Dilemmas of ‘Right of Nations to Military Occupation’: A Response to Rohini Hensman

Dear Rohini,

Apologies for taking the liberty of writing a separate post to respond to yours. I am doing so as a separate post not only because this response is rather too long for the comments space, but also because I have been wanting to address the issues you have raised. The issues are not new; I have been hearing them ad nauseaum since 2008, when the Kashmiri demand for independence from India took on a renewed momentum. In your post you bring in various external contexts – such as Rosa Luxemburg and the Sinhala-Tamil conflict. I am grateful that you do so, because it is always useful to learn from history and not repeat history’s mistakes. However, there are other recent histories of conflict and conflict resolution you don’t talk about, but which many Kashmiris are aware of – Kosovo, East Timor, Northern Ireland. Some new countries are being formed as we speak!

Also, there is history and context in Kashmir too, which you don’t go into. Your post talks more about LTTE than about Kashmir. Here, I will try to stick to Kashmir in responding to you.

Photo credit: Shivam Vij


1) Identity, not oppression

My first problem with your post is that it presumes Kashmiris wants azadi because of Indian oppression. This is a chicken and egg problem, one that many Indian nationalists point out. They, the Indian nationalists, say that Indian oppression is a result of Kashmiris having picked up the gun. Indian human rights abuse is justified in this narrative because Kashmiris picked up the gun first. In the Kashmiri narrative they picked up the gun because Indian democracy failed them – India rigged a local election in 1987, and no Indian nationalist dares to deny that today. The head of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir-based United Jihad Council, which is a coalition of militant groups trying to liberate Kashmir from India, is Syed Salahuddin. Who is he? He was one of the leaders of the Muslim United Front that contested the 1989 elections under the Indian Constitution. Kashmiris will tell you that their history and memory of disenchantment with India did not begin in 1989; they will tell you about Maqbool Bhat and Sheikh Abdullah; that there was something of a movement always; that it goes back to not only 1947 but, as Mridu Rai’s book shows, to 1931. Some say it’s even older.

The root of the Kashmir conflict is not oppression but identity. Kashmiris don’t see themselves as Indian. Many Indians don’t understand this. We wonder what their problem is. We think of the historic ties. After all our first prime minister was a Kashmiri! This is not about Pandit and Muslim, because as Mridu Rai wrote in a comment on Kafila some time ago:

I would like to point out that it was Kashmiri Pandits of the Sanatan Dharma Sabha who first raised the slogan “Kashmir for Kashmiris” in the second decade of the twentieth century and guess who this was raised against? Against Punjabi Hindus and other Pandits resident outside the valley (but in India) who they felt were encroaching upon their primary right to employment in the Dogra-ruled state. (If you’d like a footnote: Letter from J. Manners dated 1 September 1917, Home Department (Political), Proceedings Sept 1917, no. 6, National Archives of India, New Delhi. For other footnotes on the Kashmiri Pandit-Punjabi Hindu “bickering” as one source described it, see, among many, Crown Representative’s Records, Political Department, R/1/1/1411 — although the original of these records are at the British library in London, I believe the National Archives in Delhi has them on microfilm).

In 1921, Shankar Lal Kaul writing under the pseudonym of Kashmiricus in the newspaper United India and Indian States had the following to say: “Kashmiris are treated as strangers in their own house. In their own country their status is nil. A post of rupees 40 falls vacant in some office…ninety to one an outsider is brought to fill it up … a good-for-nothing outsider almost illiterate–but whose qualification is a communal or geographical alliance with some powerful official in the state…” (Old English Records, Political Department, 1921, File no. 73/97-C, Jammu and Kashmir State Archives, Jammu repository). [Link]

And there’s more on those lines there to show that the Kashmiri Pandits were the first to assert ‘Kashmir for Kashmiris’. They seem to have changed their minds since then, opposing even Article 370 which grants Kashmir ‘special status’ in the Indian Constitution that prevents non-state subjects from buying land in J&K.

I’m going into these details to hint how important Kashmiri identity is, and you don’t take note of it at all. The only identity you are willing to take note of is that dirty word, Islamism.


2) If this is not colonisation, what is?

Once we have taken note that the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination is about identity, we must consider your statement:

When a country is under foreign occupation, all sections other than a very small number of collaborators want to be free of the occupiers, even if there are sharp differences between these sections. A striking example is RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) which, despite speaking for a section of the population which is sorely oppressed by the Taliban, and continuing to fight against it, nonetheless shares with the latter the goal of ending the occupation by US and NATO forces. In such situations, the right of an occupied nation to self-determination makes sense.

When you have already decided that India is not a occupying power in Kashmir, why do the other dillemas reagrding self-determination arise? If according to you Kashmir is not colonised by India, how does it matter if the Kashmiri vision for azadi is clear or unclear, secular or communal?

Is Kashmir not under foreign occupation? What are seven lakh troops there, on streets and in bazaars, outside homes and on private land occupied illegally and in the houses of the Pandits who left – what are these troops doing if not occupying territory? Are seven lakh troops in civilian areas fighting the 500 militants India says are still active in the Valley? For a Kashmir perspective on colonisation, see Sameer Bhat’s article on the beginning of occupation. Look carefully at his style of telling the story of 27 October 1947. 27 October every year in Kashmir, like the Indian national independence day of 15 August, is a general strike. The two days are commemrated as ‘black’ days. In your narrative, however, you see the problem of militarisation as only one of human rights abuse, not as occupation. I am guessing you have never been to Kashmir. On my visits I regularly hear things like, “Yeh saala CRPF wala Rajasthan se aata hain aur hamsay kehta hain ID card dikhao. (This bloody CRPF trooper has come here from Rajasthan and asks me to show my identity card).” Travelling in Kashmir, you have to close your eyes to believe that the forces stationed there are to prevent violence rather than enforce the idea in every local mind: this is Indian territory.

If you still think it is not colonisation, what will convince you?

The example you cite of Afghanistan can be found aplenty in Kashmir. There is no dearth of groups who disagree with each other, who claim oppression from each other, and yet they are all committed to azadi. Why do you think there are so many factions of the azadi leadership? Contrary to popular lies, the Valley’s Shias want azadi too, but would prefer India to Pakistan. When a militant group issues a diktat that women have to wear burqa, everyone will use that to say ‘Islamism’ (as though that de-legtimises azadi, but I’ll come to that later). Nobody will tell you that when groups of women write to this militant group, addressing them as brothers, saying that burqa is not their culture. Of course there has been growing Islamism – but it is not as if the crowds from the Sufi shrines have disappeared. In fact, local Sufism strengthens Kashmiri identity, making the people feel they are a different people, nay, a nation. There is bigoted Islamism too – the cinema halls and alcohol shops shut down under the threat of the militant’s gun have not reopened. But I point these strains and differences out to you to answer your analogy of women in Afghanistan.

3) What does Azadi mean?

However, having pointed out these differences, I know you can use them to say, look, they don’t know what azadi means, as you do in your post:

Indeed, even the meaning of ‘azadi’ is far from clear. For one of the keynote speakers at the meeting, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, it means that Kashmir would be an Islamic state and would be part of Pakistan. For many others – probably the majority – it means that Kashmir would be independent of both India and Pakistan, and for some of these that it would be a secular state.

Till the last day it was not clear what India would be like when the British would leave. Indians weren’t clear – Gandhi wanted Ram Rajya, Ambedkar wanted communal electorate for Dalits, Nehru wanted a secular state, Jinnah wanted a separate nation, Hindu Mahasabha had its own ideas. However, India, which you hail as “at least constitutionally” secular and democratic, got independence despite these internal differences. These arguments were used against Indian independence, but finally India got it. There were princely states who had the option to not join India, and where, like Hyderabad, they wanted to exercise such an option India sent in the army that committed genocide. So even the map of independent India came about after independence.

The idea of India is even today a transient one. As we know, Indian secularism is under attack from all sides, from Nandy to Advani. Even today, there are Dalits who want a separate nation – this at-least-constitutionally democratic India has blocked a website called Dalitstan? Within India many would say this is healthy democratic debate. However, such clear and present debate in Kashmir is, for you, evidence that the idea of azadi is an inchoate one, and thus not worthy of being taken seriously.

Partition was done, and the new Republic of India had a Constituent Assembly that put the task of nation building on the back-burner to debate and discuss for four years – four years! – the idea of India and come to a consensus called the Constitution of India. I don’t see why you should deny the people of Jammu and Kashmir this opportunity? Perhaps there may be Partition – parts of Jammu who want to be with India and are contiguous with India can remain with India. Perhaps they may choose to be with an independent J&K. To say that Kashmiris don’t know what azadi means and that India in contrast is ‘at least constitutionally democratic and secular’ is so ironic, if not dishonest, because you haven’t yet given the Kashmiris a chance at constitution-making, and presumed that they may not do so, not be able to do so, or that if they do they will reject democracy and secularism. I don’t know what these presumptions are based on.

I don’t agree with you, therefore, that the idea of azadi is ‘far from clear’. Too much Kashmiri blood has flowed down the Jhelum for the Kashmiris to accept the joke that the rest of us don’t know that azadi is an Urdu word which means freedom.

There is a contradiction in your post where, having suggested that azadi should not be granted because we don’t know what it means, you write: “As we saw, ‘azadi’ is compatible with authoritarianism, ethnic cleansing and the murder of political rivals: hardly a radical departure from the present.” The contradiction betrays that you have made up your mind about what azadi looks like, and it’s ugly.


4) Azadi for Everyone

You speak of Rosa Luxemburg:

Who embodies or represents the ‘nation’, given that it consists of groups that are often at loggerheads with one another? ‘The “nation” should have the “right” to self-determination. But who is that “nation” and who has the authority and the “right” to speak for the “nation” and express its will? How can we find out what the “nation” actually wants?’ she asks (Luxemburg 1909). This is surely a valid question where the territory claimed by those who speak for the nation-to-be is shared by others (who may be a minority or even the majority) who do not want to be part of that vision.

The argument is regularly made, albeit without invoking Luxemburg. In short this means that Kashmir cannot have azadi just because Kashmiri Muslims want it. You say as much through Yoginder Sikand:

‘In Geelani’s writings anti-Indian Sunni Muslims come to be seen as standing in for all the people of the state, while the sizeable remaining population of Jammu and Kashmir (Hindus, dalits, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, many Shia Muslims and non-Kashmiri Pahari Muslims, as well as not a negligible number of Kashmiri Muslims) who are definitely pro-India are completely ignored and silenced as if they are not part of “the people of Jammu and Kashmir”.

There is the issue of Geelani’s leadership here, but I shall address that later. Let us just tackle this idea.

Firstly, ‘Azadi for everyone,’ if taken to its logical conclusion, would mean a world without nation-states. I am all for such a world. But we currently don’t live in such a world. We don’t have ‘Azadi for everyone’ in India – not for Kashmiris, Dalits, tribals, many north-eastern ethnicities. Yet we enjoy having been de-colonised. And if the lack of azadi for everyone in India didn’t mean continuation of British occupation of India, why should the lack of azadi for everyone mean continuation of Indian occupation in Kashmir?

The phrase “Poona Pact” echoes violently in my ear when I go to any Dalit discussion. I heard the very word ‘azadi’ in an event in Delhi on 1 November where former manual scavengers, Dalits, from across India came to demand rehabilitation and an end to manual scavenging. Why can India be touted as the world’s largest democracy with so many millions of its citizens unhappy with the current idea of India, but Kashmir must be denied azadi because, well, what about those who don’t want it?

Secondly, denying Azadi to Kashmir because there are (‘sizeable’ number of) people there who don’t want azadi means that we are preventing majoritarian rule, right? But what we are doing instead is minority rule – the minorities there, theoritically, are enjoying a political situation they want. If we cannot keep everyone happy, perhaps we should have a vote and let the majority decide – for isn’t that the principle of democracy, and isn’t that the spirit behind letting people vote to determine their nation?

Secondly, of the ethnicities listed, assumptions are being made. The tone in which the ethncities are listed gives the impression that it’s a contest between one (Kashmiri Sunni Muslims) and 8 (“Hindus, dalits, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, many Shia Muslims and non-Kashmiri Pahari Muslims, as well as not a negligible number of Kashmiri Muslims”). Is it a 1:8 contest? Clearly not. Then what are the numbers like? We could know through a referendum, but that would mean the right to self-determination, and that you are not willing to grant.

If the right to self-determination was granted, what would the picture look like? There have been a few surveys, most notably one by Chatham House in 2007. You can download here the survey result. You can read a discussion of the survey by Mohamad Junaid and this one by me. The survey says that in different districts of Kashmir, the support for azadi ranges from 74 to 95 per cent. Even if you include Jammu and Ladakh, the extrapolating from the survey numbers, azadi would get a total vote of 43%, for India 21% and Pakistan 15%. 14% want the LoC to be made a permanant border. See Junai’d discussion for more on these numbers before jumping to conclusions.

Lastly, the issue of those who do not want azadi (and who want to be with India or Pakistan) and the rights of such people, and the rights of minorities, can be tackled in several imaginative ways. I am no confliction resolution expert, but a quick glance at the Wikipedia entry on the right to self-determination shows we are not the first people to think about these dilemmas and that solutions can be found – open borders, dual sovereignty, dual citizenship, etc. The question is: do we want to find solutions?


5) Good Victims, Bad Victims

You speak of the violence of the oppressed, theoretically suggesting the Kashmiri Muslims are what I call ‘bad victims’. It would be easier for me to engage with this discussion of yours if it was more about Kashmir rather than South Africa, Sri Lanka, Arundhati Roy and SAS Geelani.

Referring to Arundhati Roy, you write:

To acknowledge the tragedy of the expulsion of the Kashmiri Pandits while sharing a platform with a man whose politics would make them (at best) second-class citizens without political rights certainly seems inconsistent. Fighting on two fronts – against the state on one side and a self-styled liberation group on the other…

Although I hold no brief for Arundhati Roy, and she can defend herself more powerfully than anyone else can, I must say I don’t see how ‘sharing a platform’ with someone makes you endorse their politics. Just as sharing this platform, Kafila, does not automatically mean that Kafila’s authors and guest writers are in agreement with each others’ politics. We should surely judge Arundhati Roy by what she said there, and elsewhere on Kashmir, and not by the mere fact that she was speaking in the same seminar on the same subject as Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Arundhati Roy’s speech even criticised the Azadi movement. She asked if there would be justice for all in post-independence Kashmir, and in his speech Geelani responded to that. I shall discuss Geelani’s response later.

