I must admit that I am no fan of Arundhati Roy whose Booker Award winning novel I found impossible to finish. Her commitment to some social causes is certainly praiseworthy, but her politics has seen her hobnobbing with anarchists, separatists, and the bloodthirsty Maoists whose ideology (if any) is diametrically opposite to the social revolutions that she apparently supports. In August 2008 she made a strong appeal for the azadi of Kashmir from Indian rule, concluding her statement with the words: “India needs azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India.” For once, I found myself agreeing with her and wrote an article in support of her statement that was published in The New Indian Express.
However, our views were immediately trashed by the so-called nationalists and patriots, twenty of whom published an open statement on 19th September, 2008, denouncing this kind of “psywar” against the country.
For reference, below are video’s from the azaadi conference held in Delhi around that time. The first is Arundhati Roy’s and the two subsequent recordings are speeches by Syed Geelani.
The list of the 20 signatories to the open statement read like a who’s who of people who in their various capacities as senior government officials, diplomats, top brass of the Indian armed forces, Intelligence and security agencies’ chiefs, responsible members of the press, and leaders of industry, could have exercised their combined and considerable influence in resolving what has become an intractable problem—the conflict in Kashmir. But the fact remains that sixty-five years after the “unquestionable” accession of Kashmir to India we are still fighting a secessionist insurgency in the state, overtly and covertly supported by a hostile neighbour.
It is very well to quote the authority of the Constitution, and to reassert “national will” and “state power”. But when a whole population of a section of a state is demanding freedom, and waging war to attain it, we cannot take shelter behind considerations of “a nation aspiring to become a major player in global power dynamics”. To state that “there is no basis on which any change in the political status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir could be considered” without providing an alternative solution to end insurgency and bring peace to this troubled valley is to escape responsibility while sounding patriotic. Just saying and repeatedly asserting “as proud and patriotic Indians who strongly believe that the unity and secular democratic fabric of our republic must be preserved at all costs” and calling upon “the Government of India to make it unequivocally clear at the highest level that under no circumstances will the government and people of India countenance any compromise with the integrity of the nation” has not made the problem disappear. Such statements look nice in print and sound very lofty. But they alone are not enough to make the affected people to suspend and terminate their protests and return to a peaceful way of existence. From such a formidable galaxy of minds and experience one would have expected at least a half-solution to the problem, but what we read was nothing but a repetition of pious declarations, clichés, and platitudinous exhortations.
Extraordinary situations require extraordinary solutions. And there is no denying the fact that the situation in Kashmir is extraordinary. The insurgency since 1989 has wreaked havoc on the social, cultural, ethnic and religious fabric of not only Jammu & Kashmir, but on the entire nation. What the Kashmiri Pandits have faced is nothing short of ethnic cleansing, who, from being an integral part of the valley, have today been reduced to becoming refugees in their own country, living in abysmal conditions in shanties spread over the city of Jammu and its suburbs. Even there they are just tolerated, as their presence has put pressure on the economic resources of the province, leading to escalation in the prices of land and other commodities. The Pandits are also competing for jobs with the people of Jammu, and such situations can only exacerbate conflict. There were about 1,25,000 Pandits in the valley before the insurrection. Today, I believe there are a mere 7,000 left, perhaps because they have nowhere else to go, living in mortal fear, existing practically from day to day. Their lives can be snuffed out by any or all of the militant groups operating in the valley without a second thought. The Kashmiri Pandits today are practically on the verge of extinction while the “aspiring major player in global power dynamics” has no time for them. They are an expendable community as they do not constitute enough numbers to qualify as a vote bank.
The cascading effect of the insurgency and the proxy war in Kashmir on the rest of India has not been fully comprehended by the powers-that-be. That Pakistan has taken advantage of the disaffection in Kashmir and utilised it to further its own agenda of weakening the unity of the Indian state cannot be denied. Wajahat Habibullah, perhaps the most qualified commentator on Kashmir, says in his book, “My Kashmir, Conflict and the Prospect of enduring Peace” that for Pakistan Kashmir may be the core issue, but “the explanation of Pakistan’s unabated hostility lies elsewhere. It is characterised by Pakistan’s quest for balance with India since 1947. This quest led to an overemphasis on the military budget, giving the army a privileged – and, unduly powerful – political status even when Pakistan was not under direct military rule. It lies in the quest for a distinct identity of a state that aspired, on its creation, to represent the Muslims of the entire Indian subcontinent even though it became home for fewer than one-third”.
