Kashmir’s hidden uprising

We know the Kashmir crisis. Or do we?

Written by Jean Dreze | Updated: December 5, 2016 2:07 am
kahsmir-shutdown-759 The first thing that strikes the visitor on entering Kashmir is the massive military presence. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

A historic popular uprising is happening in Kashmir, but the Indian public is barely aware of it. I was unaware of it myself before I went there in October and travelled across the Kashmir Valley. I had read, of course, about some sort of “shutdown” happening there since early July, and also about the stone-pelting and pellet guns. But nothing I had read did justice to the situation on the ground.

The first thing that strikes the visitor on entering Kashmir is the massive military presence. Heavily-armed soldiers and paramilitary forces are all over the place. Their number is estimated at 6,00,000 or so, for a population of six million — that’s one soldier for 10 civilians. In sensitive areas such as Sopore, Shopian and even parts of Srinagar, there is a heavily-armed soldier in front of almost every house, at least on the main roads.

Why are these soldiers there? Clearly, they are not there to repel a possible attack from Pakistan — that would require them to be near the border. Nor are they watching for terrorists: Standing at street corners in full battle gear is not the way to hound underground militants. Perhaps the soldiers are there to counter stone-pelters? That makes no sense either, because the simplest way to clear a neighbourhood of stone-pelters is to demilitarise it: The stones are directed at army personnel, not civilians.

We are led to conclude what every Kashmiri knows: The purpose of this massive army presence is to control the civilian population, and especially to prevent so-called “anti-India protests”, however peaceful they may be. It was a revelation for me to learn that all forms of peaceful protest in Kashmir are banned in one way or another, if there is any hint of a demand for “freedom” (azadi). The authorities have ample powers to prevent protests, not only under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), but also under Jammu and Kashmir’s draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) as well as Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). These and related powers are used with abandon to prevent any expression of the popular aspiration for freedom — not just stone-pelting but also processions, vigils, assemblies, pamphlets, graffiti, or just undesirable statements on social media.

Despite these restrictions, there have been continuous protests or attempted protests all over the Kashmir Valley ever since Burhan Wani was killed on July 8. Stone-pelting was part of the protests, but the uprising also included a wide range of non-violent activities. In fact, the main protest was a general strike: During the last four months, shops have been closed in Kashmir, traffic has been halted and schools have been deserted. This is called a “shutdown” in the Indian media, with calculated ambiguity, and often confused with curfews that have occasionally been imposed by the authorities. But it was a general strike — one of the largest and longest in Indian history.

There is something puzzling about the ability of Kashmir’s economy to withstand such a long strike. This was possible for several reasons. First, Kashmir has a vibrant and relatively egalitarian rural economy, a feature that owes much to the land reforms of the 1950s. The strike did not prevent self-employed farmers, artisans and apple growers from continuing with their work to a large extent. Second, migrant workers from Bihar and elsewhere left Kashmir en masse soon after the strike began. Kashmiri workers, therefore, continued to find work, that too at relatively high wages by Indian standards. Third, Kashmir has a strong tradition of mutual support. For instance, neighbourhood relief committees (often associated with the local mosque) were active after the 2014 floods, and again on this occasion. Indeed, relief work was an integral part of the Hurriyat’s “protest calendars” during the strike. Finally, living standards in Kashmir are quite high. Unemployment is certainly an issue, but poverty and hunger are rare, except among migrant workers. Anyone who thinks that the Kashmir problem is due to lack of development is severely deluded.

In the absence of any space for peaceful protest, stone-pelting became the highlight of the uprising. The security forces responded with overwhelming force. More than 100 civilians (including many children) were killed, at least 1,000 were victims of blinding or other eye injuries from pellet guns, and thousands were thrown into jail. Much larger numbers were harassed by the security forces in one way or another.

On October 18, I joined a fact-finding team of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). We visited the family of Faisal Akbar (name changed), a young lecturer who was said to have been beaten to death by the Rashtriya Rifles last August. According to witnesses, there was a “crackdown” in the village that evening. This means that soldiers barge into people’s homes, beat them up, smash their belongings, and generally spread terror — typically by way of retaliation against stone-pelting. One officer apparently told the terrified villagers, “we know that you are innocent, but if we don’t beat you up, you will never learn”. Interestingly, the local Station House Officer (SHO) agreed with their account of the event. Faisal, as he put it, “succumbed to his injuries”. One rarely hears such consistent accounts of human rights violations from the police and the people. The SHO promised a fair enquiry, but hastened to add that requests for permission to prosecute army personnel were routinely turned down by the home ministry in Delhi.

