Month: September 2010

Ather Zia

From Dissident Voice, “Kashmir’s Stone Pelter

“You ask about his birth?”

“His birth was marked by checkpoints through which his mother had to pass when she was in throes of giving birth to him. It was in the closeted bloody warmth of his mother’s womb that he smelt that there was bloodletting outside too.

The blood that spurted from his father’s gashes, who had in a hurry forgotten his Identity card and now, had no way of proving himself. Who was he? Was he a militant, a miscreant, a terrorist, and so many other such names or was he an expectant father carrying the burden of his suffering wife; well the bump that he claimed was a pregnancy could be arms, well hidden? Did he get killed that day, he could have, and he may have been? There have been so many like him, that I have lost track. I do not count anymore (though I keep a tally)!”

“You ask how he was raised?”

“He was raised watching his mother worry at every instance of him leaving home or not. Making sure he took the identity card with him, a piece of paper that is worth a visa, a permit of travel in his own land, and there are no guarantees. His mother would go through strange transformations though. She distrusted the roads and streets, where bunkers oozing into the streets created bottlenecks doubling as checkpoints; she preferred he stay indoors. Close to her heart. Then the day bullets rained on their house, there was a crackdown, and several boys were killed. She saw the large impressions of the boots that had brazenly razed through her hearth and the carpet she would let him eat on saying he was messy; she trusted the home no more. Where will I keep you son? He is just a boy, she cried days on end?”

“You ask about his friends?”

“He is especially reminded of the one who could not make it to the tutor’s house, who was walking just behind him. Wearing a blue jacket and coke bottle glasses, the most awkward guy in the group, who probably could not even run properly, was caught between crossfire. He died on the spot, his beloved books strewn about. There is still a curiosity in him to know what color his eyes were. You could never see clearly through his glasses, and he seldom looked up from his books. Then there were the other friends, the ones who sat in his house, at the edge of the bed or moping, moving curtains to see if they could go outside. They never got to play properly. They were not permitted in the yard, especially during curfews for they made too much noise; they sat inside watching too much TV, sometimes with the mute button on. The alley was a no-no, there was too much tension outside, a blast, a killing, it was always something or the other.”

“You ask about his anger?”

“Anger! It’s right there, in his face, spilling into the streets like guts of a sacrificial lamb. It’s in your face! You think it’s stoppable, you think it can be curbed. You think all those thoughts that a sovereign thinks, a state holds at its core and pretends they work. You buy time, you talk soft on the surface and hit hard deep down. But listen, at this juncture you are not handling the naïve, progress-hungry denizens of the 50’s for whom the paved roads were a novelty and the thought of eating at the same table as you was the epitome of development. You promised them cheap rice, concrete buildings and below poverty line schemes that have yet to raise anyone above it. You can still entice a small minority with pittance paying, newly established redundant government positions, created to serve as a gag, a device for buying time, but you cannot ensnare all. Too bad you pose as if you still have this under control. You cannot set a price for blood, though you think you can, power always works that way. But power has schizophrenia, and many sovereigns chose not to acknowledge. It beds the perpetrator as much as it cohabits with the victim. The guns have been relegated to fringes; this stone pelter does not care for them.

This is a teachable moment for you. They brought nothing for him; they will buy nothing for you. The law which you treat law as an “ideal of order” to ensure you territorial rights has lost you all hearts. This young pelter’s stone is lying by the pavement, he used it, he may or may not pick it up again, depends how you corner him this time. But one thing is as clear as the day which is frozen under curfew in the valley that he will invoke law as an ideal of justice, however elusive. You may mediate its language but you cannot override it.”

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Najeeb Mubarki

From The Economic Times, “Enforcing the ‘Writ’ in Kashmir

“Kashmir , amidst decidedly deadlier things, is also a place where the surreal can descend to the level of farce. If, for example, denizens of the Valley are often subject to the bizarre in the form of an ‘undeclared curfew’ — which means no one tells you a curfew is on, but its existence is established by dint of a pre-breakfast thrashing were you to step out to buy some bread — it’s now the turn of, well, a ‘selective curfew’ .

And what makes that nonsensical phrase lethal — for, the farce often returns to the deadly reality it sprang up from in the first place — is the fact that now it is Kashmir’s schoolchildren who have officially been put on the frontline. While a curfew is enforced, the government has decided that schools must stay open, literally forcing children to don their uniforms and step out into streets that resemble a war zone, in total violation of basic norms of safety.

This directive is downright dastardly given the fact that the state is using the functioning of schools, while exposing schoolchildren to potential danger, as a means of enforcing its writ. Thus, in a situation where even employees at the civil secretariat have a hard time reaching office (apart from the many other deserted government departments and offices), Monday witnessed the spectacle of buses being organised to ferry children and teachers to schools.

Leave alone the fact that attendance was skeletal, or reports that stones were pelted at some of these buses, what is central is that the state apparently feels no compunction about making Kashmir’s schoolkids a test-case of proving its authority. That, in turn, for many lends credence to the separatist leaders’ assertions that it is hardly concern for the welfare and future of youngsters that motivates the state, given that it has spent the last few months gunning them down anyway.

