The name of the valley has become synonymous with wreckage, its ‘paradise on earth’ quality juxtaposed against the hellish existence of its people. Especially in the context of a tussle between so-called secular and extremist ideologies and the ravages of nation-hood, Kashmir is an open wound constantly set afire by human rights violations every second. Be they a restriction of civil liberties, political participation or economic security, and usually the other extreme of fear for life and personal safety, it seems that every new feature about the ‘crowning glory’ of India’s landscape, or Pakistan’s disputed territory, portents danger and more destruction. In a debate as old as the Independence of 1947, and argued about extensively by scholars, journalists and politicians from the disputing countries and neutral external observers, the sides have already been firmly and rigidly chosen. However, the strange fact is that no one seems to support the people, only factions marked by political interests garner support. The focus is on blaming militants, the other country, regional parties or the army, because when violence becomes an immediate experience ‘indoctrinated’ into the psyche and never allowed to be forgotten, blaming is an instinctive act to make sense of the world. It is a desperate claim on rationality, a desire to identify cause and effect in a world of chaos. Ironically, rarely are the Kashmiri people heard, or accepted by the ‘mainland’ which assumes their voice in the name of national integrity by explaining away silencing as unity. This article will adopt a similar main-lander perspective divorced from the traumatic ground reality of its subject matter, but the attempt will not be directed towards erasing but towards foregrounding and drawing attention to the people.
Recently, Kashmiri stone-pelters in Shopian district surrounded an army convoy, and the army reacted with brute force in ‘self-defence’. “A junior commissioned officer (JCO) accompanying the convoy got hit on his head and fell unconscious. The mob tried to lynch him and snatch his weapon. The violent crowd set the army vehicles on fire. Considering the extreme gravity of the situation the army was constrained to open fire in self-defence. A total of seven army men suffered injuries and extensive damage was caused to 11 vehicles. In the process two civilians succumbed to bullet injuries,” Defence spokesperson Col. Rajesh Kalia said. The facts of the case according to the perspective of the army are that a clear case of mob violence was enacted against its isolated convoys and that there was danger to the lives of its soldiers. However, the figures prove that the army firing killed two youths instead. The people in the crowd lacked any mechanism of defence, as opposed to the trigger-heavy focus of the army. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman promised that she would look into the matter to prevent such an “incident” from recurring. The discourse around state legitimized violence in Kashmir reduces killings to mere incidents, causing more cases of stone-pelting in frustrated retaliation. The cycle of violence is maintained by brutal repression of civil dissent or even speech, which leads to people taking to the streets to protest against their perceived oppressors, and eventually dying for the ‘self-defence’ of armed soldiers. Militancy, extremist political leadership, and the problems of forced integration but isolation of Kashmir as an ‘othered’ region, contribute to this toxic mix.
Many political scientists and human rights activists have called for a peace process spurred by the much awaited and promised plebiscite. However, warring factions and political groups have stalled the fulfillment of this promise because of different concerns. The fear of the Indian mainland’s center of authority is that the influence of Muslim extremists and militants has increased especially after the horrors of the AFSPA were unleashed upon the state. In the event of the Kashmiri people voting for Azad Kashmir or joining Pakistan, which the government may have no intention of recognizing or accepting as a legitimate mandate, the territorial integrity of Ladakh and Jammu will also be difficult to affirm. So, the AFSPA works as a measure of Althusser’s Repressive State Apparatus to enforce obedience, while discriminating against its ‘subjects’. On the other hand, if Kashmiris do vote in favor of remaining with the Indian union, internal factionalism will prevent many regional leaders from accepting the verdict. There is no easy solution for Kashmir.
Finally, in the event of any development in Kashmir, typically ominous, it is the Kashmiri people who suffer from all directions.
-Contributed by Tript
Picture Credits: dawn.com