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Kashmir: A Time for Freedom--Angana Chatterji

“A mother, reportedly asked to watch her daughter’s rape by army personnel, pleaded for her release. They refused. She then pleaded that she could not watch, asking to be sent out of the room or be killed. The soldier pointed a gun to her forehead, stating he would grant her wish, and shot her dead before they proceeded to rape the daughter.”

By Angana Chatterji

First published in Greater Kashmir, daily newspaper, Srinagar
September 25, 2010

“Freedom” represents many things across rural and urban spaces in India-ruled  Kashmir. These divergent meanings are steadfastly united in that freedom always signifies an end to India’s authoritarian governance.

In the administration of brutality, India, the postcolony, has proven itself coequal to its former colonial masters. Kashmir is not about “Kashmir.”

Governing Kashmir is about India’s coming of age as a power, its ability to
disburse violence, to manipulate and dominate. Kashmir is about nostalgia,
about resources, and buffer zones. The possession of Kashmir by India renders an imaginary past real, emblematic of India’s triumphant unification as a nation-state. Controlling Kashmir requires that Kashmiri demands for justice be depicted as threatening to India’s integrity. India’s contrived enemy in Kashmir is a plausible one – the Muslim “Other,” India’s historically
manufactured nemesis.

What is at Stake?

Between June 11 and September 22 of 2010, Kashmir witnessed the execution of 109 youth, men, and women by India’s police, paramilitary, and military. Indian forces opened fire on crowds, tortured children, detained elders without explanation, and coerced false confessions. Since June 7, there have been 73 days of curfew and 75 days of strikes and agitation. On September 11, the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, the violence continued. The paramilitary and police verbally abused and physically attacked civil society dissenters. Summer 2010 was not unprecedented. Kashmir has been subjected to much, much worse.

The use of public and summary execution for civic torture has been held necessary to Kashmir’s subjugation by the Indian state. Militarization has
asserted vigilante jurisdiction over space and politics. The violence is staged, ritualistic, and performative, used to re-assert India’s power over
Kashmir’s body. The fabrications of the military — fake encounters, escalating perceptions of cross-border threat — function as the truth-making apparatus of the nation. We are witness to the paradox of history, as calibrated punishment — the lynching of the Muslim body, the object of criminality — enforces submission of a stateless nation (Kashmir) to the once-subaltern postcolony (India).

Kashmir is about the spectacle. The Indian state’s violence functions as an intervention, to discipline and punish, to provoke and dominate. The summer of 2010 evidenced India’s manoeuvring against Kashmir’s determination to decide its future. The use of violence by the Indian forces was deliberate, their tactics cruel and precise, amidst the groundswell of public dissent. This was the third summer, since 2008, of indefatigable civil society uprisings for “Azaadi” (freedom).

What is the Indian state hoping to achieve? One, that Kashmiris would submit to India’s domination, forsaking their claim to separation from India (to be an independent state or, for some, to be assimilated with Pakistan), or their demand for full autonomy. Or, that provoked, grief-stricken, and weary,
Kashmiris would take up arms once again, giving India the opportunity to
fortify its propaganda that Kashmiri civil society dissent against Indian rule
is nurtured and endorsed today by external forces and groups in Pakistan and
Afghanistan. If the latter transpires, India will manipulate this to neutralize
Kashmiri demands for de-militarization and conflict resolution, to extend its
annexation of Kashmir, and further normalize civic and legal states of

If India succeeds in both provoking local armed struggle and linking Kashmiri
resistance to foreign terror, it will acquire international sanction to
continue its government of Kashmir on grounds of “national security,” and “have
proof” that Kashmiris are not organically debating India’s government of them,
but are pressurized into it by external forces. India can then reinforce its
armed forces in Kashmir, presently 671,000 strong, to prolong the killing

Such provocation as policy is a mistake. Such legitimation of military rule
will produce intractable conflict and violence. All indications are that
Kashmiri civil society dissent will not abate. It is not externally motivated,
but historically compelled.

