In the last few weeks, masses of Kashmiri youth, men, women and children have poured out onto the streets of Srinagar and towns and villages across the Kashmir Valley in protest against the Indian state. The intensity and extent of their revolt has increased from day to day. They have defied repeated firing by the police and paramilitary forces, which has left a shocking 43 dead in the last 52 days.
They have not been deterred by the much-publicised calling in of the Army which has staged several flag marches through the streets of their towns. They have made a mockery of official attempts to impose curfew, coming out on the streets again and again in even larger numbers. They refuse to heed the calls of the administration and politicians to “observe restraint”. The fury of the people has been directed very clearly against the state, its armed forces and offices.
The mass revolt in Kashmir is the sharpest refutation of the lie promoted over and over again by the Indian state and some of the media that the situation in Kashmir has been approaching “normalcy”, that the people are “tired” of protests, and that only a handful of “secessionists” backed by Pakistan are keeping the movement alive. This is the lie that the Indian state has been spreading in order to ignore the just demands of the Kashmiri people and to cynically perpetuate the oppressive conditions which have made life hell for the people there.
The latest high tide of agitation in Kashmir is not an isolated occurrence, but must be seen against the background of the mass protests last year over the cynical move of the state to take over land in the name of the Amarnath Yatra, as well as the prolonged agitation over the rape and murder of two young women in Shopian. This year too, people reacted with fury to the cold-blooded murder by army personnel of three villagers which the army had tried to pass off as an “encounter” with militants from over the border.
The plain and simple fact is that the people of Kashmir are fed up with the atrocities which they are repeatedly subject to – their children shot dead, their youth and men picked up and made to “disappear”, their women molested and raped by police and paramilitary forces. They are fed up of their houses being broken into at all times of the day and night, of the countless police checks they have to face when they try to go anywhere, the constant intimidation and brutality. Whenever the people have tried to protest, they meet with gunfire. Even funeral processions and ordinary bystanders are fired upon. No appeals are possible against those who commit atrocities against them.
The people of this region have seen every type of government come and go – Congress, PDP, National Conference, and various combinations of these. All have promised to deliver justice to the people, but every one of them without exception has presided over the same atrocities, has failed to give any relief to the people. The current state of affairs in Kashmir shows that people are unwilling to take any more of the same. The lies, promises, threats and bullets of the state are just not working.
The Indian state does not look upon – and has never looked upon – Kashmir as the land of the Kashmiri people who have lived there for centuries and developed a flourishing culture and proud traditions of their own, who have rights which are inalienable. Instead, they have looked upon it as a pawn in their geopolitical games in the region, and particularly in their contention with Pakistan. The people of Kashmir have been held hostage to this sickening rivalry and to the ambitions of the Indian big bourgeoisie which views itself as the unquestioned heir to the empire left behind by the British in India. Kashmir has been viewed only as a “problem” which has to be kept under control with guns and with false promises.
This is the time for the Indian working class and the Indian people to come forward in support of the beleaguered people of Kashmir. We should denounce in the clearest terms the brutality and oppression of the Indian state in Kashmir. We should demand immediate and verifiable action on the demands which the Kashmiri people have raised time and again – for an end to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and other repressive laws, for the complete withdrawal of the Army and paramilitary forces from civilian areas, for exemplary punishment of anyone in authority who inflicts atrocities on the people, for complete freedom of movement, communication and expression for the Kashmiri people. There should be free and public discussion in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and in India, including in the Indian parliament, on the status and future of Kashmir, with no attempt to suppress or distort the voices of any political forces in Kashmir. The Indian working class and people should raise these demands forcefully and urgently.
At the same time, the situation in Kashmir brings out the necessity of having an open debate in the country on the problems with the fundamental nature of the existing Indian Union, in which whole areas of the country are subject to such repression and conflict for decades on end with no lasting solutions. A new basis must be found for a voluntary union of the peoples, in which the rights of all the peoples are respected and they can live together in genuine equality and dignity.