You speak about Arundhati Roy’s analogy about South Africa. I don’t know enough about the South African context to enter that debate, and nor do I think it serves any purpose. If the expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits is what you are talking about, and using it to suggest that the Kashmiri azadi movement does not have political legitimacy because they kicked the Pandits out, it would have been more germane to the issue if you had quoted Arundhati Roy on Kashmiri Pandits from the same interview:

I think that the story of the Pandits is one that still remains to be told in all its complexity. Everyone was at fault, the militancy, the Islamist upsurge in the Valley, and the Indian government, which encouraged (even helped) the Pandits to flee when it should have done everything it could to protect them. Apart from losing everything they had and the only home they really knew, the poorest Pandits are still living in camps in Jammu in the worst conditions, and have had their voices hijacked by some well-heeled and noisy charlatans who feed off the destitution of their own people to get a lot of cheap political mileage. They have a vested interest in keeping them poor, so they can show them off, like animals in a zoo. Do you think that if the government really cared it could not have helped those poor people to better their lot? In all my visits to Kashmir I have sensed that ordinary Kashmiri Muslims feel a terrible sense of loss at the departure of the Pandits. If that is true, it is the duty of the leaders of Kashmir’s present struggle to get the Pandits to return. That needs more than rhetoric. Apart from it being the right thing to do, it would give them enormous moral capital. It would also help shape their vision of what kind of Kashmir they are fighting for. Let’s also not forget that there are a few thousand Pandits who have lived in the Valley through these troubled years, and unharmed. [Emphasis mine.]

The issue of Pandits is a complex one, and most Kashmiri Muslims believe that the Pandit exodus was an Indian conspiracy. This is not a joke – they will tell you long stories about what Jagmohan did. They will tell you that the Pandits who were killed were killed not because they were Pandits but because they were Indian agents, and the militants killed many Kashmiri Muslims for the same. They will show you Sikhs walking around in Baramulla and ask you that if they killed and expelled Pandits, why did they let the Sikhs leave? Incidentally, the Indian state has often tried to drive a wedge between the Kashmiri Muslims and Sikhs to paint the Muslims communal.

While conflict resolution in Kashmir is not possible without resolving the Pandit issue, it points to the larger need of a truth and reconciliation commission in Kashmir, which India is most afraid of, because there would be a can of worms. Pandit groups point out they haven’t got justice for the killings – isn’t that strange considering the law of the land there is run by India?

I don’t see how the expulsion of the Pandits – horrible as it is – denies the Kashmiri people their right to self-determination. Just as the Partition violence does not delegitimise the Pakistani nation-state today, or the genocide in Hyderabad with which India got it to become part of the Indian Union does not come in the way of India being a free country.

You are effectively saying that the Indian people should continue to rule over the Kashmiri people because the Kashmiri people killed and expelled Kashmiri Pandits who regarded themselves as Indian. I don’t see how the violence of the oppressed here is greater the violence of the oppressor.

The truth about the Pandits who left Kashmir is that they don’t want to return to Kashmir, for reasons not entirely political. So while the Pandits get rehabiliatated in India, their children get reservations in colleges and go abroad for jobs, what happened to them in 1989 and 1990 will continue to be used forever to deny the people who live in Kashmir the right to self-determination? Is that fair?

You later write,

Similarly in Kashmir, it is not only the Pandits who have suffered as a result of the Islamist vision of azadi. ‘Between 1989 and 1991 tens of thousands of Kashmiri youths crossed over the Line of Control and went to a land of their dreams – Pakistan, which many of them thought was a place where there was justice, peace and tranquility; but most were terribly disillusioned by the experience, and ended up feeling bitter at the deception that had trapped them ‘between a rock and a hard place’. (Choudhry 2010)

While I do not know the politics of the author, I think it is generally very unfair to use the Kashmiri disenchatment with Pakistan to say that the people suffered in the azadi movement and therefore azadi must not be given. On the contrary, in that article you quote from, the author also writes:

Most of the Muslim Kashmiris living under the Indian rule were, no doubt, staunch supporters of Pakistan, it was Pakistani policies and attitude of Pakistani agencies which transformed them to Kashmiri nationalists. They had seen the Indian rule and obviously they rejected that; and after experiencing the Pakistani policy and their rule in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan and their attitude to Kashmiris and concept of azadi (independence) they became ardent supporters of an independent Kashmir. [Link]

The Kashmiri Muslims took to arms in 1989 to liberate Kashmir. They were using guerilla warfare to do so. That phase ended in 2006. What we have been seeing since then is a non-violent civil disobedience movement. Now that they have given up violence, they are being killed by Indian forces so that they don’t come to the street and demand azadi. And yet we continue to say that they cannot have azadi because they once used a military strategy to get azadi!

There is a realisation amongst Kashmiri Muslims today that militancy as a political strategy failed to achieve azadi, but that at the time it seemed the right thing to do. Amongst the reasons militancy failed was not only the disillusionment with Pakistan but also a post-9/11 world. However, most people in Kashmir are proud of what the militants did. They remember their martyrs in their protest songs, they march to the martyrs’ graveyard to protest, and they certainly don’t share your vision of the militants’ disillusionment with Pakistan as a reason why they should reject what you describe “Islamist vision of azadi” (again, I thought you said the vision was ‘far from clear’). You are making this argument in the name of people whose resolve for azadi (as opposed to merger with Pakistan) has been strengthened even more after the militancy experience. The suffering you speak of is suffering they are proud of – go ask any former militant in the Valley and any man on the street. I have done that.


6) Who is Syed Ali Shah Geelani?

You speak extensively about Syed Ali Shah Geelani, his views and his idea of Kashmir. One cannot escape the impression that you are judging the Kashmiri case for azadi on the basis of Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s personality and views. I don’t see why you should do that. Geelani’s views are his own and can be taken as representing the views of all Kashmiris only if he was a democratically elected leader of Kashmir, or Jammu and Kashmir, or whatever form independent Kashmir takes. Even then, his views, or the views of whoever the leader is, would be subject to a house of the people. Such a transition can be made under the supervision of the United Nations.

That is not to deny that Syed Ali Shah Geelani is today the tallest, most respected leader of the Kashmiri independence struggle. To deny that would be dishonest. While Geelani’s stated position is merger with Pakistan, that is not what the people necessarily want. As you yourself note, “For many others – probably the majority – it means that Kashmir would be independent of both India and Pakistan, and for some of these that it would be a secular state.” What explains this contradiction? I will answer that, but before doing so let me say the answer does not matter. Let a Constituent assembly decide what the people want! Why deny the people the right to self-determination on the basis of what just one of them, Syed Ali Shah Geelani wants?

Anyway, to answer the contradiction about a pro-Pakistan Geelani being the favourite leader of a pro-independence public. The main answer to this is that the people see Geelani as the only leader whose integrity they can trust. He is the only leader they see as not being corrupt, and the only leader who is consistent with his position, and who refuses to budge under Indian pressure. Even his popularity was at its lowest in 2008 when protests erupted. Hurriyat leaders had to cancel their Dubai flights. Young protestors on the street told me how their leaders, all of them, had failed them, that the movement yet needed leaders, that they had dragged their leaders out for this renewed struggle. On young man told me that if the current leadership fails them again they will appoint a new leader. Everyone wonder, ‘After Geelani who?’ and we got the answer in 2010 – Masarat Alam, Islamist but not pro-Pakistan.

Similar issues were being discussed on a mailing list back in 2008, the Sarai Reader-List, when fellow Kafilaite Shuddhabrata Sengupta wrote (and this is a very long quote):

Why is it necessary for us to be ‘vocal’ about Geelani at all? As far as I am concerned, he is just another politician, perhaps respected by some people in the valley because he is seen (by some again, not all) as not having ever been on the payroll of the Indian state. (Many others in the so called ‘separatist’ leadership have at one time or another been seen as

(rightly or wrongly) or have been believed to be compromised by their tacit acceptance of covert ‘favours’ by the Indian state. But to me, this question of ‘is Geelani corrupt or not ?’ is actually irrelevant. Sometimes the most dangerous politics is exercised by those who adorn themselves with the charisma of incorruptability and the glow of an inability to be flexible. So this alone is not a criterion by which I judge what SAS Geelani represents in Kashmir.

For me, the opinions of this octegenarian politician (and sometime member of the Legislative Assembly of Jammu & Kashmir – which proves that even S.A.S Geelani has been different things at different times) is of less consequence than the logic of what impels the people of Kashmir to reject the Indian state. Today, more than ever before in Kashmir, the people are ahead of their leaders. The initiative is really in their hands, and the Indian state is terribly confused because there is little that it can achieve even by playing games of intrigue within and between the factions of the Hurriyat Conference, because frankly, neither the Hurriyet Leadership, nor the Militants, nor the ISI, nor the mainstream political parties, are running the show. The show is running, despite, not because of them.


…my standing by the movement against the Indian occupation has more to do with standing by these people rather than anything to do with the ephemerality of a so called ‘leadership’. Let us not forget, that S.A.S Geelani’s claim to ‘leadership’ is far from being uncontested. He had to leave his own party, the Jamaat e Islam, because no one took him seriously, and the ‘Tehreek -e-Hurriyat’ which has been his refuge in recent days is a far more heterodox and complex formation than he is actually comfortable with. S.A,S Geelani routinely listens only to those who say yes to him, and the fact that the crowd that did not take his ‘claim to leadership’ at the rally after which he had to apologize is a pointer of the fact that in front of constituencies other than his own, his authority is not that high, even though there may be a grudging respect for his moral standing.

At the same time, in the maelstorm that is Kashmir, there must be several, brutalized, humiliated, scorned, who would think – “Why should I not turn to a man who speaks a clear and forthright anger against these violences. Why would I not take his idiom seriously. Why, when I have nothing left to cling to, should I not reach out and hold on to the surety of an iron clad faith that he holds out to me.” And that perhaps explains S.A.S Geelani’s desparate constituency. His appeal, however much of it exists, and it exists, not for a single reason, or even in a simple way, (I know for instance, that people weep for him and curse him at the same time). It is an index of how far the people of Kashmir have been pushed to the wall.

I understand this, and yet I think that this is a profound tragedy. S.A.S Geelani, once a minor, unpopular politician in the Jamaat e Islami, a sometime MLA for a party with two seats that were scrounged and won in fraudulent elections, a party that no one really cared for in Kashmir, is what he is today, thanks to the Indian state.

Through the fifties, sixities, seventies, eighties India suffocated every other form of opposition. It engineered the imprisonment of every dissident voice, toppled governments at will, and capriciously arranged for the rise and fall of this or that figure and then arranged for the execution of Maqbool Butt, the exile of Amanullah Khan, the targetted assasinations of figures like Dr. Guru, Hriday Nath Wanchoo, the elder Mirwaiz, Abdul Ghani Lone and many others who were of much greater stature than S.A.S Geelani in the eyes of the people of Kashmir and who could have, at times like this, provided some of the ethical and intellectual anchors, even some of the personal succor that the movement needs today.

Who was left? Who was transformed from a virtual non-entity to the man in shining incorruptible armour – S.A.S. Geelani. He suited the Indian state best. He could be demonized, he could be portrayed as a bigot, which he is. He held out for a corrupt military dictatorship  in Pakistan. His malignant ideas about what kind of Kashmir he wants can be ridiculed, and so, by extension, the movement as a whole could be tarred by having him identified as the leader, as the qaid.

Something similar happenned in Iran. The Shah of Iran completely destroyed every form of opposition, other than the clerics of Qom. A surprised Khomeini, who could at least go into exile in Iraq and France, while the non-Islamist or moderate Muslim opposition found itself shot with bullets in the back of the neck, found the moral leadership of the Iranian revolution gifted to him by the fleeing Shah of Iran. The Indian state, by using money, guns and intrigue, has left Geelani (the apparently incorruptible, honest and straightforward, but reactionary, proto-fascist Geelani) holding himself out as the pretender to the throne of the leadership of the movement for Azadi in Kashmir. It is not the people of Kashmir as much as Iovernment of India that has crowned Geelani by demonizing him. The people of Kashmir, in their bitteness, have sometimes looked up to the man that the Government of India loathes most of all. This may not be as accurate an index of their esteem for that man as it is a mark of their hatred for that government. It is for the same reason that Bose became wildly popular (even in areas where he had no base) in the bitter forties of the last century in India, when the British Raj was on its last and in some ways most desperate legs in India.

Ask the successive home ministers, prime ministers and intelligence officers of India why they brought Kashmir to this state that Geelani can appear sometimes as if he could be a saviour to the same people that he also infuriates with his obstinacy, his retrograde statements and reactionary outlook on life. [Emphasis mine; August 2008]

If you read the full post on that link, you will find some very strongly worded criticism of Geelani’s Islamist politics. Yet, anarchist-atheist Sengupta was one of the speakers sharing the stage with Geelani in the seminar, ‘Azadi, the only way’.

7) Secularism

Answering Arundhati Roy’s question about justice in post-independence Kashmir, Geelani said at the Delhi seminar that independent Kashmir would allow non-Muslims to drink. Come to think of it, it is more democratic than Gandhi, who wanted total prohibition, which continues in his home state of Gujarat! Geelani went to the extent of saying that if a Muslim breaks the bottle of a non-Muslim, he shall be levied a fine. A lot of us were amused and my friend Gowhar Fazili, a Kashmiri Muslim sitting next me said he was relieved that he would be able to drink, as he was an atheist!

This is not a joke. He’s trying to say that look, I am Islamist but the rights of minorities will be protected to the extent of not only allowing non-Muslims to do things Islam does not permit, but also fining Muslims if they come in the way. In other words, non-Muslims will not be second class citizens. They will have equal rights. Isn’t that better than India, I ask you Rohini, where cow-slaughter is banned in many states because it comes in the way of the majority community?

But for you what Geelani said in Delhi cannot be taken seriously, since he was speaking to “an Indian human rights audience”. The hall actually had mostly Kashmiris, Pandits and Muslims, and many Muslims. But this is strange – you hold him to account because he was the keynote speaker in a seminar in Delhi; yet you don’t care what he said in that seminar and want to judge the Kashmiri struggle going by what he has earlier said and written. As for me, to repeat, it doesn’t matter what he said. I will wait for the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Kashmir.

But what if the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Kashmir chooses not to have a secular state? What if they endorse Geelani’s vision? What if they decide to have an Islamic Republic of Kashmir?

Firstly, it is inconceivable  to me that such a constituent assembly will give up democracy and hand over the reign to a Geelani or somebody else. I’m reasonably assured that there will be democracy if there is proper, comprehensive conflict resolution. You write that India is ‘at least constitutionally’ a secular democracy, but that means nothing for Kashmiris. For them, Indian democracy ends in Lakhanpur. I would say that the Kashmiri right to self-determination would give them real and constitutional democracy. Not giving them the right to self-determination is the opposite of democracy. What they have right now, with AFSPA, is military rule.

