Shuddhabrata Sengupta on Sat, 23 Aug 2008 15:29:12 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Arundhati Roy on Kashmir

Dear all,

(Apologies for Cross Posting on the Sarai List)

For some time now, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been in the  
grip of a crisis. Public discontent in the Kashmir valley has  
exploded in a series of non-violent protests, which have been met by  
violence from the Indian state's police and paramilitaries. Around 30  
people are reported to have died in several incidents of firing by  
security forces on crowds protesting for 'Azadi' (freedom from Indian  
occupation) in the streets of the Kashmir valley including on the  
days leading up to Indian Independence day, August 15.  Arundhati  
Roy, who is currently in the Kashmir valley has written her latest  
essay 'Azadi' (Freedom) on the situation as it is unfolds on the  
ground. I am enclosing below a copy of this essay which was published  
today in Outlook, a magazine published in Delhi

The essay has been published in the latest issue of Outlook, (Azadi  
for Kashmir, Azadi for India, September 01, 2008) 

A shorter version of this text has been published as 'Land and  
Freedom' in The Guardian yesterday.



by Arundhati Roy
Outlook Magazine, September 01, 2008

For the past sixty days or so, since about the end of June, the  
people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense.  
They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun- 
sights of half-a-million heavily-armed soldiers in the most densely  
militarised zone in the world.

After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian  
government's worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the  
militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non- 
violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage.
The Indian government's worst nightmare has come true. Having  
declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced  
with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to  
This one is nourished by people's memory of years of repression in  
which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been  
'disappeared', hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, raped and  
humiliated. That kind of rage, once it finds utterance, cannot easily  
be tamed, re-bottled and sent back to where it came from.

For all these years, theIndian State, known amongst the knowing as  
the Deep State, has done everything it can to subvert, suppress,  
represent, misrepresent, discredit, interpret, intimidate, purchase? 
and simply snuff out the voice of the Kashmiri people. It has used  
money (lots of it), violence (lots of it), disinformation,  
propaganda, torture, elaborate networks of collaborators and  
informers, terror, imprisonment, blackmail and rigged elections to  
subdue what democrats would call "the will of the people". But now  
the Deep State, as Deep States eventually tend to, has tripped on its  
own hubris and bought into its own publicity. It made the mistake of  
believing that domination was victory, that the 'normalcy' it had  
enforced through the barrel of a gun was indeed normal, and that the  
people's sullen silence was acquiescence.

The well-endowed peace industry, speaking on people's behalf,  
informed us that "Kashmiris are tired of violence and want peace".  
What kind of peace they were willing to settle for was never  
clarified. Bollywood's cache of Kashmir/Muslim-terrorist films has  
brainwashed most Indians into believing that all of Kashmir's sorrows  
could be laid at the door of evil, people-hating terrorists.

To anybody who cared to ask, or, more importantly, to listen, it was  
always clear that even in their darkest moments, people in Kashmir  
had kept the fires burning and that it was not peace they yearned  
for, but freedom too. Over the last two months, the carefully  
confected picture of an innocent people trapped between 'two guns',  
both equally hated, has, pardon the pun, been shot to hell.

A sudden twist of fate, an ill-conceived move over the transfer of  
100 acres of state forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board (which  
manages the annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave deep in the Kashmir  
Himalayas) suddenly became the equivalent of tossing a lit match into  
a barrel of petrol. Until 1989, the Amarnath pilgrimage used to  
attract about 20,000 people who travelled to the Amarnath cave over a  
period of about two weeks. In 1990, when the overtly Islamic militant  
uprising in the Valley coincided with the spread of virulent Hindutva  
in the Indian plains, the number of pilgrims began to increase  
exponentially. By 2008, more than 5,00,000 pilgrims visited the  
Amarnath cave in large groups, their passage often sponsored by  
Indian business houses. To many people in the Valley, this dramatic  
increase in numbers was seen as an aggressive political statement by  
an increasingly Hindu-fundamentalist Indian State. Rightly or  
wrongly, the land transfer was viewed as the thin edge of the wedge.  
It triggered an apprehension that it was the beginning of an  
elaborate plan to build Israeli-style settlements, and change the  
demography of the Valley.

