Anguish of Kashmiri People: are we listening?

By Ram Puniyani,

Statement of Arundhati Roy (Nov 2010), that Kashmir is not a part of India, did raise more than storm in a tea cup. The BJP demanded that court case should be initiated against her, BJP affiliate Mahila Morcha vandalized her house in Delhi and BJP’s storm troopers, Bajarang Dal, threatened her in various ways. This statement came as a shock to many and talk of arresting her under the charge of sedition was in the air for some time. One knows that Kashmir has become a raw nerve in the emotional make up of the large section of people for various reasons. There may be lot of differences with Roy on the solution of Kashmir problem, but two points need to be noted and conceded. Number one, Kashmir never merged with India as it only ‘acceded’ with the proviso of total autonomy except in the matters of defense, communication, currency and external affairs. And two that the statement of Roy and her other writings and speeches on the issue of Kashmir show the pain and anguish of Kashmiri people as a whole.

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The attacks and criticism of Roy are based on the ignorance about the history of accession of Kashmir to India. The ultra nationalists groups, especially the one’s who are followers of the ideology of Religion based nationalism, and a thinking of a section of people is guided by a sort of patriotism, blinded by emotion. This patriotism wants to put the problems of people under the carpet. How did Kashmir Accede to India? One does remember that there were many princely states at the time of Independence. Most of these states were merged into India barring the ones of Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir. The mandate to princes was that they are free to merge with either India or Pakistan but while taking such a decision they should keep the feelings of there subjects and consider their geographical location. The princes of these three states had their own calculations in not merging in to India.

Junagadh Nawab wanted to merge with Pakistan. Nizam Hyderabad wanted to remain independent or at worse merge with Pakistan. Pakistan offered more powers to the princes. Geographically also merger of Junagadh and Hyderabad was a bit out of the place their borders were not contiguous with border of Pakistan, and the composition of population of the percentage of Hindu population in these states was overwhelming. India closed the chapter in these states by military means.

Kashmir was uniquely located in an area which had proximity to Pakistan and India both, it had large communication with Pakistan and 80% of its population was Muslim, fitting well into the scheme of ‘Two nation theory’ of communalists.

Maharaja Harisingh refused to merge with either country. Pakistani army disguised as tribal invaded Kashmir. The difference in Kashmir was the presence of movement of National Conference which was very secular and its leader Sheikh Abdullah recognized the comparatively stronger presence of feudal sections in Pakistan ruling classes. Maharaja Harisingh when faced with the aggression left for Jammu for his safety and sent his emissary to Delhi to request India to send army to dispel the aggression from Pakistan soil. Indian Government wanted to have an agreement before sending the army. It’s here that treaty of accession (not merger) was devised giving full autonomy to Kashmir except in the matters of defense, communication, currency and external affairs. By the time Indian army began its work, 1/3 Kashmir was already occupied by the Pakistan army. Ceasefire followed and later Indian part of Kashmir went on to have elections, Sheikh Abdullah becoming its first Prime Minister (not Chief Minister).

To understand the plight of Kashmiris, Pundits included, the issues one needs to focus are, as to how the US had designs to dominate this area through the proxy of Pakistan, were operating all through. This was the major determining factor for things which happened in this region. Kashmir was Central to US anti Communist strategies- Russia on one side China on the other. US kept supporting Pakistan through and through to keep its presence in the area and to keep the issue on the boil. On this side of the border the communal elements were assertive and demanded for full merger of Kashmir into India. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of Bhartiya Jansangh, the previous avatar of BJP was very vociferous in demanding this total merger.

Shiekh Abdullah’s trust in Indian republic’s secular values was shaken with the murder of Mahatma Gandhi. Sheikh had great faith in the secularism of India, in Gandhi and Nehru. After Gandhi murder and the pressure built by communalists to forcibly merge Kashmir into India further disturbed Sheikh Abdullah. He started introspecting whether it was a mistake to accede to India. Nehru at this point of time was saying that what is important is to win over the hearts of Kashmiris, while ultra nationalists, pseudo nationalists, wanted to forcible merge Kashmir into India. Sheikh Abdullah started talking to US ambassador and also with China on the other. Under pressure of Nehru got Sheikh Abdullah arrested and put him behind bars, starting the process of alienation of Kashmiri people at large.

Later Pakistan backed by US played its own role in encouraging the dissident sections and by helping them in all the ways. The problem really got worse due to the entry of Al Qaeda in the decades of 1980s. With their warped training of distorted version of Jihad and Kafir, in the Madrassas set up by US, to train Al Qaeda, the situation got communalized. It worsened the situation by communalizing the issue and by playing politics in the name of Islam.

Indian army did the rest. Starting from trying to curb militancy, it entrenched itself in to the civilian life of Kashmir. So many incidents of killings of innocents at the hands of army have taken place. Brutality of army is disguised as defense of Nation. Army lives with the dictum that power flows through the barrel of the gun. This dictum is glaringly obvious when army stays there for long enough time in a civilian area. This army occupation acts as a trigger to further alienate the people of the region. Victims of army’s highhandedness are the innocents of the region, women and children suffering the worst ignominies. The process of violation of civic norms and disruption of civic life has led to a situation where the average helpless person vents his anger by throwing the stones.

Kashmir is a vexed issue defying easy solution due multiple interested parties. US backed Pakistan army, the intense pain and suffering of people of Kashmir at the hands of militants and army, both. There is a need to respect the expression of pain and anguish of Kashmiri people. Dialogue within and outside, reduction of army’s presence, deepening democracy and understanding the complex logic of the area is what could sooth the wounded psyche of Kashmir. The aggressive reaction of the type manifested by politics wearing the clothes of religion will add salt to the wounds and worsen the problem rather than contributing anything to its resolution. Layers of democracy, within the state need to be strived for and people’s voices of dissent need to be listened carefully rather than insulted and blindly opposed without understanding the logic of their statements and suffering of the people of Kashmir.