The highest and most deadly price for the hit-and-run tactics adopted by armed rebels was paid by scores of ordinary Kashmiri civilians who lost lives, homes, honour, livelihoods, property, granaries, mosques, shops, businesses, schools, entire markets, shrines, historical architecture and priceless works of Kashmiri art and culture in the inevitable horrific retaliatory, revengeful and retributive carnage wrought by security forces on hapless civilians
By Seema Kazi
As Kashmir lurches into ever-deepening darkness and despair, with the blood of Kashmir’s young men flowing thick and fast across the Valley, the Indian State continues with its failed fist policy. Unrelenting repression buttressed by a dominant narrative of cross-border terror are used to neutralise and depoliticise the Kashmiri struggle for political justice rooted in history, collective memory and Kashmiri identity.
Kashmir’s former Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu sought to erase this foundational basis of the struggle by proclaiming it to be a social issue. Such sinister, craven capitulation may warm the cockles of many hearts in Delhi, yet it does not make a shred of difference to the continuing Kashmiri reality of unjust, brutal occupation that — as several scholarly studies such as the work of Cynthia Keppley Mahmood or Catherine De Bergh Robinson testify — is the prime motivator for Kashmir’s young men to take to arms to fight the occupiers.
The life of Kashmir’s young men-turned-rebels is infinitely valuable and far more precious than their self-chosen fate of inevitable death and martyrdom at the hands of a remorseless, heavily armed, amoral adversary
The spilling of Kashmiri blood is as consistent a feature of the Kashmiri struggle as the collective dispossession and dishonour inflicted on the people of Kashmir by the occupation. Indeed, Kashmir continues to pay an unfathomable, incalculable and profoundly tragic human cost for resisting occupation. The occupier, on the other hand, seeks to rationalise and legitimise Kashmir’s grisly, gruesome and ghastly death toll through the deceptive semantics of ‘militancy’ and/or ‘cross-border terror.’ In this crucial meta-narrative dished out to mainland India and to the world at large by India’s civil-military consensus, the Indian State is a victim of Kashmiri violence.
This falsehood successfully served to obfuscate, camouflage and distort the narrative on Kashmir and greatly diminish the justness and legitimacy of the Kashmiri struggle. It also served to rationalise and normalise Kashmir’s horrific human toll even as occupier policy —exemplified by mass graves, civilian killings, rapes, torture, unlawful detentions and indiscriminate bloodletting in operations such as ‘Operation All Out’ — was justified as a legitimate and necessary response to militancy. To the extent that the military occupation of Kashmir drives a steady stream of Kashmiri young men to take to arms to fight the occupiers there is indeed armed militancy in Kashmir. However, the fact and truth of militancy being an outcome of the policies of the Indian State is never acknowledged, allowing the occupier to present its policy of unrelenting militarisation and repression as a fait accompli.
The limits of armed resistance
I have argued previously in this magazine that armed resistance serves to mask the occupier-as-victim untruth. The political import of this fact cannot be understated. It is essential for Kashmiris to expose this narrative as the falsehood that it is. This is of course no mean task at a time when hostility and/or indifference towards the Kashmiri struggle is at its apogee in mainland India and indeed internationally.
One of the reasons why armed resistance failed to dislodge the oppressor is because it completely ignored and sidelined civilians. By virtue of its military-centric logic, the civilian population was to be ignored until a certain measure of success had been achieved by outfighting the occupiers
Yet, the political and human cost of critical self-reflection and analysis is simply too high for Kashmir to accept with any degree of equanimity: Kashmiri young men fighting the occupier, fated to die young in bloody encounters with a military with little regard for civilian life, honour or dignity, or for the 1949 Geneva conventions to which India is a signatory; armed resistance prompting and legitimizing higher levels of repression by the occupier and ever more spilling of young Kashmiri blood and further legitimisation of the status quo; and last, but certainly not the least, the unfathomable anguish, despair and hopelessness of grieving families mourning the loss of their young across the Valley.
Must scores of Kashmiri young men die fighting a morally isolated, illegitimate occupier whose only claim to authority is the abuse of its own institutional mandate and principles by denying the Kashmiri people the inalienable, universal right to life? The life of Kashmir’s young men-turned-rebels is infinitely valuable and far more precious than their self-chosen fate of inevitable death and martyrdom at the hands of a remorseless, heavily armed, amoral adversary.
Heroic and radical as it may be, the sacrifice in blood by Kashmir’s young men has not dislodged a single soldier from the Valley; nor has it brought Kashmir any closer to the justice it seeks. On the contrary, on most occasions, the path of martyrdom chosen by Kashmir’s young men to fight the occupation and brutalisation of their homeland prompted ever greater military mobilisation and repression, the strengthening of the occupier-as-victim narrative and, by extension, legitimisation of the status quo.
To argue thus is not to take a pacifist or defeatist position or disrespect those who chose death rather than a life of indignity and dishonour under occupation. Indeed, the young men who died fighting for justice and freedom were accorded respect, dignity and collective solidarity for fighting injustice. Nor does this suggestion imply acquiescence for the status quo. Rather, the suggestion here is that the loss of Kashmiri life through armed resistance may not be the best way forward to advance Kashmir’s struggle for justice.
Indeed, although wholly unintended, each act of armed resistance serves to camouflage and obscure the quintessentially political character of the Kashmiri struggle. The rejection of politics by the resistance — exemplified by its focus on outfighting the occupier — allowed great latitude to the occupier to reduce the Kashmiri struggle to an issue of (indigenous and/or externally abetted) armed militancy while absolving itself of any and all responsibility for a political resolution to Kashmir.
