From the Killing Fields of Kashmir to the Finishing Line

October 21, 2010

October 21, 2010

By Gautam Navlakha

Where armed conflicts have gone on for a long period (decades) and where negotiations have been used by the State to win time or tire out opponents, or talks are deadlocked or cannot ensure compliance with whatever solution is reached, then making a reference to the people is the most sensible way forward. Decidedly, the desire to opt out of India, to either become an independent country or acced to Pakistan, or to read ‘azaadi’ to mean restoration of internal sovereignty, it is a fundamental demand of the Kashmiri people to refashion their relation with Union of India, from being formally and militarily an integral part to becoming a co-equal partner. The much talked about alienation has, since last 21 years, been transformed into demand for ‘azaadi’, which is an affirmation of their humanity for ending their exclusion as the discriminated and oppressed ‘other’. It is a democratic assertion to demand referendum which is the only peaceful way to ascertain the will of the people and especially where no one party can claim to be the sole representative of the people. Lest we forget right of self-determination is a collective right (of all the people of J&K) exercised individually.

Now there is a tendency in India to dismiss or dilute the demand for ‘azaadi’. It is said that while everybody demands ‘azaadi’ in Kashmir there is no clarity about what it actually means. This is meant to suggest that it is in this disarticulation or fuzziness over ‘azaadi’ lies the possibility of finding a solution within the bounds of Indian constitution. In other words demand for ‘azaadi’ gets either gets trivialized or seen as nothing more than manifestation of pent up rage. People are thereby robbed of their role as makers of their own history or destiny and a subject matter to be mollified with some ‘concessions’. Indian commentators are not alone to be blamed. This confusion gains from the self-appointed leaders who use ‘azaadi’ as a maximalist stance to get some sops from New Delhi. Thus ‘azaadi’ gets translated as nothing more than freedom from AFSPA, everyday inconvenience, generation of employment……all this and presumably little more while structurally nothing changes.

Unfortunately, these self-serving arguments are now being advanced and the 8 points announced by the Indian government are heralded as beginning of Indian state’s “solidarity” with Kashmiri people. Whereas the simple fact is that ‘azaadi’ is meant to express both people’s perception of their lived reality as one of enslavement as well as demand for breaking this, therefore the demand ‘Go India Go’. Of course Indian state is not going to leave because there is this demand. However, those who welcome Indian government’s belated and half-hearted response scarcely realize that they represent just themselves not the people because no one has been given the mandate to barter away the right of self-determination. Recall the lukewarm response to Musharraf’s four point formula.

Do I not thus impose my understanding on a people? Not at all. For a simple reason is that whether one favours opting out of Indian Union or believes in living in union with India, both share one thing in common: that what is people’s right cannot be usurped by a party or leader to barter away and that people must be allowed to express what they believe in. Quite apart from the fact that this one demand unites all the contending positions and allows for a democratic resolution without anyone feeling that something is being imposed on them from above without their consent, none of the pro-Indian parties dare claim in public in Kashmir that their electoral participation or people voting for them does not mean resolution of the dispute which has beguiled the people for 63 years and for which tens of thousand have sacrificed. Indeed, in moments of crisis, they fear even facing their own people who elected them because these parties and leaders received limited mandate. The elections monitored by civil liberties groups, especially JKCCS, in 1996 , 2002 and 2008 are powerful documented proof that whether a person voted or boycotted the polls the demand for ‘azaadi’ remained, so to say, universal in Kashmir. Why would anyone who voted, if voting was indeed endorsement for union with India, stress that their participation in polls ought not be read as disavowal of their desire for ‘azaadi’ from India?

Every adult knows that in Kashmir nothing can happen without New Delhi’s permission. Enough is known about this actual condition for anyone to dispute this.

Let me proceed to amplify my argument.

I

Capacity of Indian state and its intellectual acolytes to fool themselves and the Indian people stands highlighted by the “decisions” announced by the Indian government on September 25, 2010. It speaks of “sustained dialogue” with all sections of people, release of 245 stone-pelters, review of cases of those detained under Public Safety Act and five lakh rupees as ex-gratia compensation to families of 110 killed since June 11, review of areas notified as “disturbed” among others.

Consider the number of arrested and detained. No less than 1984 alleged stone-pelters have been arrested or detained, since April 30, 2010. Out of these, 1714 persons are out on bail or bondm leaving 265 inside jails. However, the fact is that, cases have not been withdrawn against these 1714 out on bail, and most of them are obligated to report to the nearest police station once every week. This means that at slightest sign of defiance, these cases can be revived. Interestingly, only one FIR has been filed for the 110 killings since June 11, 2010. Moreover, even for the burning of Biscoe school in Tangmarg by National Conference activists, nothing has been done. Even more startling is the fact that the state government has announced release of 52 stone-pelters even as new arrests are being effected across Kashmir.

Secondly, contrary to J&K police and CRPF propaganda that claimed injuries to their personnel numbering 1600 and 1400 and just 504 civilians, consider the following. All cases of injuries to security personnel were caused by stones. The statement propagated by the state police and CRPF provides no breakup of the nature of injuries. Whereas not only were grievous form of injuries inflicted on civilians, just the medical records of a single hospital, SKIMS, reveal the treating of 700 patients with bullet, tear gas and pellet injuries. Indeed so great was the rush that the hospital treated those with minor injuries without recording them. Besides, in almost all cases of death and grievous injuries, wounds are waist above, in stomach, chest or head. There was deliberate intent and conscious policy to do this.

The reason for pointing this out is because whereas government offers compensation, an euphemism for “blood money” according to the people, they are completely silent on justice for 110 killed, 1500 cases of firearm/tear gas shell/pellet injuries, 500 cases of severe beatings and 38 instances of blindness caused by bullet or pellet or marbles used as projectile in slingshot used by CRPF, since June 11, 2010. Despite these killings and serious injuries caused, just a single FIR has been filed in a single case against CRPF for unauthorized firing killing a youth, but no one has been arrested. The commission appointed to look into deaths of 17 persons has yet to meet while death toll rose nearly nine times since the time commission was set up.