Days of massive protest forced the Valley to shut down completely.  
Within hours, the protests spread from the cities to villages. Young  
stone-pelters took to the streets and faced armed police who fired  
straight at them, killing several. For people as well as the  
government, it resurrected memories of the uprising in the early  
'90s. Throughout the weeks of protest, hartal and police firing,  
while the Hindutva publicity machine charged Kashmiris with  
committing every kind of communal excess, the 5,00,000 Amarnath  
pilgrims completed their pilgrimage, not just unhurt, but touched by  
the hospitality they had been shown by local people.

Eventually, taken completely by surprise at the ferocity of the  
response, the government revoked the land transfer.Hadn't anybody  
noticed that in Kashmir even minor protests about civic issues like  
water and electricity inevitably turned into demands for azadi? To  
threaten them with mass starvation amounted to committing political  
suicide.But by then the land transfer had become what senior  
separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani called a "non-issue".

Massive protests against the revocation erupted in Jammu. There, too,  
the issue snowballed into something much bigger. Hindus began to  
raise issues of neglect and discrimination by the Indian State. (For  
some odd reason they blamed Kashmiris for that neglect.)

The protests led to the blockading of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, the  
only functional road link between Kashmir and India. The army was  
called out to clear the highway and allow safe passage of trucks  
between Jammu and Srinagar. But incidents of violence against  
Kashmiri truckers were being reported from as far away as Punjab  
where there was no protection at all. As a result, Kashmiri truckers,  
fearing for their lives, refused to drive on the highway. Truckloads  
of perishable fresh fruit and Valley produce began to rot. It became  
very obvious that the blockade had caused the situation to spin out  
of control. The government announced that the blockade had been  
cleared and that trucks were going through. Embedded sections of the  
Indian media, quoting the inevitable 'Intelligence' sources, began to  
refer to it as a 'perceived' blockade, and even to suggest that there  
had never been one.

But it was too late for those games, the damage had been done. It had  
been demonstrated in no uncertain terms to people in Kashmir that  
they lived on sufferance, and that if they didn't behave themselves  
they could be put under siege, starved, deprived of essential  
commodities and medical supplies. The real blockade became a  
psychological one. The last fragile link between India and Kashmir  
was all but snapped.

To expect matters to end there was of course absurd. Hadn't anybody  
noticed that in Kashmir even minor protests about civic issues like  
water and electricity inevitably turned into demands for azadi? To  
threaten them with mass starvation amounted to committing political  

Not surprisingly, the voice that the Government of India has tried so  
hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar. Hundreds  
of thousands of unarmed people have come out to reclaim their cities,  
their streets and mohallas. They have simply overwhelmed the heavily  
armed security forces by their sheer numbers, and with a remarkable  
display of raw courage.

Raised in a playground of army camps, checkposts and bunkers, with  
screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation  
has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the  
dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for  
themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an  
epiphany. They're in full flow, not even the fear of death seems to  
hold them back.

And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second- 
largest army in the world? What threat does it hold? Who should know  
that better than the people of India who won their independence in  
the way that they did?

The circumstances in Kashmir being what they are, it is hard for the  
spin doctors to fall back on the same old same old; to claim that  
it's all the doing of Pakistan's ISI, or that people are being  
coerced by militants. Since the '30s onwards, the question of who can  
claim the right to represent that elusive thing known as "Kashmiri  
sentiment" has been bitterly contested.This time around, the people  
are in charge. The armed militants, who through the worst years of  
repression were seen carrying the torch of azadi, are content to let  
people do the fighting. The separatist leaders are not leaders so  
much as followers.	
Was it Sheikh Abdullah? The Muslim Conference? Who is it today? The  
mainstream political parties? The Hurriyat? The militants? This time  
around, the people are in charge. There have been mass rallies in the  
past, but none in recent memory that have been so sustained and  
widespread. The mainstream political parties of Kashmir?the National  
Conference, the People's Democratic Party?feted by the Deep State and  
the Indian media despite the pathetic voter turnout in election after  
election appear dutifully for debates in New Delhi's TV studios, but  
can't muster the courage to appear on the streets of Kashmir. The  
armed militants who, through the worst years of repression, were seen  
as the only ones carrying the torch of azadi forward, if they are  
around at all, seem to be content to take a backseat and let people  
do the fighting for a change.

