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August 10, 2016

Kashmir on fire


August 10, 2016

Occupied Kashmir is aflame again, with Kashmiri people facing the worst-ever brutalities by the Indian security forces. This time nobody can blame any foreign hand in the volcanic eruption of popular anger and frustration against India’s military occupation of Kashmir.

The killing of Burhan Wani, a social media icon who never shot anyone but gave a brave voice to the youth-driven demand for self-determination, triggered the latest political revolt across Occupied Kashmir. In no time, despite curfew and crackdown, the revolt turned into a mass movement which not only resurrected memories of the 1990s Kashmiri uprising but also gave a new dimension to their struggle for freedom.

According to foreign media reports, nearly 70 innocent Kashmiris have been killed and more than 2,000 injured by indiscriminate firing by Indian security forces in the valley of Kashmir where hundreds of thousands of people were protesting on the streets in various towns of the Valley of Kashmir. These were just peaceful protests – people chanting slogans for ‘azadi’ (freedom), justice and human rights.

Srinagar city was put under curfew but people came out on the streets, defied the curfew and lodged peaceful protests against the killings of innocent people. Kashmir, which is known as paradise on earth, was turned into hell by the Indian occupation forces.

The irony is that these forces are immune from any prosecution under special draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The slogan, ‘We want azadi, nothing but azadi’ is now viral on social media and on the streets in the valley. The youth of Kashmir clearly have no faith or respect for the so-called Indian democracy, and India hasn’t the slightest idea how to earn it. It’s response to the anger of people crying for freedom and a respite, at the very least, from the terror of 700,000 troops, is to clamp down even harder, adding to the death toll of such a policy that now approaches the six-figure range.

For more than a month now, killings, curfews and media blackouts have been launched to hide the atrocities. But all this will not work. It has not worked in the past.

The brutality of force being used against innocent unarmed Kashmiris has crossed all limits. They are even using pellet guns, a weapon no one has ever used for law-enforcement purposes. There have been mass rallies (in Kashmir) in the past but none in recent memory that was so widespread and so sustained.

The situation today is totally different. It is not the mainstream political parties of Kashmir or their leaders but the people who have been in the forefront. Political leaders did appear and speak at the rallies but ‘not so much as leaders as followers. This time, it was the spontaneous energy of a caged, enraged people that exploded on Kashmir streets’. It is the Kashmiri youth that has come out on the streets. Indeed, there has been a generational change in Kashmir.

It is a youth-driven, social media savvy mass movement. They are educated, determined and enthusiastic to achieve their birthright – the right to self-determination. Arundhati Roy, an eminent Indian author and a world-renowned humanist best described this change when the Kashmiri freedom movement had its last volcanic eruption in 2008: “Raised in a playground of army camps, checkpoints, and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. Not even the fear of death seems to hold them back.”

And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second largest army in the world? Roy asked. She also noted: “it was always clear that in their darkest moments, it was not peace that (the people of Kashmir) yearned for, but freedom.” According to her, “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 from Kashmir just as much – if not more – than Kashmir needs azadi from India.”

This time, “not surprisingly, the voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar.” It is in India’s own interest now to salvage its future and reputation by heeding to the voice of Kashmiri youth.

Their message is loud and clear. The Kashmiris consider Indian forces as an occupation force. They have also made it clear that the Kashmir issue is not about governance or economic packages or incentives. The youth of Kashmir are dying on the streets, not asking for jobs and books. They want freedom. In chanting this slogan, they are holding the Pakistan flag. It is a verdict they are giving on the streets of the Valley and elsewhere in the occupied Kashmir.

The UN has just washed its hands off in Kashmir by signaling to India that ‘it’s your problem’. Meanwhile the US, the sole superpower in the world which bears the responsibility for setting the moral tone through disciplined and rightful leadership, also sits back and does nothing.

Perhaps, it’s time for Nobel Laureate President Obama and the US to wake up and smell the gunpowder in the streets of Srinagar. On our own part, we played no more than a deja vu ritual by reluctantly condemning the “excessive and unwarranted use of force” against the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir and expressing mute concern over the deteriorating situation there resulting from gross human rights violations, loss of life and property of the Kashmiri people and their economic blockade by extremist elements.

India rejected our concerns as “gross interference” in its internal affairs. What should be clear to Narendra Modi is that by putting up an arrogant face you cannot change reality.

India’s efforts to obfuscate the Kashmir dispute as an issue of terrorism will not succeed. Popular movements cannot be suppressed by force. Use of force brings no relief to anyone. Even the world’s sole superpower today owes its existence to a long war of independence. And Modi cannot deny the history of his own country. It was the War of Independence in 1857 that laid the road to India’s liberation as an independent state. India is forcibly hanging on to Kashmir when the Kashmiris don’t want to have anything to do with India. They want their right of self-determination.

Today, the Kashmiris’ is the voice of a wronged and forcibly subjugated people challenging India and the world’s conscience. The world must know that there is but one fair, just, legal and moral solution to Kashmir, which was provided by the UN, and which both India and Pakistan mutually accepted in UN Security Council resolutions.

While India never showed the slightest change in its position, our successive rulers in the aftermath of 9/11 have been giving wrong signals through their self-serving gestures of unilateral flexibility.

It is time we as a nation came out of our ostrich-like mode of apathy and indifference to the Kashmir cause. We must spare no effort to knock at every door and wake up the world’s conscience. This is a historical juncture. We should not let it pass.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Email: [email protected]


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