It has also been made clear by an unnamed official source to Indian Express (24/09/10) that “(t)here will be no withdrawal of troops from the (J&K) state. We are only planning to re-deploy them in a manner that civilian areas do not appear flooded with paramilitary personnel.” The source admitted that “presence of central forces every 50 meter and the fact that local residents are made to pass through series of checks each time they venture out of their homes” necessitates redeployment but in case “this leads to a security situation we can always move forces back to these areas”. In simple language, they will not be withdrawn from J&K only shifted elsewhere ready for re-deployment whenever authorities feel the need.

It is also disingenuous of the Indian security force officers to first claim that while Kashmiris are our own people “they are remote controlled by Pakistan” and then pretend that “some (security) men do not seem to be listening” to “clear directives” for restraint, just as it was diabolical for the Indian PM to tell officers of security forces that protests ought to be curbed, checked and controlled and for the army general to characterize protests as a form of “agitational terrorism”. The metaphor of “enemy” and “terrorism” permeates the mindset of security forces, civil authorities and political parties along with embedded intelligentsia. It is punctuated with arguments, that “shameful treatment of Kashmiri Pandits makes it difficult to uncritically accept the grouse of the Kashmiris”. ( “No Middle Path in Kashmir” by Santosh Desai, Times of India 27/09/10) Note that the author of this article is actually sympathetic.

And an All Party Delegation is touted as a mark of “the overwhelming sense of national solidarity with Kashmiri sufferings….” (The Hindu editorial 29, September 2010) This makes it evident that what is intended through the announcement made by the India government, few days before commencement of the scam ridden Commonwealth Games, is that authorities gain some time – foreign media and world people do not get to know how bad the situation is for the civilians in Kashmir and the kind of terror people are subjected to, while nothing fundamentally undergoes a change on the ground. Indeed as has been made clear, there is consensus among the parliamentary parties from BJP, Congress to CPI, CPM and others that political solution has to be within the four corners of Indian constitution. Thus ‘sustained dialogue’ which some have guardedly welcomed will be within narrow parameters. Trouble is with BJP saying no to even autonomy/self-rule – the die is cast, so to say, for making “sustained dialogue” yet another meaningless exercise in which all and sundry will be “consulted” and suggestions a galore pitted against one another to dilute the principal demand of the people that their will be ascertained through a democratic process and crumbs thrown to pass off as “substance”. Recall that elections [i.e. the rigged variety where results, voting, candidates, electoral rolls….get rigged] is being passed off as being akin to “plebiscite”! Equating the profane with sublime. Verily, not only is might is right for Indian state but lies are truth for leaders of ‘democratic’ India.

II

Be that as it may. Let us take up the matter of intention. At an all party meeting called by the Prime Minister on August 12, he said that “I can feel the pain and understand the anger and frustration that is bringing young people out on the streets of Kashmir…..The state is only now emerging from the shadow of more than two decades of a deadly insurgency, which brought only death and devastation to the beautiful State.” He added that “I cannot say that a complex problem that has defied resolution for 63 years can be solved easily or quickly…….I urge the people of Jammu and Kashmir to give peace a chance……the key to the problem is a political solution that addresses the alienation and emotional needs of the people……But this process can gather momentum and yield results only if there is prolonged peace….. I would urge…to build consensus on a practical and realizable vision of Jammu and Kashmir’s future. And the people have to be convinced that this future has to be grounded in political and economic realities of our time.”

Recall that just a few months ago, on June 8, 2010, speaking at the fifth Convocation ceremony of She-e-Kashmir University for Agriculture, Indian PM said that “there are handful of people who do not want any political process for empowering people to succeed. This is the reason that attempts to disturb the lives of people in the Valley still continues from across the LOC…..Our security agencies are forced to fire , in the wake of such incidents. During the process sometimes innocent civilians have to suffer, but whenever such incidents happen it becomes necessary to act against those responsible for them. I am aware of some complaints related to human rights…..” When the highest authority has such a convoluted understanding of the situation and where gross abuse is reduced to ‘complaints’, what credibility can be attached to the verbal show of concern for people? As the saying goes, proof of the pudding is in eating. Are any FIRs filed against those who killed 110 persons, grievously injured more than 1500, just since June 11? And yet why are FIRs registered against 1984 stone-pelters arrested since April 30? We are supposed to remain gullible and Kashmiris supposed to take such dubious expression of concern at face value?

On August 4, 2010 Union Home Minister had taken the same line that “(o)nce peace and order are restored I am confident that we can explore the possibility of reactivating the political process that holds the key to the solutions.” This is rather strange because if there is one force endangering peace in J&K, which means absence of violence, it is the Indian military presence. So how can people restore peace when they are not the ones perpetrating violence?

Thus, the operative part of the PM’s remarks, make it clear that “prolonged peace” and to “consensus on a practical and realizable vision…..grounded in political and economic realities of our time” are needed for any resolution. Thus not only is political process linked to “prolonged peace”, its parameters are being narrowly defined under the argument of “political and economic realities of our time.” A story in Hindustan Times (September 5, 2010) quotes a very senior official to say that New Delhi wants “guarantees” that stone-pelting will stop before they announce “concessions”. He told the newspaper that New Delhi suffered a “bitter experience earlier this year and two battalions were withdrawn from Kashmir’s hinterland, but that did not stop stone throwing.” Two battalions out of more than 600 battalions deployed is no big shake. The very next day the Hindu (September 6, 2010) quoted the CM as defining these so called “concessions”. He says that “a pragmatic view about….AFSPA with a view to remove its applicability from those districts where terrorists or insurgent activities are minimal or insignificant”. Besides, he claimed that there would be resumption of dialogue with all shades of opinion, review of laws, (draconian laws?) and measure to tackle unemployment “where figures have snowballed into six lakhs.” In other words in order to receive this benevolence from India, Kashmiris must cease their protests.

