Guest post by SUVAID YASEEN: Incredible India is a land of promises. Amnesia and half narratives. Selective remembrance and deliberate forgetting. The national interest is incredibly important. And everything is allowed in this war.
Gandhi’s – the father of the nation – maxim of bura mat kaho, bura mat suno, bura mat dekho (don’t say evil, don’t hear evil, don’t see evil), interestingly forgets to say bura mat karo (don’t do evil). So, you can do it, and forget it. Gandhi should smile. And his monkeys can make merry.
Mohammad Yasin Malik, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front commander turned ‘Gandhian leader’ must know this irony very well.
When, in the early nineties, the guns started ringing, Kashmiris were told that they should leave the path of the armed struggle and have a peaceful agitation, and they would be listened to, by India and by the international community.
Yasin Malik listened then. JKLF was one of the first groups, along with others like Al-Hamza, Ansarul Islam, Zia Tigers etc., to have started the armed activity around the year 1989. The group was already weak by 1993. It bore the brunt of the Indian counterinsurgency, fratricide, lack of resources and could never really bounce back on its own. Yasin didn’t seem to have many options, and he declared a unilateral ceasefire. The section of JKLF that refused to bow was wiped out soon. Many prominent Indian civil society activists who visited Yasin in jail had convinced him that non violence was a better strategy to pursue. So, it happened. Only that after declaring the ceasefire around six hundred members of the JKLF were killed, by the Indian armed forces, something Yasin still doesn’t forget to mention at the seminars and conferences he attends.
Meanwhile, the other groups carried on. Hizbul Mujahideen’s offer of ceasefire in July 2000 failed to deliver any results. India wasn’t sincere, and the ceasefire was called off after two weeks.
Mufti Syed’s ‘healing touch’ followed and it seemed to finish what more than a decade of counterinsurgency operation of the Indian armed forces and local collaborators ikhwan had left undone. The re-appropriated MUF symbol of qalam dawaat proved lethal, at least till around 2008.
MAY 3rd HUNGER STRIKE AT JANTAR MANTAR
On the 3rd of May, Yasin Malik had called for a 48 hour hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, primarily to demand the return of the bodies of Shaheed Maqbool Bhat and Shaheed Afzal Guru, hanged to death in Tihar jail, on 9th and 11th of February, twenty nine years apart in 1984 and 2013, respectively. Protests demanding the same have been going on in Kashmir since February.
Yasin and a couple of others were arrested the night before near the Moolchand flyover in Delhi, beaten and sent home early morning. He was later admitted in the SMHS hospital in Srinagar.
A quickly scheduled press conference at the Press Club at 3:30 pm the next day, where many Indian intellectuals and activists were supposed to speak on the issue, was cancelled after the classic police-sangh brigade routine played out. (More on that later)
Concurrently, when around 150 people who had come from Kashmir to join the hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, started for the press club, they were stopped by the police. They sat on the road in front of their rented residence in Abul Fazl Enclave, at Jamia Nagar, much to the chagrin of some of the local Muslim residents who voiced their concern that by raising ‘anti-national slogans’ these Kashmiris were distorting the image of the already troubled area. It was interesting, that these people came to complain, only after some of policemen in civilian dress went inside the area.
Among those who had come to protest there were mostly relatives of those who have lost their loved ones in Kashmir at the hands of state repression, a natural manifestation of the military occupation that the Indian state oversees.
There was Maqbool Bhat’s mother, an old graceful lady in whose eyes you will not miss to see pride of the sacrifice that saw her son being sent to the gallows for upholding the rights of the Kashmiri nation. You can see Maqbool in her eyes. Parveena Ahangar who has been a leading light in the valiant struggle for demanding to know the whereabouts of the victims of enforced disappearances in Kashmir. Her own son has been missing for over two decades. A little girl named Arshika who studies in the 3rd standard and whose father is on life imprisonment. She demanded that she wanted to celebrate the news of her results with her papa. She cried, shouted slogans, wailed and made others cry with her. Where is my papa, she asked India. There were other women and men, old and young.
RAGDA AND PROMISES
By 2008, when India seemed to think that the hearts and minds of the people of Kashmir were under control (by catching them by their balls) a massive civil rebellion broke out. Kashmir’s intifada blossomed. And this was much before the well known Arab Spring.
(Mainstream Indian academics, activists and intellectuals routinely chatter this word, Arab Spring, in conferences like they know everything about it like the back of their hand, and as if Egypt is their neighboring country instead of Nepal. In the same vein, support for Palestine is cool, while the mention of Kashmir turns on the heat. Millions on roads in Kashmir, shouting Azadi, just doesn’t seem to register.)
