Sunday, August 31, 2008

Azadi once again.

Just some days back, I picked up a copy of the Outlook magazine - and was pleasantly surprised.

The cover story was 'Azadi for Kashmir, Azadi for India' - a compelling essay by Arundhati Roy on the Kashmir issue and the latest clamour for 'Azadi' in the valley.
The essay touched on the plight of the Kashmiri, the life under torture and army cruelty and presented the brutally suppressed Kashmiri's arguments for the right to freedom.

The article came out against the massive outbreak of protests in the valley demanding freedom.
This time, it wasn't a mob that could be shirked off as 'militants' or 'ISI backed miscreants'.. but hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris pouring out into the streets, marching peacefully and fearlessly demanding their rights. It's simply not common for an Indian to use mainstream Indian media to launch such a scathing attack on the Indian state and its repressive, inhuman policies in Kashmir.

But that was not why I was surprised. It was the letters to the Editor in that issue that I found very refreshingly interesting. For the first time, I was hearing Indian voices actually suggesting that perhaps India should consider withdrawing from the valley.
For the first time, in a mainstream magazine I read letters from regular Indian citizens asking valid questions pointed at themselves - at the Indian government and it's role in Kashmir. Asking if India had any moral authority left to cling on to Kashmir, that too at such a heavy price. Speaking FOR the Kashmiris right to self-assertion.

There was none of that Pak-bashing and breast-thumping emotional outbursts of patriotism, (normally reserved for times of Cricket tournaments and discussions of Kashmir) filling the reams. Instead, intelligent voices pleading reason, fairness and justice were prevalent in that issue. Humane voices.


Everytime I try to sneak in the Kashmir debate onto an Internet forum, I'm immediately attacked and vilified by numerous angered Indians. It wasn't necessarily even the right wingers or Hindutvis who reacted with such vehement outrage. Everyday Indians will frown at you if you so much as suggested that perhaps the Indian state might be at fault in Kashmir.

Hundreds of Human Rights organizations - including Amnesty International - have come down heavily on the Indian army for their brutal practices in the valley. When I try to assert these facts and the fact that despite numerous UN resolutions to that effect, there's still no referendum/plebiscite held in Kashmir, I normally face a deluge of angry retorts:
  • 'ISI has infiltrated all the Human rights organizations'.
  • 'Kashmiris want to be with India.. it's just a handful of militants who want secession'..
  • 'Indian army is a noble and efficient organization doing a lot of sacrifice in the valley to protect the Kashmiris'
  • 'India spends way more on Kashmir than any other state, so they don't have any right to protest'..
  • 'First, the Kashmiri Pundits have to be rehabilitated'
  • And of course, the easy way out. 'Arundhati Roy is anti-national!'.
I was surprised then, to see a section of the Indian public openly advocating a just solution for the Kashmiris. It was also surprising to see the Indian government showing restraint and talking with the protestors - and letting them protest peacefully among chants of 'Azadi'.

Well, for a while at least.

Then the crackdown began - 20 battalions of CRPF troops entered Srinagar. Curfew was imposed. Recently introduced mobile services were interrupted. Separatist leaders were rounded up and arrested. SMS facilities, cable TV and Internet were shut down. Foreign journalists were expelled and local newspapers banned. Several people have been killed and hundreds injured.

A column in the New Indian Express attacked Arundhati Roy. In the absence of any valid arguments to counter her solid reasons, it sought instead to sully her image and thus, her opinion. (It's the same treatement even I face on Internet forums. When there's a complete absence of counter-arguments, the debate turns into a nasty, personal mudslinging match!) Instead, the column provided some statistics that milk production was higher in Kashmir (or something to that effect..) and thus, Kashmiris "weren't hurt" - and thus Arundhati Roy was clearly wrong.

The Indian government has once again tried to stifle the Kashmiri voice. The discovering of mass graves of thousands of unidentified bodies in Kashmir is only a slight indicator of the army atrocities. Tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have gone missing, rapes and executions are common. The government spends a shocking amount of money and resources into maintaining it's heavy military presence in the most densely militarized zone in the world.

Against this background, the Sangh Parivar and the VHP/RSS in Jammu continue to carry out blatantly communal acts of war against the Kashmiris by blocking the only highway linking the valley to India - and the government has proved quite inefficient against them. Despite the decades, India has failed to win over the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris. They still demand Azadi - and a right to self determination.

I've always noticed that the Indian public is, on an average, very reluctant (and in most cases, too ignorant of facts) to criticize itself, but quick to point fingers at the same time. I've seen numerous Indian commentators on forums pleading - rightly - for the sake of justice for the thousands of Kashmiri pundits who have been forced to flee the valley. But these same voices will continue to live in denial and delusion when it comes to admitting that there exists a massive human rights problem in Kashmir, and a highly repressive state.

The first step towards finding a solution is acknowledgement of the problem. [To quote from an example in Ms. Roy's essay.. trucks in the Indian mainland carry quotes as frightening as 'Dhoodh maango toh kheer denge, Kashmir maango toh cheer denge!']

I only wish this topic is discussed more extensively in the Indian media and public, with more reason and logic and less jingoistic pseudo-patriotic fervor. I strongly recommend that everyone read Arundhati Roy's poignant, effective essay - and educate themselves on the ground realities in Kashmir - and take a lead in giving Kashmiris their long suppressed right to self determination and dignity.

1 comment:

white_angel said...

The Nizam of hydrabad wanted his state to be a part of pakistan during the unification of indian states in 1947, am still laughing at his proposal, the state was fortified and army was called in and then as we all know what happened next. See, we cannot give freedom to any state based on the whims and fancies of the people. The integrity of the nation would be jeopardized if that happened, before you know punjab would ask for a seperate country. There might be gross neglect of human rights, am not aware of the stats, but all said and done we just cannot give in to the demands of seperatists, kashmir is of utmost strategic importance to india and if it is gone pakistan would be breathing down the neck of delhi.
There could be n number of solutions to the human rights violations in the valley but freedom to Kashmir is NOT one of them.

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