So what is really going on? At heart, simply, the state and central government’s crisis of legitimacy in Kashmir. For, it is a moot point who actually runs, ‘governs’ Kashmir. On the one hand, there is the separatist leadership, and a Syed Ali Shah Geelani whose position has been consolidated to an extent that his word is, for all purposes, the law.

On the other hand there is the state itself, which exists mostly in the physical form of the police and security forces, and which operates solely by force and coercion. And ‘authority’ in Kashmir oscillates between these two poles. Between the coercive, disciplining force employed by the state and the allegiance commanded by the separatists.

One of the ‘jokes’ doing the rounds in Srinagar, for instance, gives a peek into how this works on the ground, how ‘authority’ can be fuzzy: On a day when the separatist protest calendar decrees that the shutdown will be relaxed briefly from 2pm, an over-eager shopkeeper trots off a wee bit early, and starts pulling up the shutter on his shop at around 1pm. Only to be berated by the CRPF chap standing nearby ‘Don’t you know it’s allowed only from 2?” Whose ‘writ’ , the bewildered shopkeeper wonders, does the CRPF man represent!

That problem, of ‘writ and authority’ , is what faces the state, what constitutes the crisis of its legitimacy. For, it is up against a widespread will, a deep sentiment among the people that negates its legitimacy. And the state responds the only way it can, given what constitutes it in Kashmir: by force and coercion, be it while trying to curb protests with bullets, lathis and curfews or by imposing authority by making kids to go to school in a strife-torn environment so the separatist ‘protest calendar’ can be disrupted.

What then can we possibly expect in Kashmir? It is possible the state ‘wins’ this round. Quite possible that, given the sheer strain on Kashmiri society (which the state tries to exacerbate by whatever means it can), the intensity of the current protests abates somewhat. But that crisis of authority and legitimacy facing the state will not resolve itself.

It will persist as long as the state tries to deny the reality that it faces that crisis, as long as it tries to obfuscate that reality by its policy of denial, postponement and delegitimisation of Kashmiri political demands and aspirations. As long as it comes up with yet more ‘packages’ centred around jobs, compensation for killings and yet more ‘interlocutors’ .

And even if, hypothetically, what goes by way of ‘normalcy’ returns to Kashmir in the months to come, that crisis will manifest itself in some other, perhaps even more intense and violent, eruption.

Kashmir is patently, admittedly, different in its political history and its relationship with the Indian union. And there is no feasible , worthwhile way out except not only acknowledging but accepting that fact. Resolutions can come later; the crisis needs to be accepted as such to begin with.

And for all the derision and heckling the recent All Party Delegation aroused in Kashmir, even as it was a half-hearted , reluctant step by New Delhi, it could be said to have posited, even by default, that direct political intervention, even potential negotiation, can open up some spaces, and is actually the sole, real meaningful alternative.”

Soutik Biswas in Srinagar

From BBC: “Grim Harvest

“The “martyrs’ graveyard” in Indian-administered Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, is again burying victims of conflict.

“There are over 1,000 martyrs here,” grave-digger Abdul Hameed says, matter-of-factly. “This year,” he says, “it’s looking bad again.”

We are taking a walk down a narrow cobblestone pathway running through rows of graves in the cemetery. Buried here are – mostly – men, women and children who have died in the bloody insurrection against India.

Mr Hameed is a middle-aged, sunburnt man who looks after this oasis of the dead. This year has seen one of Kashmir’s bloodiest summers in over a decade – more than 100 civilians have lost their lives in an almost equal number of days in clashes with security forces.

About 70,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1990.

The cemetery, in many ways, is a chronicle of death foretold.

When fighting broke out between stone-throwing protesters and the security forces in June, Mr Hameed and his men dug some 50 fresh graves anticipating a procession of the dead.

“We dug them up, just in case,” he says, looking away at the mountains. Death can come easily in Kashmir, so the good caretaker prepares for it in advance.

From a distance the graveyard looks like a park. As you approach it, the inscription on an ornate gate – ‘Lest You Forget We Have Given Our Today For Tomorrow of Yours’ – offers a reminder of its residents. The graves are neatly laid out in rows. Roses and irises bloom among the dead. Garlands of paper and plastic flowers are slung around some recent tombstones.

In the chaos and clamour of a troubled, bleeding city, it is a calm, orderly place.

The martyrs’ graveyard also offers a contemporary history lesson on the insurrection ever since the valley exploded into full blown militancy in the early 1990s.

There is an empty grave for Maqbool Bhatt, founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, a local pro-freedom guerrilla group. “The grave waits for him” says the tombstone. Bhatt was hanged and buried in a Delhi prison in the late 1980s.

There are some telling epitaphs that point to the sentiments of freedom and feeling of subjugation in the valley: “When Slaves Are Martyred They Are Relieved of Their Pain,” reads the tombstone of 22-year-old Ashiq Hussain, who was killed on 20 August 1996.

“The youngest buried here is a two-year-old boy, Saqib Bashir, who, according to locals, was shot by security forces along with his mother over a decade ago. The oldest is 72-year-old Abdul Ahad Khan, who was killed in 1992.”