But what about secularism? What if the people choose to have a theocratic state, though one that protects the rights of minorities?  I would prefer that to India’s constitutional secularism where Muslims and SIkhs are massacred by the thousands and there is no justice. What good

What if they choose to have a constitutional democracy that does not protect the rights of minorities? I doubt if they will do that: even the ‘hardliner’ Geelani says they can drink all they want. Even so, to presume that this will happen is like the British saying the rights of minorities won’t be protected in India if they leave.  When we in India are unable to take care of secularism, do we have the moral right to deny Kashmir the right to self-determination on the presumption that an independent Kashmir will be at least constitutionally theocratic?

Secularism in the context of Kashmir is a funny thing also because the rise of Hindutva in India, the events of Ayodhya 1992 and Gujarat 2002 reverberated in Kashmir too. The rise of Hindu nationalism in India made the Kashmiri Muslims deeply insecure about being with India and bolstered the azadi movement. The number of innocent Muslims, Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris, who have been falsely arrested, charged and/or summarily executed on charges of ‘Islamic terrorism’, the fact that Kashmir and Indian Muslims face housing and other discrimination in India – such failures of Indian secularism to deliver what it promised has only made the Kashmiri Muslim argument for separation from India stronger.

Also, India secularism sees ‘communalism’ rather than theocracy as its binary opposite, and I presume your implication (especially going by your assertion of Geelani’s Islamism, belief in two-nation theory etc.,) was that the Kashmiri struggle is a communal one, that is, motivated by the idea of superiority of one’s own religion. Is that the case? I want to draw your attention again to Mridu Rai’s comment that I linked to above, where she writes:

No, I do not believe that the demands of Kashmiris in the valley are communal. The demand in Kashmir is for long-denied rights. Not every reference to religion is communal — if it were so, then every believing/practising Indian and Pakistani is communal. The concept of “secular” against which “communal” is being defined seems poorly understood by those who are ascribing either label. In any case, what are the examples of secularism on which this poorly conceptualized notion is being valorized, other than some vague sense that it is everything that is NOT Pakistani or Kashmiri Muslim?

I certainly hope the usual exemplars of Nehru and the Congress will not be trotted out. Although I am not a huge fan of his, perhaps a quick read of Ashish Nandy’s “Secularism and the Tolerance of Religion” will at least show how the question is a little more complicated than certain people here seem/want to realize. I suggest also a reading of Gyanendra Pandey’s book, the Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India, for a historical survey of how precisely the term “communal” gained ground as a pejorative. For those assuming, it was always self-evidently so, you might be surprised.

Finally, I would recommend Ayesha Jalal’s article “Exploding Communalism” for a persuasive argument, that it was the Indian National Congress who hammered the nail in the coffin for the term “communal” when it used it prolifically as a pejorative. She also points out, importantly, that it was used selectively to tar those who refused to speak from its pulpit, not on the basis of whether politicians referred to religion or not. Thus Maulana Azad was secular and nationalist when he allied himself firmly with the Congress (now his earlier calls in Al-Hilal for a state within India where the sharia would run its writ as the only way in which Muslims could be accommodated, were conveniently forgotten). And Mohammed Ali, always a self-avowed “communal patriot”, was celebrated when the Congress and pro-Khilafat movement made common cause in the first half of the 1920s –indeed he was deemed so nationalist and secular that he was even made Congress president–but was reviled when he broke with the Congress party. He broke not, mind you, with India or Indian nationalism, but with the Congress party and his stance on his dual religious and patriotic affiliations had changed not an iota either when he was acceptable to the Congress or later when he ceased to be so. I’m sure i don’t need to quote his assertion of belonging to two non-concentric circles both of which had equal claims on him.

What had changed dramatically was the definition of secular nationalism and the fact that the Indian National Congress arbitrarily arrogated to itself the right to do so (while continuing to contain within its ranks many Hindu provincial leaders who continued to be members also of the Hindu Mahasabha). So, let’s talk about “secular” and “communal” if you will but then let’s do so after getting our understandings of those concepts and their histories straight.

As for assuming that the goal of Kashmiri Muslims in 1989/90 was to establish a nizam-e-mustafa, if it was indeed such a burning desire, isn’t it relevant that 20-odd years later it still does not exist as a political dispensation in the valley even though it is, sadly, depopulated of much of any Hindu minority that would presumably oppose it?

For these and many other reasons, no, I don’t buy the label “communal” when describing universally the movement in Kashmir. [Link]

8) Demilitarisation

Your solution calls for “a process of discussion and negotiation between all the diverse peoples in the state”. There is little doubt that that would have to take place to resolve the conflict. But I don’t see why or how that can be a pre-condition to the right to self-determination. That can finally happen only after this inalienable right is granted.

You further write, “The only thing that can be said with certainty is that such a solution cannot be found while a military occupation by Indian forces continues torturing, raping and killing civilians with impunity.” You then conclude by discussing AFSPA and human rights violations. You are not even explicitly calling for withdrawal of troops! You are only saying remove AFSPA and other draconian laws. In other words, occupation will continue but no human rights violations please. You seem to be more concerned, in your ultimate conclusion, about “India’s moral legitimacy and its claim to be a democracy” than about what the people of Kashmir and north-east want. You want them to find solutions within the Indian framework, and in return India should stop torturing and raping them wantonly. I am not caricaturing your position; this is what I frankly read in your last three paragraphs.

This is naivete, for, as I have discussed above, oppression is not the root cause of conflict in these places. It is identity. The Indian Army and paramilitaries are doing what armies do. Merely removing AFSPA will not solve anything – some of the 111 killings this summer in Kashmir were by policemen who are not covered under the AFSPA. In the film Battle of Algiers, the French general holding on to Algeria is told to stop the human rights abuse. He frankly says that if you want to hold on to Algeria, the human rights abuse will continue. Otherwise, you have to give up Algeria. In the Srinagar seminar soon after the one in Delhi, Arundhati Roy advised the audience to watch the film.

The Indian forces in Kashmir and the north-east are holding on to these territories for India and not simply maintaing law and order. It is their job to suppress the people, it is their mandate. They cannot be expected to do so by being told that if they shoot a protestor demanding azadi they will be brought to book – for it is only after explicit orders that they shoot. We have to understand that the 111 killings in Kashmir this summer could not have happened without the consent / orders of Delhi. There is a freedom struggle at hand, and India is crushing it. The people will not stop demanding azadi if the rape and torture stops. In fact, human rights abuses have come down a lot because of the decline of militancy. Just that people have become emboldened again to shout azadi on the streets. This, after the experience of militancy which you suggest should be reason why people should stop asking for azadi.


I would like it if Kashmir was a part of India – but not against the will of most of its citizens. I have picked on your phrase ‘at least constitutionally’ but the truth is that I still have some hope in the Constitution of India. And it is for that reason that I support the Kashmiri azadi movement – because I think that keeping a whole people forcibly part of India does not come from the values of the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution. The occupation of Kashmir continues in the name of the people of India, and as one of them, I consider my hands to have some of that blood. For the reasons I have listed above, I think that the dillemas in Kashmir are not about the right of nations to self-determination but the right of nations to military occupation.

Apologies that this reply became so long – and thanks for initiating this debate.


(A lot of ideas in this response come from a lot of conversations with many Kashmiris and some non-Kashmiris. I am grateful to them all. The title of this post was suggested by a friend, to whom I am grateful.)

45 thoughts on “Dilemmas of ‘Right of Nations to Military Occupation’: A Response to Rohini Hensman”

  1. Simply brilliant, bold and brutally honest brother! May your tribe grow!


  2. i might have said this several times but right now i really am speechless….completely stunned.
    No doubt this is one of the best arguments in line of the Kashmir dispute and i really doubt it leaves any room for anyone to question


  3. Really a great job and hard for the Indian state to swallow.Let us help Kashmiris to realise their dream of self determination, in the light of the day.And i believe it would only be possible if India turns out to be a socialist state.As long as India remains under Fascist/Hindutva brigade, they won’t allow Kashmir to be free, with all their blood and tears.Save India from these Fascists to save Kashmir.Or reversely speaking free India to free Kashmir.
    Also i am worried on the point that, even if tomorrow Kashmir is freed from India, eventually they still remain very much prone to Pakistan’s Islamist domination.So i think this should be ensured through an international consencus and that, it is international community’s responsibility to keep Kashmir’s sovereignity secure from both India and Pakistan.


  4. “and i really doubt it leaves any room for anyone to question”

    But kind sir, we do not need to question. The author mentions a Pundit view from the 1920s and acknowledges that things have changed, but refuses to recognize the change as being that of an Islamist identity.

    I am aware the some upper caste Hindu soldiers revolted in 1857 against the government of the day and wanted to install an old Muslim as king. Should I now be held to the same obligation of being against the government of the day and in favor of rule by a Muslim king? Laughable indeed.

    I completely acknowledge that some Pundits may have raised an issue of a Kashmiri identity against Punjabi Hindus almost 100 years ago. That does not take away from the Islamist identity of the present day’s movement. The author concedes as much about the “majority” being inherently Muslim.

    It may well be conceded that the “majority” aka Muslims (Sunni) of the Kashmir valley want “azadi” but this majority exists only in the valley. It does not extend to Jammu or Ladakh. Let the Kashmiri Muslims demand Azadi for the valley and make clear their intent to seprate from Jammu and Ladakh. Otherwise, we see a people decrying Indian imperialism and yet waging “Kashmir” imperialim on Jammu and Ladakh.

    I do fundamentally agree with the author that at the end of the day, it is about the will of the people. Till the majority of Indians wish to hold on to Kashmir, we will do so. If the day comes when the majority of Indians wish to withdraw from Kashmir, that will happen as well. At the end of the day, the decision lies with the people of India, not the people of Kashmir.

    Just as the United States had to resort to a civil war to keep the country united for greater good, (and crushing the Confederate States was a good idea and worth the price of blood), India has the right to kill those who would do this country harm for the greater good.


  5. One other thing, whereas we may loathe Geelani, it is entirely in Indian interest that a bearded member of the Jamaat e Islami be the public face of the Kashmiri movement.

    In the same vein, the Kashmir threat that if the stone throwers are not allowed to express themselves, they will turn to an insurgency. This is laughable on two counts. 1. An insurgency is actually preferable to mass movement 2. India has faced and crushed many insurgencies so the threat is not exactly a scary one.

    Whereas the ideal situation for India is for the Kashmiris to get on to the business of living as Indians, we do recognize that such a scenario may well be two to three generations away. In the meanwhile, a cannibalistic insurgency that eats it’s own and is manageable by security forces is not a bad scenario either.


    1. Furthermore:

      “In their own country their status is nil. A post of rupees 40 falls vacant in some office…ninety to one an outsider is brought to fill it up … a good-for-nothing outsider almost illiterate–but whose qualification is a communal or geographical alliance with some powerful official in the state…”

      Sounds like something our good friend Thackeray’s mouth. Why is nobody demanding azaadi for Maharashtrans – seems to be the same way Marathi identity is developing….


  6. Superb! Thank you for finding the courage and energy to produce a lucid and morally sound response even while being an Indian. I know how hard it is for many of my other Indian friends who take strong moral postions on occupations and deprivations elsewhere, but when it comes to the question of Kashmir, it brings out the worst in them.


  7. Kudos Shivam, for comprehensively writing this all down. Great clarity there. Thanks for taking the conversation forward.


  8. Thanks for debate on the issue, it is very much required. Let me raise a few questions coming to my mind after reading your response:
    You seem to be making an argument that in Kashmir the problem is not of democratic failure or of Human Rights violations – but essentially about Kashmiri Nation and the right of this nation to be liberated from India. By making this argument you are also presuming that there is an essential contradiction between Indian nation and Kashmiri nation. And your assumptions start from Kashmiri identity politics. As you clearly say “The root of the Kashmir conflict is not oppression but identity.”
    I agree with you that there is a Kashmiri identity politics which is at the root of the conflict. But thereafter I see lot of problem when you extend the argument of identity politics to the “essential” and “exclusive” Kashmiri nationalism which is placed essentially in opposition to Indian nationalism. If it is not the issue of denial of democracy and human rights, then it is pertinent to ask if there is an essential conflict between Indian nationalism and Kashmiri nationalism? Because much of Kashmiri nationalism has been manifested in the conditions of denial of human rights and denial of democracy. In the situation in which Kashmiri leadership had negotiated Article 370, the assumption was that Kashmiri identity would be best preserved within Indian democracy and Indian secularism. Sheikh Abdullah said so in many of the speeches he made during the post- Accession period. Two of these speeches are worth reading – one made during the opening session of the Constituent Assembly of J&K and the other made in the UN. In both the speeches, one can see the harmonious construction between Indian and Kashmiri nationalism. You might say that in Kashmir many people contest Sheikh Abdullah’s vision as well. But if Sheikh Abdullah did not represent the Kashmiri identity politics in that period then who did? So coming to the question of ‘exclusive’ Kashmiri nationalism and its essential contradiction with Indian nationalism – let us imagine the situation in which Article 370 was not contested, Sheikh Abdullah was not arrested, elections were not manipulated, governments and political elites were not imposed from the Centre, civil liberties were not denied and democratic space was allowed, Farooq Abdullah government was not dismissed in 1984, 1987 elections not rigged and MUF not denied few more seats in the Assembly – would the Kashmiri identity politics still be manifested in the same manner as it did in 1989. Has the identity politics not taken a turn towards ‘Azadi’ politics in the absence of democratic channel? If the issue was always of ‘Kashmiri nationalism vis a vis Indian nationalism, why would Kashmiris have celebrated the 1977 elections?
    To argue that Kashmir identity (as a nationalist identity) existed even before 1947, you have given the example of ‘Kashmir for Kashmiris’ debate which was initiated by Kashmiri pundits. ‘Kashmir for Kashimiris’ was more of an interest politics rather than a ‘nationalist identity politics’. If if that movement was the basis of an essential and exclusive idea of Kashmiri nation, then Kashmiri Pundits would have remained attached to it.
    The second point where I want to intervene is about your response to ‘Azadi for everyone’.
    Here it needs to be emphasised that there is a specificity in Kashmiri demand. The politics of Azadi is specific to the valley – Kashmiri Muslims of Valley. The problem is not about the specificity of this conflict – the problem is about the claims. The claims are not made only for the valley but for whole Jammu and Kashmir. The Azadi politics makes claim for whole undivided Jammu and Kashmir as it stood before 15th August 1947. It seeks to speak for all the people of the state, irrespective of the fact whether they are the part of the movement or not. It needs to be made very clear here that on the Indian side, the Muslim belt outside the valley is not necessarily part of the movement. It is in this context that the issue of the right of self determination needs to be posed. Understanding its specificity to the Kashmir Valley, the issue of political divergence within the state needs to be debated. There are many who are opposed to the idea of Azadi and there are many who are not part of the Azadi movement.
    It is true that many times the argument of political divergence is put forth to dilute the demand of azadi . However, in case of J&K, the issue of ‘majority’ versus ‘minority’ is very problematic. While on the one hand majority cannot be held hostage to the concerns of minority, yet the right of minorities also cannot be dismissed. So how does one resolve the issue? Certainly not by placing ‘majority’ against the minority or vice versa. In your argument you are not only by using the language of majority versus minority but also privileging majoritarian politics over minoritarian politics! One needs to ask – Is there no other option? And can we not look for one. But certainly to do that, one needs to go beyond the paradigm of Self-determination in the way it is being projected as the right of the majority to decide. There may be no visible consensus at the moment in J&K, but by taking this line we are foreclosing all roads for people living together. It is important to note here that Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side has a history of co-existence among people despite the social diversity and political divergence. After the communal violence in 1947 when the communities suffered violence and displacement , there has been no tension between the communities. With the exception of few incidents, the state provides an excellent example of plurality and secular ethos.
    It is in this context the question of the political future of the state becomes very important. The integrity of the state, its plurality and secular ethos – are three fundamental principles on which this future needs to be built. However, the questions of majoritiarian solutions not only polarise the society but also help in constructing the majorities – which were not there in the first place. Majority would be constructed on the religious basis – with most of the Muslims being on one side and Hindus on the other side.
    Till now the movement is ethnic and not religious. The Muslim belt of Jammu region has lot of implications of the conflict situation. However, they are not the part of the movement as the Kashmiris are. They have their own problems and their own set of political aspirations which are manifested in demands like Hill Councils, but certainly not in the demand of Azadi. However, if the majoritarian solution will be sought, it would be expected that they support their co-religionists in Kashmir.