Every incident of this sort intensifies the rage of the Kashmiri people against the Indian Army, and against India itself. This rage, and the passionate desire for “azadi” (freedom), were already evident 16 years ago, when I visited Kashmir for the first time. They are even stronger today. In fact, the recent uprising, and the repression that followed, have turned almost every Kashmiri into an active participant in the struggle for freedom.

The government of India’s sledgehammer response, aside from being inhuman, does nothing to solve the problem. If the root of the problem is the alienation of the Kashmiri people from India, then state repression can only make things worse. It also undermines Kashmir’s peaceful traditions and pushes Kashmiri youngsters towards armed resistance and radical Islamist groups. The possible consequences, not only for Kashmir but also for India, are too horrible to contemplate.

None of this is to say that there is a simple solution to this situation. Any solution would have to address multiple complexities such as the status of Ladakh, the rights of minorities in Kashmir, the injustice done to Kashmiri Pandits, how to take Pakistan on board, and more. Perhaps the important thing for now is not to devise a ready-made solution, but to initiate a process that might lead to a solution. The status quo is certainly intolerable.

 

The writer is visiting professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University

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First Published on: December 5, 2016 2:00 am
  1. J
    Jay Smith
    Dec 5, 2016 at 5:38 pm
    I would take exception to the sytement about blatant atrocities done by the armed forces. Does the writer understand the warlike conditions prevelant there. How children would throw a hand grenade for Rs 50. Yes excess does happen and some of it will get overlooked.This is urban insurgency under flag of Islam not region . And please remember Any attempts to repeat history will have consequences, beyond Kashmir.lt;br/gt;There is a simple solution to solve Kashmir repeal Article 370 change the demographic ratio . But none of the pseudo secularist intelegesia can suggest this because this is against the wishes of the separatists and will take a very brace man to implement. The problem in Kashmir is not alienation but stan and Gulf sponsorship of the movement Lastly Thank God writers only comment not create history.they fly in and fly out listen to the what they want to hear and present their version of the truth rather than the truth.lt;br/gt;Has the writer ever been with the army or RR on a patrol or encounter or a crackdown. If not then is her report not totally one sided.
    Reply
    1. L
      Lovely
      Dec 5, 2016 at 1:20 am
      Please write the plight of Kashmiri pundits also
      Reply
      1. L
        Lovely
        Dec 5, 2016 at 1:27 am
        This French man should visit all Muslim areas in the world and then write.
        Reply
        1. L
          Lovely
          Dec 5, 2016 at 1:29 am
          Without the issue Kashmiri pundits, the present unrest will be forever.
          Reply
          1. K
            Khan
            Dec 5, 2016 at 8:47 am
            A true account of indian barbarism. No matter what we will achieve freedom one day.
            Reply
            1. K
              Khan
              Dec 5, 2016 at 10:04 am
              Why is india so afraid to hold referendum in kashmir. Do it once and see the results. That is called a true democracy
              Reply
              1. L
                Loveindra Chadha
                Dec 5, 2016 at 6:04 am
                Who ever wrote this article did not observe that soonest demonetization came in to effect, stone pelting stopped, protests dried down right away. What does that show you Mr Writer that these were all funded and paid. Who was paying them Hizbul Mujahideen and their agents the Hurriyat. That is the reality of the state of affairs in Kashmir today. Army hand can be seen in many developmental activities, education for instance, health care, exams were conducted peacefully. If the Hurriyat can be reined in the situation would be peaceful Mr Writer.
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                1. P
                  Piyush
                  Dec 5, 2016 at 2:13 am
                  Write on plight of kashmiri pandits
                  Reply
                  1. P
                    Piyush
                    Dec 5, 2016 at 2:53 pm
                    This french economist should first solve terror problem of France, Belgium, Morocco...help Muslim minority immigrants/natives there
                    Reply
                    1. V
                      Viv
                      Dec 6, 2016 at 7:40 am
                      Army and paramilitary are not in d road to prevent freedom march...they are there coz ur so called peaceful march later turned into arsoning n looting of govt property apart from pelting stone on every security force camp...shame on u for writing totally biased article...it's easy to blame security forces for d ber caused by intellectual people and politicians like u...no army wants fight..it's always their last option
                      Reply
                      1. V
                        Vedic_Citizen
                        Dec 5, 2016 at 7:32 am
