane was the breathtaking beauty of the magnificent Himalayas as the backdrop to a long expanse of army tents and buildings along the runway. Six soldiers with guns stood guard around the plane. I wanted to take a picture, but was advised against it by my neighbor.

The extent of militarization is appalling. There are 700,000 troops and 70,000 police for a population of roughly 10 million. The Indian military has been conducting “training sessions” with Israel to curb the resistance in Kashmir. Checkpoints and detention centers (which also turn into torture centers) are all over the valley.

“There are more soldiers here than in Afghanistan or Iraq,” said Qazi Mir, my taxi driver who often drives journalists to cover news stories. “How do Indians expect us to be part of their country? Do they know what it is like to live surrounded by armed men?” he asked. In March, the combined number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was roughly 250,000.

A senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer admitted that, unless the longstanding grievances of injustice and suppression of civil liberties are addressed in a fair manner, there will never be peace. “Things are better now,” he said, as we chatted during iftaar, the breaking of the Ramadan fast, at an old family friend’s place. “Our forces have been reduced, but we are still very distant from a healing process.” Tired of the violence, some members of his family had moved to Delhi during the 1990s.

The nature of the struggle has changed over the years. Nonviolent protests and isolated incidents of violence had been taking place for some years, but in 1987, a rigged election that led to massive protests was a turning point. Images of the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, the same year were an inspiration.

However, the fraudulent elections led to frustration that evolved into a violent insurgency throughout the 1990s. Kashmiris felt that democratic and peaceful means of resistance had been choked off.

With the rise in arrests, torture, killings and rape by Indian soldiers, young men started taking up arms. Pakistan took advantage of the frustrations of the Kashmiris and started arming groups like Lashkar-i-Taiba and Harkatul Mujahideen. The U.S.-led mujahideen resistance movement in Afghanistan against the USSR also had an influence in shaping the 1990s resistance. More than 300,000 Kashmiris, mostly Hindu Pandits, were displaced.

Jawed Bukhari had been part of the armed resistance until he gave up arms some years ago. He now works on documenting cases of torture and the missing. “Some years ago, we were worried about whether the next generation would continue our struggle,” he said. “Now we have no worries. We don’t need an armed struggle anymore. The civil society has taken on the resistance through nonviolent actions like strikes and protests.”

The last 20 years of oppression, torture and humiliation have given rise to a more mature, sustained and united resistance movement. Massive protests in July-August 2008 against the state government’s decision to transfer 100 acres of land to the Amaranth Shrine Board are the best example of this new form of uprising.

The state said that the land would be used to build toilets and huts for Hindu pilgrims visiting a cave in the mountain ranges in the state. Thousands of acres of land, including forests, hills, orchards and schools, had already been taken over by the armed forces over the years. Kashmiris perceived this as occupation of their land, similar to Israel’s tactic of settlement building in the West Bank. Thousands of people, young and old, men and women, poured into the streets all across the valley in cities and villages.

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THE ONLY company on the road to Gulmarg, a beautiful city that I had pleasant memories of from my visit as a young girl in 1984, was a trail of military trucks. Sadly, a lot of the best land there has been turned into an army camp.

As we drove through the lush green rolling mountains, Mir pointed to a hut where the Hindi film Bobby was shot. I could visualize Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia singing, “Hum tum ek kamre mein band hon.” Prior to the late 1980s, Indian films often depicted Kashmir as a romantic and exotic place for Indians, masking the lives and tribulations of Kashmiris.

“How can we forget what the army did to our women?” said an old pony owner as we rode towards a glacier. “One day we will be independent, Insh’allah [God willing]. We know that.” When he pointed to a far-off mountain range on the Pakistani border, I asked him if he would want to be part of Pakistan. “We just want an independent Kashmir,” he said. “What has Pakistan done for us?”

I was lucky to be in Srinagar at a time when two important conferences were taking place. The first was conducted by a delegation of women from Delhi to investigate the Shopian case [the May 2009 rape and murder of two women in Kashmir’s Shopian district]. The other addressed the plight of half-widows and half-orphans and took place on the international Day of the Disappeared organized by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).

Half-widows are women whose husbands are missing, but have not been officially declared dead, thus they are unable to collect pensions or to remarry. Desperately hoping that one day their husbands will return, these women lead lives of immense stress and hardship. They often don’t qualify for support from NGOs, since there is no policy or clause addressing the needs of half-widows.

I was stopped at a checkpoint a few meters before the venue for the APDP conference. It reminded me of the checkpoints in West Bank. The policemen let me go after asking where I had come from, what I was doing there, and where I was going. It was an important conference, and the police were keeping a close eye on the event.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act gives authorities the ability to search and arrest without a warrant. Everyone qualifies as a suspect. “This is what leads to large-scale human rights violations and torture,” explained Parvez Imroze, a human rights activist and the founder of APDP as well as the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). His organization also monitors elections.

