By Seema Kazi
Kashmir’s 2016 uprising must be placed within the wider context of the persistent rebellions for freedom and justice in Kashmir that, as Christopher Sneddon reminds us in his important book, began to unfold much before the post-1947 India-Pakistan hostilities over Kashmir. The fact that Kashmiris themselves initiated rebellion against a repressive, feudal monarch before ‘47 – as documented by Sneddon – was neither acknowledged by the Nehru administration nor by subsequent post-‘47 regimes. Nor does this historical truth appear in Indian mainstream history, analysis or academic scholarship. Indeed, much like the mainstream narratives on Partition – forever externalized and attributed solely to Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League in order to shield Congress’ complicity – Kashmiri anger and resistance against India’s political hegemony and military occupation was and is attributed to Pakistan in order to shield and protect the Indian State from accountability for the same.
Acknowledging local Kashmiri rebellion prior to ‘47 in a territory not part of British India would greatly erode the Indian nationalist narrative of the post-‘47 Pakistani incursion as the single source and origin of the dispute. Mindful of, yet unwilling to concede historical facts or the political truths regarding Kashmir, falsehood and deceit came to characterise modern India’s narrative on Kashmir. Absent totally from the latter was Kashmiri history, politics, culture, identity, memory or collectivity that has driven, sustained and replenished what Agha Shahid Ali so evocatively and profoundly phrased as “Freedom’s terrible thirst, flooding Kashmir.”
Through distortion the Indian State buttressed its self-constructed and self-serving narrative of India as a peaceful, tolerant victim of a Pakistan-instigated plot in Kashmir. This falsehood has had the great advantage of absolving India of all political responsibility for addressing or resolving the Kashmir issue. Without discounting Pakistan’s damaging and destructive role in Kashmir, the political and historical fact is that it was not Pakistan but the policies of a pre-‘47 tyrannical Maharaja and a post-‘47 tyrannical Indian State that ignited Kashmiri resistance and rebellion. Pakistan took advantage of Kashmiri resentment against India’s failure in Kashmir. Unwilling to admit or address this truth, untruth and denial became the default Indian response.
In the brief India-Pakistan détente during the 2001 Agra summit, I watched a televised discussion wherein Ayaz Amir – a seasoned Pakistani legislator and writer – asking India’s Muchkund Dubey – a well-known ex-diplomat: “Aapne Kashmir ko cantonment bana diya hai. Vahan ki awam aap se nakhush hai. Iske bare mein aap kya kar rahe hain?” To India’s eternal shame and disgrace, Dubey began his response to Amir’s succinct summation of a fundamental political truth regarding Kashmir by an emotive declaration: “This is a lie!”
In 2010, in the wake of what eminent Kashmiri journalist and writer Parvaiz Bukhari appropriately termed as ‘the year of killing youth’, I watched a video of members of an all-party Indian parliamentary delegation walking single file, in silence and mortification, through the corridors of SMHS hospital Srinagar, between parallel crowded rows of doctors, medical staff and civilians whose slogans for azadi echoed and ricocheted across the hospital walls. It was a rare moment of truth for representatives of the Indian State whose experience of Kashmiri suffering and aspiration at close quarters did not produce any change in the status quo. The Pakistan alibi continued to shield, deflect and postpone Indian responsibility for addressing its own self-created tragedy in Kashmir. India continued to deploy this perennially available and globally acceptable alibi and smokescreen whenever the going got tough in Kashmir.
July 2016: Kashmir’s extraordinary civic resistance
The 2016 uprising was continuation of a series of uprisings and revolts in Kashmir’s history since ‘47. It was extraordinary in the scale of mass civic protest and collective revolt that rattled Kashmir’s political and security establishment. Mass rebellion in Kashmir was something the Indian State did not want the world to witness. The image of unarmed ordinary Kashmiri citizens shouting slogans, writing graffiti, attacking the material symbols of the occupation with their bare hands in fury and desperation to wrest free of India’s cruel and brutal stranglehold, threatened the complacency of the central regime. Most significantly, it dislodged India’s Pakistan-centric narrative. Indeed, the nature and scale of the revolt was such that it was impossible to palm off this rebellion to Pakistan.
