Nitasha Kaul

From openDemocracy, “Kashmir: A Place of Blood and Memory

“When you try to locate the territory of Kashmir on a world map, you will find it partitioned into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK, called ‘Azaad Kashmir’ and ‘Northern Areas’,  in Pakistan), India Occupied Kashmir (IOK, called ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ including ‘Ladakh’, in India), and areas such as Aksai Chin and Shaksam Valley under Chinese control (part of ‘Xinjiang autonomous region’ in China).

Yet, even as it is devoured by the big states that surround it, Kashmir cannot be understood through the simplistic framing of ‘India versus Pakistan’, ‘Hindu versus Muslim’, or ‘China allied with Pakistan versus India’. Instead, see Kashmir as a vital link in the Himalayan mountain chain; a historic part of the Silk Route, that is now a violent battleground. Why? Because people in none of these three regions identify themselves as primarily and ‘above all’ Pakistani, Indian, or Chinese. Neither should they be forced to.

Cartography might lie, but topography and cultural geography does not. Kashmir is not India. Kashmir is not Pakistan. Kashmir is not China. Kashmir is the boundary zone of India-China-Pakistan. But it is distinctively Kashmir. And its people – whatever their religion or national identity – are Kashmiris. In the guise of crude nationalist narratives peddled by the surrounding post-colonial states for internal politicking and international leverage, their history is being stolen from the Kashmiri people. Wherever in Kashmir they are, their options boil down to bullets or ballots – bullets if they protest being co-opted into the big country which is not their homeland, and ballots if they agree to being co-opted into the big country which is not their homeland. How can a Kashmiri live under this perpetual erasure of his or her identity? The same way that every colonised people has survived through the ages: by interpretation and by insurrection. Interpretations enable a re-understanding of the identity choices available to a person, and insurrections allow a collectivity to challenge unjust dominance by force.”

“The story of the mountain-peoples of Eurasia is, by and large, a tragedy. Run your index finger on the multi-coloured land surface of a modern day political world map, and you will see how many ‘problem areas’ (some states, some sub-state entities, some overlapping zones of displaced peoples) – Tibet, Kashmir, North Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria – were thriving zones of contact between diverse communities that traded goods and exchanged ideas along the arteries of the ‘Silk Route’. Like many of these other places, Kashmir, a Himalayan zone of contact between diverse peoples in history, has become a zone of conflict, due in large measure to modern boundary-making processes which evolved to accommodate economic privileges and political trade-offs with rivals that were necessary for European (especially British) colonisation of the region.”

“The bureaucrats and politicians at the centre do not have direct interaction with the regions; their interest is only to have a ‘reliable’ power base in the periphery. Equally, the local elites in the periphery exaggerate reports of their influence over ‘their’ people in order to gain maximum advantage from the centre. This pattern of (what I would call) Mandarin-Machiavelli interaction has characterised the relationship of India with Kashmir (or rather of New Delhi with Srinagar). Neither the centre nor the periphery has any interest in being genuinely concerned about the people in whose name they wield power and exercise authority. What is more, in such a scenario, there is enormous potential of corruption as long as it doesn’t harm the ruling interests of both ends of the chain, and any dissent will only be tolerated if it can be channeled for political gains. Otherwise, those dissenting or seeking change will be punished and brutalised. This is exactly what is happening in IOK today.”

“IOK (‘India occupied Kashmir’, called ‘Jammu and Kashmir’, including ‘Ladakh’, in India) has never been an indisputable part of India. Paradoxically, presenting this historical fact invariably causes most Indians to assert even more vigorously that Kashmir is an ‘integral’ part of India.”

“Internationally, the Indian state has thrived by trading on its publicised self-image as democratic, secular, and peaceful…So successful is this illusion about India, that the world media consistently under-reports the Indian state’s brutality when it comes to Naxalites, the ‘North East’ (the only part of the country which is referred to by geographical co-ordinates; a telling synecdochic use of the generic term ‘north east’ to refer to one or all of the seven different states together), and always, Kashmir.”

“In the name of ‘national integration’, India is occupying a region against the will of the people who live there. Kashmir is ‘integral’ only to the life of Kashmiris.”

“The demand of the Kashmiri people is ‘Azaadi’. Freedom. Freedom to be themselves, to choose their national destiny. We are not Indians. We are Kashmiris. We have a history, a language, a culture that demands recognition.”

“Kashmiris are not allowed to protest, denied freedom of assembly, even as they are under occupation by a democracy. When they shout ‘enough’, they are shot by ‘security’ forces.”

“By focusing on the stone in the hands of the Kashmiri protestors…the Indian media manages to erase the brutality of the pointed gun in the hands of the soldiers who face them.”

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