News Features

 Kashmir at crossroads

By Jawayria Malik
With the recent surge in crisis in Kashmir, Nehru’s passion for bringing Kashmir within the fold of India seems to be on its last legs. Hundreds and thousands of Kashmiris had been marching to demand freedom from India without any fear. Ruthless and indiscriminate firing and teargas shelling by the Indian forces to breakup the renewed protests by Muslims in Kashmir against New Delhi’s rule in the disputed region have turned out to be futile efforts to keep the Kashmiris under their thumb any longer. The valley of Jammu and Kashmir has been under repression for the last 61 years, but the murderous and communally-charged violence, which tore apart the valley this summer, had never occurred. Reportedly, at least 40 protesters had been killed by security forces in the Muslim-majority valley since last month, when some of the largest pro-independence rallies broke out since a revolt against New Delhi’s rule in 1989.

Since June 29, the trouble had been brewing in Kashmir over the local government’s move to transfer 100 acres of valley’s forest land to a trust managing a Hindu pilgrimage - the ‘Amarnath yatra’. This move came out to be a big blow and was seen in the valley as promoting Hindutva nationalism to counter Kashmiri separatists. Rightly or wrongly, the land transfer was viewed as the thin edge of the wedge and it prompted the trepidation that it was the beginning of a detailed plan to rebuild Israel-style settlements and change the demography of the valley. Having failed to anticipate the Muslim’s reaction, the government transferred land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) in order to placate Hindu-communal sentiment.

Massive protests by Muslims against this ill-conceived move of land transfer forced the valley to shut down completely. Within hours the protests spread from the cities to villages. Eventually, taken completely by surprise at the ferocity of the response, the government revoked the land transfer. That decision, however, enraged Hindus who blocked the highway to Srinagar, which led to the Muslims of the Kashmir valley exploding in anti-India protest. Meanwhile, Jammu protests turned viciously communal as the BJP fished in troubled waters. Sadly the Congress’ Jammu leaders also joined the agitators using the acid-throwing methods, displaying trishuls with the national flag, supporting Hindutva and demonisation of all Kashmiri Muslims as “anti-national” added to the ferocity of the valley protests. It goes without saying that the Amarnath land dispute sparked the massive anti-India rallies in Srinagar and Pampore. Separatism is no longer driven by fear of militant guns; today separatism is spearheaded by a far more serious threat that is popular will. The economic blockade, massive protests and hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris marching to demand ‘azadi’ from India, sharpened the feeling that now is the time for conceding the demands of people of Kashmir. It is not just Arundhati Roy, Swaminathan Aiyar or Vir Sanghvi who strongly advocated granting of right to self-determination to people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir but the surveys conducted by various organisations in the New Delhi overwhelmingly supported granting freedom to the people of Kashmir.

It has been for two decades now that Kashmiris are living in one of the most militarized regions of the world, with 800,000 troops stationed in the 15,520 sq km Kashmir valley and running under laws that give them impunity from prosecution. Charges of extra-judicial killings, rapes, abductions and torture were levelled against them with chilling regularity and resentment continues to simmer over the disappearance of thousands of Kashmiris. The Indian Government has consistently denied Kashmiri calls to demilitarise, saying the terror infrastructure across the border in Pakistan has yet to be dismantled. And most tragically, the autonomy which was promised to Jammu and Kashmir in the treaty of accession was never honoured rather the clauses of the treaty continue to be violated with impunity.

But now it is time that the Indian Government realises that the military occupation of Kashmir has not paid them anything but fatigue. It has allowed Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims in Kashmir. India can survive without Kashmir, if it has to; but it cannot survive without the idea of India, central to which is the right of democratic dissent and the free will of people. These are not dissonants but real patriotic voices indicative of the national mood. Rightly, in the words of Arundhati Roy, India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as – if not more than – Kashmir needs azadi from India. Indian Government should adhere to the voices and better accord Kashmiris their right of self-determination before it ruins everything.