The separatist leaders who do appear and speak at the rallies are not  
leaders so much as followers, being guided by the phenomenal  
spontaneous energy of a caged, enraged people that has exploded on  
Kashmir's streets. The leaders, such as they are, have been presented  
with a full-blown revolution. The only condition seems to be that  
they have to do as the people say. If they say things that people do  
not wish to hear, they are gently persuaded to come out, publicly  
apologise and correct their course. This applies to all of them,  
including Syed Ali Shah Geelani who at a public rally recently  
proclaimed himself the movement's only leader. It was a monumental  
political blunder that very nearly shattered the fragile new alliance  
between the various factions of the struggle. Within hours he  
retracted his statement. Like it or not, this is democracy. No  
democrat can pretend otherwise.

Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people swarm around places  
that hold terrible memories for them. They demolish bunkers, break  
through cordons of concertina wire and stare straight down the  
barrels of soldiers' machine-guns, saying what very few in India want  
to hear. Hum kya chahte? Azadi! We Want Freedom. And, it has to be  
said, in equal numbers and with equal intensity: Jeevey Jeevey  
Pakistan. Long live Pakistan.

That sound reverberates through the Valley like the drumbeat of  
steady rain on a tin roof, like the roll of thunder before an  
electric storm. It's the plebiscite that was never held, the  
referendum that has been indefinitely postponed.

On August 15, India's Independence Day, the city of Srinagar shut  
down completely. The Bakshi stadium where Governor N.N. Vohra hoisted  
the flag was empty except for a few officials. Hours later, Lal  
Chowk, the nerve centre of the city (where in 1992, Murli Manohar  
Joshi, BJP leader and mentor of the controversial "Hinduisation" of  
children's history textbooks, started a tradition of flag-hoisting by  
the Border Security Force), was taken over by thousands of people who  
hoisted the Pakistani flag and wished each other "Happy belated  
Independence Day" (Pakistan celebrates Independence on August 14) and  
"Happy Slavery Day".
Humour, obviously, has survived India's many torture centres and Abu  
Ghraibs in Kashmir.

On August 16, more than 3,00,000 people marched to Pampore, to the  
village of Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who was shot down in  
cold blood five days earlier. He was part of a massive march to the  
Line of Control demanding that since the Jammu road had been blocked,  
it was only logical that the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway be opened  
for goods and people, the way it used to be before Kashmir was  

On August 18, an equal number gathered in Srinagar in the huge TRC  
grounds (Tourist Reception Centre, not the Truth and Reconciliation  
Committee) close to the United Nations Military Observers Group in  
India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to submit a memorandum asking for three  
things?the end to Indian rule, the deployment of a UN Peacekeeping  
Force and an investigation into two decades of war crimes committed  
with almost complete impunity by the Indian army and police.

The day before the rally the Deep State was hard at work. A senior  
journalist friend called to say that late in the afternoon the home  
secretary called a high-level meeting in New Delhi. Also present were  
the defence secretary and the intelligence chiefs. The purpose of the  
meeting, he said, was to brief the editors of TV news channels that  
the government had reason to believe that the insurrection was being  
managedby a small splinter cell of the ISI and to request the  
channels to keep this piece of exclusive, highly secret intelligence  
in mind while covering (or preferably not covering?) the news from  
Kashmir. Unfortunately for the Deep State, things have gone so far  
that TV channels, were they to obey those instructions, would run the  
risk of looking ridiculous. Thankfully, it looks as though this  
revolution will, after all, be televised.

