September 1, 2008
Outlook India

Freedom Is The Only Thing The Kashmiri Wants

by Arundhati Roy

For the past sixty days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half-a-million heavily-armed soldiers in the most densely militarised zone in the world.

After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government's worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage.

The Indian government's worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage.

This one is nourished by people's memory of years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been 'disappeared', hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, raped and humiliated.

. . . an ill-conceived move over the transfer of 100 acres of state forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board (which manages the annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave deep in the Kashmir Himalayas) suddenly became the equivalent of tossing a lit match into a barrel of petrol. Until 1989, the Amarnath pilgrimage used to attract about 20,000 people who travelled to the Amarnath cave over a period of about two weeks. In 1990, when the overtly Islamic militant uprising in the Valley coincided with the spread of virulent Hindutva in the Indian plains, the number of pilgrims began to increase exponentially. By 2008, more than 5,00,000 pilgrims visited the Amarnath cave in large groups, their passage often sponsored by Indian business houses. To many people in the Valley, this dramatic increase in numbers was seen as an aggressive political statement by an increasingly Hindu- fundamentalist Indian State.

. . . the voice that the Government of India has tried so hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar. Hundreds of thousands of unarmed people have come out to reclaim their cities, their streets and mohallas. They have simply overwhelmed the heavily armed security forces by their sheer numbers, and with a remarkable display of raw courage. . . .

At the heart of it all is a moral question. Does any government have the right to take away people's liberty with military force?

India needs azadi [freedom] from Kashmir just as much - if not more - than Kashmir needs azadi from India.


Eric Margolis, "The Jerusalem of the Himalayas," Toronto Sun, August 13, 2000

Angana Chatterji, "Disquiet Ghosts: Mass graves in Indian Kashmir," Etala'at Daily, July 9, 2008

[The poll found that people in both India and Pakistan have expressed a readiness to have the Kashmiri people decide their own fate, adding that if the Kashmiris chose independence, a majority of Indians and Pakistanis would find it tolerable. In India, the opinion poll was conducted by reputed agency C-Voter, while in Pakistan, AC Nielson gathered views on behalf of the polling site.

The poll revealed that more than half of the population of India and Pakistan were open to a range of possible outcomes for Kashmir. It found no strong majority opposition on either side to Kashmir becoming an independent country or to dividing the state between Pakistan and India.--Iftikhar Gilani, "Indians want Kashmiris to decide own fate: poll," Daily Times, July 18, 2008]

[The recent trouble started when the state government said it would grant 99 acres (40 hectares) of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board.

Muslims launched violent protests, saying the allocation of land was aimed at altering the demographic balance in the area.

The government said the board needed the land to erect huts and toilets for visiting pilgrims.

But following days of protests, the government rescinded the order, prompting Hindu groups to mount violent protests of their own.--"Kashmir under indefinite curfew," BBC News, August 24, 2008]

[But it fails to understand that peace isn't just the absence of fighting. It's in the political details: withdrawing the half-million Indian troops who still occupy Kashmir, developing the local economy and, most importantly, accounting for what human-rights groups say are widespread abuses committed against Kashmiri civilians by the military.--Jyoti Thottam, "Valley of Tears," TIME, September 4, 2008]

[In a recent column, "Think the Unthinkable," in the mass circulation English daily Hindustan Times, columnist Vir Sanghvi posed the question: Why is India still hanging on to Kashmir if the Kashmiris do not want to have anything to do with India?--S. Amjad Hussain, "Dispute over Kashmir takes a new, independent direction," Toledo Blade, September 8, 2008]

[THE Jammu province of the State of Jammu and Kashmir has a regional identity with a rich past and a composite culture. It has produced scholars, artists, poets and writers of high distinction. After 1947, the Sangh Parivar foisted a communal identity on it precisely at a time when Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, the foremost leader of Jammu and Kashmir State with a Muslim majority, moved for its accession to India. He was attracted by its secular ideals symbolised by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. . . .

In October 1987, Jammu erupted in fury when Farooq Abdullah, at Rajiv Gandhi's behest, ended the Darbar Move by which the government functioned alternately from Srinagar and Jammu every six months. It was not communal but regional self-assertion. But, in August 2008, it was not Jammu but the communal forces there that took to the streets under a false regional garb. The issue of allotment of land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), a legacy of the former Governor S.K. Sinha's communal agenda, was badly handled by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad for his own ends in a manner that offended Muslim and Hindu feelings.

But while in the valley the people led the leaders and the campaign was spontaneous, in Jammu the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) acted after preparation and in pursuit of its resolution of June 30, 2002, for the break-up of the State into three parts. New Delhi's brutal clamp-down in the valley on August 24, following mammoth and unarmed rallies, is in glaring contrast to its kid-glove treatment of Jammu. It is a replay of what happened in 1953--A. G. Noorani, "WHY JAMMU ERUPTS: Is New Delhi about to repeat Nehru's blunder of 1953?," Frontline, September 13-26, 2008]

Bappa Majumdar, "India to hold polls in troubled Jammu and Kashmir," Reuters, October 19, 2008

"India revises Kashmir death toll to 47,000," Reuters, November 21, 2008

Emily Wax, "U.S. Removes Kashmir From Envoy's Mandate; India Exults," Washington Post, January 30, 2009

[Intense United States efforts and assurances have put Pakistan and India on track to renew their dialogue process over key contentious issues, such as divided Kashmir.--Syed Saleem Shahzad, "Pakistan turns on its jihadi assets," Asia Times, July 30, 2009]

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