Maoist express solidarity with Kashmiris

From India Today: “Maoists express solidarity with Kashmiris

“The Maoists are now (sic) showing solidarity with separatists in the Kashmir Valley. They have called for a 24-hour shutdown on September 30.

The CPI (Maoist) said in a statement that the shutdown would be observed in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa as well as some districts of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.”

M Hyderi from Srinagar

From Greater Kashmir: “Discarded even for animals, pellet guns used on Kashmiris

“The ‘deadly’ Pump Action Shotgun or Pellet Gun is nowadays a preferred weapon against the street protesters in Kashmir. But a 19th century British army officer had discarded its use even for hunting because of the large scale causalities the pellets caused on the prey.

The officer, who hunted migratory birds in Wular Lake, was so disheartened at the massacre of the waterfowl that he pledged never to use the gun again.

THE ANECDOTE

The incident dates back to around 1880 when General Dunlop, a British Army Officer from the then neighboring India came to Kashmir for holidaying. He was putting up in the Dal Lake here at a houseboat.

One day the houseboat owner, Ghulam Rasool Tuman aka Lassu, offered General Dunlop a safari ride for hunting of migratory birds in the Wular.

General Dunlop was to use a Punt Gun, a then version of shotgun. The pellets hit the target. Dozens of birds were lying dead, scattered in the lake. But the British officer was upset. He was disheartened by the large scale killing of birds.

“This gun leads to massacre of birds. This is inhuman. I will never use it again,” General Dunlop told Lassu.

Angana Chatterji

From Greater Kashmir, “Kashmir: A Time for Freedom

“In the administration of brutality, India, the postcolony, has proven itself coequal to its former colonial masters. Kashmir is not about “Kashmir.” Governing Kashmir is about India’s coming of age as a power, its ability to disburse violence, to manipulate and dominate. Kashmir is about nostalgia, about resources, and buffer zones. The possession of Kashmir by India renders an imaginary past real, emblematic of India’s triumphant unification as a nation-state. Controlling Kashmir requires that Kashmiri demands for justice be depicted as threatening to India’s integrity. India’s contrived enemy in Kashmir is a plausible one – the Muslim “Other,” India’s historically manufactured nemesis.

What is at Stake?
Between June 11 and September 13 of 2010, Kashmir witnessed the execution of 87 youth, men, and women by India’s police, paramilitary, and military. Forces opened fire on crowds, tortured children, detained elders without explanation, and coerced false confessions. Since June, there have been 63 days of curfew and 69 days of strikes and agitation. On September 11, the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, the violence continued. The paramilitary and police verbally abused and physically attacked civil society dissenters. Summer 2010 was not unprecedented. Kashmir has been subjected to much, much worse.

The use of public and summary execution for civic torture has been held necessary to Kashmir’s subjugation by the India. Militarization has asserted vigilante jurisdiction over space and politics. The violence is staged, ritualistic, and performative, used to re-assert India’s power over Kashmir’s body. The fabrications of the military — fake encounters, escalating perceptions of cross-border threat — function as the truth-making apparatus of the nation. We are witness to the paradox of history, as calibrated punishment — the lynching of the Muslim body, the object of criminality — enforces submission of a stateless nation (Kashmir) to the once-subaltern postcolony.”

“What is India hoping to achieve? One, that Kashmiris would submit to India’s domination, forsaking their claim to separation from India (to be an independent state or, for some, to be assimilated with Pakistan), or their demand for full autonomy. Or, that provoked, grief-stricken, and weary, Kashmiris would take up arms once again, giving India the opportunity to fortify its propaganda that Kashmiri civil society dissent against Indian rule is nurtured and endorsed today by external forces and groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan. If the latter transpires, New Delhi will manipulate this to neutralize Kashmiri demands for de-militarization and conflict resolution, to extend its annexation of Kashmir, and further normalize civic and legal states of exception.

If India succeeds in both provoking local armed struggle and linking Kashmiri resistance to foreign terror, it will acquire international sanction to continue its government of Kashmir on grounds of “national security,” and “have proof” that Kashmiris are not organically debating India’s government of them, but are pressurized into it by external forces. India can then reinforce its armed forces in Kashmir, presently 671,000 strong, to prolong the killing spree.

Such provocation as policy is a mistake. Such legitimation of military rule will produce intractable conflict and violence. All indications are that Kashmiri civil society dissent will not abate. It is not externally motivated, but historically compelled.

Dominant nation-states overlook that freedom struggles are not adherent to the moralities of violence versus nonviolence, but reflect a desire to be free. Dominant nation-states forget that the greater the oppression, the more fervent is resistance. The greater the violence, the more likely is the provocation to counter-violence.

Whether dissent in Kashmir turns into organized armed struggle or continues as mass-based peaceful resistance is dependent upon India’s political decisions. If India’s subjugation persists, it is conceivable that the movement for nonviolent dissent, mobilized since 2004, will erode. Signs indicate that it is already slightly threadbare. It is conceivable that India’s brutality will induce Kashmiri youth to close the distance between stones and petrol bombs, or more. If India fails to act, if Pakistan acts only in its self-interest, and if the international community does not insist on an equitable resolution to the Kashmir dispute, it is conceivable, that, forsaken by the world, Kashmiris will be compelled to take up arms again.