Dominant nation-states overlook that freedom struggles are not adherent to the
moralities of violence versus nonviolence, but reflect a desire to be free.
Dominant nation-states forget that the greater the oppression, the more fervent
is resistance. The greater the violence, the more likely is the provocation to

Whether dissent in Kashmir turns into organized armed struggle or continues as
mass-based peaceful resistance is dependent upon India’s political decisions.
If India’s subjugation persists, it is conceivable that the movement for
nonviolent dissent, mobilized since 2004, will erode. Signs indicate that it is
already slightly threadbare. It is conceivable that India’s brutality will
induce Kashmiri youth to close the distance between stones and petrol bombs, or
more. If India fails to act, if Pakistan acts only in its self-interest, and if
the international community does not insist on an equitable resolution to the
Kashmir dispute, it is conceivable, that, forsaken by the world, Kashmiris will
be compelled to take up arms again.

Misogynist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, al-Qaeda, or the Taliban are
mercenaries looking for takers in Kashmir. By the Indian state’s record, there
are between 500-700 militants in the Kashmir Valley today. These groups have
not been successful because Kashmiris have been disinterested in alliances with
them, and not because the Indian army is successful in controlling them. This
time, an armed mobilization by Kashmiris would include an even stronger mass
movement than that which occurred between 1990 and 2004/2007, led by youth
whose lives have been shaped by the two-decade long violence of militarization.

Who wants that? Can the South Asian Subcontinent, already nuclearized, survive
that? India is accountable to keep this from happening. Not through the use of
unmitigated force, but through listening to the demands for change made by

Will to Power

This summer, India’s violence on Kashmir was threaded through with strategic
calculation. The police, military, and paramilitary have, without provocation,
brutalized widespread peaceable protests across Kashmir that were dissenting
the suppression of civil society by Indian forces. Hostile Indian forces acted
with the knowledge and sanction of the Government of India and the Government
of Jammu and Kashmir. The repeated repression by state forces provoked
civilians, whose political means of expression and demands have been
systematically denied, to engage in stone pelting. The conditions of
militarization prompted them to be in non-compliance with declared, undeclared,
and unremitting curfews. In instances, civilians engaged in acts of violence,
including arson.

Each instance of civilian violence was provoked by the unmitigated and first
use of force on civilians and/or extrajudicial killings on the part of Indian
forces. Peaceable civilian protests by women and men dissented the actions of
Indian forces. Individuals, caught in the midst of the unrest, or mourning the
death of a civilian, were fired upon by Indian forces, leading to other
killings by Indian forces, more civilian protests, greater use of force by the
police and paramilitary, use of torture in certain instances by Indian forces,
more killings by Indian forces, larger, even violent, civilian protests, and
further state repression.

In Summer 2010, dominant discourse focused on the use of stone pelting and on
the instances of violence by youth in Kashmir as the reason for armed action on
the part of the state. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh focused on the need
for efficient tactics in “crowd control.” India’s elite intelligentsia,
inculcated into “rational” conduct, and no longer outraged by suffering,
assessed the costs and benefits of militaristic violence.

Civil society demonstrations in Kashmir are not a law and order problem, as
they have been reported. Stone pelting, and incidents of arson and violence,
are not causal to the violence that is routine in Kashmir today. Stone pelting
does not seek to kill, and has not resulted in death. Pro-freedom leaders
(termed “separatists” by the Indian state) have emphasized nonviolent civil
disobedience, and have appealed to civil society to not engage in violent
protests in reaction to the violence and killings by Indian forces.

Indian potentates disregard that suppression acts to catalyze the resistance
movement in Kashmir. The Government of India continues to monitor the
resistance movement, shifting the boundaries of acceptable practise of civil
liberties. Kashmiris are allowed to protest in New Delhi, while in Kashmir
sloganeering (“Go, India, Go Back,” “Indian Dogs Go Home,” “Quit Kashmir,”) is
met with force. When Masarat Alam Bhat, a rising pro-freedom leader, issued an
appeal to Indian soldiers in July to “Quit Kashmir,” Indian authorities banned
its circulation.

