It has been 141 days since Kashmiris have stood up, most recently, against the tyranny of the Indian occupation in Kashmir. We have faced bullets, pellets, tear smoke shells and newly introduced Pelargonic Acid Vinyl Amine (PAVA) shells. We have been attacked in our homes, on the streets, in playgrounds, mosques and inside ambulances and hospitals. Our women and men, kids as young as five years old, and elders as old as seventy-five, have been subjected to brutal torture by the Indian police and para-military troopers. As they say, numbers don’t lie—at least ninety-four people have been killed, and a staggering 15,000 injured, including nearly twelve hundred people who have been partially or completely blinded. Over 7000 people have been arrested. Newspapers have been banned, journalists beaten and intimidated. The government has prepared a list of over 150 employees, including high ranking officials, to be sacked for playing their role in the civilian uprising. An insulating blanket is put in place every now and then to block the Kashmir’s communications connection with the rest of the world. All this to crush a people’s movement for just demands of self-determination. And still, India has not completely had its way.
The movement in Kashmir is reaching a plateau. Each day of resistance deepens the fatigue. The occupational government in New Delhi and its extension in Srinagar have been thumping their chests to bring so-called “normalcy” back to Kashmir. When their “iron clad fists” had no impact on the defiance of people, they resorted to their last vicious and sadistic approach—let people grow fatigued. For the past 141 days the entire business community in Kashmir has done little to no business. Schools, colleges and government offices are closed, as nearly all sections of the society aligned themselves with the movement. However, the financial constraints have added as a major part of that exhaustion. New Delhi and its stooges in Srinagar are well aware of what will likely result. After all, how long can Kashmiris live stuck in their homes? Like anyone, they need to go out and fend for their families. This is precisely the moment India is waiting for—the moment when the status quo reasserts itself and things go back to normal.
What Has Been Achieved?
Some would argue that the latest uprising has not achieved progress. India is still in Kashmir, with increased numbers of boots on ground, as more troops were called in during the current uprising. However, it needs to be understood very clearly that, in Kashmir, India is like a huge monster in the land of Lilliput. When we try to clinch the appendages of this monster to bring it down, it very easily shrugs us off. Hence, fist fights do nothing to fend off this monster. Nor should we expect that mere demonstrations would force India into listening to our demands. Instead, what the current movement has achieved has probably no parallels from earlier uprisings - the changing narrative within Indian civil society. Even though the numbers are relatively small, it seems that the current mass movement in Kashmir was able to give impetus, within some sections of Indian society, to challenging the government’s narrative on Kashmir, which has been reflected in the rallies supporting Kashmir’s freedom in places like Kolkata, New Delhi and Chennai. Although there will always be some liberal Indian academics like Tavleen Singh, who will continue calling the kids who have been blinded, maimed and killed by Indian troops, “violent children”, thereby, justifying their killings, in a manner not unlike Ayelet Shaked’s labelling of Palestinian children as “snakes.” We can draw courage from countless other progressive-liberal Indian academics and students, who have shown immense bravery, amid a growing right-wing nationalism, to protest Indian actions in Kashmir in the form of various articles that have appeared in different newspapers over the last four months.
The Kashmir conflict, having been disregarded, was brought back to the world’s attention when international bodies like the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch expressed concern and demanded resolution. The same was reiterated by the United States, China and Turkey among others. If Kashmiri people have any hope, that hope clings to the combined pressure of the international actors and the Indian civil society pushing India to the negotiating table.
The Future Course
In a recent interview with Mehdi Hassan on Aljazeera, Bayan Sami Rahman, the Kurdish representative to United States, asserted that the “possibility of an independent Kurdistan is in sight within another five years.” The pro-independence leadership in Kashmir should ask themselves: where do we stand? When will we be free from occupation? They should also consider the Palestinian struggle, which is nearly as old as Kashmir’s and analyze how Palestinians have been able to keep the larger global population talking about the Palestine issue while the Kashmiri leadership has failed to the extent that a vast majority of common people around the world, including Europeans and even Arabs, have little to no knowledge of Kashmir, let alone the conflict.
Leaders of the struggle need to build on the gains that have been made in recent months and popularize the movement globally with efforts into lobbying for Kashmir cause at international forums. This can be initiated by bringing Kashmiri people living in America, Europe and Arab in the folds of Hurriyat and encouraging them into playing an active role into lobbying for Kashmir cause. Their efforts can be used into establishing an awareness campaign by engaging with global population through means such as documentaries and debates on Kashmir.
Also, the symbols of independence movement like a flag have been missing in our struggle. Symbolic tools could help unify the masses and in popularizing the movement. As an academic friend of mine noted to me, “we must be the only National liberation struggle in the history of the world without a Flag.” Some would argue that Kashmir does have a separate state flag of its own. However, considering that it was adopted as the state flag by the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, which is seen as a political party loyal to India and foremost at strengthening India’s occupation in Kashmir, the flag became so un-popular that hardly anyone even in Kashmir knows of its existence. Having our own flag representative of independence, would mean a replacement of the Pakistani and more recently Chinese flags that are waved at the protests in Kashmir. This would serve two important objectives. One, it will help unify the voices for independence. And two, it would communicate a positive image of self-determination globally, as waving Pakistani flags at protests is often misinterpreted as demands for a merger with Pakistan.
Importantly, the resistance leadership in Kashmir should look beyond Pakistan for diplomatic support of our liberation struggle. That could mean trying to establish contacts with Turkey, Iran and other gulf and European Countries to build a consensus on the struggles of Kashmiri people at a global level. This would build pressure on Indian policy making vis-à-vis Kashmir and keep in check the handling of protests by the Indian soldiers. The resistance leadership should pro-actively put forward their standing on the Kashmir conflict in front of the global community to rebut the “integral issue” rhetoric so vastly peddled by India. In one sense these may constitute small steps forward, but their impact would be great.
Ikram Ullah is from Srinagar, Kashmir. He is a doctoral candidate in chromatin biology. He has written on Kashmir for Foreign Policy, The Express Tribune among others.