Misogynist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, al-Qaeda, or the Taliban are mercenaries looking for takers in Kashmir. By India’s record, there are between 500-700 militants in the Kashmir Valley today. These groups have not been successful because Kashmiris have been disinterested in alliances with them, not because the Indian army is successful in controlling them. This time, an armed mobilization by Kashmiris would include an even stronger mass movement than that which occurred between 1990 and 2004/2007, led by youth whose lives have been shaped by the two-decade long violence of militarization.

Who wants that? Can the South Asian Subcontinent, already nuclearized, survive that? India is accountable to keep this from happening. Not through the use of unmitigated force, but through listening to the demands for change made by Kashmiris.

Will to Power
This summer, India’s violence on Kashmir was threaded through with strategic calculation. The police, military, and paramilitary have, without provocation, brutalized widespread peaceable protests across Kashmir that were dissenting the suppression of civil society by Indian forces. Hostile Indian forces acted with the knowledge and sanction of the Government of India and the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. The repeated repression by state forces provoked civilians, whose political means of expression and demands have been systematically denied, to engage in stone pelting. The conditions of militarization prompted them to be in non-compliance with declared, undeclared, and unremitting curfews. In instances, civilians engaged in acts of violence, including arson.

Each instance of civilian violence was provoked by the unmitigated and first use of force on civilians and/or extrajudicial killings on the part of Indian forces. Peaceable civilian protests by women and men dissented the actions of Indian forces. Individuals, caught in the midst of the unrest, or mourning the death of a civilian, were fired upon by Indian forces, leading to other killings by Indian forces, more civilian protests, greater use of force by the police and paramilitary, use of torture in certain instances by Indian forces, more killings by Indian forces, larger, even violent, civilian protests, and further state repression.

In Summer 2010, dominant discourse focused on the use of stone pelting and on the instances of violence by youth in Kashmir as the reason for armed action on the part of the state. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh focused on the need for efficient tactics in “crowd control.” India’s elite intelligentsia, inculcated into “rational” conduct, and no longer outraged by suffering, assessed the costs and benefits of militaristic violence.

Civil society demonstrations in Kashmir are not a law and order problem, as they have been reported. Stone pelting, and incidents of arson and violence, are not causal to the violence that is routine in Kashmir today. Stone pelting does not seek to kill, and has not resulted in death. Pro-freedom leaders (termed “separatists” by India) have emphasized nonviolent civil disobedience, and have appealed to civil society to not engage in violent protests in reaction to the violence and killings by Indian forces.

Indian potentates disregard that suppression acts to catalyze the resistance movement in Kashmir. The Government of India continues to monitor the resistance movement, shifting the boundaries of acceptable practise of civil liberties. Kashmiris are allowed to protest in New Delhi, while in Kashmir sloganeering (“Go, India, Go Back,” “Indian Dogs Go Home,” “Quit Kashmir,”) is met with force. When Masarat Alam Bhat, a rising pro-freedom leader, issued an appeal to Indian soldiers in July to “Quit Kashmir,” Indian authorities banned its circulation.

Acts of violence by protesting civilians increased as military violence continued into September. On September 13, crowds in Kashmir torched a Christian missionary school and some government offices while protesting the call to desecrate the Qur’an by Florida Pastor Terry Jones. On September 13, 18 civilians were killed by the Indian forces in Kashmir (a police officer also died). Provocation is easy in a context of sustained brutality. Provoking Kashmiri dissenters to violence serves to confirm the dominant story of Muslims as “violent.” Yet again, several pro-freedom leaders condemned the attack on the Christian school and renewed their call for nonviolent dissent.

On September 13, the Government of India stated its willingness to engage with Kashmiri groups that reject violence. New Delhi did not apply the same precondition to itself. Nor did it acknowledge that pro-freedom groups have repeatedly opposed the use of violence in recent years.

The Kashmiri Muslim is caricatured as violent by India’s dominant political and media apparatus. There is a refusal to recognize the inequitable historical-political power relations at play between Muslim-prevalent Kashmir’s governance by Hindu-dominant India. The racialization of the Muslim, as “Other” and barbaric, reveals the xenophobia of the India. Distinctions in method and power, between stone pelter and armed soldier, between “terrorist” and “freedom fighter,” are inconvenient.

The state discourse is animated by the prejudice that Kashmiri inclinations to violence are subsidized by Pakistan. Such misconceptions ignore that while Kashmiris did travel to Pakistan to seek arms training, such activity was largely confined to the early days of the armed militancy, circa late 1980s through the mid-1990s. Pathologies of “violent Muslims” legitimate the discursive and physical violence of the Indian “security” forces, which is presented as necessary protection for the maintenance of the Hindu majoritarian Indian nation.

