Month: May 2011

Mirza Waheed

From The Guardian: On Kashmir India acts as a Police State…

Many years ago, I met two journalists from India in London and we found ourselves talking about Kashmir. Mostly, they listened patiently to my impassioned tale of what goes on, but the moment I touched upon the brutal counter-insurgency methods employed by the Indian security apparatus in the disputed territory – among them notorious “catch-and-kill” operations to execute suspected militants – they looked incredulous, made a quick excuse and left. Later, I learned that at least one of them believed that Kashmiris liked to exaggerate the excesses of the Indian armed forces.

In the reaction of those two men, I had witnessed the frightening success of India’s policy of denial and misrepresentation on Kashmir. India’s decision to censor the Economist last week, following the publication of a map that shows the disputed borders of Kashmir, represents two unsurprising but ominous things: that the country’s age-old intransigence over Kashmir still runs deep; and its willingness to curb freedom of speech over what it sees as sensitive matters of national interest. On Kashmir India continues to behave as a police state, not as the champion of democracy and freedom that it intends to be.

There is nothing astonishing or new in this. For decades, India has not only been unwilling to solve one of the world’s most tragic conflicts but has scuttled any attempt at meaningful discourse on the issue, both internationally and within the country. The ultimately pointless attempt at censorship by asking the magazine to paste stickers on a representation of areas controlled by India, Pakistan and China is, sadly, in line with its inflexible and deeply flawed Kashmir policy. To come good on its insistence that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” – and it does lash out at any attempt to suggest otherwise – it maintains the world’s largest military presence in a single region, to suppress the revolt that erupted against its rule in 1989. An uprising that continues in the form of a civilian resistance.

Last year, in what we now remember as Kashmir’s bloody summer, its paramilitaries and police killed more than a hundred protesters, most of them young men and schoolchildren. Among those killed was Sameer Rah, a nine-year-old boy from Srinagar, who was bludgeoned to death and his body dumped by a kerb. The image of his bruised, purple body is now permanently etched in the collective consciousness of Kashmiris at home and across the world, and may haunt India’s political and intellectual elites for a long time. In response to this brutalisation of a people – the Kashmir valley remained in virtual siege for weeks – a cogent narrative of what I call “new dissent” began to evolve in Kashmir and India, scripted by Kashmiris themselves and by some of India’s bravest public intellectuals, writers and journalists.

However, both the central government and its clients in the state tried everything to suppress this new wave of dissent; they introduced draconian measures to silence the voice of Kashmiris and their supporters in Delhi. TV channels were forced off air, newspapers were not allowed to print for weeks, text messaging was banned, and later on, in India’s capital, a lower court even charged Arundhati Roy with sedition. But the urge to report to the world what was unfolding in Kashmir was ultimately unstoppable. Kashmiri youth turned to social media to get the word out.

And it did get out, aided by India’s fascinatingly diverse intelligentsia and those sections of the Indian media that have of late started to look at Kashmir with new understanding and empathy, and not through the disingenuous prism of national interest.

The Economist’s map on Kashmir – which must have received many more page views than had it not been declared contraband – contains nothing that contests historical facts or misrepresents ground reality. Essentially, the magazine has produced a graphical account of geopolitical status in the region – namely, Kashmir is a disputed territory, with India and Pakistan as the main contestants, but Kashmiris as the central party as it is their future that has been a point of dispute. A dispute that the UN recognises as such in its charter of 1948 – and in its maps. I have found maps produced by the UN to be the most accurate and impartial.

When, and why, do states censor maps? Mostly when the operating principle seems to be denial and obfuscation. For years, the Indian state has attempted to delegitimise people’s aspirations in Kashmir, either by raising the bogey of Islamism or lumping together the challenge to its authority in Kashmir with the US-led war on terror. For most of the 1990s and the early years of the new millennium it succeeded. Ironically, as a consequence of the emergence of “new India” and the burgeoning of the country’s affluent middle classes, the Economist – a magazine previously considered the preserve of business elites – is now selling more copies in India. It is seen as influential, and capable of altering opinion – hence the kneejerk reaction to the map. The Indian government is doing a huge disservice to its democratic credentials by trying to confiscate the truth about one of the world’s most tragic, intractable and dangerous conflicts.