The 2008 rebellion got popularly christened as Ragda, after a kind of street-protest-dance that got popular, wherein young boys would make a huddle, and shout ragda, literally meaning ‘trample’, along with the names of the symbols of Indian occupation – mostly state government leaders and their Godfathers in Delhi. The term, ragda, soon after, became a part of day to day parlance.
Millions came onto the streets. Some threw stones. They were showered with bullets and tear gas. Around 70 children were shot dead through the summer of 2008. In 2009, the Shopian double rape and murder incident happened, and protests again ensued for months. In 2010, throughout another bloody summer of protests 117 young people were shot dead in various instances. The number of injured has throughout been in thousands. One of the ironies of the people’s lives in Kashmir is that the injured don’t seem to count. Their disabled lives become a footnote to the conflict.
Some new things were also added though. Pepper gas, pellet guns and promises. New promises and old promises, recycled. When the situation was difficult to get under control, the delegations of Indian ministers and civil society activists would make a bee line at Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s Hyderpora residence, shed some tears, and appeal him to appeal to the Kashmiri people. Often, Geelani complied with calls of restraint. Job once done, nobody would bother again. What is in a promise? Promises are meant to be broken and forgotten, conveniently.
HISTORICAL AMNESIA & FALSE GODS
Kashmir is a history of broken promises.
When the Indian Army landed on the Srinagar airport on 26th October 1947, even before Maharaja had signed the so-called accession, it was supposed to be a temporary maneuver to drive the ‘pathan invaders’ out and help the already unpopular autocrat save his seat of power. The Indian narrative on this episode conveniently forgets the massacre of lakhs of Muslims in Poonch region, which doesn’t figure anywhere. The Poonch Rebellion, which is, in a way, the first war that Kashmiris fought for their self determination, never seemed to happen in the history books that Indian people are taught. Nobody talks about that beginning.
The struggle of the likes of Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas seems to have been forgotten. Nehru’s comrade Sheikh Abdullah is the figure to be known and only the part where he was for accession to India. The fact that he too was put into jail by his buddy when he made noises about the temporariness of accession to India is again forgotten. Or, remembered to me forgotten. Poonch, Rajouri, Doda, Kishtwar and other districts of Jammu are conveniently clubbed with the ‘diversity of opinion’ in Jammu Kashmir, whose people, apparently, have different views than the Valley’s population which likes to clamor for Azadi every now and then. The sentiment for Azadi is supposed to be weak or non-existent there, in spite of the fact that these areas saw large scale mobilizations and armed militancy was as active in these regions as in the Valley. So was and continues to be the massive scale of militarization.
For four decades, since 1947, Kashmiris were promised that they would be given a chance to decide their fate, and promises were forgotten conveniently. When the movement for self determination took the armed route in 1989, the India government was taken by ‘surprise’ as to how could the sentiment for liberation that they had worked so hard to bury, come out at them in such a strong way. Promises are meant to be broken, aren’t they? What is in a promise! Why the ‘anger’?
Indian academics have worked very hard to try and figure out what precisely precipitated the armed struggle 1987 so ‘suddenly’. Fraudulent elections, Muslim United Front (MUF), Pakistan and the likes seem to come in handy. For some, the ‘secret jihad’ had been long in progress! We won’t go into that here. If Home Ministry funding for some ‘academic projects’ does the profiles and bank accounts of some people good, it shouldn’t perhaps be too much of a bother. Serving national interest has so many paths and the God of that interest is one. You can’t stop people worshipping false Gods, can you?
PROTESTS IN DELHI
Off late many protests and events have been happening in Delhi regarding the situation in Kashmir. There were a couple of huge protests at Jantar Mantar in 2010. A public meeting, Azadi – The Only Way, at the LTG auditorium saw sedition charges being slapped against a few speakers, who said nothing different than what Indian Prime Minister Nehru had said long back, in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, in the Indian parliament and at other international platforms.
While at some point of time, not long before these events, it was difficult to talk Azadi even in a private discussion outside Kashmir, things seemed to have somewhat changed since the mass protests of 2008 in Kashmir. Shouting Azadi near the Indian Parliament was a big step forward. Also, the fact that one way or the other Kashmir was being pushed into the bulletins and pages of the mainstream corporate media also seemed a welcome step. In spite of the media spins and distortions, something, some bit would filter across. Then there was also the role of alternate media spaces, social media etc. which seemed to fill in for the missing links. The Kashmir debate seemed to have been pushed, as an Indian friend once told me, into the drawing rooms of the middle class Indians.