Armed resistance further allowed the occupier the opportunity to de-legitimise and discredit the Kashmiri struggle as a Pakistan-created and Pakistan-instigated conspiracy against the Indian State. Through this distortion, the Indian State proceeded to hold the possibility of an India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir hostage to the deceitful and self-serving conditionality of Pakistan ending ‘cross-border terror’ – a position that conveniently airbrushes the basic fact that while Pakistan exploited Kashmiri grievance, it did not create Kashmiri grievance or the conflict in Kashmir. India did.
Therefore, the onus of responsibility for addressing and ending Kashmir’s unending agony lies primarily with the Indian State. The sacrifice in blood of Kashmir’s young men serves to obfuscate these fundamental facts and truths regarding the Kashmiri struggle for justice.
In addition to the above, the consequences of armed resistance mandate reflexive analysis. Even as armed resistance challenged the authority and legitimacy of the Indian State, no discernible political advantage accrued to the Kashmiri people or their struggle. Asymmetrical guerrilla tactics adopted by armed rebels against a conventional, paranoid and prejudiced military presence succeeded in inflicted casualties on the oppressor, yet the highest and most deadly price for the hit-and-run tactics adopted by armed rebels was paid by scores of ordinary Kashmiri civilians who lost lives, homes, honour, livelihoods, property, granaries, mosques, shops, businesses, schools, entire markets, shrines, historical architecture and priceless works of Kashmiri art and culture in the inevitable horrific retaliatory, revengeful and retributive carnage wrought by security forces on hapless civilians in the wake of rebel attacks.
In short, armed resistance did not yield any political advantage to the people of Kashmir. To say this is not to disrespect those who laid down their lives defending their homeland and the honour of their people; on the contrary, it is to foreground the inherent limitations of armed struggle. Armed resistance is not the best political response to occupation and repression in Kashmir. What then are possible alternative means of advancing Kashmir’s struggle for justice?
Reclaiming civic agency
One of the reasons why armed resistance failed to dislodge the oppressor is because it completely ignored and sidelined civilians. By virtue of its military-centric logic, the civilian population was to be ignored until a certain measure of success had been achieved by outfighting the occupiers. This gross political error and imbalance should be redressed. The Kashmiri people, Kashmiri civil society and civic groups have a crucial role to play in terms of publicly highlighting, and by extension advancing Kashmir’s struggle for justice.
An unconventional and admittedly difficult strategy of advancing the struggle would be to highlight the Kashmir issue by Kashmiri civil society in the proverbial heart of the beast, that is, mainland India. This is an absolute necessity because the Kashmiri struggle must forge sympathetic civic constituencies within mainland India, knowledgeable about and sympathetic to Kashmir’s tragedy in order to gain a supportive foothold within the domain of the adversary. This requires time, courage and commitment especially in the present dark climate. Yet it must be done.
Let a representative group of young articulate Kashmiri speakers — capable of stating clearly in non-polemical terms that the Kashmiri struggle is about justice, not armed militancy; that Kashmiris do not wish to fight or kill; that Kashmiris wish for a peaceful, honourable and just resolution to their collective tragedy; that they are willing to engage in an inclusive, unconditional, structured and transparent dialogue with the Indian State — communicate this message to civic constituencies in New Delhi. Declarations to this effect have been made repeatedly in Srinagar, but these have to be made in New Delhi with the support and facilitation of civic groups in mainland India for it to have any meaningful political effect. In a space where the word Kashmir is synonymous with ‘terror’ and/or Pakistan this would be a significant and effective counter-measure.
Let Kashmiri civil society educate Indians about Kashmir; let Indians and the Delhi diplomatic corps, international community, and the world know that Kashmiris want dialogue and it is the Indian State that is stonewalling the same. Utilise the important political tactic of surprise to call for dialogue in Delhi; put the occupier on the back foot. At the moment quite the opposite is the case.
Such a programme of civic engagement should be the outcome of an inclusive and intense public discussion and debate between civil resistance groups and Kashmiri civil society towards crafting an affirmative public charter for Kashmir – derived from universal principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (India is signatory to both) — endorsed on behalf of the Kashmiri people by a representative set of eminent Kashmiri civil society personalities. Release the charter in public. Discuss and debate the charter in New Delhi. Discredit and de-legitimise the narrative of the Indian State through peaceful civic engagement in mainland India. You may be abused, attacked physically or arrested. Endure it. Such acts would expose and indict the adversary in full view of national and international constituencies in the national capital, not hidden and concealed behind the Pir Panjals. Have the courage of your convictions. Abuse or attack in mainland India would be small price to pay for the justness of your struggle and the dignity and honour of your people. Invite the Indian State and Indian civil society for discussion and debate. Share the charter with the Kashmiri diaspora and international community. Discuss and defend it in local, national and world fora. Let the world know the Kashmiris are a politically mature, educated, humane and democratic people instead of the distorted caricature presented by the Indian State to Indians and to the world at large.
A civic mobilisation for justice in Kashmir would restore to the Kashmiri people and to the Kashmiri struggle civic agency, and the political and moral edge that the narratives of the Indian State and (sadly) the sacrifice of Kashmir’s young men obscured.
Despite the cruel collective suffering inflicted by India on Kashmir for decades, the people of Kashmir welcome Indians to their ravaged albeit beautiful homeland each year. Despite the brutality of the military occupation, Kashmiris save marooned soldiers from the flood waters and help rescue injured Amarnath yatra pilgrims. This singular unity of Kashmiri humanity and civility is Kashmir’s national essence to be retained and cherished as the guiding spirit underpinning the Kashmiri struggle for justice.
-The piece appeared in Kashmir Narrator’s April issue. To subscribe to print edition, please mail here: [email protected]