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.'”