Kashmir is on the boil, once again. In spite of the leadership being gagged and caged, the so-called “peace” in the valley has been shattered. So far 30 youngsters, most of them teenagers, have been killed in cold-blood; hundreds have been injured, many of them critically, by the Indian armed forces in Kashmir. Men, women and children have been beaten up mercilessly on the streets and in their homes across Kashmir. All this has been done to “contain” the angry population of the Valley, mourning and enraged at the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani and his two associates. Burhan, a 22-year-old Kashmiri militant commander, represented the fifth generation of Kashmiris, who have been fighting since 1931 for their basic human right: The right to determine their political will.
It is 85 years since July 13, 1931 when Kashmiris rose in rebellion against an oppressive occupation. Twenty four Kashmiris were killed in firing by the forces of the autocratic Dogra ruler. Since then, it has been a painful saga of subjugation, oppression and misery for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. But it also occasions a celebration of their courage, fortitude, resistance, resilience and repeated resurgence in the face of oppression. These 85 years have seen the triumph of the indomitable spirit of the people of Kashmir who have sought freedom and the right to determine their political and everyday fate.
How ironical is it that on a day when Narendra Modi boarded the same train in South Africa, in which Gandhiji had once travelled and the experience inspired him to fight for India’s freedom, his government mowed down scores of young civilian protesters in Kashmir. These civilians were demanding the same right to freedom against oppression that Gandhiji had been moved to demand after experiencing racism in that train. Aren’t these double standards, we ask, by the world’s largest democracy that it sought freedom from the British when it’s land and people were subjugated and now it not only denies us in Kashmir that very freedom but even refuses to acknowledge our yearning for independence. All this because it is the subjugator this time.
Here, I want to address the people of India, directly. For the sake of humanity, justice, peace and progress in the region, the people of India need to know and understand the truth of Kashmir and play their role in ending our subjugation. The aggressive posturing and approach of the Indian government with regard to the Kashmiri people, and the disputed nature of Kashmir, has contributed greatly to the deteriorating situation and can lead to catastrophic consequences for the whole region. It is constantly propagating, through print and electronic media, that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India; that it is like any other state of India; that the people of Kashmir consider themselves Indian and there are few fringe elements creating “trouble” at the behest of a neighbouring country. That is a lie.
The Indian government substantiates its argument by saying that a certain percentage of people participate in electoral process: They vote and exercise their choice. While it is a fact that a certain percentage of Kashmiris vote, they do so only to put in place an administrative body that provides them basic infrastructural facilities and amenities. Their participation in the electoral process has no bearing on the disputed nature of the place. Even the pro-India parties here don’t dispute this truth.
I want to remind the people of India that we have tried our best to resolve this dispute with the Indian state through dialogue. Recent history is testament to the fact that it was New Delhi, and not we, that thwarted such efforts. We were always ready — and shall always be ready — to come to the negotiating table if your government is seriously willing to talk about resolving the issue through principles of justice — and not by issuing demands of surrender. There isn’t anybody more interested and willing than Kashmiris to end this conflict. But the Indian state’s definition of peace in Kashmir isn’t acceptable to us. It demands surrender. Instead of listening to our genuine political demands, its only response is to use military force. It wants to change our demography.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir, as it existed on August 14, 1947, is a disputed territory, recognised as such by the UN. India and Pakistan are the two other parties to the dispute. The main stakeholders, however, are the people of this land. They have, as yet, not been granted their right to determine their political will. It is for this right that over one lakh Kashmiris have laid down their lives. The baton of freedom has passed on to the fifth generation. For us, it is a matter of great pride and great pain as we witness our next generation joining the journey of freedom and sacrificing their lives. Which nation wouldn’t feel that way?
There are those who call these young idealists, “terrorists”. I want to ask them in which terrorist’s funeral will you witness the participation of hundreds and thousands of men, women and children who have defied restrictions and risked losing their lives to bullets. What do you say about the sentiment that makes our youth so daring that they pelt stones even when they know that they will face bullets in retaliation; they know that they will be killed and yet they keep fighting. I ask the people of India to wake up to the reality of Kashmir and understand that the issue needs to be resolved. The longing for freedom in Kashmir will not die its own death, as some would want the people of India to believe.