Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Freedom for Kashmir?


As you may know, the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India has been on the boil since a botched-up plan to transfer 100 acres of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. It has been fascinating to follow, the expression of a people seeking self-determination in massive numbers (some reports put it at over half a million protesters). And the reactions of mainstream politicians and media in India. For once, the media seems to be slightly more open to different viewpoints (as articles by Arundhati Roy and Prem Shankar Jha have appeared in mainstream publications) -- of course, all that is accompanied by the usual denunciations of anyone differing from the official line as being unpatriotic or a traitor or even enemy.

Arundhati Roy has been spending time in Srinagar lately, and she writes this moving piece on the struggles in the Kashmir Valley. Partly historical and mostly earnest, she writes about how the current scenario came to pass and how different people in Srinagar think and feel. There are two main points discussed: (a) freedom for Kashmir, and (b) the Islamic color of the protests. Both are interesting questions in their own independent right, and probably very important too in how they are handled.

Here is the article, and a couple of excerpts:
Land and Freedom

For the past 60 days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half a million heavily armed soldiers, in the most densely militarised zone in the world.

After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government's worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage. This one is nourished by people's memory of years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been "disappeared", hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, and humiliated. That kind of rage, once it finds utterance, cannot easily be tamed, rebottled and sent back to where it came from.

The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all. It allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims in Kashmir.

India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as - if not more than - Kashmir needs azadi from India.

Outlook India also has some good coverage and analysis of the issue.

Worth some discussion in our open mikes...



I had encountered a couple of interesting phrases - 'soft issue' vs
'hard issue' when it comes to debates in a country.

'Hard issues' were ones that question the territorial integrity of a
country and are difficult to debate because the conclusion is already
hard coded into the adult population of a country.

I didn't think much of this phrase when I heard of it six months back.
But, I am beginning to appreciate that there may be some truth in it.
I think this a priori conclusion for me is, 'Kashmir issue is an
internal problem of India'. It is possible that this is because I have
a strong defense upbringing. But, is this untrue for everyone on this

If this is true for everyone on this group, it is difficult to have a
honest discussion about freedom in Kashmir. The only honest discussion
we can hope to have is if there are ways in which we can minimize the
suffering of the communities in Kashmir.

I received a query, which helps clarify my statement a bit. I have
taken permission to quote the query and reply to it here.

> How hardcoded is this? Do you personally believe that the communities in
> Kashmir should have a say on what should happen to them or do you think they
> are governed by a centralized authority - i.e. India.

It is hard coded and it is also subtle.

Yes, I believe communities in Kashmir should have a say on what should
happen to them and here is the catch, I believe this just as much as I
believe people in Narmada should have a right to decide whether they
should be displaced to have a dam or not.

In reality these two are not the same. Narmada does not question
territorial integrity of the country - it merely demands the rights of
it's citizens. Equating the two indicates my assumption that Kashmiris
want to be citizens of this country. Which is what I mean by
conclusion before the debate.



Over 30 years of conflict could have led the current generation of Kashmiris to believe they want to be a break away state. Perhaps I am veering off topic here, but if we liken this to what is currently happening in South Ossetia & Abkhazia one wonders if this is what Kashmir is in for even if it breaks away to become independant.
North Ossetia has been a part of Russia for a longtime. The South & Abkhazia which is a mix of Russians & Georgians, was claimed by seperatists with Russian backing. On came Georgia and tried to annex the region with US support and the ensuing war which has devastated the territory.
Russia now claims to acknowledge the South Ossetian seperatists.
Even though the preferences of the local population is not terribly clear, the parallels are quite striking...



Hi Sanjeev,
Your points made me ponder on this for a while.

Why would I support those displaced by the Narmada?
Why would I support the tribals in Orissa displaced and rendered helpless(by taking over their forests) by mining projects?

Is it mainly because their rights as citizens were transgressed? Coming to think of it, that's probably the right approach or one of the better ways to fight the system/state. But, I feel there is more to this. Are 'Rights' only defined by a state for its citizens?

Let's say some tribals were technically living in the border states and living as hunter/gatherers moving across national boundaries. If the state were to restrict access to the forests as their citizenship is not defined or if they are forced to migrate to a different geographical location, because the forests are taken over for an industrial project - are their 'rights' being respected? What has been their way of living for centuries is now questioned in such a way that their existence is threatened. If I, a citizen of one of the countries were to support the position of the tribals to access their habitat(s), is it under the assumption that they are citizens of the country? Do I need to accept the concept of a nation state to understand the position of the tribals?

Another situation - Illegal immigrants living in slums being evacuated forcibly. So, in a very basic way from a human rights perspective, the demands of those subjugated by centralized authority need to be respected. If its clear that for a group of people the concept of a nation state no longer means anything and the inhabitants of the region decide not to be associated with the nation state (truthfully and adequately represented i.e.), then they probably have the right to do so (irrespective of what we believe would happen to them later).

At this point, I don't seem to have much of a problem questioning the concept of a nation state itself.