Apart from the fact that withdrawal of few battalions out of thousands does not change anything on the ground, the problem is that the concessions are hardly worth much. So, what does the PM mean by “political and economic realities”?

Does it mean that Kashmir’s accession to India or the union with India is considered non-negotiable? The trouble is that it is precisely this that has been contested and disputed for all of 63 years! So how can something that has been the principal cause of the problem become, or be part of, its solution? How can the reality of forcing assimilation that has been experienced become the basis of the search for solution. Consider another fact. For six decades, New Delhi has undercut what passes for autonomy and has used it in manner to wrest control and authority over all those subject matters reserved for J&K. Does this mean that this “reality” too must be taken as non-negotiable?

But such is the power of auto-suggestion which permeates public debate in India, that it is considered an anathema to speak of the dreaded word “self-determination”. India’s insistence on seeking solutions within the Constitution of India, has meant unprecedented terrorization of people in Kashmir.

By boxing itself into the colonial mindset, which regarded the territorial integration of the empire as being a major constant, Indian authorities have ended reading every demand for opting out as an act of high treason and as carrying seeds of disintegration of India. Thus, secession and disintegration being anti-national etc were regularly invoked to inflate fear and to demonize popular movement/s. Had they perceived this opting out, through a process of self-determination, as means to re-define relationship with the Indian Union, there was greater possibility of reaching a democratic closure rather than blood-letting which ensued. Thus what could have been resolved amiably was turned into a mal-process to suppress the movement and usher in prolonged military crackdown.

Military suppression may be effective against armed militants; but when it fails to subdue a people, then it loses its cutting edge. Fear is the basis for keeping a people subdued. In Kashmir, since 1947, free expression was always in short supply because people feared its consequence. One feature common between NE and J&K has been the extraordinary dependence on government employment. Thus denial of government jobs became a tool to keep students silent. Threat of official retribution kept the intelligentsia quiet. Critical thought was discouraged because it was certain to take one in the direction of interrogating India’s colonial relation with Jammu and Kashmir. And raise uncomfortable questions about how and why Indian State’s presence appeared as a militarized and Hindu majoritarian phenomenon. Armed resistance first blew away the myth that Kashmiris lack courage and cannot bear physical pain. Unprecedented nature of repression let loose saw people simultaneously devastated by the loss of lives, livelihood, torture and humiliation yet showed great resilience by continuing to give expression to their demand for ‘azaadi’. While armed resistance catapulted the movement to great heights and kept it alive through the turbulent years the transformation of the movement to its current mass form is proving immeasurably discomfiting for the somnolent Indian public.

It is this that makes evident the dilemma of Indian state which found it difficult to consider even amendments to AFSPA or withdrawal of “disturbed” area tag, or even to reduce troop strength in J&K. Army’s northern command leadership has in fact upped the ante by claiming that “proxy war is still on” and that that “diluting , repealing or lifting the AFSPA will impinge upon our operations to counter Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.” A senior army officer was also quoted as saying that because, “(t)he Army and other Para-military forces are fighting a proxy war sponsored by Pakistan….to fight the enemy, even our own people, the troops need protection.” [The Tribune, 11/9/2010] Army chief had to claim that in past two months incidence of infiltration has gone up and that thus far in the month of September 30 “infiltrators” have been killed.

It is important to recall that current phase of the unrest began with the discovery of three civilians killed by Army personnel in Machil sector near LoC in April last and got linked with the issue of mass graves containing unidentified bodies. In Kalroosa graveyard, where these three civilians were buried and passed off as “foreign militants”, there were 65 unidentified bodies. These form part of the more than 2900 unidentified bodies discovered by IPTK during its investigations in three districts and the 55 graveyards examined.

Yet, it was claimed that ‘proxy war’ posed a threat. The incongruity of army’s arguments also stand out if we read this together with the statement of the DG of Police in June 2010 who told the media that there were only 500 militants in entire J&K in contrast to 7-800 in 2009 and around a 1000 in 2008. There was, he said, 20% drop in “violent incidents” in 2007, which further improved with a drop of 28% in 2008 and 30% in 2009, thus bringing the militancy related incidents to less than 500. (Rising Kashmir 16, June 2010) In other words if numbers of militants and armed incidents have declined so sharply what is meant by “terrorism” and “proxy war”? Indian military officers use them as a euphemism for protests and incidents of stone pelting. In other words, it is part of psychological warfare to keep the fire of military suppression burning because people refused to submit to India’s military juggernaut.

When the Prime Minister of India wanted that, in Jammu and Kashmir, authorities should ‘curb, contain and check’ protests, and protests are considered “agitational terrorism” by the army , “gunless terrorism” by the central para military forces, and protests are dismissed for being inspired, financed from across the border/LOC, it followed that targeting people, in particular the youth would be its operational fallout. Little wonder that by February 2010, authorities began charging stone-pelters for ‘waging war’, an act of high treason where death penalty can be awarded. And began to demand from the security forces strong action against stone-pelters in the name of fighting law breakers, who it was claimed were provoking security forces! And many facts were invented such as “firing from within the crowd”, “warnings issued to Sikhs”, “instructions coming from across the border/LOC”, “intercepts” which purported to show role of ‘outsiders’ ….

One of the objectives of counter-insurgency is to instil fear and humiliate the people to get them to submit to authority. Army’s doctrine for low intensity warfare says that “…the military operations should aim firstly, at neutralizing all hostile elements in the conflict zone that oppose or retard the peace initiatives and secondly, at transforming the will and attitudes of the people….The endeavour should be to bring about a realization that fighting the government is a ‘no win’ situation and that their anti-government stance will only delay the return of peace and normalcy. Therefore, distancing from the terrorists is in their own interest and the only plausible course of action. However, the manifestation of such a realization can take from a couple of years to decades as attitudes take time to form and to change”.