    1. Ms.Chowdhary,
      i find your response on Mr.Vij’s brilliant article a gross oversimplification of the situation and looking at it in isolation,what could have been and what did happen is beating up on the bush with a hypothetical scenario.which doesnt hold much water in todays situation.much as you would like to portray it as a valley only phenomenon,unfortunately is not borne by facts on the ground.except for two and half districts in Jammu plus the ladakh districts,the whole state is disturbed and reeling under effects of violence since last two decades.
      as for what constitutes Kashmiri identity,you need to brush up your knowledge to both the past and present,it is more dynamic than just the sloganeering of political parties in the state and spills over far beyond that of ethnic lines,the following link will help illustrate that fact.



  9. Fantastic piece, Shivam. Simply brilliant; and I use both words advisedly. As with many others, Rohini Hensman’s article–even if not to the extent it disturbed Small Blue Dot–had left me deeply uncomfortable on multiple fronts; not least her “at least secular and democratic” banality, something that she tends to table whenever a fundamental critique of the Indian state and its venality is furnished (her comments on Arundhati Roy’s Naxalite essay come to mind).

    Also, time has come to call the bluff on such naive internationalist posturing and the residual nostalgia of a bygone Trotskyist tendency as evinced by Ms. Hensman. Petty-bourgeois intellectuals like us might keep uttering the Marxian maxim like a mantra and hope for reality to magically acquire the shape that the phrase commands, but the workers of the world will not unite simply through our righteous incantations. To wit, one can point out that even with Marx the ‘world’ of the workers did not extend too far beyond western Europe and America. It will take more than mere incantation and a near-religious belief in the universalizing tendency of capital to unite as a self-conscious class-collective a migrant Jharkhandi laborer working ‘his’ spade at dam construction sites in Himachal Pradesh with, say, a hard-hatted Bavarian working a robotic arm in a Munich auto manufactory. And I am not even getting into the ‘hers’ of things. For such a thing to happen, it will take the unraveling of the relations of domination /subordination reified into all forms of colonialism: psychological and social, political and cultural, imperial and national, and so on. Considered thus, Ms. Hensman should realize that Kashmiri freedom is a precondition for the kind of internationalism she imagines.


  10. the title you have used for your response is so apt . that says it all even without more explanation. and your text is in some ways quite courageous , forthright and does a good job of countering Propaganda in the context of kashmir.the courageous and tenacious resistance in kashmir in the face of deadly mass repression , disappearances and torture and rape and murder and largescale imprisonment ,against the military might of the indian state deserve this kind of response. we need much more of it. having said that i wonder about your liking the founding tenets of the indian constitution. in terms of rhetoric and once again ‘propaganda’ it is all nice regarding the indian constitution. but the reality has always been gruesome and deadly.and i do find that your comments about the indian constitution are naive in some ways and dont go into the reality and the basis of an institution of organised violence and minority rule by specialists. can we try to expand the discussion beyond the legitimacy of democratic constitutions ,democratic states and nation states as such? has not the colonial imperialist expansionist politics of the indian state from the very begining been directly responsible for these multiple tragedies and genocidal consequences in north east of india and has it not been colonialist and thereby genocidal against adivasis in every part of what is defined as India. or let me ask which state is not colonialist in its intentions even if they are not able to always actualise these intentions. in other words what i am saying is that states and statism ( regardless of the labels of democratic or fascist or socialist or communist or federalist or theocratic etc etc) are the basis of mass murder and repression in every form in this world and not only in the context of so called oppressed nationalities. so can we keep that in mind always even when one is acting in solidarity with a movement fighting against national oppression and/or for national self determination? this is a paradox but then is there an escape from it so long as the human civilisation remains how it is? the independant kashmiri state is not a solution in the context of freedom and emancipation ,as also the formation of the independant indian state was not a solution. the indian independant state only strenghthened and accelerated the deadly social proces of industrial statist order of capital , an european colonialist imperialist project with ‘native’ rule in place of british rule. i am a pessimist and critic about national liberation even retrospectively. but that doesent take away the ethical responsibility that we all have to do all one can to get the indian army out of kashmir . though in the given situation of power realities and the state of resistances in india does it seem that it is going to happen anytime soon?


  11. Thanks Shivam. One tragedy of Kashmir is that the situation is so politically complex and charged that any examination of it requires time and an unflagging energy just to put it all down. Yet you have managed just that.

    There is, I suspect, no solution that will satisfy everyone. But you give us plenty of food for thought on what we should consider while looking for solutions. In particular, thank you for trying to shed some light on the whole intricate tragedy of the Pandits.

    More, perhaps, on re-reading.


  12. Shivam,
    you seems to be a bad version of swapan dasgupta and chandrabhan both of whom write for BJP paper called Tha Pioneer. According to your logic, we should stop questioning Narendra Modi because the Gujaratis voted for him. We should also not question the demolition of babri masjid because it was done by a mass mobilisation. Your arguments are a mirror image of identity politics of BJP. I wish you had the acumen and political intellect to deal with what Hensmen and others like Aditya and Sunny have written. If you have decided that all “Kashmiris” want Azaadi, then you seem to be a caricature of RSS which states that all Hindus want Hindu Rashtra. All Dalits want Mayawati. All Yadavs want Mulayam or Lalu…..you seem very sweet and innocent…good its does give people like you and me some purpose in life and being politically correct….carry on the struggle


  13. Rock solid it is Shivam.Kudos for coming up with this response.It has lot more than the response.


  14. Shivam Vij, superb!! I learned a lot from your post, and as Mr.D’Souza has written, you’ve given me a lot to chew on. You’ve said most of what I was trying to formulate, but let me just think aloud a little. While I can’t agree with small blue dot’s tone, I think he/she was pointing to something crucial in her comments on Rohini Hensman’s post. And that thing is the almost-total elision of politics in the discussion on Kashmir and on the Azadi seminar in particular. As Ms. Hensman would know from her activism, hundreds of circumstances, alliances and enmities are generated in the heat and dust of any struggle. In the case of Kashmir, as Arundhati Roy herself has noted at an earlier point, due to the prolonged intervention of the Indian and Pakistani States, the armed forces and the militants in the Valley, the situation on the ground is so chaotic as to make easy judgments on what is progressive and regressive, what is good politics or bad, and further, who is a friend or enemy all but impossible from the outside. An entire generation of Kashmiris has shaped their subjectivities under this twenty year state of siege, and their experience and political will must be treated as real. At a more cynical level, as Roy and several writers have acknowledged, Kashmir is also a ‘business’ now, for almost everybody in power there.

    The choice as I see it, for those outside this war zone is between sitting back and being offended or alarmed by the chaos of political worldviews that the movement embodies…finding it unworthy of our ideals and notions, suggesting an alternative more in consonance with ‘our’ politics…OR taking a firmly partisan position in favour of the movement, good bad and ugly, knowing all the while that Kashmiris deserve at the very least, as Shivam has argued powerfully here, the opportunity given to the majority of Indians, or at least to the national leadership that represented them, in 1947. That moment (1947) was as full of contradictions, cynicism, strange bedfellows and rough-and-ready alliances as the moment that Kashmiris now face is. The work of subaltern historians not to mention the Cambridge school has put to rest for many of us the idea of any innocence behind Indian independence. So, in a world full of nation-states, (and that is the world that Rohini Hensman’s article inhabits, despite her belief in internationalism, when it asserts the legitimacy/superiority of the ‘nominally constitutional’ and democratic Indian Republic) is there a case to be made for self-determination for Kashmir? For me, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

    One last thing about violence of the oppressor and oppressed, and which is more justifiable. The example that Ms. Hensman has given here is misleading, as Mridu Rai has pointed out. Nobody but the most thick-headed revolutionary ideologues claim that the oppressed remains oppressed whatever the circumstances. Most recognise that oppression is a complex phenomenon. Therefore, the ‘oppressed worker who beats his wife’ is a straw enemy, easy enough for us to condemn. As most left-progressive movements have noted, the real irony is when a worker/leader who is resisting the capitalist beats his wife. That is potentially the situation if Geelani has his way with the Islamic Republic of Kashmir. But the key word is ‘potentially’. I believe we know too little about the way the future will shape up on Kashmir to either dismiss Geelani forthwith or to make him a bigger hero/villain than he is, as many observers of the Azadi seminar including Ms. Hensman seem to have done. Politics, and here I mean the myriad daily, banal negotiations, alliances, conflicts and contingencies will decide the course. If we have to intervene, it has to be with the explicit recognition of this political complexity, a la Shivam Vij. Anything else is according to me open to the charge of being soft on the status quo.


  15. An excellent defense of the Kashmir cause Shivam and a damning indictment of the Indian state’s colonization of Kashmir. And yet, I am wondering whether you really had to erect a straw man in the person of Rohini Hensman in order to make this argument. Of all that you have said, where exactly do you think she differs? I would imagine on 99 percent of the things she would agree with you without any hesitation. You need not have actually caricatured her position in order to make your argument, as you do in alleging for example that she is opposed only to human rights abuses in Kashmir – and is “not even calling for the withdrawal of the army”. I am really quite astonished at the assumption behind this claim. Your yourself quote her (point 8) as saying that Kahshmir is under military occupation and as long as that continues, there cannot be any fruitful dialogue. Now I may believe, along with you that the time for dialogue is probably long past, you still cannot deny that this is a statement that very clearly demands the ending of military occupation for any other solution to be even contemplated.

    Also, I think you have mixed up what appear to be, in Rohini’s article, two different claims. First, the distinction between ‘direct colonization’ and the Kashmir kind of situation. Here she does seem to suggest that the latter is not colonization, which you have latched on to. However, in the same article, she also says:
    “Their [ultranationalists’ – AN] dogmatic assertion that Kashmir is an integral part of India – as though India’s national boundaries are god-given and any questioning of them is blasphemy – goes with a justification of the horrific atrocities committed against Kashmiris by the Indian security forces.”

    Please note here that her position is one of opposition to the idea that Kashmir is an integral part of India and that there is nothing sacrosanct in the so-called territorial integrity of India. So clearly, we need to read the earlier statement (made in the context of the Lenin-Luxemburg debate and to my mind a bit of a red herring) along with this one.

    I could actually go on but let these two instances suffice. Let me now come to a couple of other points where a little less rhetoric might have helped in the otherwise superb argument:
    1. Re: point 1 (Identity, not oppression), most of your argument – perhaps except for the quote from Mridu Rai – is actually exactly about oppression. But let me set that aside. Kashmiriyat was certainly an issue in the early 1930s as Mridu Rai so succinctly shows. But you seem to assume a certain pre-given ahistoricity to identity. Kashmiri identity is being redefined right now, as it is being, from sometime in the 1980s. There was a moment of its insertion into the politics of a certain global radical Islam as well as a strengthening of the Pakistan connection. Some of it you accept – but elsewhere, not where you make the argument about identity (in another rhetorical form). Now, the point really is that there is no clear, eternal boundary that defines Kashmiri identity (as another identity) either internally (say w.r.t to the Shias or the Kashmiri Pandits) or externally. Like global Islam and Pakistan, the Indian state has also contributed in redefining it (Jagmohan, KP issue etc). So to rest your case on something called ‘identity’ is not quite convincing. What is convincing is precisely the conduct of the Indian state as an occupying force.
    2. With respect to your long quote from Shuddha, there is one point that I personally am a bit skeptical about. In that absolutely spot on analysis of the situation in Kashmir and the character of the struggle, Shuddha says, again very rightly, that it is the mass upsurge that is determining things in Kashmir today and the game is pretty much not in the hands of the likes of SAS Geelani. But that is precisely my disquiet – being a student of politics. Everywhere this has been the classic form: the people are up in arms and shake the foundations of power but when it comes to constituting the new power, it is the forces whose business is power in whatever form, who constitute it. Not the people. So this statement of Shuddha’s does not allay my suspicion of what the new dispensation might be. Of course, who am I to say anything about any dispensation – new or old. This is just an observation…
    3. You refer to Kosovo, East Timor, Northern Ireland etc early in your post as if simply because new nations are being formed as we speak, that in itself constitutes a justification for any demand for nationhood. My humble submission is that the challenge of imagining a new form in opposition to and different from the nation-form is a far greater challenge than simply taking recourse to the existing languages of nationhood. And as I said in an earlier comment (on RH’s post), the only two instances I have seen are South Africa (the somewhat successful one) and Gandhi (the failed one – but possibly a heroic failure). At least they attempted to articulate an idea that did not simply say, first we will get power and then we will see what to do with it. I know there are no takers for this position but I feel the dangers of submitting are far greater. It is far easier to resist submitting to the dominant power; far more difficult to one with whose aims one identifies.
    3. Finally (and this has nothing to do with either what you say or what RH says) some thoughts on the question of colonization/ colonialism. For a couple of years now, I have been contemplating this business of the inside and the outside: what the nation does within (extraction, oppression, dispossession – or what has also been called ‘internal colonialism’ and forced assimilation of minority cultures) and what it does without (colonialism). And it was while reading Eugen Weber’s masterly Peasants into Frenchmen, that I encountered the claim that the manner in which the French nation-state dealt with its peasant populations was very much akin to the process of colonialism (including its ‘civilizing mission’). It made immediate sense to me and I have been often thinking about it in the context of the Maoist movement in the forest and belt. In other words, the socalled ‘internal’ and the socalled ‘external’ may just be two sides of the same coin! I am still pondering the over what the implications of this recognition might be.


