As Muslims all across the globe are celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, the people of Kashmir are under siege. The Indian occupation forces have imposed round-the-clock curfews and severe restrictions on civilians’ movement; as a result they are unable to even pray in mosques or to have access to basic necessities of life, including hospitals. They have been living in a perpetual state of uncertainty, insecurity and helplessness.
Thousands of people, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, are defying curfews and out on the streets protesting against India’s rule and the occupation forces’ reign of terror to silence the people’s movement demanding an end to India’s occupation. More than 60 protesters, mainly young boys, have been killed and hundreds have been wounded, in less than two months, in pitched street battles between anti-occupation protesters attacking the troops with stones and chanting: “Go India, go back. We want freedom,” and the Indian occupation troops are using brute force against defenceless Kashmiris, e.g., live ammunition, crackdowns, surprised night raids, random arrests, severe beatings, humiliation of women, and other tactics to terrorise the population.
The New York Times reports from Srinagar on Friday August 20: “Paramilitary soldiers fired live ammunition to disperse anti-India protesters and wounded three people after residents accused troops of attacking their homes in India’s portion of Kashmir on Thursday (August 19). ‘They came to our homes, broke windows and trained their guns at us,’ said resident Mohammed Abdullah. ‘All of us came out and protested this aggressive and bullying act. But they fired on us.’ An 8-year-old boy wounded last week in firing by troops in the southern town of Anantnag died in a hospital on Thursday (August 19), taking the death toll to 60 in the last two months of demonstrations and clashes between the Indian forces and Kashmiri people.”
Basic foods and fuel supplies are running low and the people have been confined to their houses, with schools and businesses shut. The Indian Express reported from Srinagar on Friday July 30: “With no letup in unrest in Kashmir where curfew was re-imposed… people in cities and towns are facing a tough time getting food and essential commodities including medicines for their families.” Volunteers have established blood donation camps, pooled rice and vegetables in community kitchens at various locations and supplied food to the people in need and affected by the siege and also to patients in hospitals.
The people of Kashmir are so tired of the status quo that they want to do whatever it takes to have a normal life. This is precisely the reason the entire population is in support of the ongoing protests against India’s occupation. Whether the Kashmiri people are being heard or not by the world community, India and Pakistan, the people of Indian-administered Kashmir have been making a point, clearly and loudly, every day for the past three years, more particularly for last two months that the status quo is no more acceptable.
“Kashmir burns again as India responds to dissent with violence,” wrote Andrew Buncombe for The Independent (UK) from Srinagar on Saturday, August 7: “The largest towns are packed with heavily-armed police and the hospital wards are full of young men with gunshot wounds… The dead include young men, teenagers and even a nine-year-old boy, reportedly beaten to death by the security forces after he tried to walk to the local shop... More people have taken to the streets – women and the middle classes among them – and protesters have seemingly been more ready to accept the police's bullets as the price for their struggle to break away from the Indian state… The police and paramilitary forces have responded with crushing force… ‘The police are firing at the head and the body, not the legs. This is against human rights,’ said one senior doctor, examining a CT scan image of Mr Nabi's brain. A female colleague, who had worked there [Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences] for seven years, said the situation was worse than she had ever seen. Children and women were among the victims…’ Protests will go on, young people will throw stones, the police will kill people, there will be angry funerals that lead to more protests, more stones will be thrown, the police will shoot and kill more people. Kashmir's agony is set to continue.”
Since October 1989, the 700,000 strong Indian forces have killed more than 100,000 Kashmiris – many more scarred and wounded, to silence the people’s demand for justice, respect for human rights, freedom and the right of self-determination. They continue to carry out arbitrary detention, summary executions, custodial killings, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape, sexual exploitation, torture and fake encounters. Generations of Kashmiris have grown up under the shadow of the gun; not a single family is unaffected; property worth hundreds of millions of dollars has been destroyed and the suffering and devastation continues unabated that has inflicted loss of life and destruction on an unprecedented scale, sadly drawing no significant attention from the international community.