I have spent considerable time between July 2006 and July 2010 learning about Kashmir, working in Kashmir. In undertaking the work of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir, I have travelled across Kashmir’s cities and countryside, from Srinagar to Kupwara, through Shopian and Islamabad, with Parvez Imroz, Zahir-Ud-Din, and Khurram Parvez. I have witnessed the violence that is perpetrated on Kashmiris by India’s military, paramilitary, and police. I have walked through the graveyards that hold Kashmir’s dead, and have met with grieving families. I have sat with witnesses, young men, who described how Indian forces chased down and executed their friends for participating in civil disobedience. I have met women whose sons were disappeared. I have met with “half-widows.” I have spoken with youth, women and men, who are enraged. I have also spoken with persons who were violated by militants in the 1990s. Peoples’ experiences with the reprehensible atrocities of militancy do not imply the abdication of their desires for self-determination. New Delhi deliberately conflates militancy with the people’s mass movement for liberation.

I have met with torture survivors, non-militants and former militants, who testified to the sadism of the forces. Men who had petrol injected through the anus. Water-boarding, mutilation, being paraded naked, rape of women, children, and men, starvation, humiliation, and psychological torture. An eagle tattoo on the arm of a man was reportedly identified by an army officer as a symbol of Pakistan-held Azad Kashmir, even as the man clarified the tattoo was from his childhood. The skin containing it was burned. The officer said, the man recalled: “When you look at this, think of Azaadi.” A mother, reportedly asked to watch her daughter’s rape by army personnel, pleaded for her release. They refused. She then pleaded that she could not watch, asking to be sent out of the room or be killed. The soldier pointed a gun to her forehead, stating he would grant her wish, and shot her dead before they proceeded to rape the daughter.

Who are the forces? Disenfranchised caste and other groups, Assamese, Nagas, Sikhs, Dalits (erstwhile “untouchable” peoples), and Muslims from Kashmir, are being used to combat Kashmiris. Why did 34 soldiers commit suicide in Kashmir in 2008, and 52 fratricidal killings take place between January 21, 2004 and July 14, 2009?

Laws authorize soldiers to question, raid houses, detain and arrest without chargesheets, and prolong incarceration without due process. They blur distinctions between military/paramilitary, “legality”/“illegality.” Citing “national security,” Indian forces in Kashmir shoot and kill on uncorroborated suspicion, with impunity from prosecution. Yet, revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, for example, will not stop the horror in Kashmir. India’s laws are not the primary contention. India’s political and military existence in Kashmir is the issue. Legal impunity is the cover for the moral impunity of Indian rule.

Is the military willing to withdraw from Kashmir? Since 2002, the Government of India has procured 5 billion US dollars in weaponry from the Israeli state. Authoritarian alliances between once subjugated peoples mark another irony of history. Five billion dollars is a colossal sum for India, where 38 percent of the world’s poor reside. Eight of the poorest states in India are more impoverished than the 26 poorest countries of the African continent. Five billion dollars, in addition to the other monies and resources invested in the militarization of Kashmir, do not evidence an intent to withdraw.

Human rights violations in Kashmir will not stop without removing the military. The military cannot be removed without surgically rupturing India’s will to power over Kashmir.”

“The Government in New Delhi is looking to neutralize Kashmir’s demand for self-determination or unabridged autonomy, pushing forward a diluted “autonomy,” seeking to assimilate Kashmir with finality into the Indian nation-state. New Delhi is seeking buy-in, which it hopes to push through using the collaborator coterie in Srinagar. Local self-government would be New Delhi’s compromise — a weak autonomy — with a joint supervisory apparatus constituted of India, Pakistan, and Kashmir.”

“The logic that Muslim-prevalent Kashmir must stay with secular India or join Muslim-dominated Pakistan is configured by India’s and Pakistan’s internal ideological needs and identitarian politics. Neither is inevitable. Neither speak to the foremost aspiration of Kashmiris.”

“What do a majority of Kashmiris want? First, to secure a good faith agreement with New Delhi and Islamabad regarding the right of Kashmiris to determine the course of their future, set a timeframe, and define the interim conditions necessary to proceed. Following which, civil society and political leaders would ensue processes to educate, debate, and consult civil society, including minority groups, in sketching the terms of reference for a resolution, prior to negotiations with India and Pakistan.

Significantly, pro-freedom leader Syeed Ali Geelani’s statement of August 31 sought to shift the terms of engagement, not requiring the precondition of self-determination or the engagement of Pakistan. Unless New Delhi responds, the protests in Kashmir will continue. Geelani’s statement, supported by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, testifies to this. The mood in the streets testifies to this.

New Delhi’s current approach repudiates what Kashmiris want. The omissions made by New Delhi are roadblocks to constituting a minimum agenda for justice and an enduring and relevant peace process.

The Government of India’s “inclusive dialogue” this summer does not recognize Kashmir as an international dispute.

The Government of India’s “inclusive dialogue” this summer does not include: An immediate halt to, and moratorium on, extrajudicial killings by the Indian military, paramilitary, and police; An immediate halt to, and moratorium on, the use of torture, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, and gendered violence by the Indian military, paramilitary, and police; A plan for the release of political prisoners, the return of those exiled, and contending with the issue of displacement; Agreements on an immediate “soft border” policy between Kashmir, India, and Pakistan, to enable the resurgence of Kashmir’s political economy; Agreements to non-interference in the exercise of civil liberties of Kashmiris, including the right to civil disobedience, and freedom of speech, assembly, religion, movement, and travel.