  16. Dear all, thanks for your comments. Am especially grateful to Rekha Chowdhary for complicating the debate and taking it further. Will respond soon to all the comments.


  17. Hello Shivam ,

    Firstly it was not Sanatan Dharam Sabha , the name was Sanatan Dharam Yuvak Sabha . And one of the founding father of that organisation Mr AmarNath Vasinavi is still alive and you may verify if Kashmir for Kashmiris was ever raised by Kashmiri pandits.

    You wont do that as it wont support your arguments.

    It is on record that Santan Dharam Yuvak Sabha in 1931 demanded separate clusters for Kashmiri pandits as there was widespread arson , loot of Kashmiri pandit and their properties by goons of Muslim Conference in 1931.

    Your article is full of misfacts , but then i wont care to correct you in detail as I know that no amount of fact would help you change your stand . Accepting facts come hard on you.


    1. Since the “misfact” you refer to in Shivam’s piece is drawn from a segment he quotes of a longer comment I made elsewhere, I thought it only appropriate that I should be the one to respond.

      The Sanatan Dharma Sabha was founded in 1893. Among those who led it were Pandit Hargopal Kaul and Pandit Amarnath Kak (Census of India, Jammu and Kashmir, 1901, p.24). There was a break in that organization in 1930-31 when its more conservative members and its younger ones demanding more far-reaching social reforms, such as permitting widow remarriage, came to loggerheads with each other. A meeting held in 1931 held to debate the demand made by the younger section to legalize widow remarriage was disbanded when no agreement could be reached. This was the clearest demonstration of an institutional split in the organization in which differences had been in evidence at least since at least a younger more radical element had begun to coalesce through sub-organizations such as the Fraternity Sabha founded in 1930 by Premnath Bazaz. These elements re-formed themselves as the Sanatan Dharma Yuvak Sabha, which then became the most active representative of Kashmiri Pandit interests confronting Kashmiri Muslims and their agitation for rights in 1931. They were at the forefront in representing Kashmiri Pandit interests before the BJ Glancy Commission of enquiry set up in 1932 to examine the riots of 1931. So I hope that answers one of your charges of put forward “misfacts”.

      As for the call of “Kashmir for kashmiris” being made by the Sanatan Dharma Sabha, well, the footnote citing the letter from J. Manners is my evidence. Perhaps you would like to refute that with counter-evidence. And let me clarify again, lest you should miss the point I have made above, that that demand was made not by the Yuvak Sabha, which did not exist at the time as an organization (please read the date of Manners’ letter: it’s 1917), but by the Sanatan Dharma Sabha. Let me quote more fully what I say about this in my book: “…the Sanatan Dharma Sabha had published a pamphlet that criticized not only the Arya Samaj’s reformist activities but attacked also its overwhelmingly Punjabi Hindu constituency. The Arya Samaj attempted to have the Kashmir durbar ban the pamphlet. It took special exception to the Dharma Sabha’s call for a ‘Kashmir for Kashmiris’ coupled with the demand for ‘the exclusion of Punjabis and other non-Kashmiris … from State appointments and the sole employment of Kashmiri Hindus’. [M. Rai, Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects, p. 250]. And that is the evidence for the slogan “Kashmir for Kashmiris”.


  18. A very good piece that covers much of the territory in a succinct fashion. I have a few differences which I am not going into here, but just wanted to add that the point made by Shuddabrata / Shivam re Geelani’s current importance applies to practically every major liberation struggle in recent times. In Palestine, Israel promoted Hamas to fracture the secular PLO, which was eventually delegitimised by its collaboration with the occupation. In Afghanistan, we know the roots of the Taliban. In Kashmir, India and Pakistan have both promoted religious hardliners if only to ensure that the movement is easier to control. The same happened in Iraq and elsewhere. I think one can legitimately say that, barring a few exceptions (South Africa for instance, or to some extent East Timor), it has been decades since the left has led a major liberation struggle to victory. The global dynamics of this process – and the implicit failure of left forces globally to be able to stand as the real face of liberation – is something all of us should ponder. Doing that would certainly be more useful than tarring the Kashmiri struggle with the Geelani brush as a way of dismissing it.


  19. Hi Shivam,

    I have been reading far too many articles on Kashmir and azadi and holding back from commenting each time. I could not hold back this time, a testament to your writing perhaps, so here it goes.

    1) Identity, not oppression – Your argument being that Kashmiris do not see themselves as Indian and that is behind the call for azadi and the current conflict rather than oppression.

    To that, my question would be, what do you consider Indian? If we are to look at identities based along ethnic lines (and I am using the word ‘ethnic’ rather freely here), we would have Punjabi, Bihari, Maratha, Tamil, Gujarati, Manipuri, Naga and so on. You could probably divide these further. My point here is that the notion of an Indian identity beyond the ‘akhand bharat’ ramblings of the Hindu right did not exist until the independence movement. Even then, the independence movement was not uniformly present across the country and as you pointed out, its leaders had varying ideas of what the country would be, what identity it would assume.

    I raise this in relation to the Kashmir issue to point out that the fight is not over identity simply because “Indian” is an idea rather than an ethnic / cultural / linguistic / religious identity. A union of nations, a federation of nationalities. That last description is actually not mine but that given by the Maoist leader Ganapathy. Your argument for Kashmiri freedom puts it in the context of nation states and Kashmiri being a separate distinct identity and so requiring a nation of its own. But nation states is a European concept and it breaks down here, especially here, with our countless divisions. If we went down this path, south asia would break into a hundred if not more nations.

    2) If this is not colonisation, what is? – your argument here being the presence of seven lakh troops fighting 500 active militants – “what are these troops doing if not occupying territory?”

    Firstly, were there seven lakh troops before the insurgency started in 1989? No. The numbers were a fraction of that. If India is a colonising force because of the presence of a very large number of troops in Kashmir, which is your argument, then surely there should have been lakhs of troops present right from when the colonisation started in 1947.

    The troop numbers are in response to the insurgency and the Kargil conflict. The army functions by a counter insurgency strategy which divides the region into grids and then puts enough troops in each grid to ensure it is 100% covered. Given the geography of the region, that means a very large force. Now you could argue that the numbers should be reduced since the insurgency is largely over (an argument that I agree with), but there is the question of Pakistan and what it would do. Would it send through jihadi groups that have been patronised and promoted for just this eventuality? Or send regular army personnel disguised as jihadis as it did during the Kargil conflict? Or perhaps the jihadis will come through anyway since they have stopped accepting their government’s dictation. This is also why any solution to Kashmir needs to involve Pakistan.

    That anecdote about the CRPF trooper adds nothing to this discussion. I have travelled through Kashmir. I have actually heard people say nice things about the army too, less nicer things about the CRPF certainly. We can only go by facts and the fact is that the force numbers there are in direct response to violence and were not present prior to the violence breaking out.

    Yes, something should be done about them now that the violence has gone down since their continued presence everywhere serves no purpose but this is where our inept political leadership comes in.

    3) What does Azadi mean?

    I am going to digress here to talk first about Hyderabad. First, Hyderabad was offered complete independence to manage its administration with India only looking after foreign affairs. The Nizam refused and only then the army was sent in. You say “army that committed genocide”. Which genocide are you referring to here? Wikipedia (which you quote later so I am assuming you accept it as a factual source – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyderabad_Police_Action) says roughly 1800 of the Nizam’s forces were killed in the operation. While I deplore any violence, calling it genocide equates it, amongst others, to the horrors of Rwanda and Pol Pot. Which it is not. It also makes the Indian Army soldiers fighting in that operation guilty of crimes against humanity. This was two armies fighting it out. It is important when arguing about a topic such as this to be precise in our language.

    As you mentioned, the idea of India is even today a transient one and that Indian secularism is attack from all sides. Yet in the world we live in, it is still an idea worth striving for. The idea is of a large number of people, belonging to different ethnicities, religions, communities, living together in harmony. The reality is far from it but the alternative, to break up India into smaller countries is also not feasible. It is not feasible because we live in a world where big countries gobble up smaller countries. It is also because there are too many fault lines – do we divide into Kashmiri, Punjabi, Tamil or into Buddhist Ladakhi, Shia Kargil, Dogra Jammu, Sunni valley, Sikh Punjab (perhaps joined with a Sikh Jammu), Hindu Punjab. But the Dalits may want their own country too. So would the Gujjars.

    Where does this stop? Will these countries be stable, will they survive? You could argue that they may or they may not. The division may simply be Kashmir, Khalistan, Naga, Manipur, Tripura, Bodo, ULFA Assam and the rest of India. But this is not a laboratory experiment that you can undo. These are people’s lives and you would need to be sure before you go down this line. And in a country like India with all its fault lines, you cannot be sure.

    “Perhaps there may be Partition – parts of Jammu who want to be with India and are contiguous with India can remain with India. Perhaps they may choose to be with an independent J&K.”

    This perhaps is not something to be lightly dismissed. We have witnessed one partition which our leaders thought would be an amicable gentlemanly affair. After all, the two (well, three) communities had been brotherly neighbours. Yet the orgy of bloodshed that followed is probably unparalleled in Indian history. So let us not talk lightly of partition. Let us not talk of perhaps.

    4) Azadi for Everyone

    A world without nation-states is exactly the world I would like too. Which is why I believe in the idea of India as a secular, equal union of various nationalities.

    “Why can India be touted as the world’s largest democracy with so many millions of its citizens unhappy with the current idea of India” – it is an idea that is a work in progress. Also can I point out that unhappiness does not negate the democratic nature of a country. People are unhappy with the idea, they are unhappy with its direction. Hopefully, come election time, they channel this anger towards the political parties instead of falling for the usual caste / religion / trick.

    Yes, there are assumptions on what the Sikhs, Shias, Buddhists, Christians may want. But you are also making an assumption, a dangerous one for this region, that an independent Kashmir would not have a violent bloody partition. Or that an independent Kashmir would remain that, surrounded as it would be by China, Pakistan (with its penchant for proxy wars), India (trying for regional hegemony especially if the Hindu right has its way) and Afghanistan (Taliban led; I doubt if anyone realistically expects a different outcome).

    Interesting survey you mention – it has the Kashmir conflict below unemployment, corruption, economic development and human rights abuses as problems uppermost in people’s minds. So much for a burning issue!

    5) Good Victims, Bad Victims

    I don’t hold with good or bad victims. There should be an open independent tribunal / court to hear every single human rights violation that has taken place to date in Kashmir and try the people responsible. This has nothing to do with azadi and should happen irrespective of whatever political solution takes place.

    “ask any former militant in the Valley and any man on the street” – really doesn’t add anything. I have talked to people who have said that picking up the gun was wrong and has set back their cause by allowing India to paint their struggle as terrorism.

    6) Who is Syed Ali Shah Geelani?

    Agree that Geelani’s views are his own and should not be used to judge the Kashmiri case for azadi. It, however, does point to one unescapable fact: that there are people, a substantial number of them, whose vision of Kashmir is an Islamic state possibly aligned to or part of Pakistan. Will these people accept a majority verdict if that is one for a secular state? That is a very big variable and the kind that may lead to a bloody partition or an unstable state.

    “Such a transition can be made under the supervision of the United Nations.” Is this the same UN held in contempt by Israel, Hezbollah and pretty much everyone else in the middle-east? The same UN that has failed in Congo, Sudan, Angola…and which is widely described as a toothless tiger. I think you put too much faith in the UN (they are also meant to be monitoring the ceasefire along the LOC).

    7) Secularism

    I really would not go by what Geelani said at a seminar in India. As you yourself say and quote from another article – “his reactionary outlook”, “Islamist politics”, “different things at different times”. Besides, I thought you said we should not judge by his views so quoting what he says about allowing alcohol is meaningless.

    As to minorities being respected, do you know that is exactly what Jinnah said too. Jinnah envisioned a secular Pakistan where everyone would be free to practise their religion. Well, we know where that idea went.

    What I am trying to highlight here is that we can only go by facts. Not by what Geelani says in a seminar or what you think would happen or not happen – “What if they choose to have a constitutional democracy that does not protect the rights of minorities? I doubt if they will do that.”

    Indian secularism isn’t perfect either. There’s Gujarat and then there’s 1984. And these are just the big ones; there are also the countless smaller ones. Still, I take heart from the people (Arundhati Roy being just the most well known of them) who are tirelessly fighting and striving to build a secular, equal, just society. The reason India works is precisely because of its divisions. For all the Sangh Parivar’s attempts at polarising the nation and winning over the Hindu votes, the truth is that there are so many divisions, so many differences and identities that no single dominant group can emerge and dictate the direction of the country. It has to and can only work by consensus.

    To put forward what I believe in instead of just replying to your arguments – I believe in humanity above all else. I think we make too much of identities, ethnic, religious, tribal or any other. We should just learn to live together as humans in a humane society. Instead of clamouring for our own nations or states to safeguard some precious identity which really comes down to who, when and how you bow down or whether the sounds I make are intelligible to you, let us work for a better world. The struggle in Kashmir and for that matter anywhere else in the world should be for creating a free, just, equal society. And not what that society is called on the world stage – Kashmiri or Indian. In a world which we are told is moving closer and where the old barriers are coming down, I am surprised that we are still debating on notions of identity and creating separate states for separate identities. What determines this identity, what gives one identity the right to assert and demand a state or nation for itself? If tomorrow, I ask for a nation for myself whose boundaries are my house because I consider myself separate from my neighbours, would you grant me that? If not, then what is your criteria for an identity? Everywhere I went in Kashmir – Jammu, Srinagar, Sonmarg, Gulmarg, Tangmarg, Baramulla – people understood me. They could speak a mix of hindi and urdu. Their food was mostly familiar. Their customs and religion was the same. This is more than what I can say of some of the states in south India.