The act has been in place in the northeastern states since 1958 and was introduced in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990. State authorities have the right to detain persons without charge or judicial review for as long as two years. During this time, family members do not have access to detainees, and detainees do not have access to legal counsel.

“There have been only 15 cases of militants abducting civilians and military men in 20 years,” explained Imroze. “In contrast, armed forces are responsible for 10,000 missing persons. Families of missing persons struggle for justice for years. This is a failure of the judicial system.” Imroze’s life has often come under threat, and he is closely monitored by the Indian state.

“The Shopian case is another example of the failure of the state and its judicial system,” Imroze said. On May 29, 2009, relatives and police discovered the bodies of two women in a stream in Shopian. Local residents and forensic specialists alleged that Indian security forces committed gang rape before killing them.

Uproar and protests by local residents brought attention to the case, which could have easily have fallen into a black hole. “A few years ago, only a few would come out to protest,” noted Imroze. “Now thousands are out on the streets.”

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THIS IS by no means an isolated incident. There are thousands of cases of rape, torture, abuse and disappearances by the Indian armed forces. Most have not received any justice. Buried Evidence: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves in Indian-Administered Kashmir documents 2,700 unknown, unmarked, and mass graves, containing more than 2,943 bodies, across 55 villages in Kashmir.

Such reports are often invisible in global and Indian media. The 2009 report was published by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir, a rare collaborative effort of Kashmiris and non-Kashmiri Indians.

The Delhi delegation from the Independent Women’s Initiative for Justice held a press conference after visiting Shopian. They made a powerful statement about the failure of the state government to conduct a fair investigation, pointing out that the water was too shallow to drown in, and highlighted the plight of women in the valley. It should be noted that an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) later that year ruled out rape.

During the press conference, a woman stood up and said that normal dreams and aspirations have been made impossible. Another man asked why it had taken the delegation three months to pay a visit and what they would do after going back to Delhi. Quite often, fact-finding delegations from India frame such abuses as human rights issues, but avoid addressing them in a larger political context.

The delegation laid emphasis on the fact that the armed forces were there to protect and ensure justice, but were not doing their job properly. But the truth is that Kashmiris don’t see the armed forces as protectors at all. They perceive their presence as an occupation.

The investigative report published later gave a very detailed and candid account of persistent abuse of power, injustice and violation of human rights, but seemed to make a distinction between the Indian political system and the military.

A journalist friend who has years of experience reporting from the valley explained the complex and institutionalized nature of the occupation. “Kashmir is given subsidies by India to make it more dependent on India,” he informed me. Historically, Kashmir has been rich in natural resources and is world renowned for its dried fruits, carpets and papier-mâché products. “Subsidies destroy the local economy,” he explained.

He also highlighted the psychological impact and the internalization of violence on the social fabric of the society. Mothers live in anxiety, not knowing when their sons or husbands may end up on the “missing” list. Families are scared to send their daughters to universities.

Saleem Dar, a shopkeeper I bought phirans and shawls from, told me that he had sent his daughter to Nepal to study because it was safer and cheaper there. He used to export carpets, but his business has declined significantly in the past decade since 9/11. He was in favor of autonomy instead of independence but wanted the military forces to be withdrawn.

“The Indian government will not do a plebiscite because they know the outcome will not be favorable to them,” he noted, referring back to the 1949 UN Security Council resolutions that were passed after Pakistan attacked India, which led to one third of Kashmir becoming part of Pakistan.

The plebiscite, which hasn’t taken place because of political disagreements between India and Pakistan, was supposed to allow Kashmiris the right to self-determination.

After talking to local residents, I realized that many Kashmiris in the valley considered the rule of independent India an extension of the rule of Hari Singh, a Hindu Maharaja, known for oppressing the majority Muslim community. Singh acceded to India’s demands in 1947 against the wishes of the majority population. This belief about India’s oppressive treatment of Muslims only solidified as the Indian government used brutal military tactics to curb the Kashmiri insurgency in the 1990s.

Without understanding the situation in the valley, it is difficult for an Indian to face the reality of the aspirations of Kashmiris for an independent state. An open debate on the issue is avoided because Kashmir is considered an integral part of India. Kashmiris, however, address India as a different country. When I said “I am from Delhi,” they replied back saying, “Oh, you have come from India!” “But are you a Muslim?” they questioned on hearing my name.

Perhaps being a Muslim made it easy to gain their trust and enabled me to openly discuss their struggles and aspirations. Ameena Hussain, a school teacher, asked me what it was like to live as an oppressed minority in India. “Why would Kashmiris want to be part of India given what it has been doing to minorities there?” she asked. “You know, Kashmir is the only state with a Muslim majority.”

She reminded me of the riots in Bombay (called Mumbai now) following the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and the massacres of Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002. I was living in India when the two tragic events unfolded.

It was an interesting perspective from the other side. Kashmir is often used as fuel to ignite anti-communal feelings. As an Indian Muslim, I partly blamed Kashmir for our problems. After talking to the local residents of the valley, I realized Muslims in the rest of India have to fight their own battle for justice and equality. Having visited Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on the same trip, I acknowledge it is easy for me to say this sitting in the U.S.

