THE PERCEPTION: Kashmir is perceived by India as a crowning glory never to be given up. The neighbor, Pakistan, grudges this beautiful piece of paradise as legitimately belonging to them on account of the Muslim majority but India cleverly had snatched it away. Kashmir, under a Hindu Maharaja, on the eve of India’s independence in 1947 was forcibly made to join India. Wars were fought under the protegee of Pakistan and later, militants attacked under Islamic ideology. As a safeguard, India imposed the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act from 1990’s that gave unrestrained powers to the Indian Army to torture, kill suspects and in that process, mass rape cases and mass massacres occurred that now haunts present day India. The State Human Rights Commission discovered unmarked graves in thousands across three districts and more evidences are pouring in. Kashmir would never forget the bleeding and the pain of being kept in bondage, and it aspires with all its deepest desire to be free from that bondage. But India refuses to acknowledge, recognized and accept this true feelings of people and considers Kashmir as integral part of India.
Like all normal Indians, I prided in Kashmir as a prized possession to be kept as a valuable treasure under India. Like all ignorant Indians, I believed Kashmir as integral part of Indian sovereignty and showed disdain towards the trespassers. All of these changed after my visit to the beautiful vale in July, 2011; I was appalled at the underdevelopment of a state in existence as a political entity from ancient times, the beauty looked deserted with no visitors to admire and supplement income to the impoverished state, the beautiful, simple and hospitable locals hardly looked threatening and violent to be chased and killed ruthlessly by the Indian Army. I talked to the most ordinary to listen to the most genuine words and all that I heard was voices of freedom, ”Azad”, in unison. It was this voice that was stuck in my mind like a stamp. As I later turned to the pages of related articles on Kashmir; having come from a domicile of similar background in northeast India, I empathized the agony on the impact of the draconian law that torture, kill and rape under arbitrary rule. I cannot help thinking on the injustice that stands deemed beyond redemption by mere state building; it needs repair of the heart to lift the broken spirit with liberty and freedom.
THE TRUTH: A couple of days back, the state government announced its state development plans and promised partial withdrawal of Armed Forces special Powers Act (AFSPA) as a panacea from decades long injuries and perhaps to help forget the dream of freedom. I now realized, it is utter foolishness or arrogance to take Kashmir’s aspiration of freedom as mere territorial dispute or sponsored terrorism from cross the border that needed such a draconian law, in the first place. The aspiration for freedom is a Kashmir heritage rooted to its history that dates back to 1931 liberation movement under the leadership of Sher-i-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir) Sheikh Abdullah which marked the beginning of a strong Kashmiri Nationalism. The movement was directed against the tyranny of the Hindu ruler Hari Singh.
In the aftermath of India’s partition with Pakistan in 1947, the Hindu ruler acceded to India under threat of invasion from Pathan tribesmen backed by Pakistan. The theory of accession of princely states depended on the ruler but in practice, they were encouraged to accede to either India or Pakistan depending on the wishes of the people and in cases where a dispute arose, it was decided to settle the question of accession by a plebiscite, a scheme proposed and accepted by India. Being a Muslim majority state, Kashmir was expected to accede to Pakistan; since the Hindu ruler acceded instead to India, a dispute arose in the case of Kashmir.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian Prime Minister, who himself hailed from Kashmir, promised a plebiscite or referendum regarding the future of the state. The 1948 Indian White Paper clearly recorded the accession of Kashmir to India as only provisional until such time; the will of the people (self-determination) of the state could be ascertained by a plebiscite. India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire to hold a plebiscite which was never carried out till date with India blaming Pakistan for not withdrawing the troops and India resisted the plebiscite efforts from 1954 in view of the Cold War alliances between Pakistan and the US. Both India and Pakistan blamed each other for the failure but Kashmir is considering the breach of promise as caused by India and a blatant denial of self-determination.
THE DECEPTION: The democratic governance under election rigging ensured a puppet leadership of imperialist India. The direct control from Delhi in the name of democratic governance and national integrity interferes with the autonomy granted to the state under article 370 of the constitution. The repressive Armed Forces Special Powers Act introduced to the state in 1990 led to arbitrary arrests, torture and killing of thousands of innocent civilians. The repression in turn gave rise to militant insurgencies started since 1987. Thousands of disaffected youths who joined the freedom movement in 1989 demanded a plebiscite in 1990. This popular insurgency was brutally repressed forcing 10,000 desperate Kashmiri youth to cross over to Pakistan for training and procurement of arms.