Gautam Navlakha detained at Srinagar Airport

Press Note: For immediate release

From: Dr. Angana Chatterji, Convener IPTK and Professor, Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies; and advocate Parvez Imroz, Convener IPTK and Founder, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society


Srinagar, May 28, 2011: On May 28, 2011, Mr. Gautam Navlakha, Convener, International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir (IPTK) and Editorial Consultant, Economic and Political Weekly, was stopped at Srinagar airport on his arrival from New Delhi, and asked to go back. Officials invoked Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. By the time the authorities finalized their decision regarding his return, there were no remaining flights out of Srinagar. Mr. Navlakha is being detained and taken to an undisclosed location until May 29, when he will be allowed to return home.

Mr. Navlakha is a noted public intellectual and peace activist. His denial of entry raises urgent concerns about the status of freedom of speech and movement in Kashmir. Given the egregious violence that was inflicted on people by state forces in the Summer of 2008, 2009, and 2010 in Kashmir, we are deeply concerned that state forces not suppress democratic activities in the Summer of 2011, and not isolate Kashmiris from human rights defenders that travel to Kashmir to bear witness to atrocities and speak for peace and justice.

We understand that harassment, intimidation, and threats to IPTK members or their families are acts aimed to target and obstruct the work of the Tribunal. In November 2010, Professor Richard Shapiro, an academic from the United States and life-partner of IPTK Co-convener Angana Chatterji, was denied entry into India without any charges or due process.

Earlier, in June 2008, IPTK Co-convener Pravez Imroz and his family were targeted and an explosive device was thrown at his home. Imroz has been denied a passport. In July 2008, a First Information Report charged Angana Chatterji and IPTK Co-convener Zahir-Ud-Din, then editor of Etalaat English Daily, with acting to incite crimes against the state, following his publication of an article on mass graves written by Chatterji. IPTK Liaison Khurram Parvez has been threatened and is extensively surveilled. All Tribunal communications and the movements of its members in India and abroad are monitored.

We remain gravely concerned about the physical and psychological safety and integrity of all Tribunal members. We remain gravely concerned about our ability to continue our work, and the ability of out-of-state Tribunal members to travel to Kashmir.

Suvaid Yaseen

From Kashmir Dispatch: “The Storytellers and the Idea of Kashmir

Excerpt: “…Over coffee, you explain the ingredients of kong-e-kehwa, made from the costliest spice in the world, the best quality of which Kashmir produces. With lunch you boast about Kashmiri Wazwaan, cooked for days together, the best quality available on weddings. With heat you talk about snow. With fog and smog you talk of clear summer skies. With AC you talk about the electricity produced in Kashmir, and taken by India. All Kashmiri.

These are softer themes. At University protests, over fee hikes and the like, you give a sarcastic smile when police provide the security. And when at times they selectively do nothing when they should actually intervene.

You read the morning newspaper and tell people about the news items relating to Kashmir, and tell them how they haven’t, more often than not, portrayed the full story.

These are bits and pieces. There is a grand narrative which one has to repeat. After the introduction. Infinitely. With almost every person introduced.Someone asks you about you. You say you are Kashmiri. “Oh! Indian.” “No Kashmiri.” You insist. Then you talk and talk. Discuss, argue, politely. You lose patience, you keep patient. Talk.

Question: “Okay! You are from Kashmir! Such a lovely place. I just love it. I so want to visit it… at least once in my life. But… is it safe?”
Answer: “Sure. Well, yes… safe… relatively, more or less!”
Q: “Don’t you feel scared there.”
A: “Fear is everywhere. In Kashmir, just the geography changes.”
Q: “Lovely place, but for the terrorist attacks on innocent people. Thank God for the security forces!”
A: “Yes, mujhh… I mean, militants do attack Indian forces sometimes.”
Q: “Do you really want to live with Pakistan?”
A: “We want to decide whatever. Just that.”
Q: “But won’t you create an Islamic state if India leaves?”
A: “Well…”
Q: “Tell me something about Kashmir. I’m really interested to know.”
A: “IOK”Call: “Hey! Happy Republic Day!” Response: “That’s for Indians. Not me!”

