Kashmir: Why The Activists Are Wrong In Conflating Human Rights And Separatism

Letting Kashmir go will be allowing Pakistan to shift its terror-factory of Islamism to India’s backyard

15/08/2016 2:06 PM IST | Updated 15/08/2016 2:47 PM IST
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reference to Pakistan glorifying terrorists in India in his Independence Day speech was obviously about Kashmiri militant leader Burhan Wani, whose killing has led to the present uprising in the valley. Without explicitly mentioning Pakistan, he did say that while India mourned the death of children in the Peshawar terror attack, some countries glorified terrorists.

A day earlier, Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain said that his country would continue to support Kashmiris' right to self-determination. In Delhi, the Pakistan ambassador Abdul Basit, dedicated this year's independence day to Kashmir's freedom. He said his country would continue its support to the "valiant people of Jammu and Kashmir till they get their right to self determination." He also said that that the latter's "freedom movement" would reach its logical conclusion.

It's precisely because of this bipolar view why the present "intifada" in Kashmir and suffering by people don't merit a change of stand by Indians. There is indescribable suffering and a lot of people in Kashmir, probably even the majority, may want to secede; but India cannot let it go because what's important for it is not the rights of the people to self-determination, but its own geopolitical compulsions. It's people such as Basit and Hussain who make India acutely aware that Kashmir has to be an integral part of India. Letting Kashmir go will be like allowing Pakistan shifting its terror-factory and schools of Islamism to India's backyard, and officially opening another front to foment permanent trouble.

Campaigners, particularly those in India, who support Kashmir's self-determination conflate two issues - separatism and human rights. On human rights, they are absolutely right. A nation firing bullets and blinding pellets on its own citizens and allegedly indulging in instant executions, as has been reportedly done in the case of Wani, is immoral and unconstitutional; but supporting secession in the same breath is problematic.

Danish Ismail / Reuters
Police (not pictured) fire tear gas during a protest in Srinagar against the recent killings in Kashmir, August 11, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Authors such as Arundhati Roy repeatedly point to the dispute over Kashmir's accession to India to justify the violent uprising by people, but it's only half-true. If the argument is that it was a Hindu-ruled Muslim-majority princely state, that had the right to self-determine at the time of partition, the fact is also that the Hindu ruler then did accede to India. In fact, all the 565 princely states in what would soon become India had the same right and they all ended up in the union, including the Muslim-ruled Hindu-majority Hyderabad and Junagadh. Some of them had complied only under force. For Kashmir, India of course had promised the UN a plebiscite and had long since backtracked; but that's because of the realisation of the geo-political helplessness - there's no point in a plebiscite that would only benefit Pakistan.

Transporting history, particularly the oppressive Dogra rule and an unfinished (or rather hurriedly finished) accession process, to the present doesn't work because the timelines are different. If the pro-separatists refer to the subjugation of Muslims by Hindu rulers, which history books do endorse as true, the counter argument will be to go back a few hundred more years because it's only by the 15th century that majority of Kashmiris took to Islam and that the initial attempts to convert people in the 8th century hadn't worked (Author Tariq Ali refers to this fact in his pro-Kashmir article in "Kashmir a Case for Freedom"). More over, the opposition to India was not uniform. For instance, the once pro-independence leaders such as Sheikh Abdullah, who participated in the 1931 uprising against native (the Hindu king) and colonial oppression, later drew closer to Nehru's nationalism along with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan of the North West Frontier Province and a few others.

The point is, yes, there were sentiments against accession, but it was not completely anti-India as many now suggest. In that vein, many other princely states also wanted to stay independent after the British left and had resisted the efforts of Sardar Patel and VP Menon. Ultimately, they all fell in line. The only aspect that made Kashmir an exception was its Muslim majority and that was politically and morally recognised by Article 370.

Therefore, tracing history, ethnicity and the pre and post-independence developments to support separatism is misplaced. However, what's justified is the argument against human rights violations and the systematic erosion of Kashmir's pre-1953 autonomy. According to the Kashmir Autonomy Report (2000), New Delhi's authority should have been restricted to defence, foreign policy and communications, as agreed at the time of accession.

Had the autonomy (within India) under the Delhi Agreement in 1952 been respected, the situation wouldn't have worsened. Since 1953, which incidentally was the year in which Jan Sangh leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee took to Kashmir his agitation against the autonomy arrangement that also pushed Abdullah to press for independence, things gotten worse. The rest of the story is about India going back on its word on autonomy and usurping the state's special rights and completely messing up with its democratic processes.

However, things became this bad only by the late 1980s, when Pakistan started exporting terror. And they have been doing it till today. Hiding behind the ambushes and street protests in the valley is Pakistan. It may be partly true that the present leaderless, violent uprising (which first appeared in 2008 and then continued till 2010) is spontaneous resistance by the new generation that grew up under "occupation". The personal story of a "stone thrower" in journalist Fahad Shah's book "Of Occupation and Resistance" makes this point clear. A "stone-thrower" says: "As children, we were always told not to look at army men on our way to school. My family members, my parents, had seen fake encounters, curfews, crackdowns and torture – they had seen it all. Through their stories and their instructions to stay away from the soldiers, I developed a deep hatred for the Indian army and local police. With every passing year, as I grew, this hatred too grew." Apparently this is the generation that's on the streets and the excessive violence against them will only breed more violence.

As children, we were always told not to look at army men on our way to school. My family members, my parents, had seen fake encounters, curfews, crackdowns and torture – they had seen it all."

Unfortunately, nobody has answers. In fact, nothing is more telling than the helplessness expressed by former chief minister Omar Abdullah, who in a recent interview to Outlook magazine said: "I have nothing to suggest. I told the home minister that when the cycle of deaths stop then we can talk about what needs to be done for the future. Right now they have to make sure that the protests are contained with minimum loss of life."

A point to note right now would be the Supreme Court's observation on Saturday that both the Police and the protestors are to blame. The apex court said that Police didn't know the boundaries of "proportionate force" to be used in such situations. It also said that the force lacked appropriate training. The state is law-bound to ask the police to restrain itself.

Regarding self-rule by Kashmiris, can the Indian government re-roll the pre-1953 autonomy? Probably it's too late, but it should try.

However, what the country can immediately do is to quell the nationalist pitch. The beginning of the worsening of the situation in Kashmir was spurred by the unrealistic and misguided nationalism in 1952-53. Perhaps, that's where the country should start undoing the damage

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