Acts of violence by protesting civilians increased as military violence
continued into September. On September 13, crowds in Kashmir torched a
Christian missionary school and some government offices while protesting the
call to desecrate the Qur’an by Florida Pastor Terry Jones. On September 13, 18
civilians were killed by the Indian forces in Kashmir (a police officer also
died). Provocation is easy in a context of sustained brutality. Provoking
Kashmiri dissenters to violence serves to confirm the dominant story of Muslims
as “violent.” Yet again, several pro-freedom leaders condemned the attack on
the Christian school and renewed their call for nonviolent dissent.

On September 13, the Government of India stated its willingness to engage with
Kashmiri groups that reject violence. New Delhi did not apply the same
precondition to itself. Nor did it acknowledge that pro-freedom groups have
repeatedly opposed the use of violence in recent years.

The Kashmiri Muslim is caricatured as violent by India’s dominant political and
media apparatus. There is a refusal to recognize the inequitable
historical-political power relations at play between Muslim-prevalent Kashmir’s
governance by Hindu-dominant India. The racialization of the Muslim, as “Other”
and barbaric, reveals the xenophobia of the Indian state. Distinctions in
method and power, between stone pelter and armed soldier, between “terrorist”
and “freedom fighter,” are inconvenient.

The Indian state’s discourse is animated by the prejudice that Kashmiri
inclinations to violence are subsidized by Pakistan. Such misconceptions ignore
that while Kashmiris did travel to Pakistan to seek arms training, such
activity was largely confined to the early days of the armed militancy, circa
late 1980s through the mid-1990s. Pathologies of “violent Muslims” legitimate
the discursive and physical violence of the Indian “security” forces, which is
presented as necessary protection for the maintenance of the Hindu majoritarian
Indian nation.

I have spent considerable time between July 2006 and July 2010 learning about
Kashmir, working in Kashmir. In undertaking the work of the International
People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir, I
have travelled across Kashmir’s cities and countryside, from Srinagar to
Kupwara, through Shopian and Islamabad (Anantnag), with Parvez Imroz,
Zahir-Ud-Din, and Khurram Parvez. I have witnessed the violence that is
perpetrated on Kashmiris by India’s military, paramilitary, and police. I have
walked through the graveyards that hold Kashmir’s dead, and have met with
grieving families. I have sat with witnesses, young men, who described how
Indian forces chased down and executed their friends for participating in civil
disobedience. I have met women whose sons were disappeared. I have met with
“half-widows.” I have spoken with youth, women and men, who are enraged. I have
also spoken with persons who were violated by militants in the 1990s.

Peoples’ experiences with the reprehensible atrocities of militancy do not imply the
abdication of their desires for self-determination. The Indian state
deliberately conflates militancy with the people’s mass movement for

I have met with torture survivors, non-militants and former militants, who
testified to the sadism of the forces. Men who had petrol injected through the
anus. Water-boarding, mutilation, being paraded naked, rape of women, children,
and men, starvation, humiliation, and psychological torture. An eagle tattoo on
the arm of a man was reportedly identified by an army officer as a symbol of
Pakistan-held Azad Kashmir, even as the man clarified the tattoo was from his
childhood. The skin containing it was burned. The officer said, the man
recalled: “When you look at this, think of Azaadi.” A mother, reportedly asked
to watch her daughter’s rape by army personnel, pleaded for her release. They
refused. She then pleaded that she could not watch, asking to be sent out of
the room or be killed. The soldier pointed a gun to her forehead, stating he
would grant her wish, and shot her dead before they proceeded to rape the

Who are the forces? Disenfranchised caste and other groups, Assamese, Nagas,
Sikhs, Dalits (erstwhile “untouchable” peoples), and Muslims from Kashmir, are
being used to combat Kashmiris. Why did 34 soldiers commit suicide in Kashmir
in 2008, and 52 fratricidal killings take place between January 21, 2004 and
July 14, 2009? Why did 16 soldiers commit suicide and 2 die in fratricidal
killings between January and early August in 2010?