Replies: Standard narratives. Repeated many times over. Personal stories. Insider takes on politics, history. 1586. Akbar. Afghans. Sikhs. Dogras. 13th July 1931. Sheikh. 47. Indians. Army. Occupation. 1953. 1975. Maqbool Bhat. 89. HAJY. 90’s. Naebid. Ragda. 2010. Azaadi. Longing for Azaadi.

Vocabulary: Shaheed – Martyr. Shaheed Malguzaar – Martyr’s Graveyards. Hartals – Strikes. Crackdowns. Curfews – declared, undeclared. Half-widows. Disappeared. Torture. Papa-1, Papa-2. IB & Cargo. Cant. SOG & RR. Terms you explain with pride. Words, imposed, hated.” …

This essay is part of a collection of writing published in “Paper txt msgs from Kashmir,” an upcoming e-book and video based project that has developed from a lo-fi participatory media work, initiated by artist Alana Hunt, that humorously responded to the banning of pre-paid phone connections in J&K in late 2009.

Arundhati Roy (excerpts from an interview with David Barsamian)

From Malayalanatu: Revolts and Rebellions

The summer of 2010 was one of the bloodiest in Indian-administered Kashmir. It was the summer of the stones and the stone throwers. You’ve been going to Kashmir and writing about it. What are those stones saying and who are the stone throwers?

I guess we should qualify the bloodiest, because obviously it’s been a very bloody time since the early 1990s for the people of Kashmir. We know that something like 68,000 have been killed. But this summer the difference, I think, was that having somehow strangled the militant uprising of the early 1990s and convinced itself that under the boot of this military occupation what the Indian government likes to call normalcy had returned, and that it had somehow managed to co-opt the groovy young people into coffee shops and radio stations and TV shows. As usual, powerful states and powerful people like to believe their own publicity. And they believed that, that they had somehow managed to break the spine of this movement. Then suddenly, for three summers in a row, there was this kind of street uprising.  In a way what happened over the last three summers was similar to Tahrir Square in Egypt over and over again, but without a neutral army, with a security force that was actually not showing restraint and was shooting into the crowds and so on. So what we saw is a sentiment for freedom, which keeps expressing itself in different ways.

This way was difficult, I think, for an establishment that has over the last 20 years entrenched itself and geared itself to deal with militancy and some sort of armed struggle, and was now faced with young people, armed only with stones. And with all this weaponry that the Indian government has poured in there, they didn’t know what to do with those stones.

Couple this with the fact that one of the other great weapons of the Indian occupation has been the manipulation of the Indian media. That was like a big, noisy dam of misinformation. That was breached with the new techniques of Facebook and Twitter and YouTube. So the stories were coming out. These were the two new things that the Indian government was faced with.

Kashmir is criss-crossed with a grid of army camps, interrogation centers, prisons, guard posts, bunkers, watchtowers. It has now earned the dubious distinction of being the most militarized zone in the world. People like you and me are somewhat privileged. We go there for a while and come out. But what is living under occupation like for Kashmiris?

I think a good thing is that Kashmiris have begun to write and speak about that themselves, so I don’t think it needs someone like me to really tell that story. Because, like you said, we don’t know that story from personal experience. You and I are not the people who would be stopped and humiliated at a check post. I keep wondering about the fact that, of course, the human rights reports and the newspaper stories are about deaths or false arrests or torture, but not about the quality of the air there. I keep wondering how you would feel if you were just stopped at a check post and your mother or father was slapped or beaten up or your husband was just humiliated, just casually—not necessarily your husband — anybody who you were with. That kind of thing happens in prisons. It’s like a kind of prison memoir—you could write about that sort of daily humiliation— where you’re told, “This is the hierarchy and this is who you will bow your head to, regardless of what you think or don’t think.” They (the security forces)  think nothing of putting out a news item saying, “This boy was shot because he didn’t stop when we asked him to stop.”

