“The Rights of Every Man [Woman] are Diminished When the Rights of One Man [Woman] Are Threatened”

The killing of seven civilians in Kashmir this week exposes subcontinental democracy as a brutal façade and continues to instigate disgruntlement and antipathy towards democratic procedures and institutions in the state.

In accounts of insurgency and counter insurgency operations in the J & K, where are the genuine traumas and tribulations of the people? Do we hear of the misery of a father who feels emasculated because he cannot fend for his family? Do we sense the anxiety of parents who are painfully aware that the productive years of their child are going by the wayside while the rest of the world is making strides? Do we hear the wailing of a tender hearted mother whose son was waiting to plunge into life but has now been silenced by militarisation? Do we see the apathy of a young educated person who thought the world was his/ her oyster but now has nothing to look forward to? Are we aware of the frustration of politically savvy people whose opinions are made short shrift of by the powers that be? Do we understand the isolation of cultural and educational institutions? Do we see the erosion of the identity of people whose votes count but whose needs and opinions are overlooked? Do we see the illegitimacy of firing at unarmed protestors?

Kashmiris are facing untold miseries during the present phase of their history. No progress – economic or political – is possible under such circumstances. Kashmir has become an oozing sore in the body politic of the sub­continent. It has embittered beyond measure relations between the two countries. The two armies facing each other across the LoC constitute a potential powder magazine which may flare up any time into a devastating war. Its consequences are too grim to imagine.

Those people in mainstream Indian politics who are attempting to foist a belligerent solution on the people of Kashmir are not doing any good to the country. On the contrary, they are harming it. India will not attain strength by such means. Such a lop-sided Kashmir policy, if persisted in, will cause great harm to the country. Several rational Indians have this realization.

J & K is a palimpsest that has been inscribed upon two or three times, yet the previous texts have been imperfectly erased and, therefore, remain partially visible. A history of unfulfilled pledges, broken promises, political deception, military oppression, illegal political detentions, a scathing human rights record, sterile political alliances, mass exodus, and New Delhi’s and Islamabad’s malignant interference have created a gangrenous body politic, which hasn’t even started to heal.

The insurgency in J & K, which has extracted an enormous price from the people of the state, was generated by the systemic erosion of democratic and human rights, socioeconomic marginalization, relegation of political growth and autonomy to the background, etc. While the rebellion may have been incited by India’s political, social and economic tactlessness, it has been sustained by military, political, and economic support from Pakistan. Proponents of the independence of the state of J & K are just as stridently opposed to Pakistan’s administration of “Azad” Kashmir as they are to India’s administration of J & K. During the ongoing insurgency, the Indian military has been granted a carte blanche without an iota of accountability.

The governments of India and Pakistan have made several strategic moves to break the spirit of  the people of J & K, the most systemically damaging of which was to expunge the composite culture of Kashmir in an attempt to disseminate the unitary discourse of Indian and Pakistani nationalisms.

In a post 9/11 world, political and cultural edifices that have been entrenched by imperial discourse have sanctified the convenient “first world–third world” dichotomy. Institutional politics have facilitated the construction of the “third world” subject as an eternally feral being whose essential savagery is not amenable to socio-cultural conditioning. The rationale provided for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, is those territories’ purportedly dehumanized condition that cries out for enlightenment, underscoring the constructed bestiality of non-western, other cultures. The rhetoric of hate and destruction rent the air and engender a mass hysteria, inciting communal riots and human rights violations, as evidenced, for example, by the reprehensible negligence of human rights in J & K and Balochistan.

The process of nationalist self-imagining in Kashmir is likely to remain in a nebulous state so long as the destiny of mainstream Kashmiri politicians is etched by the pen of calligraphers in New Delhi and Islamabad, and determined by maneuvers in the murky den of subcontinental politics. Can our politicians, mainstream and separatist, rise above their myopic aspiration to willy-nilly grab the throne and scepter? The obvious lack of self-reflexivity in our regional parties shows a glaring inability to carefully consider the stakes.

The administrators of India and Pakistan cannot remain steadily indifferent to requests from human rights organizations to probe into the instances of carnage that have been occurring in J & K since 1989–90. How long will the blaring trumpet of “war on terror” sanctify the gauche attempts of the governments of India and Pakistan to blame every calamitous occurrence on “intelligence agencies of a foreign power”?

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.