The Harvard Law Record, published an article on January 12, 2010, authored by Anil Choudhary, India buries dissent in Kashmir: “Nearly 2,600 bodies have been discovered in single, unmarked graves and in mass graves throughout mountainous Indian-controlled Kashmir… This report is one of the most damning pieces of evidence of the ‘crime against humanity’ perpetrated by the Indian armed forces in their occupation of the disputed territory of Kashmir. The Indian occupation of Kashmir casts a dark shadow over India’s shining image as the largest democracy in the world. Indian democracy prides itself on freedom of speech and expression and the right of its people to dissent. But the manner in which the dissent of the Kashmiri population has been crushed illustrates that India still has a long way to go to be a real functional democracy… The Indian state has, for decades, been suppressing the largely non-violent dissent of Kashmiri people against the militarization of Kashmir. The Indian state has used the divisive propaganda of militancy and religion as tools to suppress any kind of dissent against its forced occupation of the region. The Indian state has tried to keep not only the international community in the dark about its hostilities toward Kashmiris but also the local Indian population, by controlling media reports of the real situation on the ground in Indian occupied Kashmir...”
The voice that India has tried so forcefully to silence in Kashmir has massed into a loud thunder. Kashmir’s young generation that has helplessly watched the Indian forces’ brutality against innocent civilians for more than 20 years has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, which has shocked the Indian government. Vancouver Sun August 18, Youth revolt in Kashmir surprises both India and Pakistan: “Indian police and soldiers are notorious for attempting to cover up their killing of innocent [Kashmiri] civilians by claiming the deaths occurred in an ‘encounter’ with criminals or militants. But the [June 11, 2010] Machhil encounter seems to have been one incident too many for young Kashmiris who have known nothing but heavy-handed Indian attempts at subjugation.”
The situation in Kashmir today is symptomatic of the larger malaise afflicting the Indian state, which is facing a crisis of credibility on multiple fronts. “This is the most serious challenge to central authority [government of India] I have seen in 20 years,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper. “And the government doesn’t have much of a clue how to resolve it.”
Lydia Polgreen writes for The New York Times August 18: “This [Kashmir] is a genuinely international dispute,” said Ramachandra Guha, a historian whose book, ‘India After Gandhi,’ details the messy process by which Kashmir became part of India after partition in 1947. ‘India has a case for its position, but it is not foolproof.’”
It is high time India realised the fact that control over a region alone does not mean sovereignty over a chunk of land. It is the people who make up a nation and if they are perpetually alienated, any territorial supremacy achieved through brute force alone can never guarantee long-term peace.
The perception that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan is unfounded. Kashmir is not a territorial or bilateral issue. It is about the future of 15 million people with their own history of independence; their own language and culture. This has been an explicit explanation for the failure to resolve the Kashmir issue through on-again and off-again bilateral dialogue for the past 63 years. The people of Kashmir have lost complete faith in the bilateral process of India and Pakistan and their ability to resolve the issue.
The conflict in Kashmir is a “political” and “human” tragedy and the world community, including India and Pakistan, have overlooked this critically important human dimension of the issue. Kashmiris’ demand is simple and in accordance with international law: implementation of the United Nations resolutions for a plebiscite to determine the future status of the disputed region in a peaceful and democratic way. Whatever the outcome, it will be impartial and binding for all three parties: the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan.
The people of Kashmir are yearning for peace, justice, freedom and the right of self-determination. They want a just and dignified peace that guarantees total freedom from foreign occupation and alien domination. Their struggle to achieve that right of self-determination will not be extinguished until India and Pakistan accept its exercise by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The unprecedented sacrifices and suffering experienced by the people against this volte-face in terms of death and destruction, life and property, torture and persecution, rape and repression over the years, particularly during the past 21 years, is much too great to go unrewarded. The Kashmiri freedom struggle is now entering its twenty-second year with firm and unwavering courage and determination in the face of unspeakable suffering and injustices to achieve the right to self-determination. The ground reality is very encouraging as the people are determined to achieve freedom, therefore, the struggle is in full momentum and the demand for a UN supervised plebiscite is at an all-time high.
Moreover, it is important to note that the work of international relief organisations in Kashmir is almost non-existent; the only source of material relief to the victims of this brutal occupation is individuals’ support. Kashmiri-Canadian Council appreciates continued support of friends of Kashmir and urges everyone to come forward and actively help to find a peaceful solution to the longstanding issue.
Conscientious, informed and concerned friends of Kashmir throughout the world can play a vital role in the education process by interacting with their country’s parliamentarians and the media. In addition, they can write to the UN Secretary General, international and local NGOs, and call or write to their Prime Minister /President and Foreign Minister to voice their concern about systematic human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir.
The cause for which the people of Kashmir are struggling is a just one, and deserves support from all those who cherish peace and justice. ▪
(Mushtaq A. Jeelani is executive director of Kashmiri Canadian Council, a non profit, Toronto based, non governmental organisation dedicated to promoting the Kashmiri cause, both within Canada and internationally. Email: mj@kashmiri cc.ca).