Kashmir is not the only place where India is exercising its might. As the war against the poor tribals in eastern and central India escalates, the question is how long India, proud to call itself the world’s largest democracy, will continue oppressing its own people.

Can democracy at gunpoint truly be called democracy?

24 thoughts on “Kashmir: The Hidden Occupation”

  1. I am glad you visited Kashmir. I hope you will not mind my offering a few comments and asking a few questions about your piece. Kashmir is occupied but why call the occupation hidden? Even your experience suggests it is out and in-your-face. As for your comment: “Without understanding the situation in the valley, it is difficult for an Indian to face the reality of the aspirations of Kashmiris for an independent state. An open debate on the issue is avoided because Kashmir is considered an integral part of India” I would like to think that the situation is getting better. There are many more activists, scholars and members of civil society in Kashmir and outside it who are working hard and succeeding to some extent in drawing attention to the plight of the inhabitants of the valley. Of course, much more is needed to wake up middle classes in India with the hope that they will refuse, finally, to remain complicit with the state’s action/inaction in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. Unfortunately, I am a pessimist on that count given that the middle classes are still reveling in what they see as India’s new found global respectability as an economic power. If any of the middle classes are going to be engaged at all with Kashmir and other “inconvenient truths” of state oppression elsewhere, I suspect it is going to be to only superficially to apply a bandage and hide the festering sores so that they may do not blight the contentment that recognition by the West seems always to evoke among them. I know this general tarring is unfair but, sadly, I think it is substantially true. Two other points I wanted to make: (1) I think you are probably right that your being Muslim would have inspired confidence to speak among Kashmiris but I have to say that I, born a Hindu and from India, found Kashmiris as warm, welcoming and willing to speak and inform as you did. The first occasion I experienced this was in 1994-95 and this remains true ever since and each time I have been back to the valley. (2) I think there is one other difference between the situation in Israel-Palestine and Kashmir that of land and attempts to evict people from it. Mercifully, and there’s not much else to cheer about, this is by and large not the case in Kashmir. But perhaps the process is in motion. I am thinking of the attempt recently to transfer land to the Amarnath shrine board.
    You will be relieved that I am done with my comments. But before closing, I would like to thank you for your piece and the opportunity you have given me to think about Kashmir again.

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    1. Dear Mridu,

      If you are the same Mridu whose book I have read, I am very honored!

      Glad you questioned me on the title! My original title for the article was “Kashmir:Democracy Under the Barrel of a Gun” (as published by CounterPunch on June 9, 2010- http://www.counterpunch.org/qureshi06092010.html and also by ZCommunications).

      I had been trying to get my article published in an Indian news magazines for almost two months. No one agreed (sent it to Outlook, Tehelka, Hindu, Frontline, Times of India, Hindustan Times, even used some contacts). I thought, perhaps the title was controversial so when I submitted it to Kafila I changed it. I am very grateful to Kafila for having published it but now I am thinking perhaps they might have done so with the original title!

      This itself is a reflection of a debate/hesitation to hear different points of view, especially from people living in the valley. I agree it has improved a lot over the past few years. Having said that I do want to mention that some of the most hostile comments I received were from progressive Indian friends(who are also known writers/journalists). One called it ‘the language of a jihadi’ and another ‘narrow and not worth publishing’.

      You are quite right in pointing out the difference between the situation in Palestine and Kashmir with respect to land and eviction. And yet, based on my conversations I felt that the take over of acres of land by the military and para-military forces was perceived as occupation. Ofcourse this is no way anything close to what is being done in West Bank.

      Many people who read the article in the US, South Asians as well as non-South Asians said that the article is an eye opener and that they had no idea the region was more militarized than Iraq or Afghanistan because they don’t hear much about Kashmir.

      Its true a lot is being done by scholars and activists. The People’s Tribunal is an example of that but a lot more awareness needs to be built. On my comment that the region reminded me of West Bank, a Kashmiri I met in the valley said that the world knows and cares about Palestine but hardly anyone cares about us :(

      Thanks again for your comments. I greatly appreciate!

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    2. Yasmin,

      I’m glad that Kafile published your article, maybe you’ll publish an article on your visit to Gaza also.

      I have a few question, and probably you’ll have some insightful thoughts on them.

      1) How do you feel the mood is in the Pakistani side of Kashmir, do they share the same level of intensity in their demand for independent Kashmir?

      2) What sort of identity do Kashmiri’s want for an independent state, how do they think that their life will become better under self rule (other than demilitarization of course), or such questions are not part of regular discourse?

      3) What sort of influence will Pakistan and China have on an independent Kashmir, do you think that the hostility towards Indian state will persist for a long time, even if Kashmir becomes an independent state?

      4) What will be status of Kashmiri pundits, will they be welcome as citizens?