    I come from what would be referred to as a minority group. Yet in my village, as in other villages I have been to, people with the simplicity of rural folk have said – we should just learn to live together. And as the survey you talk of described, Kashmiris have other more pressing issues than this one about identity.

    Yes we need to account for the rights abuses that have occurred. Yes, we need to remove the checkpoints and barricades and those troops you see on rooftops and just about everywhere. Yes, we need to get rid of draconian laws that are contrary to basic human rights. Yes, we have a long way to go to build a just, equal, fair and free society.

    But I am over identity politics. Have we not suffered enough already from the whole “you are different from me” arguments? Have there not been enough killings, misery, deaths based on identity and nationalities for us to stop and reconsider what we are fighting for?

    To finish, I borrow the words of someone else who said this about South America but it applies equally to South Asia – “the division of the Indian subcontinent into unstable and illusory nations is a complete fiction. We are one single mongrel race with remarkable ethnographical similarities”.



  20. Dear Shivam,

    As Aditya has already pointed out, much of your post is in agreement with mine, so I will only refer to those points where we disagree.

    You are right in saying that I think the main reason most Kashmiris want azadi is oppression by Indian security forces. I have not been to Kashmir, but the impression I get from many reports, including the recent fact-finding report, is that for many people, ‘azadi’ actually means freedom from the oppression of the Indian state, and that, I feel, is a demand that should be supported without any reservations.

    But you disagree, saying that ‘the root of the conflict is not oppression but identity’. So what, exactly, is this ‘Kashmiri identity’ that makes it impossible for Kashmiris to live alongside Indians? I am not Indian, but I have managed to live surrounded by Indians for decades, so I would really like to know what makes it impossible for Kashmiris to do so.

    This whole issue of ‘national identity’ is the basis for the ideology of nationalism, which presumes that the nation is the overriding marker of identity, and all those within the nation have more in common with each other than anyone within it has with anyone outside. (Thus Kashmiri workers have more in common with Kashmiri employers than with Indian workers, etc. Many Kashmiri workers do not agree with you, otherwise the Jammu and Kashmir Trade Union Congress would not have affiliated to the New Trade Union Initiative.) This process of ‘othering’ those who do not belong to the ‘nation’ is an essential precondition for war: how else could one persuade soldiers to kill people against whom they have no personal grudge?

    Rosa Luxemburg believed that socialists should be opposed to all forms of oppression AND to all nationalisms. Rabindranath Tagore too felt that nationalism was an expression of ‘mutilated humanity’. I agree with both, and therefore disagree with you.

    I never said that ‘India is not an occupying power’ in Kashmir – quite the contrary. The reason I differentiated it from a colonial situation is that in the latter, ALL the people want freedom from the imperial power. This is not the case in Kashmir, as the survey you cite shows. So you suggest that ‘perhaps we should have a vote and let the majority decide – for isn’t that the principle of democracy…?’ All I was pointing out in my original article was that this would reproduce, albeit on a smaller scale, the same coercion to belong to a nation that some people don’t want to belong to that Kashmiri nationalists are protesting against. For me, that poses a dilemma.

    You seem to think that the meaning of azadi is clear, contrary to my assertion that it is not. So what is it? On the one hand you have Geelani wanting to be part of Pakistan, and he seems to have some mass support, to judge from the slogan that disturbed Arundhati Roy so much in 2008, and rightly so: Nanga bhookha Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?238272 ). (I am not sure which is sadder: the contempt for poor and oppressed Indians, or the illusions in Pakistan.) On the other side of the border, Kashmiri nationalists are demanding the exact opposite: freedom from Pakistan. So whom are you supporting when you support azadi? We were not around when the Indian nation was born, so we can’t be held responsible for what happened then. But we ARE around today, and must take responsibility if we support positions that lead to the oppression of women, minorities, etc. It is very kind of Geelani to allow non-Muslims to drink alcohol in a post-independence Kashmir, but they would not have the right to stand for elections (if there were any), nor would women, if Asiya Andrabi had anything to do with it. Why can’t we specify what meaning of azadi we are willing to support, and what meanings we do not support? Whose right to determine whom are we supposed to support?

    I have two disagreements with your long quote from Shuddha’s piece. (1) What makes him so sure that the Indian state was responsible for the assassinations of the elder Mirwaiz and Abdul Ghani Lone? Many Kashmiris believe they were killed by pro-Pakistan militants because they were moderates. Why did Asiya Andrabi urge militants to take action against Abdul Ghani Lone? Why did Sajjad Lone blame the ISI for killing his father and why did angry relatives chase Geelani away from the funeral? And the other disagreement is with the reference to Iran, where the communist Tudeh Party made the fatal mistake of supporting Khomeini, and its cadres were later slaughtered after he came to power – a clear warning for Leftists thinking of supporting theocrats.

    If we step back a bit, it becomes clearer that Kashmiris are the victims of two clashing nationalisms – Indian and Pakistani – and so long as these are at each others’ throats, neither will pull their troops back from Kashmir for fear that the other will advance to fill the space. Unless this situation changes, the chances of azadi for Kashmir are slim, and any notions of azadi that promote this conflict actually work against Kashmiri independence. Stepping back even further, it seems that peace between India and Pakistan is more likely to be achieved in a South Asian Union (on the the European and Latin American models) with open borders, so that Pakistan feels less threatened by India. In that context, either converting the LoC to an open border or an independent Kashmir with open borders on both sides become conceivable. Isn’t it worth at least trying to think out of the box?


  21. Ms. Rohini Hensman,
    I will like to put few arguments to the response you have given to Shivam’s post :
    1.The question of what is a ‘Kashmiri identity’. As a Kashmiri let me tell you that being a Kashmiri doesn’t mean that I am against the concept of India and Indian but yes I can’t be an Indian or an American or a Pakistani. I have lived in India for a good part of my life and have never felt any problems with Indians around me (like u haven’t) but that shouldn’t serve as a reason for me not to be a Kashmiri. In my opinion the concept of a nation can have many reasons and in our case it is geographic, cultural, linguistic and many other. As you have said you have never been to Kashmir so it’z difficult for you to understand why is it difficult/impossible for a Kashmiri to be an Indian.
    I will like to modify your assertion that ‘Kashmiris want Azzadi from the oppression of Indian security forces ‘to ‘Kashmiris want Azaadi from oppression of Indian state’. Presently the resistance is apparent against security forces only because that oppression is best manifested by the security forces present there but the resistance against the Indian state has been happening since the existence of the present state of India or immediately after India was conceived in 1947. Continuously people have been opposing the Indian rule in one form or the other. Never ever in the history of J&K has been a govt. allowed to run on it’s own. New Delhi has always been poking it’s nose even not trusting the same people whom it used to install there. Check the periods for which the Chief Ministers have lasted in Kashmir. Even Farooq Abdullah had to face the axe before the Rajiv-Farooq accord of 1986. If they are not signs of oppression from the state then what else we call oppression. India has been ruling Kashmir unscrupulously since 1947 though people it could, through intimidation, through muzzling voices and through it’s intelligence agencies. To us India and Indians are not the ones who live outside the borders of J&K but those who represent India in Kashmir and that is the why India as state is an oppressor and security forces just represent a small component of it.
    The division of the people between employee and employers seems to be a misfit in the points about national or socio-cultural identities.

    2.The difference between a ‘occupying power’ and a ‘colonial power’ might be of academic interest but to a suppressed nation it doesn’t matter at all. Your thoughts go with the minority people who according to you will not be safe but why don’t you try to think about the majority who currently are facing what you presume minorities might have to face in an Azaad Kashmir. The presumptions for dilemmas of people or states shouldn’t be a reason for oppression of about 10 million people.

    3.“Why can’t we specify what meaning of azadi we are willing to support, and what meanings we do not support?”
    I can agree with you that few things about Azaadi aren’t clear and that is again the part of the oppressive regimes that they don’t allow saner voices to come out and prepare and present a clear roadmap for Azaadi and Azaad Kashmir. If we supporters of Azaadi would have a clear document in our hands I don’t think your article and the whole of this thread would have been there. This is an uneven battle rather an imbalanced battle where the might of a well-oiled state machinery is fighting against people it is literally trampling its subjects under its feet. When Facebook updates of people get screened and they get arrested for that how do you think the clarity about the concept to be there.
    “Whose right to determine whom are we supposed to support?” I think it is simple. Right to determination to the people who have not been given a chance to do it and who have been promised unless people start presuming that Kashmiris are too ignorant and immature to be given a chance to decide their future.

    4.Geelanis, Asiya Andrabis political thoughts represent thoughts of a section of the people and how do you presume that Geelani or Asiya Andrabi’s words will be the constitution of an independent Kashmir? Geelani Sb is respected for his honesty and his persistence and every Kashmiri sees in him an image of himself of a person who persistently opposes Indian oppression and that is the only reason he commands respect. People respect him for having shown the guts to oppose plans of Pakistan (five point formula) which even India accepts got scuttled because of his opposition. Whatever his reasons might have been but he prevented Kashmir being divided between two ‘Jageerdaars’. And whenever he talks of his love for Pakistan he has been straightway opposed.

    5.How do you take a stand that an Independent Kashmir will be a land where minorities and women will be oppressed? I will request you to take a visit of Kashmir and see for yourself how educated, liberated and safe the women of Kashmir are. Don’t say it is because of Indian constitution. It is because of the will of the people and the norms of society. I am sure that will amaze you and you might get a good example to quote about women’s liberation to your Indian friends. You might have questions about Kashmiri Pandits but every Kashmiri is clear about it that he or she didn’t contribute to their exodus. There have been multiple reasons for their exodus but nowhere in the history will you find Kashmiris have been intolerant.


    1. Shuja,

      1. No one would deny the Kashmiris their identity. The question here is whether that identity can only be realised in a country of their own or can it also be realised as a state (autonomous with article 370 or otherwise) within India.

      I am yet to find an argument that says that Kashmiri identity can only be realised in a country of their own.

      “I will like to modify your assertion that ‘Kashmiris want Azzadi from the oppression of Indian security forces ‘to ‘Kashmiris want Azaadi from oppression of Indian state’. ”
      So then it is still freedom from oppression? Not freedom to form a separate country based on identity (which is what Shivam said) but freedom from the oppression. Which would then mean that if you take away the oppression, the demand for freedom would go away as well.

      So we are back to saying that the abuses should end, the area de-militarised and free and fair electoral politics allowed.

      2. While occupation and colonisation is of academic interest only to suppressed people, we should still be precise and clear in our language. Colonisation is for economic gain; no one could possibly say that the Kashmir conflict and the long term presence of lakhs of troops there is of economic gain to India.

      3. On the Geelanis and protection of minorities, I know a large number of Kashmiris are tolerant and liberal and that the Geelanis and Andrabis of the area cannot be taken to speak for the people. But it would also not be the first time that a small vocal minority implemented their own politics and agenda on the majority. Isn’t that what the Kashmir conflict is all about?

      I really think (which is why I am still here commenting) that this whole article is misplaced. The dilemma is not about the right of nations to military occupation but about the concept and feasibility of nation-states in South Asia; the dilemma is about identity politics and whether communities with a different religion, culture or language should form independent countries; the dilemma is what constitutes India and whether cultural identities can be preserved while being part of India.

      Finally, I think Ms Hensman is absolutely correct when she talks about a South Asian Union on the EU / Latin America model. This is what I think we should be discussing and which would bring lasting peace to the subcontinent. A union and not a further sub-division of a country into smaller countries based on some notion of “identity”.




    2. Dear Shuja,

      Thank you for your response. In response to your point 1, I am still not clear how Kashmiris are, for example, more different from North Indians than North Indians are different from South Indians. And I would add that Kashmir is occupied by BOTH India and Pakistan, not just India, and (your point 3), unless BOTH states pull back, you will not get a chance to define what you mean by azadi. Just asking India to withdraw will not give you that space, because Pakistani forces (state or non-state) will simply move in to occupy the space. Your point 2: you don’t clarify whether you would allow the same right of self-determination to, say, Ladakhis who don’t want to be part of your Kashmiri state? Your points 4 and 5: I am not PRESUMING that Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Asiya Andrabi will determine the shape of a future Kashmir, nor that it would NECESSARILY be a land where minorities and women will be oppressed; I am simply pointing to the DANGER that this might be so. Why don’t those who are in favour of an independent, democratic Kashmir dissociate themselves from Geelani? Is it because they think they can use him to promote their cause? If so, that is extremely dangerous. Liberals and leftists in Iran thought they could use the popularity of Khomeini to help them get rid of the Shah, thinking that Khomeini would not shape post-revolutionary Iran in any significant way. Those who survived the slaughter that followed are still paying for that mistake more than thirty years later, and so are many others who were born subsequently. So I would suggest that those of you who want a democratic Kashmir that is independent of both India and Pakistan should make that clear, and distance yourselves from Islamist pro-Pakistan elements who are actually seen as the main enemy by pro-independence Kashmiris on the other side of the border.


  22. Mr.Ajay,
    As a Kashmiri I would like to respond to your posers to Shivam.I will request you to read my response to Ms.Hensman above because I might have to skip few things I have already written:
    I am not concerned about how you define an Indian but a Kashmiri doesn’t identify himself even with India not to mention as Indian. Whatever way you try to explain the concept of India, most of the Kashmiris have never agreed to be part of it. When you talk of countless divisions within Indian federation what makes you think gives you or the Indian state a moral authority to hold them together and especially the people who don’t want to live with it and who are asking for a chance to be provided to decide. Kashmiris opposition to India has been since the conception of India so we were never a part of it. So actually our independence shouldn’t have an effect on Indian federation. It is the duty of the leaders and people who know history to inform the masses of India that Kashmir is still a disputed territory and they have to be given a chance whether they want to join this loose federation or not. I think presumed thoughts about federation or peace or stability of a region should be not be an excuse to hold a whole population as hostage.

    The mere presence of 7 lac security forces doesn’t make India an ‘occupying’ or a ‘colonizing’ force. Indian intelligence agencies have another 1 lac people on their payrolls in Kashmir(Sanjay Kak’s article in EPW). Every voice against Indian rule inside Kashmir has been silenced by whatever means India could do. I think Israel and China will like to learn few tricks from India. If this is not occupation or colonization, what else is? And then the governments that function in Kashmir have always been decided by GOI. Read this to get an idea how things work in Kashmir. http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2010/Nov/3/an-unequal-relation-25.asp.