I just want to say that that the Indian government has waged wars on the edges of this country—in Kashmir, in Manipur, in Nagaland, in Mizoram, in Assam—ever since India was independent. Kashmir is not the only place where there are check posts and bunkers and killings and humiliation. But war has now spread to the heart of this country. The Indian state doesn’t want to consider or address the conversations that are coming out of Kashmir, or read the messages on those stones. but the rest of India is becoming Kashmir in some ways. The militarization, the repression, all of that is spreading to the whole country.

Why isn’t Kashmir getting more international attention?

Good question. When the uprisings happened in Egypt, and when people moved into Tahrir Square, I, being somebody who has sort of followed the ways in which the international media reports things, began to wonder. Why does it choose some uprisings and not others? Because the bravery of people, whether it’s in Egypt or whether it’s in Kashmir or whether it’s in the Congo, wherever it’s going on, one is not questioning that. But why will the international, Western media, in particular, pick up one and switch the lights off on the other? That’s really the question.

As we saw in Egypt, you had this kind of breathless reporting about this move for democracy, and then the headlines actually said “Egypt is Free, Military Rule.” Why will they not talk about Kashmir and talk about Egypt? It’s just your politics, isn’t it? Egypt is so important for the Americans and the Western establishment to control, because without Egypt the siege of Gaza doesn’t exist. And you know that Hosni Mubarak, if you read the papers from a few months ago, was ill, was dying. There had to be a replacement. There was going to be a real problem during the handover of power. I don’t think that it will necessarily succeed, but I think the attempt was to kind of use and direct peoples’ energy in a sort of controlled-fission experiment. But so far as Kashmir goes, right now the Afghanistan, Pakistan, India equation vaults over Kashmir.

It’s not something that the international world—the world of corporations, the world of markets, the world of even strategic geopolitics—sees as something that’s going to change the status quo. There are deals being made. The West needs Pakistan very badly. It cannot do anything with Afghanistan unless Pakistan is on board. And yet it needs India badly for two reasons: one is the great, huge, big market; and the other is as a very willing fallback for a presence in South Asia, given the rise of China. So it is seen as a stable and willing ally right now that should not be ignored. So to annoy India on Kashmir is not something that strategically suits the Western powers right now.

A week before candidate Obama was elected in 2008, he announced that Kashmir would be among his “critical tasks.” How was that comment received in Delhi? And what has Obama done since then to follow up? He was in India in November of 2010.

That comment was treated with absolute and righteous outrage by the Indian establishment. And I think it was made very clear to him, or to anybody who says anything about Kashmir internationally, that the Indian establishment will use everything in its power to make sure that people back down. And Obama backed down. He came here at a time when the streets of Kashmir were full of young people calling for azadi, when already many people had been killed. And he said nothing.

Azadi is freedom. Talk a bit about post-colonial states, not just India. For example, Frantz Fanon, who was active in the resistance in Algeria to oust the French, wrote, We don’t want to change white policemen for brown or black ones. He was talking about fundamental changes in the structures of power. Algeria, after independence, evolved into a tyrannical state, not the state that the revolution was dreaming of.

That’s the thing. You’re not allowed to use that word “revolution” anymore. It’s sort of passé, and they will tell you that you’re an old socialist with dead dreams. That word has passed out of the political lexicon in some ways. I began to think about this when I was actually in the forest with the comrades. People accused Maoists in India of believing in what they call protracted war. And they do believe in it. But I was thinking about what is protracted war. And the fact that from the moment India became independent, it began a protracted war. That war has been fought since 1947 in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Kashmir, Hyderabad, Goa, Telangana, of course later the Punjab. They announced Operation Green Hunt last year. There is a situation of war in the heart of India. Who are these people who have had war declared on them again and again and again? If you look at it, they are, the people of Manipur, Nagaland, and Mizoram, largely tribal, many of them Christians. In Kashmir it’s been a Muslim population that has borne the brunt of it. In Telangana it was largely tribal. Against the Naxalites in the 1967 uprising, also it was largely tribal, poor, Dalit. In Hyderabad it was Muslims. In Goa it was Christians. So you see somehow a pattern of an upper-caste Hindu state waging war continuously on the other. When there is a problem, like there was, let’s say, in Bombay in 1993 or in Gujarat in 2002, when the agressors are Hindus, then the security forces are on the side of the people who are doing the killing.

