Monday, November 10, 2008

Free Kashmir

Around this time in 2006 I was in Srinagar and surrounds for a week. It did not take me too long to recognize that Kashmir is not part of India but it is occupied by India.

The streets of Srinagar are like a fortress with Indian troops drawn from the lower mainland staring menacingly at folks as they go about their business.

When I arrived at the airport it reminded me of arriving at any airport in apartheid South Africa. There were police checkpoints everywhere. I signed more papers and had my luggage checked over and over again.

A week later the road to the airport was closed off and passengers had to walk the last mile or so or take police-approved taxis.

The picture above is from the Mail & Guardian (South Africa) and it captures a frustrated Kashmiri man venting his anger at police on the streets of Srinagar today.

More power to him ... Kashmir does not belong to India or Pakistan.



Prasanth said...

Interesting point. I come from the southern extreme of India and have not been to Kashmir.Of course we have been taught and have more or less strongly imbibed the fact that Kashmir is an inseparable part of India. Unlearning that has been hard and even today the proponents of a free Kashmir in the MSM in Indian are fringe elements(with rare exceptions like Arundhati Roy).

It has not helped that the Kashmiri struggle for independence/autonomy has become associated in popular imagination with a powerfully violent set of attacks sponsored by Pakistan for furthering its own agenda. There are legitimate concerns about how an independent country like Kashmir can survive in such a charged environment(but then again it should not be India's problem).

At the most basic level, I guess the idea of an independent Kashmir would be a blow to the national construction project over 60 years. Another country(say the country as Gandhi wished it to be) could survive this. The India of today cannot(unless of course it in some ways becomes too costly) conceptualize letting Kashmir go. By "the India of today", I mean political structures and the opinion blocks these blocks depend on for support.

Of course I appreciate the irony of the argument above(in the context of the old claim that a colonized India was the "jewel of the crown" of the British Empire) but it is indeed a fact that the increasingly tenuous bonds that hold the country together will slip further in the wake of Kashmir leaving us.At the same time, there is no doubt of the fact that the Kashmiris have received a raw deal as well. A negotiation between these positions, if possible at all, may actually worsen the situation.

The situation looks really bad.

You might be interested in this essay by Arundhati Roy where she argues for freedom for Kashmir. Also here is an ardent advocate of Kashmiri independence at


Dade said...

Kashmir is a powder keg waiting to explode. Pakistan and India, who have already fought 3 wars in the last 60 years, and who don't seem to have the same dread of the Bomb as westerners, are staring eye-to-eye. And the Kashmiris are stuck in the middle.

Nonetheless, my friend, I envy you for going there. I've heard it's very beautiful.

Ridwan said...

Hi there Prasanth:

Thank you kindly for adding complexity to my post. You raise important contextual issues that must be weighed.

I did the feeling that "Kashmiris are stuck" when I met with folks.

Most of the Kashmiri folks I met felt that India was colonizing their existence to the extent that they were losing their identity.

The inevitable clash between claiming religious places, street names, even the name Srinagar itself, was often described in terms that pointed to Indian nationalism over Kashmiri/Islamic independence.

The ethnic/religious overtones of the situation was hard for me to miss.

Still, I appreciate that the situation will not just be solved because one would want to say so.

I was interested to see the former president of Pakistan say that Pakistan wanted an independent Kashmir and would even go so far as to cede land held by Pakistan.

What are your thoughts on this offer?

Anyway, thanks again brother, I will look at the links you have provided.

I have always found Arundhati Roy a compelling thinker as was sad that when I was at JNU in Delhi we were not able to include her in some of our programs.

I also wonder what Aijaz Ahmed says on Kashmir.

You be well.


Ridwan said...

Hi Dade. Trust you are well brother.

Kashmir is absolutely beautiful. Dal lake is amazing to see and though I did not stay on a house boat I got to see quite a few.

I found my interaction with Kashmiris to be perhaps the most intense of all my travels through India.

Like the old times in South Africa the discussions were often hushed and almost always about politics.

I went in the winter months so it was bone chillin cold. And I was not prepared.

I flew from Delhi to Srinagar then to Hyderbad and then Bangalore ... so I had different seasons in just days.

I ended up that leg of my 7 month stay in India with a week in Goa.

Now Goa is all touristy but man is it beautiful.

Right now I wish I was in Pushkar for the camel festival.

I met Nico and Step (see my "notable blogroll" links) while I was in Rajastan in mid 2006 ... they are in Pushkar as I write and it is the end of 2008.

Their travel story is amazing. Do click on their website and see where all they have been.

Be well Dade.


Prasanth said...

ex-President Musharraf's offer was a bold move at that point of time but I was never sure of how sincere it was. Pakistan has very powerful reasons of its own for wanting to bring Kashmir under its influence. So steps undertaken by Pakistan are to be viewed with as much cynicism as many of India's steps. They are most often done with a spirit of urgency and with a view to avoid a conflict rather than find a proper solution.

The only thing that could make things worse is a possible intervention by the USA as a part of its grander strategy in Afghanistan. The settle-pakistan's-kashmir-issue-so-pakistan-will-not-promote=terror approach. Yet Obama has dropped hints of such an approach and Bill Clinton's name is being bandied about. This is the worst possible option since the guiding factor behind such moves will not be listening to the wishes of Kashmiris but finding a quick solution so that Pakistan "rejoins" the war on terror. The coming days promise to be stormy


Ridwan said...

Hi Prasanth:

I absolutely agree that the US must be kept out of the Kashmiri settlement.

The solution, if one may be so bold to speak of just one, cannot be about US interests and the so called 'war on terror'.