The idea of letting the valley separate is not something of recent origin. Philip Spratt, an English journalist, editing a Bangalore journal MysIndia, wrote in 1952 that India should abandon its claim over Kashmir, and allow Sheikh Abdullah to realise his dream of independence. Spratt wanted the Indian army to be withdrawn from J & K and all loans to the state written off. ‘Let Kashmir go ahead, alone and adventurously, in her explorations of a secular state’, he wrote. ‘We shall watch the act of faith with due sympathy but at a safe distance, our honour, our resources and our future free from the enervating entanglements which write a lie in our soul.’ Ramachandra Guha, in “India After Gandhi” writes, “Spratt’s solution was tinged with morality, but more so with economy and prudence. Indian policy, he argued, was based on ‘a mistaken belief in the one-nation theory and greed to own the beautiful and strategic valley of Srinagar’. The costs of this policy, present and future, were incalculable. Rather than give Kashmir special privileges and create resentment elsewhere in India, it was best to let the state go. As things stood, however, Kashmir ‘was in the grip of two armies glaring at each other in a state of armed neutrality. It may suit a handful of people to see the indefinite continuance of this ghastly situation. But the Indian taxpayer is paying through his nose for the precarious privilege of claiming Kashmir as part of India on the basis of all the giving on India’s side and all the taking on Kashmir’s side’.”
The state of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be compared with any other state within the Indian union. Its three provinces are as dramatically distinct from one another as Tamil Nadu is from Haryana, or Bengal is from Gujarat. The people of Jammu are predominantly of a Punjabi culture. Even the Muslims of the Jammu province come from Rajput stock, speak a Punjabi dialect, and hold the Kashmiri Muslims of the valley in contempt. The Pandits and the Muslims of the valley originate from the same ethnic stock, speak the same language, and have almost similar dietary habits. The Ladakhis are more akin to Tibetans, almost identical in diet and attire. The Jammu province is predominantly Hindu; Ladakh is almost equally Buddhist and Muslim, while the Kashmir valley is nearly cent percent Muslim. It is unfortunate that the militants had to target a hapless, hopeless minority, who could not, and did not, pose any threat to Muslim majoritarianism in the state. The Pandits were anyway being forced by discriminatory policies to leave the state and to look for educational and employment opportunities in the rest of the country and abroad. The objective of cleansing the valley of the “non-believers” could have been achieved without violence. But Pakistan was in a hurry and it found willing allies in the disaffected youth of the valley. Being preoccupied with the exigencies of national politics, rather than with the wishes of the people of Kashmir, the Indian governments failed to develop a workable long range policy for Kashmir. Corruption and nepotism among the political leaders of Kashmir, and the Indian government’s complicity in letting such conditions persist led to a quick alienation of the youth. It is the state’s misfortune that apart from Sheikh Abdullah, no political leader has emerged who would be acceptable to all the people. At the time of partition, the Sheikh had a choice: join Pakistan, a Muslim nation but under Punjabi leadership, or join a secular nation where Kashmiris would be free to live as they chose. Sheikh Abdullah chose the second option, and to his credit, never deviated from this stand. The Indian government, in a series of blunders while dealing with Kashmir, made its first great blunder when it dismissed Sheikh Abdullah’s government and arrested him in 1953. From then onwards it has been a continuous pattern in political and administrative insincerity in dealing with Kashmir. Elections routinely rigged, corrupt and unpopular leaders installed through financially engineered defections, convinced the people that New Delhi would only allow supplicants to rule. The reactive rather than proactive response to challenges led to trigger-happy decisions, resulting in such monumental tragedies as the unprovoked firing on the funeral procession of Mirwaiz Moulavi Farooq in May 1990, causing the death of 27 mourners; the firing on a crowd of civilians in Bijbehara following the siege at Hazratbal, and countless violations of human rights in the valley. Escalating violence inevitably leads to escalating human rights abuse, both by the militants and by the security forces.