So what does this say about post-colonial states? I’ve said this again and again, I don’t know any longer what you mean when you say India this or India that. You see a situation where the middle and upper classes have seceded into outer space, and the global elites are acting together against an increasingly disempowered mass of people in the world. And you see how cleverly things are twisted. Constantly people will say to me, “Oh, you are very unpopular in India,” because the elite and the establishment appropriates the definition of India They are India. And then the games. Like, for example, in Kashmir this summer what was the slogan? It was “Go, India, go.” That slogan has been appropriated for the World Cup for cricket, “Go, India, go.” It’s just been totally leached of meaning and become the opposite of what people meant it as. So the post-colonial state, even the name of the country, has been taken over by the elite.

I’ll say this: That I think that the struggle in Kashmir, with the people in Kashmir, the fight that’s going on there, one of the attempts has been to isolate them, to put them into a ghetto and make them live in an intellectual and political ghetto, where anybody with any ideas, any vision, any sense of leadership is shot and jailed and disappeared. That’s, obviously, the technique which all repressive regimes use. But that struggle has to get out of its ghetto and make alliances with what’s going on, not just in India but in the rest of the world. That will lead to a kind of political maturity, where you yourself don’t fall into the trap of falling into the conventional understanding of a nation state.

One of the characteristics of post-colonial states is the manipulation of oppressed minorities. For example, Kashmiris are sent to police and patrol in Chhattisgarh, and people from the northeast are sent to Kashmir to do the exact same thing.

That’s also something that I’ve written about, that India acts just like a colonial state, just like Indians were sent to Iraq and all over the place to fight Britain’s wars for it. And you see the sort of unknown Indian soldier buried all over the world, fighting for empire. And even within India, if you look at it historically, look at 1857—some call it a mutiny, some call it the first freedom struggle—you will see that’s exactly what happened. How many British soldiers were there in India? Not that many. But, for instance, in 1857 the Sikhs fought on the side of the British in the ransacking of Delhi. But today India does that. It sends Nagas to Chhattisgarh, it sends Chhattisgarhis to Kashmir, it sends Kashmiris to Orissa.

And constantly, even in today’s papers, you will see on the front page—look at all these Kashmiris, they actually want to join the army, they actually want to join the police. There is a sort of humiliation. Yesterday’s papers had the fact that the Valley’s people quietly accept compensation. So what happens, somebody is killed by the security forces, then even to take compensation for that killing is wrong. If you were to take help from, let’s say the resistance—not that that help is forthcoming—that would be wrong too. That’s a limitation of the movement in Kashmir, that they have not supported each other in dealing with the deaths, the repression. But if they did, that would have been wrong, too. So everything is wrong. It’s not a double bind; it’s a triple bind or a quadruple bind. And everything is used to humiliate you, not just torture or killing but psychologically, in every sort of way.

The constant refrain from the Indian government is that Kashmir is an integral part of India, atut ang, is the phrase in Hindi. And the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who was finance minister in the early 1990s, when so-called neoliberal reforms were introduced in India, acknowledged that there has been “some turbulence” in Kashmir but things were now “under control.” And then he went on to say that there would be no replication of the Middle East events. Why? He said, “Because India is a functioning democracy.” There are a lot of formulaic expressions, obviously, when politicians talk, but there is also something deeply revealed about the justification that the state puts out to remain in Kashmir. 

If you look at it with this idea of India being a functioning democracy and that the events of the Middle East will not be replicated, much of it is just based on falsehoods and on an assertion rather than any kind of real analysis. To begin with, why the head of a functioning democracy has never won an election in his life, is a good question. From there we can start. From the history of what Kashmir’s relationship is to India politically and geographically and all of that. See, these are not the reasons why there may or may not be a replication of that situation.