Therefore, in order to “transform the will and attitudes” of the people, fear and humiliation plays an important role. Let me cite anecdotal evidence. According to a source present at a meeting of senior police officers held last July, Kashmiri officers among them were told by their colleagues that ‘we had worked hard all these years to instil fear in the people, you have undone our work’. I tried hard to get this authenticated, but failed. Nevertheless, this may not be altogether false because the one fact that has emerged since 2008, and is now a self-evident fact in 2010, is that fear of security forces has declined to the extent that people, youth in particular, are no longer in awe of them. Curfew is defied. This defiance and its geographical spread shows, contrary to reports about being “confined” to five police stations or 2-3 districts, that it afflicts the whole valley spilling out to some Jammu districts, every now and then. And it is armed resistance which is confined to few incidents. As for humiliation, let me recount what happened when eleven boys were arrested on October 27, 2009 for pelting stones at security forces, a day ahead of PM’s Srinagar visit. On October 29, when the boys were produced before the sessions court, some of them narrated how they were forced to commit sodomy and how their photographs were taken by their torturers to warn them to quit the movement lest these photos are leaked out. The Court ordered medical examination and doctors in their report confirmed that there were bruises on the victims buttocks. (The Hindustan Times 6 November 2009). But thereafter nothing happened.

Again when PM visited J&K in June 2010, extraordinary security measures were taken. Mobile services across Kashmir valley were blocked. Internet services were disrupted. Extraordinary restrictions were placed along Boulevard and its neighbourhood in Srinagar and these were sealed after laying concertina barbed wires, placing armored vehicles to criss cross roads, S 144 imposed in central Srinagar and Mughal Gardens was closed for three days. All this is routine just as clamp down on media restricting their movements and rejection of the curfew passes by central forces. More worrying is the fact that unlike any where else, propensity of the security forces to open fire on unarmed protestors to kill or maim is a recurring motif for Kashmir. This was something which Omar Abdullah used to frequently refer to, prior to 2008. Not any more. Indeed the tone is different with his government defending PSA by claiming that it is needed to “administer” J&K. Yes, people have to be silenced lest pro-Indian forces come under pressure of Hindu dominated pan Indian political parties and an Indian administration which is psychologically tuned to camouflage its communal response under the cliché about “unity and integrity”, nation-state, national interest which are all just another name for self-serving chauvinism.

Read what IG of Police S M Sahai told the media on September 6, 2010 after four persons were killed near Palhallan. He claimed that his motorcade “was attacked by boys at Bhat Mohalla in Pattan while I was on my way to Baramulla to hold a police-public meeting. Besides damaging my car they tried to attack me. My personal security officers fired at the youth, killing one boy and injuring four others.” (Times of India, September 7, 2010). Compare this with what Indian Express (7 September, 2010) reported citing an unnamed police officer that “(t)he protests at Palhallan had ended peacefully in the morning. However, in the afternoon a contingent of police and paramilitary forces was deployed at the village that falls on the Srinagar-Baramulla national highway to clear….(it) for cavalcade of senior police officers. As the protestors threw stones the policemen and CRPF chased them. During the chase, a large group of men came out of the mosque. The security men were un-nerved when they saw a crowd and opened fire”.

Parenthetically, let us note the following about the Machil mass fake encounter case: On July 15, 2010 the Chief Judicial Magistrate had observed that “trial of the case in relation to the said accused persons is necessary to be conducted by the civil court…..In view of the conjoined reading of Army Act 1950 …the case falls beyond the option of its trial by court martial”. Army claimed that “The services in Kashmir are declared as active services so commanding officer has every jurisdiction to go for a court martial and exercise the option under Army Act 125 read with S 459 of CrPC.” However, the CJM said that the commanding officer cannot exercise the option under S 69 and 70 of CrPC since the offense came under S 302 of IPC. (Machil: Army to again plead for court martial by Mir Ehsan; Indian Express July 19, 2010). The police had claimed that army authorities had refused to make available the accused army personnel (Colonel DK Pathania of 4 Rajput Regiment, Major Opinder, Major Moriya, Subedar Sadbeer Singh, Sepoy Chandar Ban, Sepoy Naginder Singh, Sepoy Narinder Singh and Hawaldar Vir Singh). CJM ordered that the commander of 53 Infantry Brigade at Machil and the Commandant of 4 Rajput Regiment ensure the presence of the accused army personnel on July 29, 2010. [Interestingly, just this year in another case where BSF’s officer and jawans were accused of killing 16 year old boy Zahid Farooq Shah in February this year the BSF has now begun demanding that since its personnel were performing “active duties” in a “disturbed area” hence they did not commit an offence which can be tried by a civil court its personnel should be handed over to them to be tried by a special BSF court under BSF Act. [Mail Today, June 5, 2010].

Compare for instance that when three persons were killed during farmers protest in Uttar Pradesh on August 16, 2010, the entire parliament was in up in arms and opposition parties organized a demonstration in support of farmers. In Haryana, when Jats demanding reservation caused damage to public and private property (including burning a bank inside Hissar cantonment, set ablaze HP Cotton Mills….), Government not only announced compensation for the one victim of police firing, it also suspended local officers, apologized to people, offered amnesty to all protestors. In Kashmir, the killing spree continues and privileging security force personnel at the expense of people goes on merrily. It seems in the great Indian democracy, armed police personnel occupy the pedestal and people have to make do with crumbs thrown at them every now and then. It gets worse in “disturbed areas” where an entire people are declared to be enemy and armed soldier enjoying immunity and his/her morale projected as needing urgent attention. [This is no exaggeration in Masooda Parveen’s case, the Indian supreme court refused to even allow payment of Rs 50,000 as ex-gratia relief to the petitioner whose husband was killed in a macabre manner while in army’s custody. All because, according to the honourable judge it could “demoralize” the security forces personnel!]