New Delhi has refused to acknowledge the extent of human rights violations, and how they are integral to maintaining dominion. New Delhi has not explained why militarization in Kashmir has been disproportionately used to brutalize Kashmiris, when ostensibly the Indian forces are in Kashmir to secure the border zones.

The Government of India’s “inclusive dialogue” this summer does not include a plan for the proactive demilitarization and the immediate revocation of all authoritarian laws. Nor does it include: A plan for the transparent identification and dismantling of detention and torture centres, including in army camps; A plan for the instatement of a Truth and Justice Commission for political and psychosocial reparation, and reckoning loss; A plan for the international and transparent investigations into unknown and mass graves constitutive of crimes against humanity committed by the Indian military, paramilitary, and police. Such omissions are a travesty of any process promising ‘resolution.'”

“Indian civil society decries that Kashmir is not deserving of autonomy or separation, as it, as an assumed Islamist state, would be a threat to India’s democracy. To assume that a Muslim-majority state in Kashmir will be ruled by Islamist extremists in support of global terror reflects majoritarian India’s racism. Dominant Indian (left-oriented) civil society must rethink its characterization of Kashmiri civil society as prevalently “Jamaati.” Jamaat is Arabic for assembly. “Jamaati” is used by Indian civil society to imply Islamist or fundamentalist. The reference can often be translated as Muslim = Jamaati, and Muslim-observant = fundamentalist.

Indians of Hindu descent largely overlook that India’s democracy is infused with Hindu cultural dominance. Indian civil society assumes that Islam and democracy are incompatible, supported by the inflamed Islamphobia in the polities of the West. Importantly, India forgets that in its own history with the British, freedom fighters had noted that the oppressor cannot adjudge when a stateless people are “deserving” of freedom.

Freedom is fundamentally an experiment with risk that Kashmiris must be willing to take. The global community must support them in making such risk ethical. Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim majority space. The population of India-held Kashmir was recorded at approximately 6,900,000 in 2008, of which Muslims are approximately 95 percent. Kashmir’s future as a democratic, inclusive, and pro-secular space is linked to what happens within India and Pakistan.

Kashmiris that wish to be separate from India and Pakistan must assess the difficult alliances yet to be built between Kashmir, Jammu, and Ladakh, and between Muslims and Hindu Pandits, Dogra Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, indigenous groups, and others. Then, there is the question of what lies ahead between Indian-held Kashmir and Pakistan-held Kashmir. Minority groups, such as Kashmiri Pandits, must refuse New Delhi’s hyper-nationalist strategy in using the Pandit community to create opposition between Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir, as part of a strategy to religionize the issue and govern through communalization.”

“Kashmiris in Kashmir are caught amidst world events and regional machinations, and the unresolved histories of the Subcontinent. The India’s  military governance penetrates every facet of life. The sounds of war haunt mohallas. The hyper-presence of militarization forms a graphic shroud over Kashmir: Detention and interrogation centres, army cantonments, abandoned buildings, bullet holes, bunkers and watchtowers, detour signs, deserted public squares, armed personnel, counter-insurgents, and vehicular and electronic espionage. Armed control regulates and governs bodies. It has been reported that, since 1990, Kashmir’s economy has incurred a reported loss of more than 1,880,000 million Indian Rupees (40.4 billion US Dollars). The immensity of psychosocial losses is impossible to calculate. The conditions of everyday life are in peril. They elicit suffocating anger and despair, telling a story of the web of violence in which civil society in Kashmir is interned.”

“India’s relation to Kashmir is not about Kashmir. Kashmir’s aversion to being subsumed by India is not reducible to history. If violence breaks lives, Kashmir is quite broken. If oppression produces resistance, Kashmir is profusely resilient. From Michel Foucault to Achille Mbembe, and so much in-between, we are reminded of the myriad techniques in governance that seek to subjugate, while naming subjugation as subject formation, as protection, “security,” law and order, and progress.

Realpolitik triumphs against a backdrop of persistent refusal. Through summer heat and winter snow, across interminable stretches of concertina wire, broken windowpanes, walls, barricades, and checkpoints, the dust settles to rise again. The agony of loss. The desecration of life. Kashmir’s spiritual fatalities are staggering. The dead are not forgotten. Remembrance and mourning are habitual practises of dissent. ‘We are not free. But we know freedom,’ KP tells me. ‘The movement is our freedom. Our dreams are our freedom. India cannot take that away. Our resistance will live.'”

Dibyesh Anand

From Kafila, “We Are All Kashmiris! Or at Least Should Be!

“Democracy is as much an idea, as it is a political system. An idea for which millions have given life and even more have been killed. When non-democratic or quasi-democratic states suppress people, it is a shame, but when established democracies kill their own citizens for exercising their legitimate right to protest, it is a bigger tragedy. Bigger because it is not only men and women who die, but also the hope that democracy offers a humane and representative form of government at least for its own people.

