By Rajmohan Gandhi
In some ways the game is over in Kashmir Valley. When someone like Tariq Ahmed Karra, one of the PDP founders, resigns from Parliament and party, citing “administratively inhuman and politically unethical blunders”, and likens the government’s repressive methods to those of the Nazis, it is time to realise that rejection of India seems complete in Kashmir.
A de facto plebiscite already seems to have taken place there. Kashmiris appear to have voted with untiring throats, with eyes destroyed or deformed by pellets, and with bodies willing to fall to the ground for what the heart desires. And the vote seems to be for azadi.
At the very least, alienation in Kashmir has reached a new depth. But a de facto plebiscite has also taken place in India, and the vote seems to be against yielding on India’s sovereignty over Kashmir. When leaders of left parties join the rest in insisting that “there can be no compromise” over sovereignty, the door to ambiguity appears closed. As far as Indians are concerned, it would seem that the Tricolour must always fly over Kashmir.
A de facto plebiscite already seems to have taken place there. Kashmiris appear to have voted with untiring throats, with eyes destroyed or deformed by pellets, and with bodies willing to fall to the ground for what the heart desires. And the vote seems to be for azadi. But a de facto plebiscite has also taken place in India, and the vote seems to be against yielding on India’s sovereignty over Kashmir. When leaders of left parties join the rest in insisting that “there can be no compromise” over sovereignty, the door to ambiguity appears closed.
The stalemate will probably continue. Some possibilities can be imagined. Kashmiris may tire. Weeks of closed schools and lost incomes may take their toll. The continuing incarceration of breadwinners may become harder each day to endure. Street demonstrations could peter out. And a new “hero” may emerge who is ready to impose Delhi’s will under a Kashmiri name and declare the return of “normalcy”.
But there is no sign that any return of “normalcy” will last. The probability is that alienation will be nursed quietly until circumstances allow for another round of open defiance. Is it possible that Kashmiris recognise the moral azadi they have won, declare victory and a pause, preserve their livelihoods as also their children’s education, and prepare fresh strategies? In such a case, they might add considerably to their gains.
And if, to the extent possible, Kashmiris conscious of their mental azadi take charge of their villages, localities and institutions — if in running their local institutions, and in protecting their land’s Godgiven yet greatly endangered environment, they display the solidarity they have shown in defying New Delhi — they would chip away at Indian resistance to their azadi. Is this asking too much of Kashmiris?
Across the Divide
Everyone knows that the number of Indians willing to admit openly that Kashmiris have not themselves chosen to belong to India has been small. But it is growing. Indian voices are finally recognising, perhaps to their shock, that to many Kashmiris, their compatriots ready to be killed for deeds of azadi are heroes in the same way in which Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad and Subhas Chandra Bose are heroes in India.
Very much smaller is the number of Indians willing to say that Kashmiris are entitled, if they so wish, to de jure azadi and a seat at the UN.
And the number of Indians who sincerely think that Kashmiris would lose out under formal azadi is quite large.
But there are other ways in which concerned Indians can help the people of Kashmir. And if at least 80 deaths at the hands of security forces, including of women and children, numerous blindings, a great many serious injuries, and more than 70 continuous shutdown days in the Valley are not enough to stir the Indian conscience, what will?
Concerned Indians can demand an immediate end of pellets as a means of crowd control. They can ask for a detailed, daytoday updating of civilians and security personnel killed or injured in Kashmir. They can demand the oft-promised but seldom if ever implemented prosecution of military and paramilitary personnel involved in unwarranted use of lethal arms.
They can ask for at least a beginning of the oftpromoted exercise of demilitarising Kashmir valley. They can circulate as widely as possible reliable reports of nonviolent protests in Kashmir and of excesses in Kashmir by security forces.
And they can underline the folly and unconstitutionality of suppressing freedom of expression and communication, even when the words expressed go against popular or official opinion. As long as they do not commit violence, Kashmiris surely have the freedom, under Indian and international law, to criticise policies, and even to ask for azadi, and and to talk to one another about it. When it disables a population’s phone and internet communications, an administration not only broadcasts its unpopularity; it prevents the flow of discussion and debate that may ultimately lead to solutions. Such blocking measures moreover suggest that a people as a whole, and not merely law-breakers, are the targets of official distrust, a posture that once defined imperial rule. What must never be allowed is the blocking of communication between concerned Kashmiris and concerned Indians. Our economy is single, our lives are interdependent. Kashmiris study, trade and live in different corners of India. Provided it remains honest and mutually respectful, interaction between common people across the divide can only help.
The Article First Appeared In THE ECONOMIC TIMES
19 September 2016