      5) Is more freedom under the Indian state, a viable solution at all?

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  2. Dear Yasmin,

    I actually read your article on Counterpunch a few days back, but there’s no space for comment there, so am glad you published it here. And you are absolutely right in your comment above: this is THE issue which divides the progressive community–if we can all it that–in India. I just have a couple of comments that often come up in discussions with fellow travelers in India.

    On elections in Kashmir, the fact that many Kashmiris do come out and vote is often cited as evidence that they endorse the Indian state. I think that in fact this shows the desire for meaningful democracy on their part and emphatically not for their current militarized life. The tragedy–and Kashmir of course isn’t unique here–is that what they get in return are parasitical or plainly opportunistic politics from their representatives (which is how i see the two Kashmiri mainstream parties).

    Another sticking point is that of Kashmiri Pandits, another tragedy among many there. The question here is this: would, in an independent Kashmir, the Pundits be welcome?
    I do not know the answer, and in any case, most Kashmiri Pundits would perhaps not wish to return to an independent (and given the trajectory of the movement there, likely an Islamic) Kashmiri state. But wouldn’t this finality end the suspended reality that the Pundits’ life currently is—their hopes of return struggling hard to remain alive in the face of dispiriting reality?

    It is not easy for Indians to reconcile to the fact that the Kashmiris want out. For one, it goes against the secular grain at the heart of India’s Constitution. But surely, it cannot be in the spirit of the Constitution to occupy a territory by force and to crush dissent! One argument even leftists in India make is to assert that Kashmir must
    belong to India because Maharaja Hari Singh, as you note, and faced with an onslaught from Pakistan, signed it away to us. It’s certainly a factual argument, but one that sounds ridiculous given that we are supposed to be a modern democratic nation—since when did Indians start caring about what the colonial-era monarchs said or did? Should their actions represent the opinion of the majority?

    My feeling is that several in the Indian establishment have begun asking how the continued militarized control over Kashmir helps India in terms of security and financially–of course, its a major drain for them. I fear though that the central issue here is taking a more geopolitical form: would Pakistan wield a greater influence in the region if Kashmir were independent? Or would China? What about the US?

    Finally, I actually do not think that the Indian middle classes are the key here. No doubt, solidarity and a shift in public opinion in India is important, but their hubris is not make or break. It is the struggle of the Kashmiris that will bring change.

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    1. My apprehension is that does the euologising of Kashmiriyat -secularism cliches and ‘pandit-upper case muslims bhai, bhai’ slgans gloss over the plight of darkskinned dalit kasmiris belonging to both hindus and muslims.

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  3. Dear Yasmeen,
    The honor is all mine. I do like “Democracy Under the Gun” but no matter about the current title. The article conveys your meaning. I look forward to hearing more from you about Kashmir or any other subject you write on.
    Best,
    Mridu

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  4. it is difficult for an Indian to face the reality
    of the aspirations of Kashmiris for an independent state. An open debate on the issue is avoided because Kashmir is considered an integral part of India.

    I can’t speak for others but it is certainly not difficult for me to face up to the reality of the Kashmiri aspirations for azadi.

    The problem for me is that there is no way to discuss the Kashmiri demand for azadi in isolation. There are so many different groups which have as good a claim for azadi as the Kashmiris: the Nagas, Manipuris, the Sikkimese and so on. Indeed, the Naga fight for independence predates Kashmir. The Naga representatives typically quote Gandhi who is reported to have assured them that they would not be retained by force in the Indian union. Manipur, like Jammu and Kashmir, came into the Indian union only because of a Maharaja’s decision and not because of any plebiscite. Regarding Sikkim, our takeover in 1975 still raises a stink. Similar stories can undoubtedly be told about other parts of the country and there is little doubt that if offered the option of independence, many would choose to accept it.

    What I find puzzling in those non-Kashmiri Indians advocating azadi for Kashmir is the attitude that it is separate from other azadi movements in the country. But why? Their ethical claims are just as strong. The human rights abuses in Nagaland or Manipur are just as bad. Hence, if we are to accept azadi for Kashmir, then we should accept azadi for all other groups demanding it. I can’t see why we should let the Kashmiris go and retain the Nagas by force.

    Perhaps the time has come to break up India. I am not being facetious here. It would be a loss to me personally because I identify myself as an Indian but that is of course, irrelevant. Fine, let us do it but hopefully in a less violent way than we did in 1947.

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    1. Actually, Suresh, most advocates of azadi for Kashmir also support the self-determination aspirations of the various north-east movements including the Nagas and Manipuris. This used to be a raging debate in various Left-wing circles – usually clubbed together as the ‘national question’ or the ‘right of nations to self-determination’. I was myself an ardent believer of the self-determination position but the problem of some of us renegades is that we no longer believe in the ‘nation-state’ as an emancipatory horizon. So, if people like us critique the nation-state that is India, they are equally suspicious of the nationalism of the many self-determination movements. The problem is that while one must affirm the desire to be free and independent, self-determination in the history of nationalisms is tied to ethnic cleansing. Already, even while many of these groups remain part of India, their ‘ethnic cleansing’ dimension is quite evident – violence against the minorities of the new nation-state-to-be is everyday in evidence.

