When one speaks of normalcy in Kashmir, does one refer to a time and state before the protests started? Ever since the AFSPA was imposed on Kashmiris, the valley has been officially declared as a “disturbed area”. So, what is normal about that? Is it normal to live in a land where the government (through AFSPA) has killed over a hundred thousand Kashmiris in two decades?
However, it can be argued that normalcy refers to the fact that businesses were flourishing before protests and shutdowns started in June this year. However, one should note that businesses thrived only because of the resilience of Kashmiris and not because things were ‘normal’ in Kashmir. The whole system was thriving against the backdrop of unabated and unconscionable human rights abuses perpetrated by military forces.
It can be said that the present crisis in the Valley has exposed the fundamental weakness of the state’s present economic and political structure. The underlying premise of the government’s promise of a booming tourism industry is economic integration with/ dependence on India. For example, had the government promoted self-sustainable livelihood based on agriculture or animal husbandry instead of encouraging and converting the villages (such as Aru, Pahalgam) into tourist-dependent economies, these villagers would not be suffering from dire poverty and hunger in these times.
Furthermore, the present crisis is not an abrupt turn of events from so-called ‘normalcy’ to ‘chaos.’ The underlying premise of the government and the media’s favourite descriptive phrase for the recent events, “cycle of violence,” was that protesters instigated the violence. On the contrary, violence is a culture imposed upon Kashmir by India’s policy of militarization. The valley has been simmering for a decade.
The crisis unmasked the fascist nature of the state government and its current chief minister who will go down in history as the youngest chief minister who, instead of protecting Kashmiri lives, gave them cheaply to the paramilitary and police forces for target practice to prove to the central government of how loyal he was to them.
It is absurd that the government is criticizing the protesters and separatist leaders of crippling the lives of the common man because of shutdowns when the government’s fascist policies and draconian laws have caused the death of more than sixty people killed in just sixty days.
Many things have indeed shut down. But many more important things have opened up. Because of strong political action by the people of Kashmir through different forms of protests, the discussion and debate about Kashmir’s struggle for independence and freedom which became taboo topic after years of constant black propaganda of the government, has captured the attention of Indian and international media. Recently, even well-known and widely respected Indian journalists and intellectuals have gone on the record saying that it’s high time that the Indian people and its government talk about ‘independence.’ A few leading Indian TV news channels have also thoroughly covered the crisis as well as the debate on sentiments regarding independence and secession from India sans the decades-old formula/habit of invoking the ghost of Pakistan or the hand of paid terrorism.
There may be gains in the recent forms of political actions and sacrifice, but leaders have to strive harder to build the road towards genuine freedom and independence of Kashmir. The sufferings of the Kashmiri people must end.
First, the government of India must commit to uphold basic human rights of the people of Kashmir by:
Meting out punishment to those men in the paramilitary and police forces who are responsible for killing 65 people including youth, women, and children of Kashmir in the recent spate of human rights abuses committed by the said forces.
Stopping illegal arrests and release people who were imprisoned for merely exercising their right to protest.
Doing away with scare-tactics and the common practice of threatening Kashmiris who are putting forward genuine ideas such as independence and freedom. In addition to carrying out warrantless searches and arrests, the Indian government continues to threaten people who have openly expressed their views regarding Kashmir’s independence in TV news channels, newspapers, or the internet. These people who were merely exercising their universal right to freedom of speech were either ‘invited’ by police for ‘questioning’ in their headquarters, or received calls and even surprise house visits by intelligence/police officers.
Demilitarizing Kashmir (which includes but is not limited to the revocation of the AFSPA).
Secondly, leaders of Kashmir have to build unity and consensus among themselves for they owe it to the blood of martyred Kashmiri youth and the children of Kashmir. The separatist camp which has gathered more popular support than their usual few dedicated followers should not fail the people again just the way they did in 2008.
Conferences and workshops of non-allied organizations and professionals must be held so that research and recommendations about Kashmir’s independence can be presented and thoroughly discussed. Examples of newly sovereign states across the globe should be studied to determine what elements can be applied to Kashmir. A UN-referendum on the likes of East Timor’s UN-supervised referendum where the people chose (by voting) between “Special Autonomy” within Indonesia or “independence” should be considered as applicable to Kashmir.
Last but not the least, we must sow the seeds of lasting peace in the region by forging tolerance and understanding through a series of inter-faith workshops involving the youth of Ladakh, Kashmir, and Jammu. Let us all condemn and fend off any machinations by right-wing elements that thrive on manipulating genuine issues and turning them into religio-communal quagmires.
(The writer is an educationist and environmentalist)