On the night of August 17, the police sealed the city. Streets were  
barricaded, thousands of armed police manned the barriers. The roads  
leading into Srinagar were blocked. For the first time in eighteen  
years, the police had to plead with Hurriyat leaders to address the  
rally at the TRC grounds instead of marching right up to the UNMOGIP  
office which is on Gupkar Road, Srinagar's Green Zone where, for  
years, the Indian Establishment has barricaded itself in style and  

On the morning of the 18th, people began pouring into Srinagar from  
villages and towns across the Valley. In trucks, tempos, jeeps, buses  
and on foot. Once again, barriers were broken and people reclaimed  
their city. The police were faced with a choice of either stepping  
aside or executing a massacre. They stepped aside. Not a single  
bullet was fired.

The city floated on a sea of smiles. There was ecstasy in the air.  
Everyone had a banner; houseboat owners, traders, students, lawyers,  
doctors. One said, "We are all prisoners, set us free." Another said,  
"Democracy without freedom is Demon-crazy". Demon Crazy. That was a  
good one. Perhaps he was referring to the twisted logic of a country  
that needed to commit communal carnage in order to bolster its  
secular credentials. Or the insanity that permits the world's largest  
democracy to administer the world's largest military occupation and  
continue to call itself a democracy.

There was a green flag on every lamp post, every roof, every bus stop  
and on the top of chinar trees. A big one fluttered outside the All  
India Radio building. Road signs to Hazratbal, Batmaloo, Sopore were  
painted over. Rawalpindi they said. Or simply Pakistan. It would be a  
mistake to assume that the public expression of affection for  
Pakistan automatically translates into a desire to accede to Pakistan.

Some of it has to do with gratitude for the support?cynical or  
otherwise?for what Kashmiris see as a freedom struggle and the Indian  
State sees as a terrorist campaign. It also has to do with mischief.  
With saying and doing what galls India, the enemy, most of all. (It's  
easy to scoff at the idea of a 'freedom struggle' that wishes to  
distance itself from a country that is supposed to be a democracy and  
align itself with another that has, for the most part, been ruled by  
military dictators. A country whose army has committed genocide in  
what is now Bangladesh. A country that is even now being torn apart  
by its own ethnic war.
What will free Kashmir be like? Will the hundreds of thousands of  
Kashmiri Pandits living in exile be allowed to return, paid  
reparations for their losses?	
These are important questions, but right now perhaps it's more useful  
to wonder what this so-called democracy did in Kashmir to make people  
hate it so.)

Everywhere there were Pakistani flags, everywhere the cry, Pakistan  
se rishta kya? La ilaha illa llah. What is our bond with Pakistan?  
There is
no god but Allah. Azadi ka matlab kya? La ilaha illallah. What does  
Freedom mean? There is no god but Allah.

For somebody like myself, who is not Muslim, that interpretation of  
freedom is hard?if not impossible?to understand. I asked a young  
woman whether freedom for Kashmir would not mean less freedom for  
her, as a woman. She shrugged and said, "What kind of freedom do we  
have now? The freedom to be raped by Indian soldiers?" Her reply  
silenced me.

Standing in the grounds of the TRC, surrounded by a sea of green  
flags, it was impossible to doubt or ignore the deeply Islamic nature  
of the uprising taking place around me. It was equally impossible to  
label it a vicious, terrorist jehad. For Kashmiris, it was a  
catharsis. A historical moment in a long and complicated struggle for  
freedom with all the imperfections, cruelties and confusions that  
freedom struggles have. This one cannot by any means call itself  
pristine, and will always be stigmatised by, and will some day, I  
hope, have to account for?among other things?the brutal killings of  
Kashmiri Pandits in the early years of the uprising, culminating in  
the exodus of almost the entire community from the Kashmir Valley.

