Anuj Chopra

From Foreign Policy: “Killing the Messenger

“Sedition, a charge that is obsolete in most democratic societies, is often employed to squelch dissenting voices in totalitarian cultures. So it’s disquieting when there are boisterous calls to use it to curb politically unpalatable opinions in a liberal democracy like India. This is exactly what happened last week after Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy told a convention of political activists and Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi that “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India.” It was, she said, a “historical fact.”

Azaadi — “freedom” in Urdu and the cri de coeur of Kashmiris — is bewildering to most Indians, and more often than not provokes an aggressively nationalistic response. “What is the meaning of azaadi?” people here ask. Kashmiris have the right to democratically elect their own government; the Indian constitution accords the Himalayan state a “special status”; the territory receives more monetary assistance from New Delhi than any other Indian state. And yet this “spoiled” and “pampered” lot — in the words of one right-wing Hindu organization — wants to break away from us?

Such attitudes only hardened this summer, as the region was convulsed by violent anti-India protests that by many accounts were far worse than the onset of the armed Islamist insurgency in 1989. The Kashmiri “Intifada” was triggered in early June by the killing of a 17-year-old Kashmiri student by Indian security personnel. The ensuing violence claimed 110 lives.

The apathy and indifference of Indians towards Kashmiris’ grievances has deepened despair throughout the Kashmir valley. Material inducements and a modicum of political representation cannot heal Kashmir’s existential scars, much less expunge the spirit of azaadi. Kashmir has its own government, but it is just as directly controlled by New Delhi as the army, paramilitary forces, and intelligence agencies that have descended upon the state. Democratic spaces have shrunk over the last two decades. India guarantees free speech to its citizens, but curbs all varieties of political dissent in Kashmir. Protesters in many corners of India throw stones, but only in Kashmir do the authorities respond with live ammunition.”

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