“Kashmir’s future is tied to India’s, it is for all of us to decide what that will be”, Abhinav Kumar, a serving Indian Police Service officer, wrote an opinion piece published in The Indian Express in response to what unfolded on ground in Kashmir in the aftermath of 5 August 2019. As a citizen of India, I believe that this perspective and approach toward a conflict zone is detrimental to any development aimed at whichever way.
On 5 August 2019, Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) was jolted out of sleep to a Parliament session that robbed Kashmiris of their existential rights and put to shame the last strands of their belief in the idea of a secular, pluralistic India.
While the mentioned piece claims that “The streets of Srinagar have largely stayed free of stone-pelters” and that “hospital wards have not overflowed with people with pellet injuries” misses the fact that 5 August onwards there was an unprecedented communication constraint, any and all persons belonging to other states were ordered to vacate, and as if what was to come should only and only target Kashmiris. No, the streets of Srinagar did see rebellion, despite the thousands of additional troops deployed to threaten Kashmiris into silence, despite the crippling curfews, telecommunications ban, and the arbitrary arrests of thousands of civilians and political leaders.
This open-air prison approach cannot aim at establishing any democracy in Kashmir running parallel with plans to silence those who practice their constitutionally guaranteed right of peaceful protest. During this disastrous lockdown that has begun to perpetuate itself in longevity, Kashmiris defied all odds and military threats came out on the streets to protest the overnight fraud that was legalized by powerful men infatuated with the idea of the Hindu Rashtra.
Further hailing “the planning and execution by the authorities, the leadership of all the security forces”, Mr. Kumar calls the constitutional casualties in Kashmir post 5 August as a “couple of civilian deaths have been in isolated mishaps”. The situations that are being whimsically praised were raised at the United Nations Security Council. For the first time since 1965, the UNSC met exclusively to discuss J-K, highlighting the serious concern about the human rights situation.
As the revocation of Article 370 was gasconade across India, Kashmir only wandered further from being “integrated”. Kashmiris, in essence, are a people who chose to side with the newly independent, secular India at a time when India was losing Indians to Pakistan. At a time when Indians migrated to be termed as Pakistanis, Kashmiris resolved to pledge for plurality and acceded to India. India should stand indebted to their accession, and recall the commitment India made to help them carve for themselves a space for their unique identity.
Mr. Kumar appreciates the authorities, the local police, and the whole nexus involved in propagating a false sense of normalcy, a nexus that disallowed Indian politicians, journalists from visiting the state, a nexus that ensured the literal realization of “negative peace” by coercive, torturous methods. By not only harassing civilians but also jailing scores of political leaders, Kashmir saw the absolute subversion of Democracy that has forever had dissidents in the valley. Historically, J-K’s kitty of constitutional guarantees has gone dry. The institution of Wazir-e Azam (Prime Minister), the office of Sadr-i-Riyasat (President), the constitution, the flag, the laws that safeguarded them and the land that was a trusted guarantee in each Kashmiri’s name, all legal guarantees stand snatched by Pundits of the Hindu Rashtra.
Claiming that Kashmiris have “fed themselves a narrative of victimhood, laced with a generous dose of xenophobia towards the rest of India”, Mr. Kumar completely overlooks how recently Kashmiris working outside the valley were beaten in Lucknow, and hacked to death in Jaipur; their disputed identity being their only crime. Certainly not implying that this violence would justify the non-existent xenophobia mentioned, however, Kashmiris continue to be harassed, degraded and brutalized, being Muslim, their greater crime in 21st century India.
A question to the author and many others who hold the same view, how does one know what Kashmiris feel, what Kashmiris want? Is it something being learnt from what propagandists channelize? Were Kashmiris even remotely told what was to be cast on them? Did they know they’d lose the very safeguards that stood as conditional to their accession to India?
Mr. Kumar terms Article 370 as “a myth that has been conclusively exploded”, and claiming that “in 69 years of its existence and that all Article 370 had done was to encourage a dangerous fantasy in Kashmir”. It was hardly a myth, in 69 years of its existence Article 370 tied together Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, the reality of Article 370 was that it was a symbol of acceptance that India had pledged to offer these peoples. Article 370 ensured Indian bureaucratic and to a level of democratic functioning in a conflict zone sitting amidst three nuclear states.