Since military suppression has failed to take off and the indigenous character of the movement can not be denied, despite desperate efforts by the Indian government, an altogether new approach has now begun. The “soft face” of the Indian state is re-emerging in shape of a variety of official or semi-official “initiatives”. The argument of these persons is to lament the loss of lives and the trouble faced by people but also to remind Kashmiris to lower their expectations in order that Indian state extend some “concessions” to them. Simultaneously, it is said that there is no clarity on what ‘azaadi’ means. Thus “concessions” from India are dependent on people becoming realist and pragmatic. This amounts to achieving for the Indian state what they failed to do through military suppression, namely to bring about people to submit. Difference being that instead of bullets they are being asked to read the writing on the wall. Thus hegemony over intellectual production of ideas and opinions has become the order of the day. Therefore, as a teacher reminded me, “stone pelting has put pressure on India, but lot more pressure is needed to force them (India) to accept people’s demand.” That is why we must read carefully what leading members of the Indian government are saying and de-mystify the reality they are bent on obscuring.

Moreover,internal dialogue enjoys no premium. Government of India has dangled it so often and gone back so many times, I do not know what proponents of internal dialogue still mean by it. Is the dialogue meant to make life of authorities easy? To defer addressing the fundamental issue that has beguiled J&K for 63 years? A pretence that the unrest is merely a sign of people’s anger against bad governance rather than a continuing tale of oppression? Are not conditions attached to this dialogue when New Delhi says that people must “abjure violence and hold dialogue for searching for solution with the four corners of Indian constitution? Since these conditions dismiss demand for respecting right of self-determination which party will join this dialogue? Will those outfits be able to carry the public with them? If large section of people of J&K, as well as Pakistan, is not a party to the dialogue what purpose does it serve?

So have the “sangbaaz” (stone pelters) achieved nothing? Actually they have helped advance the people’s struggle by once and for all busting the myth that people have reconciled to living in forced union with India and that the only thing that was preventing people from expressing this was the presence of armed militants whose numbers have fast depleted. It is abundantly clear that “sangbaaz” (stone pelters) have helped to focus attention on the core issue of the people of J&K as being the principal party which must decide their destiny. Thus attention is drawn to the colonial nature of India’s relation with Kashmir whose one manifestation is the ubiquitous presence of Indian military. They have also brought a shift in the language of discourse on Kashmir in India, from one verging on offensive indifference to commiserating with youth to cease throwing stones so that political process can begin. These are surface manifestations of the success. What is hidden from public gaze is how different and politically astute the third generation is. It is remarkable that in an area where weapons and weapon training are easily available, people opted for politics of mass agitation. It is remarkable that their capacity to argue their case is far superior to that of the earlier generation. So scared are authorities that they banned student union within two years of introducing this in Kashmir University because they wanted students not to think critically or pose uncomfortable questions which would open the pandora’s box of lies, subterfuge and machinations of Indian state and their lackeys. They are both capable of expressing themselves in speech and in writing as well as through action. Who else but a sangbaaz alone could have said most poignantly while throwing stones at a tourist bus, which shattered the glass windows, that “we are throwing stones to remind the tourists that there is no normalcy here. Kashmir remains a ‘disturbed’ area”. Today for anyone to short-sell the movement or to dilute the fundamental demand for “azaadi” appears a foolhardy venture. And pro-India parties, who were through 2009 feted as the real representatives of their people are scared to face their own people who ostensibly elected them.

Notice also the dramatic chameleon switch of New Delhi. Until recently, the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and Union Home Secretary GK Pillai (UHS) were waxing eloquent about the “miscreants” sent by Lashkar i Toiba who were funding and goading youth to pelt stones as a way to provoke security forces to open fire and thus set in motion the ‘cycle of violence’ to disturb the fast returning normalcy. On June 30th, Union Home Minister famously said that “anti-national elements clearly linked to Lashkar i Toiba” were “trying to exploit the situation”. Later UHS told embedded media that there are “large number of intercepts” which indicates that efforts were on from across the border to foment “public disorder” and the MHA gave out what purported to be one such intercept translated from Kashmiri. Later it turned out that MHA got the translation done, so to say, made to order. Not content with this, UHS told Indian Express, in their column “Idea Exchange”, on July 17, 2010, that “I think the PDP is quite a frustrated party. They have yet to come to grips with the fact that they have lost political power in a democracy and are now in the opposition….” This is the same line of argument which BJP leaders have been peddling. The point is that Indian officials were engaged in the masterly act of blaming everyone but themselves.

In other words, popular revulsion at Indian state’s oppressive behaviour and condoning of the most heinous crimes committed by its military forces, was bound to rise. For it is an axiomatic truth that if people can not express themselves, cannot think, speak, write truthfully about their own lived reality, they cannot assemble peacefully , stage sit-in, carry out procession, distribute leaflets, demand the end to state of impunity…..then throwing stones by them is perfectly legitimate form of protest. If this is considered ‘agitational or gunless terrorism’ then I wonder how to characterize rape, massacre, disappearance, fake encounter…carried out by the Indian security forces?

As early as on 24th February, 2009, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, told the media that “New Delhi made the mistake of convincing itself that because tourist numbers were up, violence levels were down, that the Kashmir issue had kind of buried itself”. This assessment within the security apparatus and a political coterie was persisting with the tried and tested policy of “masterly inactivity”. (1) Although as recently as February 26, 2010 he boasted before the state assembly that “twenty years of violence with guns and bombs has not moved a single inch of land from here to there, what would stones do?” So why did security forces kill 110 persons and grievously injure 1500? Surely, they posed no threat?