I must say that when I heard Musharraf's offer it did not strike me as sincere too.

It seems that he knows India is not even close to thinking about letting Kashmir go, let alone actually letting it go.

Thanks again for adding more details and context.


Jubin George said...

Hi Ridwan,
Hope you are well. It's been really a long while that I've commented here, though I do come and read you every once in a while.

I would like to add a little more to what Prasanth said. Kashmir issue, and its solutions are much more complex as I understand it. Many Indians believe in letting Kashmir go, because they think the war there is futile; not because they are worried about Kashmiris. I read Arundhati's argument of 'India needs freedom from Kashmir, as much as Kashmir needs freedom from India' too more or less on the same lines.

You said, Kashmir is not part of India. The truth is, neither is any other state a part of India if you judge it on similar terms. Kashmir is a part of India only as much as Tamilnadu is part of India. The independence movement and the nationalism that brought up among 600 odd princely states, which are ethnically, culturally, and linguistically so different from one another is nothing short of a miracle - something a pan african movement couldn't realise. Now, leaving Kashmir is more about breaking that delicate thread of nationalism, which strings together India. And you can't ignore the fact that the PM of the country for its first 27 years was a Kashmiri.

The original Jammu and Kashmir, which is now split and under the control of the three neighbouring countries came to existence only in the mid 19th century, and was/is nothing of a homogenous population - Shias on the northwest, tibatans on northeast, sunnis in the valley, and hindus in Jammu. Even the present day demand for an independent state came in only the late 70s, much after the demand from the southern states of India to form an independent country. Till then it was only a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, where India has every right to claim Kashmir - the note of accession from the King, and an elected state goverment that alligned itself with India. And Pakistan started supporting an independent Kashmir only after they started the proxy war through mercineries. Meanwhile, India protected the land rights of Kashmiris by giving it special status, by which no Indian other than a Kashmiri can own land there. That in turn blocked the economic development that flourished elsewhere in India.

It may be true that now, after the recent issue over granting land to one of the most important temples for hindus, and subsequent riots and the callus handling of it by the government forces, more Kashmiri's want to get rid of India off their backs. As Prasanth said, the future of Kashmiris need not be a worry of the Indian Government and majority of its people, but it is a worrry for anyone who sincerely hope for the best of people - Kashmiri or otherwise.

Even IF, Indian government pulls itself out of Kashmir, it's only going to make things worse for its people - a fact that I can't
overlook. In such a case, that will grant freedom only to Kashmir valley, as the hindu majority Jammu would stay with India. The PoK may or may not be freed, as the shia majority have serious disagreements with separatists in Kashmir valley. China will never let the part it has in its possession. Even in Kashmir valley, though the people are at their desperate end, they are divided and have not much trust in the separatists groups who have no consensus among them and have killed their own people for decades. The separatists have never given a future plan, democratic of otherwise. There's also the question of reinstating thousands of displaced Kashmiri families - both hindu and muslim. And the Guardians of the world would promptly step in to rebuild Kashmir, and China would resist it with all its might. That's what Indian goverment can offer to Kashmiris in the name of freedom.

Under these circumstances, you can't easily pass the judgment on Kashmir comparing it to Tibet or Tamil Elam. Other than the
perpetual war time situation, the constitutional rights of the people - religious and cultural - are not violated in Kashmir. The
presence of military, with its four unavoidable wars on the territory, and the proxy war fought almost daily, can't be termed too simply with the term occupation. There had never been any efforts to forcefully change the demography. As a matter of fact, the demography is more or less same as it was in 1901. There was some hope of peaceful reconciliation as the central
government promised higher autonomy to the state, talks of which was again frozen as the recent uprising broke out. And that's the only solution I can comprehend - recognise the LoC as international border, give more autonomy to Kashmir, and protect the democratic rights of people there. Something that can't be possible with military might, but only by taking its people by confidence.

Ridwan said...

Hello Jubin George.

Good to hear from you brother. It has been more than a minute and I did wonder why you stopped blogging :0)

Thanks for looking in here nonetheless.

I accept that there is greater complexity to the situation in Kashmir and I absolutely do not expect a solution/resolve in the near future.

I do think though that the tensions that run through what is now essentially a military occupation cannot just be ignored.

This is true even though one may want to argue that Kashmiris have constitutional rights.

It it no irony that the war(s) and situation in Kashmir has led to the disruption of the economy.

In a few conversations with academics there I was interested to know that in decades past much of the economy was dominated by tourism and arts/crafts industries of course.

Now the houseboats are empty. In fact, we did not come across one other tourist while we walked the streets of Srinagar for a week.

I wonder what would happen if India allowed Kashmiris to vote on whether they wanted to stay or not.

My feeling is that such a vote would show that most Kashmiris want independence.

It would be a first step toward breaking the stand-off.

And when I think of the military vehicles and militais everywhere I cannot believe that Kashmir is better off being inside of India.

It feels like, and it looks like an occupation. And if the groups of Kashmiris I met then it must be said it is mostly described as an occupation.

Also, many Kashmiris point to the fact that many Indians from elsewhere are settling there and this means that the demography is being changed under an occupation.

In these terms, I see why so many are concerned about cultural, historical, and religious genocide.

I think Ms. Roy is mostly right about the need to free Kashmir as a matter of freedom.

I say all this with absolute respect and know that an outsider has no absolute right to speak with such conviction.

That said, I repsect your view and I am grateful that you have provided more substance to make the discussion so much more complex.

I look forward to hearing from you more often and wish you well.

Peace Jubin George!