This is the hope that is dying in the world’s largest democracy as the security forces continue to kill unarmed protestors every day for the last two months in Indian controlled Kashmir. Till date, more than a hundred, mostly young men and children, have been killed by those who are supposed to be the protectors. Evidence of torture, gratuitous killings, and sheer brutal dehumanisation of ordinary people are in abundance and yet the Indian state responds by threatening action against those who reveal the evidence and against forums (such as facebook, youtube) that allow these to be made public. There is no sense of humility, regret or introspection. No promise of impartial inquiry and strict punishment for the law-enforcers who kill and maim with impunity. Not even A of an apology.

Taking up guns is always an option. But for the last few years Kashmiris have remained steadfast in trying to keep their movement for self-determination confined to civil disobedience. With all the killings by the Indian security forces, Kashmiris have mostly refused to fall into the trap being set for them – to act violently so that they can be labelled insurgents and terrorists. Indian state seems to prefer the language of violence – the security mindset can fight violent insurgency and Islamic jihad. It feels frustrated when Kashmiris refuse to conform to the image of Islamic terrorists because India’s politics of violence is exposed for the whole world to witness. And yet, the world remains mute.”

“Democracy is not about choosing between political parties. It is the right to dissent without fear, right to express different views and be heard. Democracy is also about responsibility to fight for the rights of the others, especially if these rights are being denied in the name of our security. What Indians accept as norm (open society, right of assembly) is an exception in Kashmir (and in the restive North East regions); what Indians see as exceptional (extrajudicial killings, torture, rape by security forces with impunity) is the norm as special laws protect armed forces from scrutiny. Accountability of the coercive arms of the state is absent here and still Indian leaders harp on about Kashmir as an ‘integral’ part. If Kashmir is indeed integral, why force their lives under special draconian laws?”

“That Kashmiris are alienated is undisputed, that the Indian democracy has failed them is for all to see. However, Indians still have a slim opportunity to change this – but only if public in the country remind the Indian government that humanity and justice, not intolerance and control, should be the driving force behind a solution to the impasse. Azaadi, the call for freedom by Kashmiris, may still have room for accommodation with India if the Indians show that they care. If they rise up and express solidarity with fellow-humans in Kashmir and say ‘No, Not in Our Names’.”

Parvaiz Bukhari in Srinagar

From The Nation, “Kashmir 2010: The Year of Killing Youth

“This capital city of Indian-controlled Kashmir is now often engulfed in deathly silence, with tangled coils of concertina wire blocking its arteries. Jittery Indian troops in battle gear man the streets in this historically contested Himalayan valley of fabled beauty. Once in a while the silence is broken as armored vehicles whiz past.

Citizens under round-the-clock curfew are locked up inside their homes here, as they are in every town in the valley. For three months, shops, businesses, most government offices and schools have been shut. In a convulsion of anti-India anger, residents—thousands at a time—have defied curfew and harsh restrictions to come out on the streets almost daily, raining stones at everything that symbolizes the state’s authority. They have fought pitched battles with police and paramilitary forces, who have responded with lethal force, killing over a hundred residents in as many days, mostly teenagers and youth.

This summer’s troubles began in May, when soldiers killed three villagers in the frontier area of Kalaroos, near the heavily militarized de facto border, called the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The men were initially branded as “terrorists who had sneaked in” from the Pakistani side, but a rare police investigation subsequently revealed that soldiers had killed the villagers in cold blood.

The incident triggered widespread protests, strengthened by the long local memory of extrajudicial killings, torture and mass repression at the hands of Indian government forces, which for years struggled to put down a bloody insurgency that broke out in 1989. Those same forces now enjoy impunity in these times of the global war on terror. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who visited the region in the aftermath of the incident, came close to condoning the killing of civilians by saying that in a difficult situation, innocent people sometimes “have to suffer.” But the incident reminded Kashmiris of hundreds of unmarked graves in the frontier areas. Locals and human rights groups suspect the graves contain bodies of some of the nearly 8,000 civilians who were “disappeared” during the indiscriminately harsh Indian military campaign against the Pakistan-backed Muslim rebels, who unsuccessfully fought to wrest Kashmir from Indian rule.”

“Now the armed militants have been replaced by armies of stone-throwing youth. In the battle of stone versus bullet, the “Gen Next” of Kashmir feel they have a moral advantage over the might of the Indian state. “When I throw stones at soldiers, I know I’m staring death in its face. How else can I fight for justice without being called a terrorist?” a jeans-clad young protester said, declining to give his name, as he peered through holes in his cloth mask during a recent street clash with paramilitaries in Srinagar.

‘We’re fighting for an end to Indian occupation, for that day when we can freely decide what kind of future we want for ourselves as a people,’ Masarat Alam told me. Alam, a Muslim who was educated in a Christian missionary school, is a member of the resistance leadership, which issues rotating protest calendars every week, channeling and encouraging public anger in the hope of winning independence from Indian rule. In the past, separatists were divided along ideological lines, with some advocating Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan and others seeking full independence for the entire divided region from both India and Pakistan. Of late, the resistance leadership has tactically set aside those differences and put up a united front to wrest the region from Indian control.

Every day brings news of more unarmed protesters killed somewhere in Kashmir. The children of the conflict fight the soldiers with stones during daytime and record their memory at night, using Internet-based social media like Facebook and YouTube both to mobilize within Kashmir and to communicate with the outside world. They are delving deep in the archeology of their political history to establish connections with the past and build an archive of their memory for the future.