So double speak remains a huge problem. In an interview (Conveyor July-August 2010) the CM claimed that he was “all for more reasonable elements even within the separatist camp having all the space they required to project their views and see what sort of response they get from people. Even with the most extreme separatist leader like Geelani Sahib – till he recently decided that he wanted to damage the secular fabric of the state by waging a front against the Amarnath yatra – I had no problem….”.

What did Geelani Sahib say? All he said was that Amarnath Yatra duration be restored to its traditional fortnight long pilgrimage and that number of pilgrims be confined to its pre-90 size in view of the ecological threat posed to this fragile location. And he pointed to what the Uttarakhand government had done in Gangotri where severe restrictions have been placed and number of people visiting it confined to less than 100. Now precisely the same demand has been raised by many persons, including by me, in order to protect this area from far too high a gathering of human beings whose body heat raises exponentially the temperature in this region. So how did this pose a threat? Yatris interviewed by media said that they were not only being welcomed by the people but that they were provided ‘safe passage’ by the protestors. (The Tribune 4 August, 2010). Significantly, it is the Indian state which promoted Amarnath Yatra as a religio-patriotic event and favoured commercialization of pilgrimage by encouraging people to gather in large numbers, unmindful of the ecological damage this poses, apart from the covert attempt to create stakes for non-state subjects. A not too subtle attempt to create vested Hindu religious interests. So who is committed to secularism? Let us also not forget that the Allahabad bench of Lucknow High Court has recently ruled, in the civil case filed on the Babri Masjid, that majoritarian faith enjoys premium in India. Why should then Kashmiri Muslims want to be part of this pseudo-secular state?

Polemics apart, take the fate of recommendations made by working groups set up by the PM to look into the issue of autonomy. Justice Saghir Ahmed wrote this his report was to examine “the autonomy demand in the light of the Kashmir Accord (the 1975 Beg-Parthasarthy agreement) but added another proviso “in some other manner or on the basis of some other formula as present Prime Minister may deem fit and appropriate so as to restore the ‘autonomy’ to the extent possible”. The vague reference to “any other formula” keeps the debate on the quantum of autonomy open even as it circumscribes it by saying “to the extent possible”.

However, take a concrete proposal made by this committee. “The question of appointment of the governor and dismissal of the popular government by the governor may be considered and resolved”. But failed to say what should be done. Now even pro-India political formations in J&K have been pointing to this incongruous situation where a person appointed by New Delhi at his own pleasure can dismiss an elected state government. Therefore, one suggestion was to take away this power from the governor. The other was to get the governor elected. Third was to make Article 356 inapplicable in J&K. None of these suggestions find mention in the report. It is left deliberately vague because it soon became apparent that what purported to be a working group report was in fact only the personal opinion of the chairperson. Members of the group questioned the legitimacy of the working committee report since it met only five times between 12th December 2006 and September 3 2007. The group comprised 21 representatives from variety of political parties. (Indian Express 28 December, 2009). Furthermore, New Delhi has hinted that – forget autonomy, they might consider devolution of power. Devolution is an administrative arrangement where the executive transfers certain authority to the lower echelons of government while retaining the power to roll it back through executive fiat if it so feels necessary. So all in all autonomy at closer scrutiny appears to face several imponderables. However, Justice Sagir Ahmed did suggest something quite interesting which implicitly upholds the people of J&K as the final arbiter when he said that “(i)t is for the people of J&K to decide how long to continue with Article 370 in its present form and when to make it a permanent or abrogate “. Albeit he stops short by failing to say how people’s will, will be ascertained?

This is important in so far as it implicitly upholds the principal argument of the ‘azaadi’ movement that people are the final arbiter, therefore, it becomes imperative that a reference be made to them to decide what they want. Perhaps I am reading this into something that was not intended. But it is significant that he places the onus on the people to decide where they stand on the issue of autonomy and article 370. To my mind, there is logical continuity between this and people’s right to decide their destiny.

But I want to draw readers attention to something more fundamental.

III

Let us go back into history. In signing the Instrument of Accession, the government of India had already declared that “(w)here the issue of the accession has been the subject of dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the state”.

On 17 October 1949, i.e. India referred J&K issue to the UN and the UN resolved to hold plebiscite, Gopalswamy Ayyangar, while introducing Article 306(A) [which later became Article 370] to the Indian Constituent Assembly, made following clarification:

“ In the first place there has been a war going on….the conditions in the state are still abnormal…Part of the state is still in the hands of the rebels and enemies. We are still entangled with the UN in regard to J&K….We are also committed to ascertaining the will of the people by means of a plebiscite, provided that peaceful and normal conditions are restored and the impartiality of the plebiscite can be guaranteed.”

However, he went on to overturn his own assertion by saying the following:

“We have also agreed that the will of the people through the instrument of the Constituent Assembly (of J&K) will determine the constituency of the State as well as the sphere of the Union jurisdiction over the state…”

Thus plebiscite was replaced with ‘will of the people’ as expressed by the J&K Constituent Assembly. And it was stressed that once J&K CA` had made known its choice, the ‘position of the J&K state would also correspond as closely as possible to that of the other states in the Indian Union’!

Now consider this fact. When elections were held for the J&K CA in September-October 1951, the National Conference ensured its victory by getting 43 out of 45 seats in Kashmir-Ladakh unopposed, a week before the elections! Two independent members withdrew later. It is this that was touted as an ‘expression of the will of the people’. In Jammu, nomination papers of 13 Praja Parishad members were rejected. Thus NC was assured of 58 friendly members thus ‘selected’!

Article 306(A), notably stated that Article 1 of the Constitution, according to which would be a Union of States and that States and territories of the Union would be a Union of States and their territories specified in Parts I, II and III of the First Schedule, would also apply to J&K. And that once the Constituent Assembly of J&K had made known its choice, the ‘position of the Jammu and Kashmir state would also correspond as closely as possible to that of the other States in the Indian Union’.

