I sit down to write this in the brief interlude following a rather devastating piece from the recently released anthology ‘Until My Freedom Has Come’. But the self is reminded, once again, of the fallacy of the word chosen. There is no respite, no running away from the crushing despair that elicits from the story of Kashmir. Despondency would have been the reaction of the self, just a few years ago. Today, that same base emotion has excogitated into a series of pernicious concerns.
The celebrated Indian democracy has failed its citizens. In Kashmir, where the iron fist of the AFSPA will ensure a girl raped by an Army Jawan will not get to see her own mother in the aftermath of the heinous crime; let alone be atoned justice. In Kashmir; where an eight year old boy is beaten to death by the machine wielding Indian Army jawans who patrol the streets, day in and night out. Where; a mother washes off the blood of her sons from her courtyard. Where, a three year old picks up a stone to defy the ordinance. Where the death of 150 people at the hands of the merciless State operated machinery is waived off as deaths of ‘Lashkar-e-Toiba’ sponsored terrorists. It was a cleansing routine, they said.
I am not a Kashmiri. But sitting here in New Delhi, where decisions to not revoke the AFSPA are taken, I cannot help but feel a part of myself cave in each time I hear of another tragedy in the Valley. It is not unlike sitting by the phone, waiting for a dreaded call. It’s not unlike losing one of your own. It is not.
So I took to obsessively tracking the events as they unfolded in Kashmir. There was nothing perverse about it. It was a necessary action; the shock of the State-imposed violence takes its own time to subside. Kashmir and New Delhi are poles apart, it seems. We don’t share the same reality. Nor, in fact, do we share the same India.
The mainstream press was my first recourse. In most situations of conflict, it acquires a kind of impermeable credibility. Ironically, however, the opposite seems to hold true. The big media is not interested in Kashmir and its politics. Oh, no. Demanding Azaadi from authoritarian governance is akin to being a ‘Pakistani’. So, the mainstream media conveniently aligns itself with the manifesto of the State. Nonetheless, Kashmir’s dead do hold the interest of the culture of news reportage and representation.
Foot soldiers, like me, cry ourselves hoarse in the face of the seemingly omniscient jingoistic rhetoric; constantly fighting the brand of fiery allegiance that has been present ever since the inception of the world’s largest democracy. But the slew of nationalist supporters is insistent on their ideals. They say that the armed jawan is left with no choice when he is hit by stones; he has to open fire. There must be a truth to that, definitely. Never mind that history itself contradicts this truth. Never mind that the visual imagery of men, women and children with only stones as their chosen method of protest standing across from an Army that has the most advanced weaponry is horrifyingly belittling, to say the least. Or the fact that in the year 2009, India spent close to $5 billion on their import of ammunition from Israel; a country which houses close to 40% of the world’s poor. They also claim that an Azaad (Independent) Kashmir will only lead to human rights violations. That it will be violence stricken. Perhaps this could be a lesson in irony. Moreover, there is an implication the India-occupied Kashmir, if given its Azaadi, will necessary evolve into a terrorist state owing to the Islamist majority in the area. This entire notion smacks of racism and large-scale, institutionalised Islamophobia, the glorious by-product of the previous decade. Then there are some who worry about the aftermath of such a decision in the realm of international geo-politics. Pakistan, and China, will never let Kashmir be Azaad. Kashmir’s Azaadi will expose India, leave it vulnerable to attack. It might be true, of course. But does that still justify the State’s authoritarian governance of Kashmir?
If one speaks against the horrific crimes committed in the name of maintaining internal security and peace, they can only be traitors, traitors who should be eschewed by the government they so insolently dared to critique.
For you see, dissent is not our tool to claim. It is essential to subjugate all voices of dissent for the propagation of their democracy. Some may even call it conflict resolution.
What is a democracy, then? There seems to be more and more truth in the idea that democracy is in fact highly equivocal. It is important to also question the recipients of such a democracy. Arundhati Roy, the one we all love to hate (and love to mention, anyway) says there is a democracy in Greater Kailash (an area in Delhi), but not in the conflict stricken parts of the country. If only Greater Kailash was aware of the multifarious responsibility it has acquired through the course of governments and governance. If not a voice for those that the State has made voiceless through systematic violence and injustice, at the very least, it can serve to acknowledge this glaring dissonance. However, complacency and pacification are vile weapons of peace, and conflict. The State knows this. So, Greater Kailash will be made to remain apathetic, ignorant with a sense of false consciousness and false security. Greater Kailash has everything in order.
How convenient it must be to look away, to ignore the cries of a people who ‘chose their own destiny’. Sleepless nights are only for the fools among us.
Stuti Govil is a student of Journalism at University of Delhi.
Photograph by Fahad Shah