An example of this occurred on June 11, when the youth of one Srinagar locality planned a demonstration in memory of the victims of a massacre that had occurred seventeen years earlier, when Indian paramilitary forces had killed twenty-eight unarmed civilians. Authorities locked down the area. During protests that erupted in the adjacent neighborhood, police killed a schoolboy by firing a tear-gas canister directly at his head. The brutality ignited passions across Kashmir, triggering a deadly cycle of protests and retaliatory killings by government forces. That’s when the new, intifada-like uprising for the right to self-determination began in earnest, and when the words “Go India, Go Back” and “We Want Freedom” began to appear on the lanes and shuttered shops all over the region. On September 17, the intensity of the protests forced the government to call out the army and enforce a siege of the populated areas.

Many among the Indian political class have recently started expressing outrage at the killings of unarmed Kashmiris. But in the minds of the Kashmiris who fight the soldiers in their neighborhoods, their future is irreconcilable with that of India. In a population of 10 million, 70,000 civilians have been killed in a span of two decades, stories of widespread torture are common lore, and soldiers are protected by impunity laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The law empowers soldiers to kill any person suspected of trying to commit an offense, to search homes without a warrant and to destroy buildings suspected of harboring militants. Soldiers accused of human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings and rape cannot be prosecuted unless the federal government grants permission, of which not a single instance exists despite hundreds of petitions.

Two decades of military crackdown have transformed Kashmir into a powder keg of bitter memories. Residents often say they are subjected to collective punishment whenever they rise in protest. One protester, a postdoctoral student at the University of Kashmir, showed me a long list of crimes like rape, torture and custodial killings allegedly committed by Indian forces that he distributes among fellow demonstrators. Arguing that justice and Kashmir’s future within India are incompatible, he said, ‘Can India afford justice in Kashmir? No.’ Another protester, who said that as a young boy he witnessed two of his siblings killed and his mother molested by troops, told me, ‘To live honorably in Kashmir means to keep fighting India.'”

On the eve of the delegation’s three-day visit, three more young men, who had sustained gunshot injuries in previous days, died in hospitals, and a woman was killed by troops when a group of them were taunted by locals while withdrawing for the night from the northern town of Sopore.

“While New Delhi awaits the assessment of the visiting lawmakers, Kashmiris have already added another chapter to their unforgiving memory: year 2010 is the ‘year of killing youth.'”

Basharat Peer

From The Guardian, “8-Year-Old Kashmiri Went Out to Play. He Came Home Dead

“A few days back I travelled to Batamaloo neighbourhood in Srinagar, the capital city of Indian-controlled Kashmir. Coils of barbed wire blocked the desolate roads; thousands of Indian soldiers patrolled the streets to enforce a strict military curfew. I couldn’t reach the man I wanted to meet and finally managed to speak to him on the phone.

On 2 August Fayaz Rah, a 39-year-old fruit vendor from Batamaloo, had lunch with his wife and three children. Outside, Indian troops enforced the curfew. Yet the children would find a clearing or a courtyard to play cricket or imitate the adults and raise a slogan for Kashmir’s independence from India. His youngest son, eight-year-old Sameer, took two rupees for pocket money from his father and stepped out to join his friends near his uncle’s house.

Young Sameer walked into a lane and impulsively shouted a few slogans for Kashmir’s independence. He didn’t realise a group of Indian paramilitaries was around. They caught the eight-year-old and beat him with bamboo sticks, some blows striking his head. They then threw the boy into a clump of poison ivy bushes, but a crowd gathered. The paramilitaries called a police truck, which drove Sameer to the nearby hospital. Meanwhile, police and paramilitaries teargassed the crowd.

‘Someone told me that a child has been killed,’ said Fayaz. He called a friend in the local police and mentioned that his son, who had left home wearing a yellow T-shirt, had not returned. His friend arrived at his door with an ambulance. ‘I saw my boy on the ventilator,’ Fayaz sighed. Doctors tried for hours to revive him, but couldn’t save Sameer. ‘There is no justice in Kashmir,’ Fayaz told me. ‘Now the police claim my son died in a stampede.’

After several high-profile meetings last week, Singh’s government rejected even moderate demands such as repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act – even though a committee set up by Singh four years ago recommended doing so. Scaling back troops from residential areas wasn’t even discussed.

The Indian government did, however, despatch a delegation of parliamentarians to Kashmir for a fact-finding mission. The group arrived at Geelani’s Srinagar home on Monday afternoon, accompanied by scores of television crews. The Kashmiri leader enumerated his preconditions for peace talks: New Delhi should accept Kashmir as a dispute, free Kashmiri political prisoners, and withdraw its troops. Soldiers guilty of civilian killings must be punished, and their blanket protection withdrawn. India is not willing to concede any of these demands…

What the Singh government does next will be its big test. Various analysts and political figures have suggested unconditional, result-oriented talks with the Kashmiris and a revival of the dialogue with Pakistan. It may well be the only way to save Kashmir – and India itself – from future calamities.”