    Now coming to your point that force number is in response to violence that is not on ground and can be engineered by people coming from Pakistan and they can come from any side. Agreed sir. In Kashmir they can come from across the border only and not mushroom out from any other side. Why not to strengthen the borders? How come Salauhdin could cross from this side of Kashmir to other side? Why are security forces in the lanes and by lanes of the cities and towns and in the fields and orchards of villages? What is the threat there? Or the threat is of a Kashmiri protest or a Kashmiri eruption which we get to see whenever Kashmiris get a chance to assemble. Honesty demands to accept the fact and not blame Pakistan for it. Yes security forces were not in such numbers before there but then people’s participation was not in such numbers. Or to say that time the state police and other machineries had capability to nip such voices and such centers in bud. But the people who are now participating are in uncontrollable numbers. If it is the mere threat of imported violence what is the need for crowd control measures. And at times the need arises to fly RAF personnel from New Delhi. I don’t think these are required for counter insurgency in so called grids. Part of colonization or occupation involves putting hundreds of political activists in jails. The presence of laws like PSA and disturbed areas act are a part of occupation. If the need is to focus on colonization and occupation and not the real happenings inside Kashmir I think we can say that India has graduated from an occupying force to a colonizing force in Kashmir.

    I have written few lines about Azaadi concept above and we might not have clarity about it at this stage but that shouldn’t give India an excuse not to provide us a chance to decide our future. I think the battle still is about the idea of ‘self determination’. For your satisfaction you might find further dividing lines and give excuses for not letting people decide how they want to live. I have mentioned above there is a fundamental difference between the Kashmir issue and the other people in Indian federation. I am not concerned about the feasibility of other states you talk but am sure we in Kashmir have enough resources to sustain as an independent nation. For the sake of global stability and other reasons if the existence of small nations is detrimental why don’t we at least give chances to small nations to decide which federation they would like to join. I am sure Ladakhis will prefer to go to China then. They have more in common to China and nothing in common to India. You are talking of bigger countries gobbling up smaller ones and that is what India is trying to do in Kashmir. If the stability of bigger unions is a precondition for a stable world we might not have witnessed the breaking up of USSR. Mere geographic boundaries won’t ensure stability. It will require lot more than that. Nations/countries will keep on evolving and it will be an ever happening process.

    Nobody on this earth would hate to see a society that is not based on human values but one cannot negate the difference that exists between human beings. If we live happily after recognizing our differences and accepting one another as different then we qualify to be human beings. And if we sew up ourselves just because of few threats (global instability and all) those threads are never going to last and we may simply end up losing time. The concept of such nation hoods would be simply marriage of convenience and nothing beyond that. And I don’t think such marriages last for long.
    In the end will like to put few things for you to read:



    1. Shuja, just as a matter of interest, what happens to Kashmiri identity when a Kashmiri marries a non-Kashmiri? What identity do their children have, especially if they live outside Kashmir? Do you go along with the patriarchal convention that children inherit the identity of their father? Or would you discourage/ban such unions on the grounds that they dilute Kashmiri identity? Do you think that the gulf between Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris is so wide that it cannot be bridged by love? Logically, it seems that if you think that Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris cannot live together in the same country, then a fortiori they cannot possibly live together under the same roof. Presumably you would also object to all other inter-ethnic unions because they ‘negate the difference that exists between human beings’ and lead to miscegenation, mongrelism and similar perversions? As for inter-national unions – God forbid that anyone should even think of them! I think this is where my main difference with you and Shivam lies. Both of you seem to live in a world of rigid barriers which cannot be crossed by love or solidarity.


  23. Shuja,

    Why in your view is it so impossible to be both Kashmiri and Indian ? As Ajay has pointed out so well in the earlier comment, the Indian National Identity itself is not based on any specific ethnic , religious or linguistic basis and incorporates many multi-national identities.

    How are Kashmiri’s more uniquely different to say Punjabis than Tamils are to Punjabis ? The Political and cultural interactions and integration have historically been far closer between Kashmir and Delhi than they have between say Delhi and Tamil Nadu. Surely Tamils are culturally, geographically and linguistically more distinct to those in say Haryana than Kashmiris are , but most Tamils don’t feel it is impossible to be both Tamil and Indian.


  24. ajay, aditya, and rohini have already said quite a bit. and, i agree with them on several issues. moreover, yoginder sikand has forewarned us about certain trends that are developing in kashmir. further, you cannot ignore interests of international political regimes in this region.
    my critique of identity-based politics is too elaborate to type as a response. but, i must state that it, “risks reifying identities as separate entities by overemphasizing their boundedness; it risks overemphasizing the internal homogeneity of identities.” (i have replaced the word “cultures” by “identities” without any loss of meaning. Terence Turner, Anthropology And Multiculturalism: What Is Anthropology That Multiculturalists Should Be Mindful Of It? Cultural Anthropology Vol.8 Issue 4 (Nov. 1993): 411-429).


  25. Thanks to both Rohini and Shivam for initiating, above all, Kafila for facilitating such an engrossing and multi-layered debate on Kashmir’s azadi. Except some of bigoted commentators, I think most of us who have followed the debate appreciated the need for such informed and dispassionate churning, more because of the complete absence of such democratic space in big media and institutional political forums.
    Forgive me if I am trying to equilibrate the positions of both Rohini and Shivam, as I understood them, by considering their basic concerns and arguments mutually complimentary. For me, they shed lights on the different aspects of azadi–its political and moral legitimacy as well as its problematic in the light of the conflicting discourses over the vision for future Kashmir.
    But those who stand for azadi-first-debates-later or vice versa are taking equally wrong positions ignoring the historical dynamics of present situation and ideo-political imperatives of the movement.
    Yes, I agree with Shivam that the Kashmiri people’s political will for azadi is the decisive factor and renewed assertion of Kashmiri identity has fuelled the latest spate of mass resistance in the valley. We, as Indians, must not collaborate with the brutal military occupation/oppression by denying the basic fact that most of the valley Muslims now want to get rid of India.
    As no nation or nation-state in the history has been preordained, eternally fixed in terms of its territory or constituent people, conscientious Indian citizens cannot support government in denying what the Raj had denied us for long on the pretext of conflicts among the fragments of our nation-in-the-making.
    It matters little whether Kashmiries comply with the Westphalian, Wilsonian or Marxist standards to earn the right to self-determination. An oppressed people’s aspiration for political independence from a colonial empire or post-colonial nation-state, accumulated over years due to various factors and articulated at given time through popular actions have to be honoured, particularly by those within the oppressor nation who oppose forced conjugal union.
    Having said that, I think Shivam’s allusion to Kashmiri national identity was essentialist and static as it ignored its dynamics and complexities that run parallel to Indian nationalism both in colonial and post-colonial phase. Identity formation including national identity is a continuous process with different possibilities, conditioned by internal social-political, ethno-religious-territorial factors and external political-miltary support.
    Not all the nationalist aspirations become potent enough to ignite popular imagination and culminated in fierce freedom struggle at every juncture of its history.
    Marathi, Tamil, Sikh, Assamese or Naga nationalism got various stimulation down the history and found articulation in the demands ranging from regionalism to complete independence depending upon those factors. Demand of Khalisthan was quite old but it became a potent force only after Operation Blue Star and anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984. Khalisthanis faced brutal state terror and themselves were engaged in sectarian terror. They failed because of lack of internal and external support.
    The short-lived pre-partition idea of an undivided independent Bengal failed to catch popular imagination because of religious and social divide between Bengali Hindus and Muslims. But the anaemic Bengali nationalism that anchored mainly in shared language between the communities became robust enough to demystify Islamic unity and dismember Pakistan in 1971.
    Of course, Punjabi and Urdu chauvinism, denial of regional autonomy and refusal to share power with Bengali Muslim politicians and finally the military occupation and savage oppression fuelled and reinforced the Bengali identity in East Pakistan. But the Bengali political aspiration for independence may not have turned into a popular freedom struggle and later into an armed resistance if Indira-led India had not provided total political-military support in its game to dismember Pakistan. (It is another matter that ethno-cultural, linguistic and liberal Bengali nationalism and Islamic Bangladeshi nationalism have been locked in battle in various forms since the birth of new nation.)
    We cannot ignore that Pakistani state is playing the same game in Kashmir to avenge the loss of east Pakistan, though its demand on Muslim-majority Kashmir is much older. The ruling elite of both countries succeeded in rallying their own populations in support of their cause.
    Neither the Indian game delegitiimised liberation of Bangladesh nor Pakistani design belittles Kashmirs cry for azadi. But our view of today’s Kashmiri identity would be myopic if we overlook its evolution in relation to the sub-continental history and Indian nationalism and accepts its current expressions without questions.
    The current rapture notwithstanding, the civilisational, historical ties (despite Shivam mocked it) between Kashmir and rest of undivided India, from the time of Asoka to Akbar, Bud Shah to Ranjit Singh and Gulab Singh are too many to ignore. In that perspective, Kashmir was very much part of India as Pakistan and Bangladesh were. India was no nation in the modern sense before the colonial rule.
    The Indian nationalist identity, however half-baked and contradictory, itself is a product of anti-colonial discourses and post-47 nation-building project. Similarly, the present Jammu &Kashmir, a political-administrative construct that got shaped during the Lahore Durbar and Dogra rule was no nation and people of all the distinct regions of the state had no composite identity before Sheikh Abdullah articulated it in late thirties of last century.
    The accession of Kashmir to post-47 India was conditional and tentative and that’s why the demand of the plebiscite is still pertinent to ascertain the political will in all the parts of present J&K. But, as Rekha Choudhury has pointed out, kashmiri nationalism and Indian nationalism were largely compatible till the latter’s designs to subsume the former in later days.

    Otherwise how can we explain acceptance of the accession by the majority of the people of the valley as well as most other parts of the state, both Hindus and Muslims despite the fact that both Hari Singh and Sheikh Abdullah tinkered with the difficult option of Independence?
    Whatever may be their compulsions and equations for the conditional accession, Gandhi and Nehru’s offer of (also Badsah Khan’s persuasion) cushions for distinct Kashmiri political identity within Indian union made it palatable.
    Sheikh’s conversion of Muslim conference into national conference and his advocacy of composite Kashmiriyat based on the tradition of Lal ded, Nuruddin Rishi and sufis, also anti-authoritarian, anti-feudal tenor of his anti -Maharaja quit Kashmir movement endeared him to Nehru and leaders of undivided communist party at the chagrin of Jana Sanghi and other Hindu nationalists.
    The subsequent raptures between Delhi and Srinagar over autonomy, betrayal of popular aspirations, mockery of democracy, militarization and oppression since late 80s in between increasing pressures of pro-Pakistan, fundamentalist voices in the valley and Hindutva forces in Delhi shaped today’s Kashmiri identity.
    Also, as Aditya pointed out, the present shape of Kashmiri identity has been heavily conditioned by last phase of cold war, the resurrection of fundamentalist, Jihadi Islam in the Armageddon of Afghanistan as well as post 9/11 surge in Islamic identity in reaction of West and pro-West regimes’ Islamophobia. The idea of composite Kasmiriyat got discredited because of internal and external reasons and took a back seat. The dominant expressions of Kashmiri identity got unmistakable religious overtone and became centred on valley’s Muslims despite its claims to represent other communities and regions of the state.
    Nevertheless, the larger truth is that the Indian nationalism and democracy failed to accommodate and engage Kashmiri nationalism even in its most inclusive and liberal days. Unlike the Sangh Parivar and other Indian chauvinists, I won’t join the proverbial ostriches by burying my head in the nostalgia of historical ties. If the divorce is inevitable, let us not postpone it by recalling the days of honeymoon.
    But History’s defining moments are mostly shaped by human subjectivity– myopia and farsightedness, actions and inaction, follies intended and unintended. So I won’t join the rank of those who dismissed Rohini’s concerns and queries about the nature and content of current Kashmiri identity and future Kashmiri polity as alibis for continued occupation.
    Those who want to put these questions on the backburner till the day the constituent assembly of free Kashmir meets should remember that debates on ideals of Indian nationalism, particularly the visions about the free Indian polity and state principles were very much vibrant during our freedom struggle.
    Whether free India to follow Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru and Bhagat Singh’s vision or that of Patel and Savarkar, Ambedkar and Periyar on nationalism and future India is still contested. The content and shape of Indian self, the clash of identities and the domination of one over another at a given situation, possibilities and impossibilities of an all-encompassing national identity are still debated in our politics everyday.
    Whatever skewed and hypocritical are Indian state’s practices in secularism, multiculturalism, minority rights, social justice, gender equality and representative democracy, its rightful critics would throw the baby with the bathwater if their cynicism and anger dismiss them as the guiding principles for modern democratic national struggles, particularly in heterogeneous societies like India and Kashmir.
    The believer in two nations theory, Maududian pan-Islamism and proponent of Islamic Kashmir and its merger with Islamic Pakistan, SAS Geelani may not be the sole spokesman for Kashmiri identity and his popularity, as Suddha observed, an index of popular hatred against India rather than popular esteem for his political ideals.
    But may I know why Shivam and Suddha want us to believe in Geelani’s watered down version of his theocratic vision and personal guarantees for minority rights before a Delhi audience?
    Are they convinced that he has undergone a change of heart or ground reality in Kashmir has goaded him to change his vision? Why they are asking us to follow other voices in Kashmir, both in valley and elsewhere, who can still thinks of in terms of inclusive Kashmiriyat or have the imagination and conviction to present a more enlightened democratic vision of it? Why the original azadi advocates, who believed in independent and inclusive Kashmir, like JKLF’s Yasin Malik and others are not invited in our forums? Do we consider them discredited, spent force?
    If so, please let us know and engage with the new forces/faces who can catch the imagination of not only the rest of regions and communities in the state but also Indian democratic forces. This is how we can help the people of Kashmir better other than opposing the occupation and oppression. Any apology for people like Geelani and Salauddin will only help the chauvinist Indians and the state to discredit the Kashmir movement as the handiwork of Pakistan and fundamentalists.
    This is no wish-list of ‘islamophobic lefties’ as some of the commentators think but the imperatives emanated from the ground realities of Kashmir if the vision of free kashmir is not valley-specific. If the movement continues to be valley-centric and Geelanis are its main spokesman, then the division of state in Muslim valley, Hindu Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh and their respective merger with Pakistan and India is likely to be inevitable.
    The valley’s secession alone is also likely to trigger the Hindutva backlash on the Muslims in India and strengthen the Sangh’s clamour for a Hindu rastra, which it turn will fuel the arms race and nuclear madness between India and Pakistan. In contrast, an Independent and united democratic Kashmir with open borders with India and Pakistan may in the long run help to reduce the arms race and nuclear madness in the sub-continent.
    As all nationalism in south Asia, big and small, are bound to impact each other affecting millions of lives across visible and invisible borders. As both Rohini and Aditya reminded, almost all nationalism and nation-states have suppressed ethnic, religious and other minorities and imposed a straight-jacket majoritarian homogeneity on them to pre-empt further division of the territory and national imagination, we should not demonise one to lionise other. Both global and south Asian history and contemporary experiences are replete with examples about how oppressed turned into oppressors in different situations.
    We have already witnessed the clashes among competing nationalist insurgencies, aspiring nations within nations in the north-east. Naga imagination of united Nagalim incorporating hills of Manipur has clashed with Meitei nationalism. Assamese nationalism as articulated by ULFA contests the rule of Delhi while Bodos, Karbis and other ethnic group loath Assamese domination. While internecine killings are rampant, poor migrant labourers and settlers from rest of India and Bangladesh are common targets.
    To keep the sectarian ultra-nationalist monsters in leash and for greater democratisation of societies, states and regions closer home and beyond, it is really needed to ask the question – who speaks for the nation—whenever a leader, party or community claims the sole agency of national representation.
    In this context Rohini’s mention of Rosa Luxembourg was pertinent. However, a close reading of Rosa’s opposition to Lenin’s party’s promotion of subjugated nation’s right to self determination not really reflected the pluralistic worries about the dominance of elite discourse over other voices within a nation.
    It was more informed by the contemporary vision of international socialist revolution as founding fathers of Marxism only endorsed those nationalist aspirations which they considered progressive in terms of actual or potential opposition to European reactionary feudal or absolutist regimes as well as strengthen class struggle.
    Though the very vision of withering away of the nationalism and nation-states have proved wrong, but the unity and fraternity of all people of the sub-continent and a confederation of south Asian states with open borders is still a cherished dream as well as a political imperative grounded in socio-economic-cultural realities.