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    2. Dear Aditya,

      Thanks for filling me in on the discussions in the left circles.

      I am not a great fan of nationalism myself. I am aware dimly of the many critiques in India itself, going back to Tagore and probably before him. I am also quite aware that many of the sub-nationalisms (in the Indian context) are themselves quite intolerant of the minorities in their midst. However, I am not aware of a viable alternative to the nation-state currently — if there is, I would appreciate being informed. Most of the discussion about azadi (in Kashmir, Nagaland or elsewhere in India) seems to have the nation-state as a template.

      Given this, the choice before us is an unhappy one. Either we retain the current Indian nation-state and try to make it a “better” one or accept that it has come to the end of its life and try to negotiate a peaceful split. As you note, given what we know of the various sub-nationalisms, there is no guarantee that the latter is going to be “better” than what we have currently. My personal preference is for the former but I can appreciate that the Kashmiris, the Nagas, the many “tribal” groups in Central India and possibly even the majority of “Indians” may well prefer the latter option. Needless to say, my preference for retaining the Indian state (at least for the present) does not mean that I support the human rights and other abuses of the state.

      Finally, I’d like to (if I may) give a reference to a 2002 article by Madhu Kishwar titled Why fear people’s choice?. A lot of the articles on Kashmir — mostly by Indians, I might add — rarely go beyond the rhetorical. In particular, they mostly dismiss the plebiscite idea. Kishwar’s article is one of the few containing a concrete proposal for a referendum (in the last 3-4 pages). You might agree or not, but in my opinion, it is at least worth reading. The article, in pdf format, is available here:

      http://www.manushi.in/articleList.php?catId=124&page=3

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  5. I certainly don’t claim to be a political analyst so I am writing this note using the knowledge I have and my conversations in the valley.

    The questions/concerns raised regarding the fate of Kashmiri Pandits and the role of Pakistan, China and US are important questions. I did raise these questions with some of the people I met.

    What happened to the Pandits is really a tragedy. Basharat Peer in his memoir, Curfewed Nights gives a very vivid description of the valley prior to the violent insurgency where he often mentions the Pandits, the multicultural aspect of Srinagar and the temples and sufi shrines. They are just as much part of the Kashmiri identity as the Muslims. I really don’t know if they would feel safe or comfortable going back but it also depends on the political situation and leadership. Perhaps it would take the kind of assurance Nelson Mandela could give to the white South Africans in a post apartheid South Africa!

    I asked Parvez Imroze about this and he said that they considered the Pandits as much part of Kashmir as any one else. The place I stayed was owned by a Pandit family. I asked them why they didn’t move to which they said they couldn’t bring themselves to leave. They also said things are better now but understood why the people who migrated or were forced out wouldn’t want to return.

    Regarding the role of Pakistan and the geo-politics I asked the journalist I have quoted. He said, “how we handle relationships with other countries is something that we would have to deal with after we have dealt with the current occupation. To think that we shouldn’t be independent because we may be occupied by the US or Pakistan is really shying away from the current problem which is the militarized occupation under India.”

    Its true that both Pakistan and India have used Kashmir in their own way and it will be important for both countries to come together in order to move forward and unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any political will.

    As I recall, Obama, before getting elected wanted India to be part of the now called ‘Af-Pak’. The Indian lobby in the US strongly protested against that. Obama did see a resoluation on Kashmir as an important factor in the US ‘War on Terror’. It was ofcourse from a US strategy perspective, hoping to reduce tensions on the Kashmir border in order to be able to have more Pakistani forces on the Afghan border.

    I think Kashmiris would like to have an undivided Kashmir. It seemed to me that at this point they have little trust in the Indian govt and the brutality of the military plus no justice for crimes committed is in everyone’s mind so they would prefer independence given a choice.

    I may not have answered all the questions but I will end here for now! I hope a Kashmiri would comment on some of the questions raised!

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  6. Hi Suresh,
    I refer to your statement:
    “… I can appreciate that the Kashmiris, the Nagas, the many “tribal” groups in Central India and possibly even the majority of “Indians” may well prefer the latter option.” To my mind you have hit on the heart of the conundrum, that of these various groups feeling they have not actually having been given ANY option in this or any other matter.

    Like you and Aditya, I agree that various sub-nationalist political stances and movements do not have a much better record than the Indian nation-state itself in terms of being overweening, making claims in the most totalizing way imaginable and homogenizing the “people” they both seek to include and exclude. In fact, in the case of Kashmir, it is striking to me how often various leaders, whether separatist or those demanding azadi, replicate the language of the Indian and Pakistani nation-states. Participating in a panel discussion with Yasin Malik some years ago, I think I ruffled him when I asked why he was at such pains to describe Kashmiri aspirations and identities (Kashmiriyat) as being secular. On a different occasion, I was stunned by a group of young Kashmiri journalists describing a cultural performance by a group of Ladakhis in Kargil district as representing an “inferior culture”.

