September 25, 2016


[The responsibility of peace lies with the Indian state and it cannot establish it under the shadows of the gun.]

By Muhammad Faysal 

During the 1990s, and the 2008-10 uprisings in Kashmir, a constant in the discourse of the Indian polity and the media was the shikarawala. Built on the myth that tourism is the mainstay of the local economy (when, in fact, it's agriculture),the shikarawala is the symbol of normalcy. If he has no work, it means Kashmir's daily life is affected, and if he does, lo and behold, normalcy and peace have returned to Kashmir.

You see, a shikarawala symbolises Kashmir for most Indians (more so the saffron brigade). Mr Wonderful Flower Man and his colleagues are the people most tourists from India interact with - they are seen as "innocent people who want to eke out an honest living oaring through the pristine lakes".

So whenever Kashmir is on the boil, TV cameras pan on the lonely Dal and the even lonelier shikarawala. But this time, it is different. Like any other Kashmiri, the shikarawala is also sick and tired of a status quo that keeps pushing the region on the edge. Everyone is fed up with a situation that is not only unpredictable, but also unacceptable to one and all.

In the curfewed streets of Srinagar, choked for almost three months now, people gather after prayers to protest for justice and demand self-determination. As it passes down street after street, in the midst of clouds of teargas, the cry for freedom echoes in alley after alley.

In the discussions at home and among friends, the discourse turns to the simple "We want this to end" or a negotiated sigh - "at least something positive should come out". Enough blood has been shed - 86 people have been killed in the most gruesome manner. Never again.

In 2010, the bloody summer in which 128 people -most of them teenagers - were killed, the demands were similar. However, after putting Kashmir under siege for weeks, Delhi began its fire-fighting exercise by engaging interlocutors. Tensions simmered, and people hoped for a positive outcome while debates kept raging in Parliament and TV studios. But their window of hope was shut in the wake of arbitrary arrests in thousands, unabated killings, and the vitriol spewed by TV presenters. The predictable end to the interlocutors' report, like many others before, leaves little doubt.

Hence the Hurriyat refused to talk to the All Party Parliamentary Delegation. These photo-ops have hijacked the very idea of confidence-building measures. How does one build confidence when repeating the same exercise time and again? Do Kashmiris need to hear the rhetoric again? It insults the intellect and intelligence of millions of people who have been determined to seek their political rights.

For six years, Hurriyat leaders were shelved, their passports impounded and most of the time, two stalwarts Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, put under house arrest. In fact, the latter has been prevented from offering Eid prayers in Eidgah in the last six years. Geelani has been under continuous house arrest for six years now, and shutting the door on the New Delhi delegation was nothing but a political statement. Now that Mirwaiz too has been jailed, and Geelani continues to be under house arrest, is this diplomacy or tit-for-tat?

To say that the people of Kashmir are on the streets just because Hizbul commander Burhan Wani was killed is unfair. If one has to analyse the situation, it has to start post the 2010 uprising. Instead of creating the environment for a resolution, the state unleashed a crackdown on protesters resulting in many losing their lives and being jailed under the draconian Public Safety Act. Police atrocities have been unprecedented, with some Kashmiris even being sodomised and extortion becoming a routine practice.

The PDP, before it came to power, convinced the youth who were charged with stone pelting to vote for them so that their charges are dropped. To avoid further police harassment, some did vote for the PDP, but were backstabbed following the alliance with the BJP.

When Ram Madhav calls for any solution under the ambits of Indian Constitution, one needs to call his bluff. What stops the current government in New Delhi from giving Kashmir its so-called autonomy? Since India, over the years, didn't seek permission from the people of Kashmir, why does it need their approval now?

Probably because, they know, it is not about administration anymore. We can see that on the ground - the current regime is only in charge of controlling internet connectivity and the occasional chai cuppa statement. India continues to suppress Kashmir under its military boots. Azadi is not just a romantic clarion call, but a reality that a Kashmiri grows up with. Freedom is a basic value for any human being, but in Kashmir it is an unaffordable luxury.

The anger and resentment in Kashmir is not a new phenomenon, it is as old as the conflict itself. Kashmir will not "calm down" because of ironic operation names, but through bold will. Sending thousands of forces to the Valley in addition to the 7,00,000 troops will only push Kashmiris to the wall. It will embolden the resentment into seeking permanence.

To maintain status quo, thousands of crores are being spent and many Indian soldiers losing their lives. On the other hand, Kashmiris lose hundreds of young boys every year, with no justice. The wails of mothers in India and Kashmir are the same, so is the colour of their blood and the aspiration for peace.

No father in India would want to send his son to a war to die, no mother in Kashmir wants her 11-year-old to be killed in an unfathomable tragedy. The warmongers in air-conditioned TV studios must not outrage our shared humanity.

Conflicts don't end with money or by maintaining military presence, but through dialogue.

The responsibility of peace lies with the Indian state and it cannot establish it under the shadows of the gun. It is practical for India to function as a democracy and understand that Kashmiris want the end of status quo. Why must Kashmiris be deprived of a life without fear?

Every Kashmiri, including the shikarawala, seeks the end of militarisation and the conflict, and the process must begin now. 70 years are enough.

#Indian Army, #Jammu and Kashmir