                        You attacked their temples,destro scriptures, force converted millions , macred those who refused to convert, divided their land in 1947 to create separate nation for Muslims. Still they let you stay here. It is greatest of tolerance in the history of humanity. Still, you allege intolerance on them and want Kashmir which was always home of Kashmiri shaivism !!
                        Reply
                        1. V
                          Vedic_Citizen
                          Dec 5, 2016 at 2:22 am
                          You attacked their temples,destro scriptures, force converted millions , macred those who refused to convert, divided their land in 1947 to create separate nation for Muslims. Still they let you stay here. It is greatest of tolerance in the history of humanity. Still, you alkege intolerance on them and Kashmir that was always home of Kashmiri shaivites!!
                          Reply
                          1. S
                            SubbuI
                            Dec 5, 2016 at 6:17 am
                            IN THIS RATE OF RAPID UNATTENDED DEVOLOPMENTS IN KASHMIR VALLEY lt;br/gt;THE FOOLISH PM LOST ALL HOPES AND WILL DISINTEGRATE THE NATIONlt;br/gt;HE MUST BE SENT IN FORCED LEAVE FOR MENTAL ILLNESS TREARMENT BY PRESEDENT VPF INDIA IMMEADIATELY
                            Reply
                            1. S
                              SubbuI
                              Dec 5, 2016 at 6:11 am
                              MAY BE THE PRESENT MENTALLY DERANGED NMODI MAY NOT BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND THE CONTENTS OF THE ARTICLE.HIS KASHMIR AFFAIRS ADVISOR THE ARROGANT SPOILER RAM MADAV CAN EXPLAIN HIM
                              Reply
                              1. S
                                SubbuI
                                Dec 5, 2016 at 6:07 am
                                VERY FACTFULL OBSEVATIONS. HOPE NALAYAK NMODI IS AWRE OF THE FACTSlt;br/gt;HE DOES NOT HAVE TIME FOR KASHMIR.
                                Reply
                                1. T
                                  Ts
                                  Dec 5, 2016 at 8:32 am
                                  We have had nuff blue e boy treatment to the kashmiris due to vote bank politics, Pandits driven away, we did nothing, we need the land Kashmir, if the Kashmiris want to be a part of the land, they should boycott islamic brotherhood and soft corner to stan..
                                  Reply
                                  1. K
                                    K SHESHU
                                    Dec 5, 2016 at 1:50 pm
                                    The writer raises pertinent questions. There is a lot to introspect by the ruling parties at the centre and state
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                                    1. Z
                                      zeed
                                      Dec 6, 2016 at 1:12 am
                                      Crud Jilt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Graham Staines ko yaad karo aur aaraam se so jaolt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Anyway you need to clean your brain with a sandblaster. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Your brain has likely drained away so that's why you need blinkers. You couldn't see straight with 10 eyes
                                      Reply
                                      1. Z
                                        zeed
                                        Dec 6, 2016 at 8:54 am
                                        Delusions! lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;They are there only for the risk allowance which doubles their ry. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Of course medals for killing laborers also are an attraction. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;How else do you get peace time promotions. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Dimwit.
                                        Reply
                                        1. Z
                                          zeed
                                          Dec 6, 2016 at 12:31 pm
                                          For how long will you lament the Mughals. At least they put the country at par with the best in the world if not better. lt;br/gt;Even if someone in past made decisions should you make same ones now. What's going to stop the next gen to make similar ones. lt;br/gt;But then you call yourself a Hindu. A name given to you by Muslims. What's so wrong in that. What else will you change. Taj Mahal becomes Sanatan Mahal. And Red Fort becomes Bajrangi Fort. lt;br/gt;What else will you change. lt;br/gt;Comedy show!
                                          Reply
                                          1. Z
                                            zeed
                                            Dec 6, 2016 at 8:42 am
                                            Haha it's just amazing the kind of rot that can survive between two ears. lt;br/gt;Kashmiris are original inhabitants. It's more central Asian than Indian. lt;br/gt;That's where the traditional routes were. lt;br/gt;Of course your theory clifies as convenient fake news. lt;br/gt;Next you will say Ghodse was the father of the nation. He certainly was yours
                                            Reply
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