    Like you, I am not sure that we need to throw out the political entity called India. But I certainly believe, like so many people who have been writing about this, that it is in need of a long-overdue and serious rethinking. The bottom line, I believe, is that belonging or not belonging to it or remaining or breaking away from it should be left to people, groups, movements to decide. I am certain that anyone who feels they have a stake in belonging (as large numbers of Indians certainly of the middle class and up do), they will. If not, military occupation and to use the description by Angana Chatterji, Parvez Imroze etc on the People’s Tribunal, occupation “with impunity” ain’t gonna work, no way, no how.
    Best wishes,
    Mridu

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  7. These days, when “identity” holds the centerstage, be it caste, religion or nationality, “Funes el memorioso” haunts my thoughts- Funes, who cannot percieve any category, for whom every individual living and non-living thing has its separate being, and there’s nothing like a tree or a house or a dog, because every tree or house or dog is unique in itself. Borges finds him “”as monumental as bronze, more ancient than Egypt, anterior to the prophecies and the pyramids”. He was an oddity, and oddities must die.

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  8. I am so happy that people here are discussing only kashmir valley not the jammu & ladakh region. Madam Yasin plz visit these regions also to complete your report (not fully biased for sure)and also plz check the number of army personnel before 1988 of this highly sensitive state. ‘Mridu Rai’ as the Kashmiri journalists described, i also belongs to inferior culture.

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  9. Dear Yasmin,
    THE REASON most news-magazines (including the factually stringent Frontline), won’t publish you is that your article is devoid of fact in the most.
    I am sorry to say, but it even comes across as glib, even dilettantish. I understand that living in the US, you are appalled to see the atrocities being visited upon your ‘bretheren.’ My first question to you is this: Is this the case only in India, or is this a problem of all developing ‘democracies’? Is this kind of treatment reserved only for Kashmir/North-east, or also for elsewhere in ‘India’?

    Is the voice of Kashmiris really lost? Aren’t people like Gilani freely voicing seditious opinions? Aren’t you allowed to write on this topic? Aren’t the separatists free to contest elections and govern as they deem fit? Aren’t hundreds of Hindus ‘from India’ vociferously fighting for Kashmir and Kashmiris?

    Your comments about security at Srinagar airport read eerily like Arundhati Roy. The same rhetoric. The same painting colourful pictures of random incoherence. Don’t you see similar security at New Delhi Airport? At JFK? In any case, what are these soldiers protecting?

    The reason for keeping 7 lakh soldiers is not to dominate the population. In fact, most of these soldiers are stationed at uninhabited places, in the most inhospitable terrain. The terrain also explains the need for so many soldiers. Surely you must have read about the kind of numbers required to evict a handful of pakistani soldiers in Kargil?

    I agree with you that all grievances need to be fairly adressed. SO do all such grievances against police/politicians in the rest of the country.I can not deny that the Military forces have been indulging in human rights abuse, and more needs to be done to make them more accountable, and to take away their arbitrary powers. But I can also state with confidence that these are mostly isolated cases, rather than a state design. You will find that the military leadership itself resents such occurances. Cases of such indiscipline have been punished explerarily. Can you cite one case where such summary justice is done with errant police personnel, anywhere in India, with the people who are ‘not-oppresed’?
    Also, you must acknowledge that the hand of the Forces has been forced by the civilian population giving shelter and support to terrorists. Perhaps you can not appreciate the real ‘need’ for an act like the AFSPA. Had you been a jawan shot when walking in a neighbourhood that proclaims itself clean of all militants, then perhaps you would. Then perhaps you would understand the agony and anger caused by the discovery of weapons hidden under beds. As for the population, either you support the insurgency, or you don’t. If you do, then do so openly. If you don’t, stop acting as silent sympathisers.

    Can you please state your views on the land transfer to Amarnath Shrine Board? What do you think of the opposition of Kashmiris to it? Or are you silently implying that this land too would have been used to ‘oppress’ them? Or do you want to deny people a right to worship at the ‘cave’ ?

    You mention abuse of kashmiri women by the Army. Do you know how the women were treated by the ‘jihadis’ during the same period? Or is there a difference in being raped by a state soldier and a jihadi? Perhaps you must have stayed longer, travelled more to know the real ‘realities’.

    The Shopian case has now been solved (I wonder when you wrote your piece.) What do you have to say now? Can you not see a pattern in whipping up the emotions of the ‘aam aadmi’ in Kashmir?

    You allege that the Indian state is systematically attacking the Kashmiri society. The fact is that despite all the efforts of the State, and the confidence building measures by the Armed Forces (and there are many, painstakingly done), the population has been brainwashed into perceiving it as an occupation. A soldier would love to come back home this very moment. You must understand the compulsions that necessitate his continued stay there.