Pakistan has been pushing militant Jihadis of different nationalities like Sudan, Chechnya, Afghanistan, etc., to wage low intensity war in Kashmir and to train militant outfits across India. The increase in acts of violence against soft targets across the country is calculated to destroy the communal and social harmony in the country. We must admit that Pakistan has been more than reasonably successful in its nefarious designs. If it had not been for pressure from the USA after 9/11, the situation could have been much worse, although it did not prevent 26/11 and countless other acts of terrorism within the country. The pusillanimous response of the Manmohan Singh government has further emboldened Pakistan and the separatists in the valley to continue with the low-intensity war. Yasin Malik is free to sit with Hafiz Saeed, and Mehbooba Mufti, the President of the PDP, can castigate India for treating Kashmir as a “colony.” Farooq and his son Omar Abdullah have brought governance to such a new low that one can find parallels only with the likes of Papa and Baby Doc, who between them ruled Haiti in the Caribbean for almost thirty years, ruining that nation beyond imagination. Kishtwar goes up in flames on the day of Eid; minority Hindu properties are destroyed and young men killed with impunity with the state police as mere spectators, but the Chief Minister has no time to visit this disturbed part of the state. The men of straw who constitute the central cabinet in New Delhi think nothing of destroying the morale of the armed forces by making selective leaks of sensitive intelligence, with the sole purpose of destroying the career and credibility of a retired Army Chief who refused to kowtow to the babu’s of the Ministry of Defence. The Prime Minister is so determined to shake the hand of his Pakistani counterpart that he completely overlooks an ongoing military incursion in the Keran sector of Kashmir.
Keeping this reality of the situation in mind, and holding the cause of peace as more important than some misplaced sense of power and superiority, does one recommend a solution that takes into account the yearnings of the people of the valley. The continuous violence and disturbance has led to such confusion that Kashmiris themselves are unable to define what they mean by azadi. They are unable to comprehend that a politically independent, but powerless state, situated in one of the world’s most volatile regions, flanked by rival nuclear powers, has no hope that it will be left in peace. An ‘azad’ Kashmir would only be as ‘azad’ as the Pakistan-occupied Azad Kashmir is today. David Devadas, in the epilogue to his excellent book ‘In Search of a Future – The Story of Kashmir’, writes: “Kashmir has not, despite education and wealth, transcended its hateful contempt-ridden past. Religious, sectarian and ethnic antipathies continue.” “Over five centuries of frequent chaos, exploitation and repression, the trust that any society requires – the willingness to set aside religious, sectarian, caste, ethnic or even personal interests for the collective good – is in tatters. Civil society bustles, but mistrust, so often evinced as ambivalence, constantly lurks. Kashmiris have deeply imbibed a consciousness of the illegitimacy of the state, its institutions and officers. Kashmiris feel they are right to blame the Indian state for fraudulent elections and weak democracy but New Delhi’s machinations are only part of the story. Kashmiris are loath to examine the roles of their leaders, the effects of their history and the state of their society…The unfortunate fact is that personal ambitions are foremost in the minds of many of Kashmir’s leaders – but no more than among most of Kashmir’s people.”
Coming back to Arundhati Roy’s statement on Kashmir, I believe that India should look for freedom from the Muslim-majority valley of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The people of Jammu have never been equivocal in their preference and we can be sure that they would never want to be a part of Pakistan. The Ladakhis, I am afraid, have never been asked, and if given a choice, they could go either way. Islam is as prevalent as Buddhism in their province. Roy, in her proposal, was probably suggesting that India should do what Philip Spratt had suggested in 1952, with the modification that the Jammu province remains with the Indian Union, and the valley given its cherished ‘azadi’. A referendum could be held in Ladakh allowing its people to determine their future.
To believe that if the valley separates because it is Muslim dominated will have its own repercussions in the rest of the country, is not a valid argument. Geographically, apart from Kashmir, Muslims are not a majority in any of the states contiguous with Pakistan. Further, the overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims, who constitute over 15 per cent of the population, has absolutely no sympathy for the partisan few who still fan a tired idea called secession. In fact if the Kashmir valley is allowed to separate it will take the wind out of the sails of the Islamists, and will leave Pakistan with no excuse to further its nefarious designs in India. The move will release the vast military apparatus tied down in the valley that can be deployed for better security in the rest of the country. It will also save the national exchequer vast amounts of money literally going down the drain in the valley. Internationally too the country will gain as the allegations of human rights violations, true or imaginary, will cease and India will be able to occupy its rightful place in the comity of nations. Pakistan, on the other hand, could also benefit, as it will have no more reason to maintain a huge military establishment, thereby reducing the role of the armed forces in its governance. The country may eventually grow out of its medievalist mind-set and achieve some modicum of liberal democracy. A less hostile, democratic neighbour can only be good for India and the subcontinent.
In the Name of Jihad
Zubin Mehta’s Concert in the Valley – Significant for Many Reasons
The Mythical Dayan Of Kishtwar & The Eating Away Of The Indian State
Politics And The Cricketer From Jammu & Kashmir
Lessons from Afghanistan – How Not To Win Friends And Influence People
Freedom of Speech For Terrorists In India
Image Source: Kashmir Map