The space to do this had been progressively fought for, with the solidarity and help of a variety of groups who sympathized with the Kashmir cause, at various levels.
In spite of this, it was never an easy track. Struggles aren’t easy. And they cause a reaction as well. Something must have hit repeatedly to cause a churning. Chanakya’s soul has to respond. And it does in a manner, incredibly Indian, with which Kashmiris are very familiar.
Some Indians argued that this was a sign of ‘a confident and mature Indian democracy’ that allowed Kashmiris to raise the slogan of Azadi in Delhi. But how long, one would wonder?
THE POLICE SANGH BRIGADE
In comes here, what could be called, broadly, the police-sangh brigade. The script is interesting. It was again repeated recently in the context of the press conference regarding the refusal of permission to Yasin’s proposed hunger strike at Jantar Mantar. It was interesting that this time even the ‘aam aadmi (party people)’ joined them. One is forced to think of the beating Prashant Bhushan got from the same sangh brigade elements in his court cabin for speaking about Kashmir’s Azadi. And currently he is a star member of the Aam Aadmi party. Incredible, again.
The ‘liberal Indian state’ wouldn’t directly ban a protest or a screening. But it will deploy its own ‘non-state actors’, the police-sangh brigade, who would come to any event and shout anything and everything, create a ruckus, tear posters and pamphlets with a vengeance like they are lynching Ravanna’s neck. The police through their (non-)actions would aid them well. The state would thus be a ‘neutral arbiter’ intervening to stop a law and order problem. Rest will be done by media.
The pattern is not just regarding Kashmir related events. And that somehow makes it more important for Indian people themselves, than the fact whether Kashmiris are allowed to raise their voice in Delhi or not. The point here is about the Indian society and Indian people themselves, as to what kind of a society they are metamorphosing into.
Whenever there is an event that challenges the dynamics of the Hindutva narrative, the ‘saviors of the Indian nation’ will suddenly evolve out of nowhere in the form of Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena (and this particular name must make every sensible person’s heart ache, for what it does to the legacy of that great revolutionary!) or Bajrang Dal or some anti-terrorist front or whatever. Police will remain mere spectators. Even media will aggressively clog the protestors and wait for some punches to be delivered, a scene to happen, so that they can have their pictures and leave. What happened in Delhi University when students were protesting against Narendra Modi speaking at the Sri Ram College for Commerce is a good example.
Something similar, though much more intense happened again, on 9th of February this year, the day Afzal Guru was secretly hanged at Tihar Jail. A score Kashmiri student protestors, along with others, were attacked at Jantar Mantar by the Bajrang Dal goons. They were joined by almost everyone else that day at Jantar Mantar. Even a group protesting for the demand of Gorkhaland made a common cause with Bajrang Dal. Most of the media too was aggressive. And police detained the protestors instead of stopping Bajrang Dal goons. They in fact seemed to have discussions regarding the strategy to be employed.
Couple of days later, when Kashmiri students in Dehradun protested, they were ruthlessly beaten up by Shiv Sena activists. Police refused to lodge an FIR against the actual culprits, while cases were registered against Kashmiri students. Many of the Kashmiri students studying in Dehradun, left their courses and went home. Similar incidents happened at many other places.
I don’t see think that there should be much reason for pessimism, at least among Kashmiris, if they are not allowed to protest in Delhi, even in the designated spaces like Jantar Mantar. It clarifies a lot of things about the real nature of the Indian state. When the right wing lunatic elements get a free hand, with explicit state support, to crush even the peaceful protests, things become clear that whose side the Indian state is, for those who still have some hope. Clarity in the movement can only be a good thing for Kashmiris. And by shrinking the space for protests, Indian state is bestowing clarity to those who care for the movement for Kashmiri self-determination.
The mirage of the space that Kashmiri discourse seemed to have got is getting exposed. By restricting civil society spaces in places like Delhi, the Indian state sends a clear message to Kashmiris. You are not welcome to say what we don’t like. We hanged one of your own, how and when we liked. One just muses at the thought, what should Kashmiris do, if not even Jantar Mantar?
A space for protest in a place like Delhi is more important for the Indian people than for Kashmiris. Kashmiris protesting in Delhi only has a limited value, for the purposes of disseminating information. And even though that too is important in a way, it’s not central to the movement. It doesn’t have any impact on the ground situation in Kashmir. It is the ground that dictates the activity and discourse vis-à-vis Kashmir in places outside Kashmir, not the other way round.
Most importantly, Kashmiris have to find a way in Kashmir, rest will follow.