What was farce turned into tragedy when Sheikh Abdullah was arrested on 8 August 1953. How? Within less than a year of his arrest, on 14 May 1954 a pliable J&K government passed the J&K Constitution (Amendment) Act 1954 whereby Section 75 of the J&K Constitution Act 1939, under which the Council of Ministers was the final interpreter of the Constitution was changed and Sadar i Riyasat (later Governor) acquired this power. On the very same day, New Delhi issued The Constitution (Application to J&K) Order 1954 under which the jurisdiction of the Centre was extended from the original three subjects of ‘Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communication’ to all subjects on the Union List of the Indian Constitution along with the residuary powers!

Both these laws ran contrary to the very first provision of the Delhi Agreement of 24 July 1952 which gave special position to J&K within Indian Union by conceding that ‘sovereignty in all matters other than those specified in the Instrument of Accession continues to reside in the state’. This 1954 order included also two important provisions. Firstly it outlawed any activity which may disclaim, question or disrupt the ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.’ Secondly, any ‘insult to the Indian National Flag, the Indian National Anthem and this Constitution’ was deemed to be a treasonable act.

Thereafter, one after another, various substance and symbols of Kashmir’s autonomy and self-identity were` attacked and dismantled. Subsequent years witnessed the extension of Article 312 in 1958, which brought administration of the J&K government under the purview of the All India Services. By January 1965 Articles 326 and 327 empowering New Delhi to bring the state under Governor’s rule, without the consent of the state legislature, even one (s)elected through a fraudulent electoral exercise. In 1986 Jagmohan, the then Governor, ‘concurred’ with New Delhi to extend Article 249 enabling the Lok Sabha to legislate even on State subjects on the strength of a Rajya Sabha resolution.

Two other acts of Indian parliament are equally relevant for us to consider. The 16th amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1963 required that all the candidates for election to the J&K Legislative Assembly should take an oath to uphold the ‘integrity of India’. This provision was freely used to additionally rig elections in 1967. The returning officer prevented opposition candidates from taking oath, using 16th amendment as pretext! Secondly, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1966 held that anything “which is intended to support any claim to bring about on any ground whatsoever the cession of a part of the territory of India or the secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union, or which incites any individual or group of individuals to bring about such cession or secession” would be deemed unlawful. This was used to ban the Plebiscite Front in 1971. This, by the way, was the year Indian officials went about championing the cause of East Pakistan’s secession!

Are not all this non-negotiable? So what is left to achieve through ‘sustained dialogue’?

IV

Thus any possibility of accommodation within Indian Union is rather negligible. Why should anyone take any utterance of New Delhi or Indian political parties seriously? What does realism mean in face of this real experience? That is not all. Remember that what can not be got through legal course can always be snatched by the occupation force.

Take an important concern of authorities i.e. land required by the armed forces of the union in J&K. Jagmohan, wrote in his book “Frozen Turbulence” that “(d)efence is a union subject, while acquisition is the subject assigned to the state. If the Union government wants to establish a cantonment at a particular place the land for the same would have to be acquired by the state government. Suppose the state government refuses to acquire that land. The only remedy available would be to impose Presidents will by invoking provisions of Article 356”. [pp 243] But Jagmohan need not have worried because there are other ways available to acquire land.

On August 24, 2009 the state government had told the J&K assembly that out of I,054,721 kanals (or 131,840 acres), spread over 80 tehsils of J&K, occupied by the Indian security forces only 199,314 kanals (24,914.25 acres) were under lease license and acquisitions made under provision of Land Acquisition Act. Thus nearly eighty per cent of the land was under illegal occupation. As a result when the Union Ministry of Defence announced with much fanfare that they were increasing the rental for land and buildings they had occupied they obviously meant that they would be paying higher rent for land leased since there is no question of paying rent for land illegally occupied?

On March 15, 2010 during the budget session in J&K assembly the CM in a written reply claimed that 597,324 kanals were occupied by troops for which no rent was being paid.

Moreover, the state government had argued before the High Court in 2009 that land acquired by the Indian security forces, under land acquisition act, becomes the property of the party and question of its restoration to the original owners does not arise! However, J&K High Court through its Division Bench held that “while acquisition is forced sale, requisition is obtaining of tenancy by force of law. If requisitioning authority converts the requisitioned land property into practically an acquisition, that is keeps the title holder of the property away from the property for an unreasonably long period of time, it would be tantamount to commitment of fraud by the requisitioning authority”. Thus it ordered the Indian army to return 4000 kanals it had occupied 57 years ago in Kharewo-Damdhar area of Budgam district. Villagers had filed the case in 1998. (Indian Express 24 August, 2009). However, it did not become a precedent for getting armed forces of India to vacate land it had occupied because the court did not come out to declare what would a reasonable period be after which requisitioned land must be restored to its original owners.

Nevertheless, one of the biggest impediment to autonomy is the economic dependence of J&K on New Delhi which makes prospect of anything other than assimilation difficult to imagine. How? In 1950-51, J&K received only 3.7% of its revenue from the centre. Since 1990 it rose to cross 80%. (See Alienation in Kashmir, Arun Kumar Bose,The Statesman 8 December 2009). Latest RBI data on state finances show that between 1989-90 to 2009-10 Rs 94, 409 cr was given to J&K as grants. Significantly, for last thirty years, expenditure on social sector has remained at 30% out of total expenditure, as against 40% average for all states. (The Times of India 19 July 2010). There is of course another significant fact. It was in 1969 that New Delhi announced a “special” assistance plan for “special category states” whereby they were to receive 90% of the money from New Delhi as grant and only 10% as loan. For some inexplicable reason this scheme was not extended to J&K unlike other states such as in NE and Himachal Pradesh etc until 1990, when militancy erupted and New Delhi felt the need to extend this to J&K. This is also the period when New Delhi decided that further expansion of employment in the state sector was important to wean away people from the movement, under the argument that high unemployment causes people to cross over to militancy. As a result government employment reached 4.5 lakhs by 2009 for a total population of 1.1 crore. As a comparison Gujarat has roughly the same size of government employees for a population of more than 5 crore. The point is that Ghulam Nabi Azad had said in November 2005 that 50% of state government employees have no work to do, yet the already bloated state sector was further expanded. Even more alarmingly a fairly large number of people were employed in armed police formations. This bloated state sector stands out as a sore thumb if it is also placed against the fact that huge tracts of land and water resources are controlled by New Delhi.

