By Fawaz Shaheen:
On the 3rd of May 2013, nearly 150 Kashmiris were to begin a protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi led by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik to demand the return of the bodies of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt and to highlight the larger issue of missing Kashmiris and Kashmiris languishing in jails.
The night before the protest, Yasin Malik was arrested and sent back. The protest went ahead, but without the scheduled hunger strike of its key leaders. The Delhi Police had denied permission on grounds of “anticipated law and order problems”. The entire episode has largely been ignored by the mainstream media as well as the “civil society”, and most of those who have cared to respond have shown typical triumphalism at the thwarting of an ‘anti-nationalist’.
True, Yasin Malik is a separatist leader with obvious links to Pakistan. But it cannot be ignored that the issues he raised represent legitimate grievances of Kashmiris. Other than that, if we take a truly ‘nationalist’ stand over the issue, then surely we must accept that Yasin Malik as well as all those who constitute his movement are also Indian citizens, and enjoy the same freedoms as the rest of us.
It makes no sense then to stifle their voice and ignore their grievances when the ‘nationalist’ objective is obviously to incorporate them into the mainstream of Indian society. How can we justify our step-brotherly treatment and accuse them of being anti-nationalists at the same time?
The only explanation is that nationalist rhetoric and the jargon of “security considerations” merely provide a convenient cover for the Indian State to hide greater problems related to our treatment of the entire Kashmir question. The truth is that the State becomes paranoid when difficult questions are raised regarding Kashmir.
The issue of missing persons and secret mass graves is a serious issue. These people have disappeared and died as a result of our security operations, the same operations which have treated Kashmiri human rights with the utmost indifference. The abuse of human dignity in Kashmir is not a new phenomenon, what is new is the situation in Kashmir. Earlier, these abuses could be explained away as necessity due to the raging levels of militancy.
Over the last few years, however, as Kashmir has moved more and more towards peaceful methods of protest, these abuses have become more and more difficult to explain. And questions are now being asked, not just by Kashmiris but by Indian citizens and the world at large.
This has put the Indian citizens on a sticky wicket as it does not really have answers. So instead of giving answers, the State has developed a perfect mechanism to deflect the questions. Whenever sensitive questions on Kashmir are asked, invoke the holy mantra of “National Security”, and you can literary get away with murder. The media will conveniently accept your version play the tune of ardent nationalism (if itÂ doesn’tÂ turn a blind eye to the whole episode, that is), the civil society will show amused indignation at the audacity of trouble-making Kashmiri fanatics, while human rights advocates will continue to be ignored, or at bestÂ patronized.
The sad and terrifying reality is that the Indian State does not truly view Kashmir as a part of India, but as a distinct entity that must somehow be controlled. The operation of laws like AFSPA in Kashmir, and the entire attitude of our security operations betray a deep mistrust of Kashmiri people as a whole, thus creating a situation where the State machinery begins to view the region as a colonial project, where the people are to be “dealt with” instead of being a part of the administration.
The Indian State has a deep-seated fear of being asked about its treatment of sensitive issues like Kashmir, precisely because the answers it has cannot be given. The clamping down of Kashmiri protests in Delhi was merely a small symptom of this greater malaise.