It is excruciating to read how dispassionately Mr. Kumar worded the theft of constitutional safeguards in the name of Vikas—development. This constitutional crime was orchestrated by the party that boasted of pride in the former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mr. Vajpayee believed in “dialogue, peace and reconciliation” to solve the Kashmir issue and frequently used the expression “Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat”—Humanism, Democracy, and Kashmiriyat, Kashmir’s legacy of amity—as the three principles to solve the Kashmir issue.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah who have been seen bowing their heads in gratitude to Mr. Vajpayee for years suddenly jailed an entire political mainstream that has invested their being, life, and livelihood in the dialogue, peace, and reconciliation that Mr. Vajpayee hailed in Kashmir?
With a communication clampdown that violated international law and continues to do so even in a pandemic, roads might connect India to Kashmir but for a fact, the day the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) annulled Article 370, Kashmir annulled its residual trust in India. Within one month of revocation, five civilians had already lost their lives to a right to protest which is held in mainland India.
Speaking of the recent wave of insecurity heightened by the domicile law, Mr. Kumar labels it as the “irrational fear of migration and dominance by outsiders”. What is mentioned as irrational fear has actually taken the shape of reality for a people held land as their only safeguard in the world’s most militarized region? The “dangerous fantasy” that the mentioned piece blames Article 370 for still exists. Militancy, after a year of clampdown still exists; the Indian army still loses its precious soldiers to militants. Out-rightly blaming the valley, generalizing that Kashmir is the perpetrator of violence on its Pandit population the piece claims that, “it is the Valley that carried out ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits”, it magnanimously fails at acknowledging the efforts where Muslim neighbours had risked their lives to save their Pandit brethren. Assuring positives of the Domicile law, while harping on the Pandits, whose pain, horror and anguish have been used by the BJP to vilify Kashmiri Muslims, Mr. Kumar overlooks how many Pandits are themselves now rejecting the law. They have claimed that they still lack rehabilitation.
Crudely juxtaposing a conflict, a border state with other Indian states the piece claims that “the experience of other Indian states suggests, these irrational fears are largely baseless”.
Kashmir today mimics the beginning of Israeli settlements in Palestine, the state is on the verge of a well-engineered demographic change, a religious genocide, structuring colonizer-like settlements, all drafted by a party internationally recognized for their anti-minority repute. Even after the whole exercise of besieging Kashmir unfolded exactly according to their vile political scheme, running Kashmir as a police state is no victory. Had authorities involved various stakeholders in Kashmir to deliberate upon the removal of the article or invited suggestions on how to curb the cited ‘corruption’ and ‘terrorism’ while still ensuring the permanent residents their guarantees.
Suggestively the piece asks for “a limited purge of the worst offenders from the public payroll is imperative if the pro-India sentiment is to gather hold in the Valley”. It is not surprising how the author views a purge as the solution and not the restoration of dignity by legally mandated guarantees as necessary to further the pro-India sentiment. Mr. Kumar terms the media in Srinagar as “ethnically homogeneous” and accuses them of “seriously distorting the narrative”. Kashmiri Journalists face the Centre’s vengeance, many being jailed, others being dragged into murder, and individuals being cast to anti-terrorism laws. While they continue to report the truth in all its forms and faces, they surely disturb the Centre’s propaganda of peace and normalcy which to date detains democratic doyens who once saluted to the Indian flag alongside the Kashmiri flag with gratitude and not painful laceration.
Lastly, the title which is also the concluding statement: “Kashmir’s future is tied to India’s, it is for all of us to decide what that will be”. Assertively, Mr. Kumar decrees that Kashmir’s future is tied to India, but who is this “us” that he is referring to? Is it the local Kashmiri who is still marred in insecurity about his future? Or is it the bosses in Lutyen’s Delhi? What is the parameter of inclusivity which is restricted to bureaucrats sitting in Delhi?
In this decree by an IPS officer, Kashmiris are the aggressors, the perpetrators, why not look at them with the lens of potential stakeholders to the peace process, elected political leaders, progressive civilians or just as humans without any human rights?
The author is an independent journalist. She tweets at @tarushi_aswani