Monday, September 08, 2008

Anatomy of the Kashmir crisis

Interview: Sanjay Kak

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Kashmir as Indian security forces impose a round-the-clock curfew across the valley.

More than 30 unarmed Kashmiri protesters have been killed by Indian forces in the last few weeks in an effort to stamp out mass demonstrations that have shaken the disputed region, which is partitioned by India and Pakistan, and where India has maintained a military occupation in the section it controls.

The demonstrations were sparked by the announcement of the transfer of 100 acres of public land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, but have since snowballed into a province-wide revolt. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have taken to the streets demanding “azadi” (freedom) and their right to self-determination. In response, Indian military and paramilitary forces imposed a curfew and media blackout, and have fired on large, unarmed rallies, killing dozens and injuring hundreds.

Sanjay Kak is a filmmaker whose recently completed documentary, Jashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom) was made over a period of several years in Kashmir. On August 16, days after the mass protests erupted, he spoke with Nagesh Rao.

Protesters demanding "azadi" confront riot police on the streets of Jammu in KashmirProtesters demanding “azadi” confront riot police on the streets of Jammu in Kashmir

WHAT IS the significance of the Kashmiri uprising?

I THINK part of the problem is that in India, our attention always comes in at the tail end of the story. Here it comes in when there is an explosion of resentment against the granting of lands to the Amarnath Shrine Board, and then we all act mystified: “How can there be so much resentment against something so small?”

That’s because no one paid attention to what’s been happening in the year prior, or the five years prior or, indeed, 18 years prior to this event. So there’s a kind of structured amnesia about what events bring us to this place.

And this is not an accident. Particularly when it comes to Kashmir, in India, it is a structured amnesia.

You’ve got more than 500,000 Indian soldiers in Kashmir. They are sitting in literally every street and village and by-lane and crossing and water-point, and then you begin thinking that peace has returned to Kashmir. But it hasn’t. You’re just sitting on top of people.

Then the media dutifully starts wheeling out the spin, and you’re told, “Oh, tourists are returning to Kashmir, all is well, the militancy is gone.” And everybody begins to believe it.

I once had a conversation with an army officer, and he said, “Things are very peaceful here now. As a Kashmiri, you should come and visit, as often as you like.” “Peaceful” is not a word I would use to describe what was around us, even where were sitting, in the officers’ mess, with a breathtaking view of the grand Wular Lake.

“But colonel, there’s a soldier with an AK-47 every 30 feet,” I said.

“No, no,” he said, “we’ve got the situation under control.”

“So when will you leave?” I said, “You know, troop reductions–cut by, say, 20 percent?”

“No, no, that’s out of the question,” he replied. “Everybody would be out on the streets, there would be an uprising.”

On the ground, that colonel commanding a military unit in Kashmir knows the score. The Indian security apparatus has taken 18 years to build a stranglehold on Kashmir, to control every aspect of daily life over there. That is the kind of “peace” that they hammered onto Kashmir.

In the wake of the armed uprising of the 1990s, which was represented as “terrorism” and an “Islamic jihad,” they managed to do what they had to do, because Indians–and the rest of the world–were a little confused about what was happening. But what are they going to do now, when there are no weapons in this uprising? There are just hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets. What are they going to do? Are they going to just start firing? And how many will they kill?

This is the real significance of what we are seeing. Until now, even ostensibly sympathetic Indians would throw the question at the Kashmiris: “Why did you take to the gun? You took to the gun, and you alienated the Indian people.”

This time around, they haven’t brought the gun out. They are coming out in vast numbers and demonstrating for what they believe in. They are coming out in the ways that Indian democracy ought to believe in. Only this time, the same liberal intelligentsia who wanted them to give up the gun are now calling these vast assemblies “violent mobs” of “extremists”!

In a sense, the Indian state is hoisted on its own petard, flummoxed. [Indian rulers] do not know how to react to this situation.

Continued . . .

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