As the crowd continued to swell, I listened carefully to the slogans,  
because rhetoric often clarifies things and holds the key to all  
kinds of understanding. I'd heard many of them before, a few years  
ago, at a militant's funeral. A new one, obviously coined after the  
blockade, was Kashmir ki mandi! Rawalpindi! (It doesn't lend itself  
to translation, but it means?Kashmir's marketplace? Rawalpindi!)  
Another was Khooni lakir tod do, aar paar jod do (Break down the  
blood-soaked Line of Control, let Kashmir be united again). There  
were plenty of insults and humiliation for India: Ay jabiron ay  
zalimon, Kashmir hamara chhod do (Oh oppressors, Oh wicked ones, Get  
out of our Kashmir). Jis Kashmir ko khoon se seencha, woh Kashmir  
hamara hai (The Kashmir we have irrigated with our blood, that  
Kashmir is ours!).

The slogan that cut through me like a knife and clean broke my heart  
was this one: Nanga bhookha Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan  
(Naked, starving India, More precious than life itself?Pakistan). Why  
was it so galling, so painful to listen to this? I tried to work it  
out and settled on three reasons. First, because we all know that the  
first part of the slogan is the embarrassing and unadorned truth  
about India, the emerging superpower. Second, because all Indians who  
are not nanga or bhookha are?and have been?complicit in complex and  
historical ways with the cruel cultural and economic systems that  
make Indian society so cruel, so vulgarly unequal.

And third, because it was painful to listen to people who have  
suffered so much themselves mock others who suffer in different ways,  
but no less intensely, under the same oppressor. In that slogan I saw  
the seeds of how easily victims can become perpetrators.

It took hours for Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani to  
wade through the thronging crowds and make it onto the podium. When  
they arrived, they were born aloft on the shoulders of young men,  
over the surging crowd to the podium. The roar of greeting was  
deafening. Mirwaiz Umer spoke first. He repeated the demand that the  
Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Disturbed Areas Act and Public  
Safety Act?under which thousands have been killed, jailed and tortured 
?be withdrawn.
Of course, there are many ways for the Indian State to hold on to  
Kashmir. A few strategic massacres, a couple of targeted  
assassinations, some disappearances and a round of arrests should do  
the trick for a few more years.	
He called for the release of political prisoners, for the Srinagar- 
Muzaffarabad road to be opened for the free movement of goods and  
people, and for the demilitarisation of the Kashmir Valley.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani began his address with a recitation from the  
Quran. He then said what he has said before, on hundreds of  
occasions. The only way for the struggle to succeed,he said, was to  
turn to the Quran for guidance. He said Islam would guide the  
struggle and that it was a complete social and moral code that would  
govern the people of a free Kashmir. He said Pakistan had been  
created as the home of Islam, and that that goal should never be  
subverted. He said just as Pakistan belonged to Kashmir, Kashmir  
belonged to Pakistan. He said minority communities would have full  
rights and their places of worship would be safe. Each point he made  
was applauded.

Oddly enough, the apparent doctrinal clarity of what he said made  
everything a little unclear. I wondered how the somewhat disparate  
views of the various factions in the freedom struggle would resolve  
themselves?the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front's vision of an  
independent state, Geelani's desire to merge with Pakistan and  
Mirwaiz Umer Farooq balanced precariously between them.

An old man with a red eye standing next to me said, "Kashmir was one  
country. Half was taken by India, the other half by Pakistan. Both by  
force. We want freedom." I wondered if, in the new dispensation, the  
old man would get a hearing. I wondered what he would think of the  
trucks that roared down the highways in the plains of India, owned  
and driven by men who knew nothing of history, or of Kashmir, but  
still had slogans on their tailgates that said, "Doodh maango to  
kheer denge, Kashmir maango to cheer denge (Ask for milk, you'll get  
cream; Ask for Kashmir, we'll tear you open)."

Briefly, I had another thought. I imagined myself standing in the  
heart of an RSS or VHP rally being addressed by L.K. Advani. Replace  
the word Islam with the word Hindutva, replace the word Pakistan with  
Hindustan, replace the sea of green flags with saffron ones, and we  
would have the BJP's nightmare vision of an ideal India.

