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Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?

Many Muslims follow the traditional 40-day grieving period, but Kashmir has been grieving for decades. Now, 46 days later, even the grief is helpless, and soon the voices of outside support will fade. Today, too, Indian sympathy for the state is a quid pro quo. “They are one of us,” say the hashtag supporters, completely ghosting the plot. There is barely any acknowledgement of their right to be independent of the country. “I stand with Kashmir” is the slogan, not “I stand with Kashmir to be free”.

Are there headlines referring to the state as Indian Occupied Kashmir?

When the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, in a most cowardly manner, got tourists and pilgrims out of the state before announcing that Article 370 granting Jammu and Kashmir special status was being revoked, when they put political leaders, activists, businessmen, civilians behind bars or under detention, when they shut down all internet and mobile services and put the state under curfew, when they took away the rights of 8 million people not only to have a flag and a say but to even conduct their daily lives with dignity, imprisoning them in their homes – no work, no schools, having to subsist on the food and medicines they could manage to procure, even then the liberals called it a mere “lockdown” and not the colonisation it was. When the National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval was shown sharing a meal with a group of Kashmiris, downed shutters in the background, the Indian media lapped it up as “confidence building”.

The saddest part of this shameless display of opportunism is that you don’t get to hear the voices of Kashmiris living in Kashmir. Those who try, suffer. The supposedly sympathetic section of the Indian media that projects itself as honorary Kashmiris retains a proprietorial tone replete with ridiculous equivalences. “If international headlines report the death of a 17-year-old, they should also tell us the story of the 5-year-old battling for her life after a militant attack.” A senior journalist cannot tell the difference between how terrorists and the state ought to behave.

***

Kashmiris will lose their identity, an identity they have held on to assiduously ever since the Partition of India left them with a piece of paper that would ensure a plebiscite to decide their own fate.

The nationalism narrative is not only politically fascist but also dehumanising. UK-based Kashmiri writer Mirza Waheed in this wrenching piece talks about wanting to hear his mother’s voice, to know if his ailing father is well, “You want to ask if they’ve got enough medicines, if they’ve been allowed to go for their weekly or fortnightly consult with the good doctor—if they’re alright, damn it. But you can’t pick up the phone and ask. You simply can’t call anyone. The world is made soundless when you can’t hear your beloveds.”

The NSA’s response after accepting the hardships caused was: “People were not born with Internet. For us, it is more important to protect the right of life of the people and keep them safe.”

Safe from whom? If protecting people against terrorist infiltration from Pakistan was the issue, why could the army not control it? Kashmir is the most militarised region, and yet the government felt it necessary to deploy 35,000 more forces for the safety of a people under curfew. An administration spokesperson reportedly said, “We decided to protect lives, some liberties may have to be compromised.”

The first casualty of this protection occurred on Day One of the incursion when a 17-year-old fell into a river trying to escape the police that cornered him. There have been many instances of pellets being fired to blind civilians and of torture after this ‘safety’ initiative. A young villager was one such victim: “Once they realised I was innocent, they wanted me to name a stone-pelter. I told them, I don’t know anyone. So, they continued beating and electrocuting me. They wanted all of us to give the names of stone-pelters…They began pulling my beard and even tried to put it on fire. Then, someone hit me on the head and I fainted. It is then they, perhaps, realised that I might die. So, they asked my friend to take me home. I regained consciousness after two days and it’s been 20 days and I still can’t walk properly.”

***

What sort of assimilation is the government speaking about when it excludes the people?

“What integration? We Kashmiris have been working and living in other cities as have people from other states in Kashmir.” I met Bilal six years ago. He was hesitant to admit he was Kashmiri at first. “I am from the other side, far from the trouble,” he had said. He was happy in Mumbai and earned enough to be able to send his kids to English-medium schools back home. He visited every year.

He remained steadfastly against separatists, but whenever the news flashed incidents of brutalities and deaths, he’d say, with remorse rather than rage, “When young boys see their fathers and brothers suffer and die before their eyes, will they not want revenge?” Yet, within minutes he would wonder if there was any alternative, and go back to the room he shared with four others, a room with mattresses on the floor and a stove on a stool to cook their meals. A room where family was a WhatsApp video call away.

That stopped on August 5.

The inclusiveness that the government speaks about is a lie. This lie has been repeated over the years by successive governments. They dangle the development carrot without any attempt to assuage the disaffection of the people. Rahul Gandhi had some years ago taken big corporate magnates to recce the state; Modi will not need to – it is a given now. On October 31, the Centre will divide Jammu and Kashmir and officially claim the Valley as its prized catch.

***

In the latest bit of news, 81-year-old former chief minister and leader of the National Conference Farooq Abdullah has been detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), ironically the handiwork of his father Sheikh Abdullah. All the rooms in his house have been sealed, his staff fired, and he is confined to one room with an attached bath and toilet for 12 days. Tragic as it is, under the PSA that allows for arrest without trial and detention for upto two years, Kashmiris, including children, have been languishing in prison for years.

Local leaders and former chief ministers like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have aligned with the BJP, despite the party carrying its Hindu Rashtra dream and ambition to infiltrate Kashmir on its sleeve, only so that they could save their seats. Worse, they did not emphatically raise their voices over the disappearances and random killings of civilians in the state for all these years.

What happened on August 5 has to an extent been facilitated by such vacillation. Mehbooba Mufti’s first tweet on that day was, “Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy. Decision of J&K leadership to reject 2 nation theory in 1947 & align with India has backfired.”

It raises the moot point: Are Kashmiris Indian? Do these leaders represent their struggle?

Kashmiris are taunted that they are not grateful to the army that helped them during the floods. They are taunted about living and earning “from us”.

They live in India because their home has been converted into a disputed territory that they have to reclaim. They have lives to live, families to feed. They take up jobs available to them and to all those in the much-touted ‘globalised’ India. Even if Kashmir were free, they could still work in India but as citizens of an independent state and not as residents of an occupied state they are ideologically fighting.

Kashmir has always been in a state of insurgency, but unlike in the Middle East the protests did not lead to overthrowing any regime, simply because there wasn’t any leader to overthrow. The anger on the streets, the “Go back, Indian dogs” graffiti on walls, the stone pelting were reactions to the daily harassment – being stopped in the streets and made to identify themselves, the disappearance of many, unmarked graves of “unidentified militants”, and war crimes like mass rape and third-degree torture.

These were crimes by the authorities, not terrorists. The authorities target the young because that is one way to wipe out a people and not just their protests. Each day is a struggle to hope, to live. But, as Mirza Waheed put it, the children “must grow, and try not to die”.

More articles by:

Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

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