Each episode of violence in Kashmir reminds us that it is unlike any other place. Peace is relative in the Valley, so is violence. More than 50 people have been killed and over 5,000 (including civilians and security personnel) injured in the unrest that followed the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani by security forces on July 8.
Wani was credited to have engineered a new wave of militancy – that with tech-savvy and educated representatives from well-to-do families – especially in south Kashmir.
Unlike the last wave of unrest in the Valley in 2010, which was instigated by the unfortunate killing of 17-year-old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, a student from Srinagar, by security forces who were trying to disband a group of protesters, this year’s discontent has erupted because of the killing of a terrorist. In the summer of discontent in 2010, more than 100 lives were lost.
The current situation in Kashmir has reopened the debate over the larger issue in the state. What is widely known is that there are two dimensions to this – external (with Pakistan) and internal (the state-Centre relationship).
In addition to that, Pakistan ceded part of Jammu and Kashmir’s territory to China in 1963, thereby making Beijing a part of the issue. Beijing is involved with Islamabad in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is aimed at expanding Pakistan’s infrastructure and deepening economic ties between the two countries. The corridor passes through Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan, which is part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The surrounding discourse on Jammu and Kashmir, however, is neither honest, nor forthright, on several accounts.
Not about self-determination
Firstly, the area under the erstwhile princely state that became a part of India on October 26, 1947 after the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, signed the Instrument of Accession is 2,22,236 square kilometres, of which 78,114 sq km is under the illegal occupation of Pakistan; 37,555 sq km is illegally occupied by China and 5,180 sq km was ceded by Pakistan to China.
Kashmir comprises nearly 7% of the entire area and 16% of the present state of Jammu and Kashmir that is in India’s possession. However, Kashmir has always been given undue attention, while the regions of Jammu and Ladakh have been side-lined.
The discourse has always been Kashmir-centric. There is always clamour about the aspirations of Kashmiris, but not a murmur about those from Jammu and Ladakh.
Secondly, the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is not about self-determination, as is widely spoken of, but about making it an Islamic state. No doubt, Jammu and Kashmir is a political problem between India and Pakistan but it has its roots in religion. This has been manifested by the persecution of minorities over the decades, which reached its peak in 1990. If we look at the history of Kashmir dating much before India’s struggle for Independence, the minorities (Hindus) have been persecuted over centuries. The current unrest in Kashmir is nothing but Islamism. The demand for Kashmir’s azadi, or freedom, is jihadism.
The refrain “hum kya chahte? Azadi” (what do we want? Freedom) is followed by “La ilahailla Allah." There is no god but Allah.
"Pakistan Se Rishta Kya?” (What relation do we have with Pakistan?) is met with the response "La ilahailla Allah".
Many Kashmiris consider the issue a battle between a Muslim Kashmir and a Hindu India.
Thirdly, the Indian intelligentsia has been mincing words while talking about Kashmir. This equivocation only adds to the problem. Unless the root cause of the problem – the desire to make Jammu and Kashmir an Islamic state – is recognised and spelled out bluntly, there cannot be any effective solutions. Healing touch, Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat and other such bits of rhetoric will not work. Has it ever?
Fourthly, it is often said that Kashmiris are angry, and this anger pours out into the streets in the Valley – in the form of stone pelting, hurling of grenades, setting police stations on fire, picking guns, damaging property. If this is termed as anger, then our commentators are blind. Violence is no substitute for anger. The people in Jammu and Ladakh are angry too, with futile governance over the years and step-motherly treatment. But nobody cares about their anger. Jammu and Ladakh never agitates like the way Kashmir does.
Fifthly, several children have been injured in the current turmoil in Kashmir. Pellet guns used by security forces on protesters have resulted in deaths and serious wounds, including eye injuries. Among the injured are children, as young as five years old. The use of pellet guns is being hotly debated and the Centre has appointed a committee to look for an alternative non-lethal weapon that security forces can use to disband protests. The committee has to submit recommendations in two months.
However, nobody is asking the following questions: What are children doing in the protests in Kashmir? Who is using kids as shields while targeting security forces in the Valley? Certainly, the parents are to be blamed first for allowing their kids to be on the streets.
Demonising security forces
Sixthly, you often hear from azadiwallas, human rights activists and some intellectuals, that Kashmiris are being brutalised by security forces. However, that is not the true story. Security forces in Kashmir have become a symbol of abuse. Every time some untoward incident happens in the valley, the clock of suspicion is pointed towards security forces, especially the army and the paramilitary forces.
These forces operate in the most hostile conditions and difficult terrains of Kashmir. The Jammu and Kashmir police, too, have been on the radar of Islamists. During the current unrest in Kashmir, we saw how mobs attacked the police and Central Reserve Police Force personnel. The restraint showed by the security forces in Kashmir is of the highest order. If a mob attacks a police/CRPF post, personnel are forced to retaliate. If the forces do not, they will get killed themselves. By the way, peaceful protesters do not attack anyone.
Seventhly, the radicalisation of Kashmir by Islamists, which has been going on for last three decades, has not been addressed. The focus in Jammu and Kashmir has been on countering terrorism and infiltration from across the border. A new generation has grown in Kashmir under the shadow of the gun and violence. The threat due to radicalisation has gone unrecognised.
Persecution of Pandits
Eighthly, it is often reiterated that the issue in the Kashmir valley is not about land but about people and the Indian state cares more for the land than the people. What is not told is that the land cannot be given up just because some people in the region turn rogue.
Ninthly, the media highlighted that local Muslims defied curfew to help in the last rites of a Hindu woman in Srinagar. However, what was not reported is how Kashmiri Pandits were attacked during the current unrest. Transit camps of Pandits, who are working in different parts of the Valley under the Prime Minister’s rehabilitation package for Kashmiri Pandit migrants, were mobbed and pelted heavily with stones. As a result, over 700 Pandits, along with their families, left the Valley and returned to Jammu in the wake of the recent violence. They have refused to return to Kashmir and have been protesting since then, demanding they be adjusted in the Jammu region. Meanwhile, posters by Lashkar-e-Islam, a militant group, threatening Kashmiri Pandits have surfaced near transit accommodations for government employees in Pulwama district. The posters threaten Pandits with dire consequences if they do not leave Kashmir.
If we are serious about resolving these issues, the discussion over Jammu and Kashmir needs to be sincere and all-encompassing.
PS: I stand with my fellow Kashmiris, irrespective of religion, and demand justice and reparations for every bullet fired wrongly by the state. However, I cannot stand with them when they indulge in violence and get hurt or killed in the process. I only wish them sanity.
Varad Sharma is the co-editor of A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits. His Twitter handle is @VaradSharma.