Saiyyed Abdullah Gilani
THE imposing images of Young boys and girls in school uniforms confronting heavily armed soldiers have come to define the new face of rebellion in Kashmir in recent days. The Student protests against Indian brutality began last month after Indian soldiers forcibly barged into a college in Pulwama town and baton-charged students there leaving more than 50 wounded. This stirred up a real hornet’s nest and the protests quickly spread across the Kashmir valley. The images of the agitated school children continue to travel far and wide in the world bringing a renewed media attention to Kashmir issue and telling the Kashmir story with a reinforced vigor and zeal.
These images have also captured public imagination in India and the glass castle of political illusions about Kashmir the Indian state has meticulously and insidiously built over decades is beginning to shatter. On the political front the impact is visible in the growing anxiety and realization among politicians as senior as former Indian Home Minister P.Chidambaram that India has almost lost Kashmir.
The comments Chidambaram recently made in his weekly column in the Indian Express are telling. He expresses what he describes as the “sinking feeling” in the following words:
“What has changed for the worse is the nature of the protest and the composition of the protesters. Never before have young girls indulged in stone-pelting, never before have mothers said that they cannot restrain their children, never before have there been such widespread protests without a visible leader, and never before have people wedged themselves between the security forces and suspected terrorists during a gun battle. These are ominous portents.”
Also indicative of a growing political consternation is the idea of Kashmir conclave floated by opposition parties in India. Opposition leaders like former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh of the Congress Party, Sitaram Yechuri of the Marxist Communist Party and Sharad Yadav of the Janta Dal are in the process of finalizing dates for the event proposed to be held in the capital New Delhi to discuss the situation in Kashmir and arrive at a possible solution to the ongoing stalemate. A delegation of the opposition leaders is also planning to visit Kashmir ostensibly with the intension to invite resistance leadership to participate in the event. The organizers of the proposed event say they are trying to make it an all-party venture where they will come up with a collective stand on Kashmir issue and press for its early resolution.
While it would be premature to comment on their collective position on Kashmir issue as they haven’t yet spelled it out, however, whatever it may be, one thing is clear that given their ideological limitations they can’t even imagine a solution outside of Indian constitution. And therefore, the conclave stands doomed even before it takes off. The 6 decades of continuing conflict in Kashmir stands witness that all political parties in India, without even a rare exception, inherently lack the political courage to think of a Kashmir solution outside the
Confines of Indian constitution and that makes India’s entire political establishment collectively guilty of the mayhem and massacre in Kashmir.
In fact, the entire exercise of holding the Kashmir conclave appears to be a diversionary tactic which the opposition parties, possibly in cahoots with the ruling establishment, seek to use as a smokescreen for an attempt to engage with the resistance leadership and somehow convince them to cool down tampers in Kashmir. Those of us closely following the developments in Kashmir are aware of the continuous track-two attempts Indians have been making , in some cases using people close to the resistance leadership, to establish contact with them, not in order to address the Kashmir issue but to stop the wave of protests so that a facade of normalcy is maintained. The proposed conclave seems to be a step in that directions and it’s therefore futile to expect anything of significant import from this.
On the civil society level, however, the logic of Kashmir protests has managed to strike a chord with a sensitive section of the Indian society. It was evident from a report released last week in New Delhi’s Press Club. The report titled “ Why are People Protesting in Kashmir “ is based on the observations of a 25-member fact finding team of well-known activists that visited occupied Kashmir in November last year documenting the causes of ongoing protests and the brutal response with which the Indian state is trying to suppress them.
This report represents a welcome departure from the dubious approach the Indian civil society groups have for long adopted in their engagements with Kashmir where they focused on documenting excesses and abuses without recognizing and taking a clear position on their source and root cause—the continued Indian occupation of Kashmir. Some of these groups have often acted as the agency of the Indian state with their advice and sometimes even insistence that Kashmiris should desist from demanding separation from India .This is perhaps for the first time that a section of the Indian civil society has not only recognized the overwhelming public support for the right to self-determination and the movement for Independence from India but has also expressed solidarity for Kashmiri people’s struggle. It takes an enormous amount of courage and realism to bring out this kind of report and the compilers and signatories deserve all the credit for doing just that. But the group doesn’t stop here and intends to travel across India with the report highlighting atrocities meted out to Kashmiri people and holding discussions and debates around Kashmir issue to bring about awareness and understanding about it. Let’s wish them success and look forward to some real conversation happening about Kashmir and more responsive voices from the Indian civil society emerging from it. [firstname.lastname@example.org]