The reason that there may not be a replication of that situation in Kashmir next summer is that there is a huge crackdown going on, hundreds of young people are being caught and put into jail. There is talk of shutting down Facebook. There are police just going around intimidating people, burning things, breaking windowpanes in people’s homes. In a place where the temperature can be -30C, you can imagine what that means. So if there isn’t a replication, it’s not because it’s a functioning democracy but because it’s a functioning military occupation. To say that India is a functioning democracy, I would say that there are certainly parts of India, take areas of Delhi like Greater Kailash or Vasant Vihar or Jor Bagh or Green Park, which is a functioning democracy. But it’s not a functioning democracy in Dantewada, it’s not a functioning democracy in Kashmir, nor in Manipur, nor in Orissa, nor in Jharkhand, nor in Chhattisgarh.

In fact, I would ask the prime minister of ours one question: If an ordinary person, let’s say an ordinary tribal person in a village in Chhattisgarh, had been treated unjustly—by unjustly we just mean if a few of his family members had been killed or his daughter had been raped by a security force—which institution in this country can a poor person appeal to in order for us to call it a democracy? Which institution? There is not one left now.

Given the level of opposition to its rule in Kashmir, what keeps India there? 

A whole lot of things. One is that both India and Pakistan have a great vested interest now in keeping Kashmir on the boil, a vested interest that ranges from political to actual material. To have 700,000 soldiers there, you can imagine the amount of money that’s poured into that occupation and what’s going on with that money—property, concertina wire, petrol, vehicles. Power. The power to control a population like that. The business deals with the collaborators and the local elites. It’s like running a little country. Why would anybody want to give that up? That’s one thing.

The other thing is that, oddly enough, it’s just become such a question of the national ego that to rethink that position when you’re so far down into the tunnel would require a great amount of vision. Then you have a situation where political parties, let’s say, in India, are vying with each other. Like if the Congress, that’s in power now, would do anything that remotely resembled something progressive, the Bhartiya Janata Party would immediately try and capitalize on it. So this democracy doesn’t have any space to maneuver in that sense, because it’s a democracy, and the other party is just waiting to capitalize on the poisonous publicity that you’ve already used to keep this machine going.

So there are a lot of reasons why. And yet today I think that one of the really big problems that the state faces is that after very many years there are fissures in the consensus amongst Indians, and those fissures have come because people have seen this sort of undeniably mass democratic unarmed protest day after day, year after year in Kashmir. And people are affected by it. They’re not easily able to say, “Oh, these are militants, these are Islamists, these are Taliban.” So there has been a fracturing of the old consensus. And in the case of the war in Chhattisgarh and Orissa and Jharkhand and in the case of places like Kashmir, and even Manipur to some extent, the fact is that the state is very well aware that that massive consensus is a bit shaky. There are cracks, and serious ones.

A journalist in Kashmir told me that over the last several years top Israeli military and intelligence officials have been visiting Kashmir. What are they doing there?

I think that the U.S. is aware of the fact that Pakistan is on very shaky ground. We know it’s a nuclear power. We know that the whole adventure in Afghanistan is on the skids. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to get out. They want to get out, I think, but they don’t know how to get out, even, now. You have the rise of China. You have a huge, huge, huge stake in the gas fields of Central Asia. And you have Pakistan, an old, old ally, that’s also on the skids, partly because of the US’s history of intervention or, I would say, almost wholly because of that. Pakistan was never allowed to administer its own affairs, ever since it became a country. That country has not been allowed to develop democratic institutions. At least India was allowed to, and now its kind of hollowing them out, but Pakistan was never allowed to. In this battle the U.S. needs to step back on to surer ground. It needs a new frontier because the Pakistan frontier is collapsing. And I think that’s what’s going on. How do they now build a retreat in Ladakh, in Kashmir, in these areas where it’s a fallback plan?

And the Israeli involvement?

That’s the same as the American involvement. There is no difference between them. The Israelis and the Indians are now thick.