    “Subsidies destroy the local economy.” Tell that to the people who struggle to make their two ends meet. Tell that to a farmer in Telangana. And you have nothing to say about the efforts to kick-start the Kashmiri economy? The efforts to rekindle confidence and interest in tourism there? In one of the comments, you also acknowledge the situation in Kashmir is”no way anything close to what is being done in West Bank.” Do you realise the extreme lengths to which the state goes in safeguarding and providing succor to Kashmiris in the times of need? Do you know how much money the Indian state has pumped into Kashmir in the past 20 years? Where has all this money gone? Or does this give us a few pointers as to why many kashmiri ‘leaders’ want to keep the billy on a boil ?

    You mention riots ’92 and ’02 as tragic. Very right you are. But you thought of no adjectives while writing about the 3 lakh displaced Kashmiri Pandits? Or have you been deaf to their cries? Or to the Indian state’s failure to secure them their ‘rights’?

    You will appreciate that the desire for ‘azadi’ is more like a romantic dream. Normal people in Kashmir now appreciate the stability and the future India offers to them. They also know now the fate of their brothers in PoK.

    I am glad you mention the opression on the tribal people. I agree with the core of your concern. Only that is is shallow to speak of Kashmir in a different voice. All over the country we need to push to govt to improve its recod of administration, justice and governance. Not just Kashmir.

    Also, if you can not answer all the questions, please refrain from writing on such a sensitive topic. Half knowledge is a dangerous thing, and you know easily passions are aroused. The efforts made by so many agencies could do without any more demonization.

    Best Regards.

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  10. Dear writer,
    you have brought out vividly the plight of the Kashmiris in your text, as has been done umpeen times by numerous other writers! I would like to ask you to also look at this problem from these angles: –
    1. How about asking those inhabitants who have fled from their homeland OR have been forced to, and are residing in other stated. Mention the word-HOMELAND to them and watch their eyes well up with emotions!
    2. Dont look at this problem in isolation; then we have other states to follow suit- Nagaland!
    3. Are these people whom you spoke to, apart from being the very citizens of that state, mature enough to take a decision and say that they want a separate state? Will the democracy do what ever its citizens FEEL LIKE? this would not at all be democracy, it would be more of -laissez-faire!
    4. Visualise a scenerio wherein Kashmir has got what, presumably as per you, people want- freedom from India & Pakistan!

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  11. Once I asked an Indian Muslim friend of mine what do they think about Kashmir. Her answer did not come forthwith, but I kept on my demand. Perhaps, she knew, her response would hurt me. She might have thought a lot about it. It took me quite some time to get an answer and it was: nothing, rather we see Kashmir quite the reason for the ills of Muslims in India. I was not shocked, I would have been if the answer was otherwise, as that would mean she was lying.

    Quite recently I came across a post about the death of an Infant by an Indian Muslim – and I was surprised how he had changed the press quotes, twisted the facts to show us, the Kashmiris, as the culprits. He did not publish my comment, for it exposed a lot of what he claimed to be: a pious Muslim worried about every Muslim in the world but Kashmiris.

    I, as a Kashmiri, have stopped to wonder why don’t Muslims in India speak out against what is happening in Kashmir, even though we do that whenever something happens to them in India.

    Your post has been quite interesting. It touches upon facets of the struggle that need to talked about, the basic political demands and not just the HR abuses which are a effect of the actual cause (of political and military oppression) and not effect of the perceived cause of a few bad apples in the army, as the Indian media would want you to believe. However, having said that, I would want you to concentrate on the Kashmiri Muslims, for once please forget the Kashmiri Pandits. When Indians do that, it is just a blanket to cover up the oppression of Kashmiris by the state.It really dilutes the actual argument and Kashmiris or their cause, like in the days bygone, become subservient to the KPandits. We should aim to prevent that. You have started to think about an issue, that most people do not and you should try to work in that direction.

    You do touch upon the post 1989 incidents and how the 1987 elections was the last straw. However, I would like to point out, there was a lot more that happened in the past which caused the present state in Kashmir. We do need to look at the promises of Nehru to the Kashmiri people, the eroding of Autonomy (Kashmir is still the only state with a Constitution and flag in India – so even by Indian Constitution it is definitely different and special), the incarceration of Sheikh Abdullah, the appointment of Bakshis, the role Mufti played as a supporter of India pre autonomy. We have to understand that there was a systematic destruction of Kashmir by India. Mostly by Indira Gandhi, through her Kitchen Cabinet. We do need to see and understand why her cousin (Nehru), the governor of Kashmir, was kicked out. How recommendations by I K Gujral for industries in Kashmir were ignored. We need to look at the fact that Kashmiris were never trusted by Delhi and for a Kashmiri Pandit, Delhi was always a phone call away. Of course even Gandhi’s role in Kashmir was no good. A lot has happened in the past to cause the today of Kashmir, and we need to understand that, to understand the present. Kashmiris did not just pop out because of one election.