Is that what we should accept as our future? Monolithic religious  
states handing down a complete social and moral code, "a complete way  
of life"? Millions of us in India reject the Hindutva project. Our  
rejection springs from love, from passion, from a kind of idealism,  
from having enormous emotional stakes in the society in which we  
live. What our neighbours do, how they choose to handle their affairs  
does not affect our argument, it only strengthens it.

Arguments that spring from love are also fraught with danger. It is  
for the people of Kashmir to agree or disagree with the Islamic  
project (which is as contested, in equally complex ways, all over the  
world by Muslims as Hindutva is contested by Hindus).

Perhaps now that the threat of violence has receded and there is some  
space in which to debate views and air ideas, it is time for those  
who are part of the struggle to outline a vision for what kind of  
society they are fighting for. Perhaps it is time to offer people  
something more than martyrs, slogans and vague generalisations. Those  
who wish to turn to the Quran for guidance will no doubt find  
guidance there. But what of those who do not wish to do that, or for  
whom the Quran does not make place? Do the Hindus of Jammu and other  
minorities also have the right to self-determination? Will the  
hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits living in exile, many of  
them in terrible poverty, have the right to return? Will they be paid  
reparations for the terrible losses they have suffered? Or will a  
free Kashmir do to its minorities what India has done to Kashmiris  
for 61 years? What will happen to homosexuals and adulterers and  
blasphemers? What of thieves and lafangas and writers who do not  
agree with the "complete social and moral code"? Will we be put to  
death as we are in Saudi Arabia? Will the cycle of death, repression  
and bloodshed continue? History offers many models for Kashmir's  
thinkers and intellectuals and politicians to study. What will the  
Kashmir of their dreams look like? Algeria? Iran? South Africa?  
Switzerland? Pakistan?

At a crucial time like this, few things are more important than  
dreams. A lazy utopia and a flawed sense of justice will have  
consequences that do not bear thinking about. This is not the time  
for intellectual sloth or a reluctance to assess a situation clearly  
and honestly. It could be argued that the prevarication of Maharaja  
Hari Singh in 1947 has been Kashmir's great modern tragedy, one that  
eventually led to unthinkable bloodshed and the prolonged bondage of  
people who were very nearly free.

Already the spectre of partition has reared its head. Hindutva  
networks are alive with rumours about Hindus in the Valley being  
attacked and forced to flee. In response, phone calls from Jammu  
reported that an armed Hindu militia was threatening a massacre and  
that Muslims from the two Hindu majority districts were preparing to  
flee. (Memories of the bloodbath that ensued and claimed the lives of  
more than a million people when India and Pakistan were partitioned  
have come flooding back. That nightmare will haunt all of us forever.)

There is absolutely no reason to believe that history will repeat  
itself. Not unless it is made to. Not unless people actively work to  
create such a cataclysm.However, none of these fears of what the  
future holds can justify the continued military occupation of a  
nation and a people. No more than the old colonial argument about how  
the natives were not ready for freedom justified the colonial project.

Of course there are many ways for the Indian State to continue to  
hold on to Kashmir. It could do what it does best. Wait. And hope the  
people's energy will dissipate in the absence of a concrete plan. It  
could try and fracture the fragile coalition that is emerging. It  
could extinguish this non-violent uprising and reinvite armed  
militancy. It could increase the number of troops from half-a-million  
to a whole million. A few strategic massacres, a couple of targeted  
assassinations, some disappearances and a massive round of arrests  
should do the trick for a few more years.

The unimaginable sums of public money that are needed to keep the  
military occupation of Kashmir going is money that ought by right to  
be spent on schools and hospitals and food for an impoverished,  
malnourished population in India. What kind of government can  
possibly believe that it has the right to spend it on more weapons,  
more concertina wire and more prisons in Kashmir?

The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all.It  
allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by  
holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims  
in Kashmir. It's all being stirred into a poisonous brew and  
administered intravenously, straight into our bloodstream.

At the heart of it all is a moral question. Does any government have  
the right to take away people's liberty with military force?

India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much?if not more?than Kashmir  
needs azadi from India.


Shuddhabrata Sengupta

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