Even more dangerous and worrying for the occupier was the emergence of parallel civic structures of civil resistance and administration such as the establishment of communal ‘bait-ul-maals’ ensuring the provision of basic services to residents; the establishment of informal schools with the objective of continuing education for the young despite the State crackdown; the establishment of community soup kitchens as a means to overcome the blockade of essential supplies; volunteer groups of young people at hospitals to help civilians whose kin were admitted for treatment etc. In large pockets across Kashmir, the writ of the Indian State ceased to exist. Not only had Kashmiri men, women, and school and college students risen in collective protest against occupation, the emergence of alternative structures of civil organisation based on a shared, participatory and collective effort at administering civil governance bypassed, rendered redundant, and by extension delegitimised State administrative institutions. This was radical politics: not only had the coercive capacity of the State been decapitated, civic counter-institutions had decapitated its administrative authority.
It was bad enough for the Indian State to witness Kashmiri civic dissent unmasked, unarmed, unafraid, and its perennial Pakistan alibi rendered redundant and meaningless in the face of public fury. The emergence of civic counter-institutions threatened its writ in ways that Kashmir’s armed militancy had not. All these dimensions together conveyed the single truth of India’s tenuous and deeply contested hold over Kashmir. The uprising had therefore to be contained and crushed as quickly as possible. Hence the longest curfew stretching over several months, an estimated killing of more than 100 civilians by government forces, over 900 blindings by indiscriminate use of pellet-guns against unarmed, mostly young protestors, and approximately 17,000 injured adults and children. This was the terrifying human cost extracted by the Indian State from the people of Kashmir in order to achieve its objective of restoring its ragged and tattered legitimacy in Kashmir.
Deceit and duplicity continued
With the passage of time, however, the Pakistan narrative crept back. At the ‘India at 70 Summit’ at a public event organised by London School of Economics in New Delhi in March 2017, in response to ex-ambassador Kanwal Sibal’s fulsome praise of Indian democracy and what in his view was India’s legitimate ambition for membership in the United Nations Security Council, I asked him how his particular construct of India as a democracy deserving of a seat at the UNSC squared with India’s occupation of Kashmir and its violation of UNSC resolutions on Kashmir. In an extraordinarily vindictive response Mr. Sibal declared that I could not be Indian by virtue of having raised what he declared were ‘anti-national’ questions. Pakistan, he fumed, was solely responsible for the situation in Kashmir. In May 2018, India’s Army Chief General Bipin Rawat maintained that Kashmiri youth “have gotten themselves in Pakistan’s trap. They are being consistently incited to attack us.” Much like his civilian counterparts General Rawat chose to ignore the fundamental political truth of Kashmir’s military occupation as the single source of armed resistance, and sought instead, to externalise and by extension discredit and delegitimise the latter by attributing it to Pakistan.
Historically and temporally scattered as these responses are, they remain united by a singular lack of honesty or sense of responsibility on the part of the Indian State for the violence and devastation wrought on an entire people. Aeons separate the moral universe of the Kashmiri people whose collective resistance for the greater good of all Kashmiris is diametrically opposed to the amoral realpolitik interests of an extraordinarily militarised and nationalist Indian State bent upon maintenance of the status quo upon the crutches of coercive force, deception and deceit.
Amidst the anger, anguish and sorrow across Kashmir, it may be useful to emphasise the political point that the Indian State’s deceitful and duplicitous attribution of the 2016 uprising, and indeed others before it to Pakistan, are symptoms of its failed and brittle authority in Kashmir. For over seven decades, India’s brutal and bloody reprisals against the Kashmiris have not produced the desired result. Only a defeated power whose security forces’ morale can no longer be maintained in the face of local popular resistance (as affirmed by Justin Rowlatt, BBC, 31 May 2017) feels compelled to claim that local rebellion and an over seven decade resistance by a people is wholly and solely directed, controlled and executed by an external enemy.
—Seema Kazi is a New Delhi-based academician and writer
This article was published in Kashmir Narrator’s June edition. To subscribe to print edition of Narrator, please call +91-7298102560 or mail at [email protected]