Guest Post by New Socialist Initiative, Delhi Chapter
The valley of Kashmir is on the boil again. Forsaking the so-called normal routines of their lives, people are on the streets. Not just young men, but even children and women are out, challenging the military might of the Indian state. Any fear of the police and army appears to have been discarded. Police stations and even CRPF camps have been attacked. A popular upsurge, it is energised by mass fury. Forty people have lost their lives in one week at the hands of the Indian security establishment. Hundreds of others have suffered serious eye and other injuries from presumedly ‘non-lethal’ pellets used by the police. While people are out confronting the police, para-military and army, the other organs of the Indian state in Kashmir, the elected government and its bureaucracy, elected members of the legislature, panchayats, etc. are in a rathole, fearing public appearance. It is just the people of Kashmir valley versus the institutions of organised violence of the Indian state.
While the immediate cause of popular anger is the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani, reasons for this anger go much deeper and have a longer history. The stifling and repression of the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination stands at the root of this conflict. This repression has taken on extreme violent forms. For twenty five years now, the Kashmir valley has been among the most militarised places in the world. More than half a million troops of Indian army and para-military forces have been stationed in the state and its border with Pakistan. Rashtriya Rifles and CRPF camps dot the land scape. Highway checkpoints and random searches are part of everyday life. Thousands of men have disappeared, been picked up by security forces, thrown in the black hole of interrogation camps, often ending up in unmarked graves. The hated AFSPA gives Indian security forces legal cover to assault basic rights of Kashmiris to live a life of elementary dignity. If an average valley resident is alienated from the normal practices of the Indian state such as elections and its administrative initiatives, s/he harbours deep resentment against the presence of Indian security forces in their homeland. This resentment has erupted in mass protests again and again.
Each time it has been an action of the Indian state that has served as the spark. Protests in 2008 were in response to the state government’s proposal to transfer land to the Amarnath Yatra Trust. In 2009 Kashmiris were protesting against the rape and muder of two women in Shopian. Protests in 2010 followed an Indian army unit killing three local men, and passing them off as infiltrators from across the border. The valley erupted once again in 2013 against the secret hanging of Afzal Guru. Most shamefully the then UPA government refused to hand over his body to his family. Each time panchayat or assembly elections are held without disruption, or instances of militancy related violence drops, or a Kashmiri youth achieves a high postion in UPSC examinations, so-called mainstream India, its political establishment, media and intellectual class begin singing the raga of ‘return to normalcy’ in the valley. Election rallies, brokering of state largesse, administrative measures, or personal success of a few individuals however can not fill the chasm that separates Kashmiris from the political community ‘mainstream’ Indians call their nation. This chasm has been deepening and widening ever since the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 by the Nehru government, military style occupation of the valley from 1991, and has become unbridgeable even in principle with the creeping Hindutvaisation of the Indian nation.
Citizens of India need to pay special attention to this latter process and its consequences for Kashmir. It is not uncommon to hear slogans like ‘doodh maangoge kheer denge, Kashmir maangoge cheer denge’
(We will give you creamy deserts if you ask for milk, we will cut you down if you ask for Kashmir) in mundane relgious functions in northern India. Increasingly public and aggressive display of religiosity seen elsewhere in India, is most clearly manifest in the annual Amarnath yatra. The yatra, seen as a mark of rigourous and serious religious commitment earlier, is now taken to be an assertion of Indian supremacy over the valley. Emboldened by this state support, Hindutva organisations have started inventing new Hindu pilgrimages in the valley. Increasing Hindutva aggression against Kashmiris can also be seen in the fatal attack on a trucker from the valley by gau rakshaks in Udhampur in October last year. In other parts of India Kashmiri students have been attacked and/or rusticated from universities for not being sufficiently ‘nationalist’. Votaries of Hindutva see history, politics and social change in terms of the conflict between Hindus and Muslims. For them India’s control over Kashmir is a sign of victory of Hindus. As long as this control persists, no matter what price Kashmiris have to pay for it, they see no problem in Kashmir. This explains the utter lack of policy and strategy of the Modi government with regard to Kashmir and Pakistan. Modi’s politics is based upon false bravado, loud mouthing, and theatrics. Peace in Kashmir, or with Pakistan, is none of its priorities.
The same day Indian security forces killed Burhan Wani, the Indian Supreme Court gave its judgment on fake encounters and the use of AFSPA in Manipur. The court made clear that the excuse of breakdown of law and order does not permit the State to treat any of its citizens as an enemy, or its armed forces to harm or kill her/him with impunity. While it is unlikely that this judgment will have much impact on the ground in areas like Kashmir, the ‘North-East’ or Central India (areas where Indian state is facing armed revolt against its rule) it does make a clear assertion about the content of citizenship in democracies, even under extreme circumstances of armed rebellion. Actions of Indian rulers in Kashmir and many other places make it clear that they have no hesitation in violating the Constitution of India itself. Thousands of fake encounters, attack on women, forced displacements, and other actions are proof that the Indian state is the most authoritarian, anti-democratic, and violent force in the country.
We affirm our solidarity with the progressive and secular forces in Kashmir that have been striving to establish a plural and democratic Kashmir. No politics, even anti-oppression popular politics can escape questions of democratic values and ethos. The expansion of the idea of democracy as the preferred human condition is largely the result of secular struggles, and political religious organisation has little place in it. The primacy of any religion in politics, particularly nationalist politics, goes against not only non-believers and followers of other religions, as the recent history of a country like Pakistan, or the rise of Hindutva in India shows, but the violence and authoritarianism of political forces which use religion also attacks democratic rights of adherents of the so-called majority religion. The principle of self-determination forms part of the expansion of the idea of democracy, the possibility of its fulfillment denied by the prolonged occupation of this land by the might of the Indian State.
How the struggle for Kashmir’s azadi will evolve will be largely determined by Kashmiris themselves. The politics of the Indian state in the valley should be the prime concern of the rest of the Indians. When this state uses soldiers recruited from the economically deprived and socially oppressed peasant castes from the Indian mainland against the people of the valley, it tries to kill two birds with one stone. Anti-Pakistan jingoism of Indian politicians and media, and claims of Indian Army to have successfully neutralised Kashmiri militancy, or tired out its people of anti-India demonstrations, are no substitutes for freedom from internal oppressions of Indian society. Kashmir is the proof of violent authoritarianism and Machiavellian machinations of Indian rulers. If Indians want democracy even for their own sake, they must challenge what the Indian state is doing in Kashmir.