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  12. Dear K,

    Thanks for pointing out the role of Nehru and Gandhi. Indeed, the elections were not the only reason and protests and mistrust with the Indian govt was there much before this. I just mentioned it as a significant event, as pointed out by some Kashmiris in the valley.

    In an earlier comment someone indicated the tight security at the Srinagar airport is not very different from other places but that is not true. I haven’t seen armed soldiers surrounding civilan planes in any other city (haven’t been to the Eastern states so can’t say about them).

    Neither have I seen checkpoints and detention centers all over the city the way I did in Srinagar. And many Kashmiris informed me that what I was seeing was a much reduced force in the valley!

    There are many comments on the issue of Pandits. Since I already addressed that in an earlier comment I won’t repeat it here.

    I really appreciate the interesting comments from all! Thank you!

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  13. “However, having said that, I would want you to concentrate on the Kashmiri Muslims, for once please forget the Kashmiri Pandits.”

    Dear K,

    Yes, let us forget about the Kashmiri Pandits. Let us forget the fact that the Kashmiri Pandits were killed, looted, threatened and had their women raped by the brave Kashmiri Muslims. Let us forget the fact that the Kashmiri Pandits were systematically ehtnic cleansed by Kashmiri Muslims.Let us forget the fact that the Kashmiri Pandits lost their homes and livelihood and live like beggars in the streets of Delhi because of the kindness shown by the wonderful Kashmiri Muslims. Yes. Let us forget. You are so right, K…

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  14. I think its quite clear that the movement for Kashmiri independance is primarily on the basis of religious affiliation. It’s only muslim kashmiri’s from the valley who do not see themselves as part of India, and not the other communities who live in Jammu and Ladakh.

    Another division based on religious differences which is what abandoning the Kashmir valley would mean for the Indian state is not something that I can see any Indian government or the vast majority of the Indian population agreeing to.

    Another religious state on India’s borders which has ethnically cleansed itself of it’s minority population which is what Kashmir would be , is bound to have a destabilizing effect on the rest of India. The track record in our part of the world is not that of ‘velvet divorces’ as between the Czechs and Slovaks but large scale ethnic cleansing and bloodshed.

    The legacy of Partition still hangs over us, and would make any solution to the Kashmiri dispute which results in another religious based division of territory a non starter.

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  15. Dear Yasmin,

    You have not answered the many questions raised in the many comments here. You seem to respond to selective portions of these comments.

    One would feel that since you wrote with such passion, you would want to seriously help us understand your viewpoints. Or else, increase your own understanding of the matter, and acknowledge thus.

    Like I said in my last, this is a sensitive topic, one that easily polarizes us, and if we can not come to reason in understanding the issue in whole, it will only cause greater pain to us all.

    Thanks and Regards.

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  16. Kahsmir will never get freedom from India. I will tell you the reason. For every Kashmiri who wants freedom from India, there are a 1000 Indians who wont let him have it. You kill 1 Indian soldier, there are thousands more in the hearland of India – villages, small towns – sons of farmers, traders, small businessmen – willing to take his place. India will always rule Kashmir. Why ? Because Indians want India to rule Kashmir. Thats why.

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  17. Are you lamenting the possible demise of the Af Pak Taliban style of militancy ? Do you honestly believe that an armed struggle is the best option for the Kashmiris to follow ?

    You seem fairly dismissive of the ‘ordinary middle class indians’ with their belief in their country.. what’s wrong with the inclusive idea of Indian Nationalism that the state has been promoting since independance ? Do you honestly believe that we would be better off with the collapse of the Indian State into a patchwork of competing ethnic mini states along with all the bloodshed that that would cause ?

    Is it possible that the Kashmirii’s instead of resenting the Indian ‘occupation’ could seek to reconcile themselves with the situation ? If the Army presence could be removed from the urban centres, and better policed and managed, I’m not sure what ‘freedoms’ the average Kashmiri would gain thru independance/merger with Pakistan that he/she does not already possess.

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  18. It is pretty obvious that most of us have fixed viewpoint and then we try to device clever arguments to rationalize those notions. There is a huge difference between rational thought and rationalization.

    As Keynes said ‘When the facts change, I change my mind’. So the best way for any rationalist is the continously reasses his or her deeply held thoughts.

    The reason for writing all this is pretty simple, India state needs to reasses its position on Kashmir, not necessarily discard it.

    But similarly I expect seperatists to understand new realities, they need to ask for example has terrorism worked over last two decades. Or are they becoming pawns in a geopolitical game. What is their long term objective, is it welfare for the kashmiri people or is it independence, what is the degree of corelation between the two.

    A lot of people in this forum, including me have raised similar questions, obviously there are no simple answers.

    And as for Gaurav, I don’t know how old are you, but you need to read a lot of philosophy before using terms like Cartesian and Kantian, reading Hume who came before Kant, and Schopenhauer would be a good start, in fact I’m not sure you have read Descartes and Kant also.

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