Laws authorize soldiers to question, raid houses, detain and arrest without
chargesheets, and prolong incarceration without due process. They blur
distinctions between military/paramilitary, “legality”/“illegality.” Citing
“national security,” Indian forces in Kashmir shoot and kill on uncorroborated
suspicion, with impunity from prosecution. Yet, revoking the Armed Forces
Special Powers Act, for example, will not stop the horror in Kashmir. India’s
laws are not the primary contention. India’s political and military existence
in Kashmir is the issue. Legal impunity is the cover for the moral impunity of
Indian rule.

Is the military willing to withdraw from Kashmir? Since 2002, the Government of
India has procured 5 billion US dollars in weaponry from the Israeli state.
Authoritarian alliances between once subjugated peoples mark another irony of
history. Five billion dollars is a colossal sum for India, where 38 percent of
the world’s poor reside. Eight of the poorest states in India are more
impoverished than the 26 poorest countries of the African continent. Five
billion dollars, in addition to the other monies and resources invested in the
militarization of Kashmir, do not evidence an intent to withdraw.

Human rights violations in Kashmir will not stop without removing the military.
The military cannot be removed without surgically rupturing India’s will to
power over Kashmir.

Inflexible Diplomacy

India needs to make the “Kashmir problem” disappear. India’s diplomacy is
directed toward assuming a role as a world power, a world market, and a world
negotiator in global politics. India is also seeking a seat on the United
Nations Security Council.

What constitutes India’s dialogue with Kashmiris in conditions of extreme
subjugation? The Government of India has scheduled a hurried timeframe in
propelling Track II diplomacy into success, to secure a proposal for resolution
that is acceptable to India and Pakistan, and, ostensibly, to Kashmiris. The
terms of reference set by New Delhi exclude discussions of self-determination
or heightened autonomy, boundary negotiations, the Siachen glacier and critical
water-resources, and renegotiations of the Line of Control.

New Delhi and Islamabad appear to be in collusion. If Pakistan overlooks
India’s annexation of Jammu and Kashmir, India would be willing to forget
Pakistan’s occupation of another fragment of Kashmir. The Musharraf Formula is
no longer acceptable to the Government of Pakistan. Afghanistan is the current
priority, not Kashmir. Conversations on the phased withdrawal of troops by
India and Pakistan at the border, local self-government, and the creation of a
joint supervision mechanism in Jammu and Kashmir, involving India, Pakistan,
and Kashmir, are at an impasse.

The Government in New Delhi is looking to neutralize Kashmir’s demand for
self-determination or unabridged autonomy, pushing forward a diluted
“autonomy,” seeking to assimilate Kashmir with finality into the Indian
nation-state. New Delhi is seeking buy-in, which it hopes to push through using
the collaborator coterie in Srinagar. Local self-government would be New
Delhi’s compromise — a weak autonomy — with a joint supervisory apparatus
constituted of India, Pakistan, and Kashmir.

New Delhi hopes that the Kashmiri leadership, including pro-freedom groups, can
be restrained, for a price, and weakened through infighting. Certain segments
of the pro-freedom leadership have, through history, lacked vision, honesty,
and the ability to prioritize collaboration for justice and peace in Kashmir.
Certain segments of the religious and political leadership have been unable to
collaborate meaningfully with civil society, with observant Muslims and those
irreligious, and with non-Muslims. The spiritual commitment to justice in
Islamic tradition has receded as religious determinations embrace instrumental
political rationality. The determination of what “freedom” is has been deferred
since 1931; instead there has been a focus on immediate and small political

This has plagued and rendered ineffectual segments of the complex Hurriyat
alliance in the present, which is often unable to capitalize on the exuberant
people’s movement on the streets and pathways of Kashmir. Segments of the
pro-freedom leadership have focused on New Delhi rather than Kashmir civil
society. New Delhi has fixated on enabling this dynamic, using vast resources
to create a collaborator class in Srinagar that undermines the will of the
Kashmiri people.

While Pakistan’s politicians have pointed to India’s injustices, they have not
reciprocally add