After more than three months of continuous mass protests in Kashmir, and the killing of more than a hundred people in daily shootings by the armed forces there, the UPA government finally came up with its long-awaited policy measure to deal with the explosive situation there – an ‘all-party’ delegation visit to Kashmir to observe the problem first-hand! As the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in Srinagar reacted incredulously, “Doesn’t the government of India already know the situation that is prevailing in Kashmir?!” This latest move only confirms the utter bankruptcy of the Indian state, its inability to even pretend that it has a solution to the problem.
The immediate cause of this latest round of protests in Kashmir is the fury of the ordinary residents there at the brutal, inhumane and degrading treatment which is meted out to them day in and day out by the armed forces – be it by the police, paramilitary or army soldiers – just because they are Kashmiri. Men and women, young and old, all are equally fed up of the killings, arrests, torture, rapes and molestation. They cannot tolerate any more the midnight raids on their homes, the unexplained ‘disappearances’ of those picked up for ‘questioning’, the regular frisking and unprovoked beatings by patrolling armed forces, the endless curfews, and all the other forms of physical, mental and verbal abuse to which they are subjected. Anger and bitterness have made them lose all fear, have made them turn to their bare hands to confront the heavily armed personnel who are to be found patrolling their streets and towns.
The demands of the people of Kashmir who have risen up and are fighting are crystal clear and absolutely just. They want an end to the rampant killings and abuse; they want the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which allows killing on the slightest suspicion; they want the armed forces removed from civilian areas; they want the release of political prisoners and all those who have been incarcerated for taking part in street protests – in short, they are demanding their fundamental right as human beings to live in peace and dignity, without constant threats, harassment and persecution, without the sword of state terror hanging constantly over their heads.
Even this basic human right is not being conceded by the Indian state. Even as the representatives of the Congress, BJP, CPI and CPM and other parties gathered in the ‘all-party meeting’ in New Delhi to discuss the crisis in Kashmir, its police and armed forces continued with their killing spree on the streets of Srinagar, Sopore and other towns. The demand to withdraw the AFSPA has been flatly rejected. The army units in Kashmir, far from being withdrawn, have been brought more directly into action. As the delegation landed in Srinagar, its streets were dead quiet as a 72 hour curfew had been imposed. The message in all this is clear to every Kashmiri – the Indian state will not give an inch, it refuses to roll back even a little its policy of ruling Kashmir through the most blatant exercise of state terror.
This is essentially the same response that the Indian state, then under the first UPA government, gave to the mass protests that erupted in Manipur six years ago following the abduction, rape and killing of a young woman Manorama Devi by paramilitary forces. The women and men of Manipur too at that time had poured out onto the streets every day for several weeks in a row, to show their anger and frustration and to confront the armed forces. They too had demanded the repeal of AFSPA and an end to the decades of state terror inflicted on them. After finally announcing the appointment of a committee to look into their demands, the Manmohan Singh government eventually, after the movement had subsided, rejected every one of their demands.
It is no wonder that the desire for azaadi or freedom from the oppressive rule of the Indian state has been echoed in far-flung corners of the country, be it Kashmir or in different parts of the North East. The mass protests in Kashmir, as well as those that have taken place in Manipur and other areas, only highlight the stark truth – that the Indian state and ruling class have always regarded these places as their private jagir, which they are determined to hang on to with all their might. They do not regard it as the homeland of the peoples who have been living there for hundreds of years. The Indian state has always tried to drive a wedge between these peoples and the people living in other parts of India, by labeling their struggles as ‘separatist’ or ‘terrorist’. Even when we can see with our own eyes that in Kashmir it is masses of ordinary men, women and children who have been coming out in open protest, the authorities want everyone to believe that this is the handiwork of a ‘handful’ of ‘hardliners’ or ‘separatists’, or of forces from ‘across the border’, and does not reflect the sentiments of the people at large. They want to draw a dividing line between ‘them’, the struggling people of Kashmir, and ‘us’, by which they mean the government and the people in the rest of India.
The real dividing line in India is not between the Kashmiris who are asking for azaadi and everyone else. The dividing line is between the Indian state and the ruling class it represents on the one hand, and on the other hand all the people of India who are deprived of their rights, deprived of the power to control their destiny. All over the country workers, peasants, youth and students, women, tribal people, people who are losing their land, people who have no means of livelihood, people whose democratic rights are under attack, are waging countless struggles. Through a combination of brute force, political manipulation and false promises, the Indian state seeks to suppress the just demands and aspirations of people from different sections of society and regions of the country. In the case of Kashmir, so many promises have been made and betrayed, and the pro-establishment political forces have all become so discredited over the years, that the naked force underpinning the rule of the Indian state is all that is left. Kashmir is an exposure of the fascist heart of the so-called ‘Indian democracy’ that weighs down on the vast masses of our people.
The Indian working class and people must defeat the efforts of the state to isolate the people of Kashmir and discredit their struggle. Every time a protestor there is shot down in cold blood by the armed forces, every time such a crime goes unpunished, it is a dagger in the heart of all of us. The working class and people of India must insist that, in Kashmir or anywhere else, lethal force must never be used against the protests of the people, and that crimes of the police and armed forces against people must be given exemplary punishment. We must support the right of the people of Kashmir to decide on their own future while upholding the principle that armed force is unacceptable as a means of keeping a people against their will in the Indian Union.