It was reported in June (June 7, 2010, Greater Kashmir) that only Rs 8000 cr out of Rs 31,000 as part of PM’s rehabilitation package for J&K has been spent in last six years. In the Rs 31,000 cr state sector’s share was merely Rs 6100 cr, Rs 18400 cr was in the central sector and a Rs 4750 cr worth of central sector projects was to be built by the state.

The projects in the state sector included 19 projects such as Rs 1350 cr upgradation of transmission and distribution network; Rs 600 cr on Mughal Road, Rs 110 cr on Kahanbal-Pahalgam road; Rs 116 cr on Narbal-Tangmarg road; and Rs 577 cr for land acquisition for PMRP projects. Of the central sector projects to be implemented by the state included among others Rs 1470 cr and Rs 1741 cr respectively were for sewage and drainage system in greater Jammu and greater Srinagar and Rs 552 cr for augmentation and improvement of water supply in greater Jammu. Significantly, Department of Science and Technology of Union Government, under IREP was given the task of maintenance of 1000 micro hydel projects. These were part of PM’s Reconstruction Program and given to army under ‘operation sadbhavna’. DST was also tasked with verification of the actual number of such projects which “the Army claimed to have built or upgraded existing watermills”. It found that “90% of the 1000 power program are in shambles and need repair.” (The Tribune 10/12/2009). Army and the state government blame each other for this.

The important thing to note is that bulk of the investments in the power sector are taking place in what is known as the “central sector” whereas state itself is left with small to mini hydel projects. The real revenue generators, something which would greatly increase its internal revenue income have been denied to J&K. The other significant thing is that these projects are not major generators of employment in J&K. Bulk of the skilled labour is imported. And most of the jobs being offered to locals is in the unskilled category where once again preference is for imported labour who can be managed better than local workers.

So what is it that a dialogue within Indian constitutional framework can achieve and how long would these even marginal concessions last? And without the people wresting back their sovereignty, how else can they neutralize and counter dependence? Indian observers are nevertheless right on one count. One cannot reverse the clock. Precisely. Autonomy has run its course. Experience of autonomy within Indian Union has shown its futility. Those who hark back and want to resuscitate a dead horse, so to say, despite the clear declaration of the Prime Minister do not know what they are talking about. Perhaps they do not take their own Prime Minister seriously?

Of course this raises a question. If such is the level of dependence, accompanied by deception, manipulation and machination, would such an Indian State ever concede people’s inalienable right to self-determination? Never say never, as the saying goes.

Indian state’s Achilles heel is its own big power ambition. It is an aspirant for a seat on UN Security Council. Surely, many in India and the world can be mobilized to ask why should not India’s claim be tested first on its commitment to international covenants, laws and UN Charter. If India cannot practice compliance with right Article 1 of International Civil and Political Rights which speaks of ‘people’s right to self-determination’ and there are good reasons to believe that India is a guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity…what for should the international community add to its woes by electing yet another member to permanent seat and thereby strengthen the hands of the axis of evil which the five permanent members comprise? Surely the world would like to see that only those countries or aspirant are approved who can ensure and enhance the demand for justice that people of the world want.

So the struggle must continue. Resisting oppression and affirming the demand for right of self-determination are both subsumed under ‘azaadi’. The offer of ‘sustained dialogue’ held out by New Delhi is meant to abort any prospect of referendum. Events before and after 1989 have amply demonstrated the political unviability of Kashmir within the boundaries of Indian Union. Sangbaaz have today, through their courage and sacrifice, shown the way to all freedom lovers and brought the movement forward by compelling a hypocritical response from the Indian state and Indian political leadership. Remember that hypocrisy is the price paid by vice to virtue. It is going to be difficult now for the Indian state to repeat the brutal suppression people were subjected to in the 1990s. Having come this far now is the time for every fact and every argument to be used as a weapon of struggle. Truth and demand for justice are on the side of the Kashmiri people. It would be a sad day were these battles won after so much of sacrifice,  is allowed to be squandered for illusory gains at the behest of mealy-mouthed Indian ruling classes. There can be no replacement for right of self-determination. It is in Indian people’s interest, for our own democratic struggle, that we stand by this demand of the Kashmiri people. Defeat of oppressors in Kashmir, unlike the doomsayers, will strengthen our struggle.

2 Comments »

2 Responses to “From the Killing Fields of Kashmir to the Finishing Line”

  1. Amitayus Says:
    October 27th, 2010 at 05:30

    Cleverly avoids the background of UN resolution, the primary condition that Pakistan has to vacate PoK before the plebiscite to happen. So favourite whipping boy, the Indian establishment. Expected better reasoning than these emotional bumkums and hilarious logic [i](And most of the jobs being offered to locals is in the unskilled category where once again preference is for imported labour who can be managed better than local workers.)[/i].

    However it does not mean Indian state was all right. On the contrary, it went wrong and horribly wrong from day one and the saga is continuing with no respite in sight.

  2. sumit Says:
    November 14th, 2010 at 21:00

    Hi Amitayus, does the article hurt because CPIM is part of the “favourite whipping boy, the Indian establishment”?

Leave a comment