Pakistan fought India four times over Kashmir in 1947, 1965 (Operation Gibraltar), 1971 and 1999 (Kargil). Pakistan had hoped that Kashmiris would rise against the Indian Rule in 1965 following Operation Gibraltar, but that did not happen. Thus, when a full-blown indigenous insurgency erupted in 1989, Pakistan was only too happy to take advantage of the golden opportunity to fuel the insurgency by supplying arms and training Kashmiri and foreign militants to the faction that favored accession to Pakistan while decimating the pro- independence faction to political entity.
The army atrocities in Kashmir are now gradually revealed by reports of the State Human Rights Commission in the recent discovery of mass graveyards in thousands of the discovered dead from district to district. Mass rape cases by army are being unearthed. These sordid memories cannot simply fade away by announcement of development work in decade’s long retarded economy and by an announcement to withdraw army atrocity partially. The toll of the bleeding suffered by Kashmir cannot be compensated by these belated gestures and the legacy of freedom fought even prior to India’s independence cannot be taken away by anybody, including the local leadership speaking on behalf of the oppressor whom Kashmiris looked upon as colonialist and imperialist.
THE DILEMMA: Islamic violence through Jidahists strikes in front and kills the enemy immediately; then the grieving is loud. Hindu non violence passive approach strikes from behind that kills slowly; so the grieving is unheard. Slow killing is applied to all minority groups in India and most blatantly evidenced in Kashmir. Kashmir is dead from within through these years of torture. One cannot help wondering if the recent announcement of partial relieve from a coercive law and the promise of a beautiful future plan to develop the state is only to fool the world that something good is being done to Kashmir at last. But what use are such grandiose promises when the spirit of the people is dead from inside? Right now, Kashmir needs the spirit to live again, it needs freedom of life and that freedom should grant the people to live without fear of being tortured killed and rape gain. Kashmiris needs freedom to live on their own, to be away from the threats of being attacked again and again.
The global brethren of Kashmir are only bothered with Palestine issue that aims for elimination of Israel. To them, Kashmir is only a story to be sympathized but hardly a subject to take up seriously in world forum. Pakistan is restrained by India and India’s well known non responsiveness towards people in the margin raises no expectation anymore. USA is finding no oil to pursue in Kashmir; hence its gang of friends in the UN is not really bothered. Under repressive measures and coercion, Kashmiris could hardly mumble its pain and express its needs. The local Kashmir forums on Freedom Movement are not strong enough while the leadership sucks up in nexus of operation with the centre, and the people lingered on in depression like a Zombie, the beautiful valley lay empty with no spirit. In this space of time and critical circumstances, the role of activists will be of great value. But where art thou in this hour of need to help Kashmir?
THE QUESTIONS FOR SOLUTION: In this hour, Nehru’s words may raise our sensibilities, that the decision will be made in the hearts and minds of the men and women of Kashmir; neither in the Indian Parliament, nor in the United Nations nor by anybody else. These words uttered 65 years ago have almost lost relevance in the vast span of time under repression and oppression, Kashmir has lost its voice for liberty and freedom to think and act. Under repressive measures to curb liberty to express and demonstrate, how will Kashmiris take up their cause without external help from UN as a measure of supporting humanitarian cause to afflicted group of people?
The promised plebiscite still remains an assurance under the blame game of India and Pakistan and in that process of building engagement for resolution to Kashmir independence, Kashmir as the key stakeholder is forgotten. In such an impasse, why is the UN not assuming its role as an anchor to protection of human rights and civil liberties in an unresolved dispute and hold a plebiscite to resolve this long standing issue? Now that Pakistan – USA alliance has loosened and USA is cozy with India, should India continue the old excuse of USA- Pakistan alliance to evade Kashmir plebiscite? Should India still seek bilateral resolution with Pakistan when it is a matter for UN to progress for fulfillment of a promise stalled by Pakistan – India impasse? Will USA not help in this case just as it is helping Middle East to demonstrate democratic governance, which the world community believes it as a corner stone for human progress towards liberty and freedom? Who is there for Kashmir today?