  26. You say “army that committed genocide”. Which genocide are you referring to here?

    The official phrase “police action” suggests mild violence. Unfortunately, the reality seems to have been different. Without defending the Nizam’s rule, it must be noted that according to the Government of India’s own report (the Pandit Sunderlal committee report) , the number who were killed following the “police action”, was between 27000 and 40000. Note that this is a conservative estimate in the committee’s own words. It goes without saying that most of those killed were Muslims. See here for an excerpt from the report.

    I am not sure that the Indian army was involved in the killings — at least some of it seems to have been local reprisals for the actions of the razakars — but we (as Indians) have to take responsibility for what happened in the wake of the “police action.” Once we took over the state, what happened there became our responsibility. Whether you want to call the killings genocide or anything else is not relevant; the point is that at least 27000 were killed.

    We don’t gain anything by denying what happened or trying to defend the indefensible.


  27. Dear Ajay Brar – There are few points towards which I would like draw your attention.

    1) The issue of J&K is unlike any other state in India. To equate K-issue with Tamil Nadu, Punjab etc is like comparing apples and pineapples. The burden of history is too great here.
    2) Agreed that the presence of troops has increased manifold after the armed insurgency, but that does not negate the struggle of Kashmiri people since 1947. When Kashmir’s were doing their struggle politically and peacefully, New Delhi responded by usurping one right after another through deception and trickery and culminating in the rigged election of 1987. New Delhi only stood up and took notice when arms came into the valley and they responded by sheer brute force.
    3) J&K state or in fact, Kashmir valley was the only place in 1947 where no communal violence happened during the partition. Exodus of KP’s is mired in controversy, accusations and counter accusations. Geelani’s statement about letting non-Muslims drink in the valley should not be undermined. It speaks volumes about a person who has been labeled octogenarian, fascist etc.
    4) Why should Kashmir be made a scapegoat of an idea called the Indian democracy? Why should Kashmiri’s suffer because India wants to prove to the rest of the world that the idea of Indian secularism is working? And the ironic part is that Kashmiri don’t even know what Indian democracy is like because they have been denied every right that rest of India enjoys.
    5) I don’t which people you have met, but majority of the people hold the slain freedom fighters in reverence.
    6) 63 years on, you are conceding the flaws in Indian secularism and its spectacular failure at various points, but you want cast iron guarantees for the minorities in the future Kashmir.


  28. “However, there are other recent histories of conflict and conflict resolution you don’t talk about, but which many Kashmiris are aware of – Kosovo, East Timor, Northern Ireland. Some new countries are being formed as we speak!”

    The formation of these nations has created new “minorities,” who have often found themselves homeless, displaced and put in situations where they feel they do not belong and are made to leave, either by force or by virtue of the fact they have virtually no rights in their own country. There were many, many Kosovars who were forced to become refugees and asylum seekers in other nations. As for the Sudanese example, I would not view it with any optimism. The often violent and continued contestation of borders and nation-states in post-colonial Africa and all the “ethnic” conflicts this has generated (not least because of continued imperialistic meddling) is an example of why imagining a new form that is not the nation, which despite being an enormous challenge as Aditya points out, is of great and pressing importance.


  29. Dear Shuja, Irfan

    Shuja first,

    I have read your earlier comment as well.

    Firstly on the topic of Kashmiri identity, I am not denying that there are cultural / linguistic differences. Perhaps other types of differences too. I am just asking why is it that the identity can only be realised by having a separate country? Why is the realisation of Kashmiri identity so linked (as you and Shivan describe it) with a separate country? Also why is it separate from Indian?

    I won’t bring up examples of other communities, states or countries anymore. Also please note, I am not saying that the people do not have the right to self determination. I am not justifying the oppression which exists. I am not justifying any of that.

    All I am asking is why does it have to be independence? Is it because of the oppression (army, abuses, denial of political freedom, draconian laws etc) or is it this concept of identity that you mention? And if it is the identity, then why does it need a separate country to realise itself?

    Also on the question of identity, would you give the right to self determination to every community or sub community within Kashmir? Or would it be a majority decision?

    Look I am not denying that there is a very large security force present in Kashmir. Nor am I denying that they would have their spies etc. Comparisons with China and Israel serve nothing as I am sure no Kashmiri would prefer to have their forces instead. All I was pointing out was that the presence of the security forces is a consequence of the violence and not as a consequence of any “occupation”. An academic point so I wont continue this.

    Also, please do not confuse this with any support for their continued presence. I do not think they should be present in those numbers anymore. I also do not agree with this idea of crowd control and not allowing people to protest. However, this is not something unique to Kashmir. Elsewhere in India too, protests receive the same response. You just have to read the news on Orissa, Chhatisgarh, West Bengal and even recently in UP with farmers protesting against land acquisition. On the PSA, there is something similar in Chhatisgarh. This is just how the inept leadership of the state responds to any protest.

    Sorry, I haven’t come across the fundamental difference between the Kashmiri identity and other communities in India that you speak of.

    Lastly, I wasn’t using some concept of global stability or large vs small states as an excuse for suppressing people. I was only pointing out that identity politics (which is where this discussion seems to be headed) is by its nature inherently divisive. It seeks to divide people, emphasise differences and bring about the whole “us” vs “them” thinking. Countries formed on notions of identity, whose very basis is that identity rather than some higher ideal become and remain unstable.

    (I like point form too)
    1. How and why? Is it just because of the history since 1947? I could argue that in the last 500 years Kashmir has never come into its own as an independent state whereas Punjab did under Ranjit Singh. On that basis, Punjab has a stronger claim to being a separate state since it has existed before as an independent state.

    2. Agreed and yes, it does not negate the struggle. I was only pointing out that the presence of troops is a consequence of whats happened since 1989. It should not be used as the reason for the whole occupation / colonisation argument.

    3. I am not disputing the secular nature of most Kashmiris nor am I undermining Geelani’s statements. But you brought up the phase “burden of history” so lets look at history, lets look at 1947, lets look at neighbourhoods that were always peaceful and never had any communal problems. And what happened. You are also forgetting the region today – the jihadi groups who are anything but secular and whose reason for existence is Kashmir. Identity politics, dividing states based on ethnicity, race or religion, it is like opening pandora’s box.

    4. They certainly should not suffer or be denied freedom just so rest of the country can call itself secular and look good. I am only questioning the whole argument of identity and asking why that identity cannot exist within India (something that no one seems to be able to answer!). What is it about India that negates the Kashmiri identity especially if everyone else in India can be Bengal and Indian, Marathi and Indian, Punjabi and Indian and so on.

    5. Its a subjective statement and we wont find common ground. And I certainly wont claim to have spoken or know the views of the majority.

    6. India today is flawed. This is not about ironclad guarantees on freedom for minorities (something India has a very bad record in). Just pointing again that if the Kashmiris claim for independence rests on a separate identity, by that very same logic, every group in Kashmir that claims to have a separate identity should have the right to form its own state.

    To end this, a little history lesson. The whole subcontinent including Pakistan and Bangladesh is a region of myriad communities having separate customs, language, religion or form of religion. These have at various times in history existed alongside other communities in a kingdom or empire or in some very few cases, in their own right. Identity thus becomes a very blurred concept. Where do you draw the line? Who draws the line? The partition in 1947, also on a notion of identity, was a very messy and bloody affair. We need to move beyond identity as the basis for countries and states.



  30. I think that the ‘caricature’ of Ms Hensman’s position is perfectly justified… disappointed that it came late, but better than never. Her atrocious stand on right of nations to self-determination is based by and large on first-world ‘marxist’ – trotskyist – (mis)understanding of the issue. Any genuine Communist concerned with revolutionary praxis in the third world based on the guiding principles of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism would be repulsed by her vile slander on genuine national struggles in the region. Her position on the Eelam struggle, deliberate distortion of the historical role of the Tigers, underestimation of their virtues, overestimation of their faults, playing up the sandwich theory (something our delhi civil society intelligentsia love to do), thereby ultimately favoring the totalizing and totalitarian logic of the Sinhala racist state is something pro-Eelam activists have been bitter about for long. Her ludicrous article on Kashmir is just the icing on the cake. One couldnt help but notice the underlying glee in the article over the crushing of the Eelam liberation movement and an anticipation of the same in Kashmir. Violence is intrinsic to colonization and decolonization, as Fanon observed, will always be a violent process. Those who lament about the ‘violence of the oppressed’ while claiming to condemn the ‘violence of the oppressor’ at the same time are just dancing, though with different steps, to the tunes of the oppressors. The oppressed can very well do without their ‘sympathies’ considering it is in no way an asset to their struggle. Sympathies are often liabilities.


    1. Karthik, it appears that you approve of the gunning down of Muslims worshipping in mosques in Eastern Sri Lanka by the LTTE, the ethnic cleansing of an entire community of around 75,000 Muslims from Northern Sri Lanka, the torture and execution of dissident Tamils who dared to criticise it, and the forccible conscription of thousands of Tamil children. To you, that is all ‘the violence of the oppressed’, and therefore justified. Have you ever – ever – bothered to talk to the victims of these and other atrocities, as I have? No, you haven’t, because for you they are non-people. The trouble with people like you is that, like George W. Bush, you can only count upto 2. So in the case of Sri Lanka, you are either with the LTTE or you are with the Sri Lankan state, In Kashmir you are either with SAS Geelani or you are with the Indian state, there is no third position, much less fourth or fifth ones. Once you learn to count above two, maybe we can have a rational discussion.


  31. Ajay Brar, what a nice world you think you inhabit, sans identity and such tiresome, messy, potentially conflictual and violent phenomena! In the midst of all your arguments against this or that identity, you seem to forget that India/Indian is an identity too. Otherwise, ‘we’ (see how easily I use the term ‘we’ as an Indian, knowing fully well that you would understand it, as another Indian) would just call ourselves humans or global citizens, right? Oh you may say actually you see yourself as exactly that, as a ‘global citizen’. But then the ‘fact’ called India exists, and you live within it. Why not ask for the dissolution of this identity too? Or conversely, if identities really don’t matter, then let Kashmir become a separate country. Nothing is lost for anybody.

    I ask you to come out of hiding. Behind your seemingly abstract and philosophical questioning of identity resides a very conventional, very ghisa-pita (sorry for being harsh) questioning of a particular identity – that of the Kashmiris. And if you can’t understand why people can get so attached to an identity and why that must lead to a nationalist movement, then I can’t understand why you don’t surrender your Indian passport and accept the status of an alien or stateless refugee. If I simply replace the subjects in your comment, your statements against identity and nationalism sound suspiciously like the statements of conservative British politicians seeking to deny independence to India in the 1930’s and 40’s.

    As for your claim that only nations that are based on a ‘higher ideal’, not identity, should be allowed to survive, its a debatable point. But if you’re claiming that India is precisely based on such a higher ideal, please! That ‘higher’ ideal is holding a gun to the heads of anybody who doesn’t subscribe to the Indian identity/nation! Its a sleight of hand that many countries practise, using force to ensure compliance with national cultures, but claiming that they in fact stand for secularism, or tolerance, or multiculturalism, or liberalism, or cosmopolitanism, or whatever noble thing is in fashion.


  32. Sunalini,

    I am not questioning Kashmiri identity. Nor am I denying people’s attachment to it or any other identity. I am simply asking why that identity can only be realised in a separate country / why can it not be realised while being part of India. And nowhere in your comment have you responded to that.

    Yes, Indian is an identity too. You are right too about the type of world I would like. I also have no illusions about the world we actually live in with all its, as you put it, tiresome identity issues. Should that stop me from arguing against further divisions on identity? No. Should that make me support statehood based on identity? No.

    I am for the rights of Kashmiris or anyone else to self determination. If you read my comment above – “They certainly should not suffer or be denied freedom just so rest of the country can call itself secular and look good”.

    I’m just asking why? Why can this identity only be realised in a separate country?

    I wish I was in hiding and with a dramatic flourish could reveal that ghisa-pita questioning of just the Kashmiri identity. Unmasked thus, I could get on with my work instead of being here defending this ideal I believe in. Sorry, I realise it must be disappointing.

    Again, if you read my comment above, I argued for a union of south asia. One must start small. So you see I’m not that attached to an Indian identity either. I would happily give that up for one of south asia.

    I could resign myself to a world where identities are in continual conflict. But I have seen where identities take us. The scars of partition run deep in my family. I have experienced first hand the inhumanity of identity, felt the rejection in “you are different from us”. So while I am against oppression, against denying freedom, I am also against countries or states carved on the bases of race, ethnicity, religion, caste or anything else you can think of.

    The comparison with the British is simply ridiculous. India is not looting the resources of Kashmir for its own gain. Neither is anyone treating Kashmiris as an inferior race, one that must be denied opportunity. So let us not get carried away in our comparisons!

    Finally, and really I think I have said all there is to say, “national culture” – which one again? I didn’t realise India had a national culture that it was imposing on its people!


  33. There are several comments pending, but without even reading them, we have decided to close this thread, as it has degenerated precisely into the kind of polarized debate that we hoped to avoid.
    In the stubborn hope of continued conversation nevertheless…


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