By Aaqib Hussain:
On 13th September 2015, Srinagar played host to a marathon organised by BIG FM, a venture of Reliance India Limited, co-sponsored by other organisations that included the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police. Supposed to be an ‘international’ event without any international sports or athletics body recognising it, the event became a source of controversies. The participants alleged that the organisers didn’t share complete details of participants coming from outside Kashmir; they even went on to rue about the arrangements, calling them substandard. And in the end, the marathon culminated into a huge pro-freedom gathering. Events like these that have the clandestine backing of the state have always been a matter of debate in Kashmir. And a vast majority of people in Kashmir believe that these are held to lend credibility to Indian rule.
As always said, nothing is or remains apolitical in an occupation. International events are ideally held on free lands, not on subjugated lands that still fight for freedom. Any such kind of an event in a place like Kashmir, where people fight for survival and dignity on a daily basis is absurd and meaningless. And when you take the backing of the police and its wings whose record in human right abuses is questionable, aspersions will always be cast, howsoever rich the intentions might have been. The presence of the former chief minister, the incumbent sports minister, the top brass of police itself spoke of the ‘apolitical’ nature of this marathon.
Over the years, the modus operandi of the occupying state has been to camouflage the war by organising some event or the other. The media and the apologists of occupation keep waiting for events that they can portray and argue as the end of freedom struggle in Kashmir. Take for example the performance of the band Junoon in 2008; it was hailed as the “first big thing post-insurgency” and the initial sign of normalcy returning to Kashmir. Amazingly the first big thing and the first wave of normalcy drowned in the same Dal Lake, the banks of which Junoon performed on when that same summer Kashmir erupted in mass protests, of what is called Ragda-1. Lakhs of Kashmiris marched to demand freedom and took part in pro-freedom rallies. (Muzaffarabad Chalo, TRC Chalo, Pampore Chalo, EidGah Chalo). The intellectual desperation for portraying of normalcy showed up in Manu Joseph`s infamous piece ‘Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy‘ published in 2012.
The a-historical, deeply ignorant facts of the piece claimed normalcy in Kashmir as exhibited by a Kashmiri topping IAS exams, boys and girls wearing western outfits and the opening of coffee shops. Kashmir continues to be normal till the next killing, till the next custodial disappearance, till the next stone pelting protest, till the next PSA (Public Safety Act).
The prize distribution ceremony of this marathon was held on the lawns of the University of Kashmir. The Harud Literary Festival was also supposed to be held here, but it was met with utmost resistance by intelligentsia after it sniffed the state’s attempt to use the festival in portraying a contrast to the ground realities in Kashmir. Universities are supposed to be the highest centers of learning and the temples of free thought, where ideas and ideologies are discussed and debated threadbare without any fear and restrictions. The ‘state’-run university denies students the basic right of forming a union. Kashmir University’s students union has been termed illegal; their office was razed to ground. The union works underground with continuous fear of reprisal from authorities in case the members are exposed. Isn’t it bizarre to organise a state-sponsored event in a place where the students are deprived of the basic right of expressing themselves by the same state?
In September 2013, famous Indian conductor Zubin Mehta played with his orchestra in the world famous Shalimar Garden. The concert, according to its organisers, was aimed at spreading the message of love and peace in Kashmir. Peace, like the word apolitical, is such an abused word in Kashmir. It remains to be questioned, who was Zubin addressing with the message of peace? Was Zubin trying to trade music for peace with the 10,000 half widows of Kashmir whose husbands were picked up by the Indian army and subjected to enforced disappearance? Or with a mother who spent 20 years of her youth looking in every jail for her disappeared son? Can they ever be at peace? Was it the subjugated people of Kashmir he was addressing as many do, because in the colonial world, peace always is thought to be the prerogative of the oppressed? The citizens of the land who demand their legitimate rights are often blamed for being violent or non-peaceful. And if he was addressing the select audience that comprised the powerhouse of the occupation, then Zubin Mehta ought to have asked them why four civilians were killed in south Kashmir on the same day when he was performing. Why is peace always doctrined into the hands of the oppressed? Why aren’t brutal occupations questioned when they invade the peace of a population by holding them by mere brute force?
The events and happenings around us should reflect in some way in our day to day life or our public gatherings. The night before the Big FM Marathon, Irshad Ahmad Ganai, 26, a local militant was gunned down in a fierce encounter with special operations group of Jammu and Kashmir police, in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. It is pertinent to mention here that Jammu Kashmir Police was one of the main organizers of the marathon. Imagine what goes on in a teenager’s mind when he/she picks up a gun or a stone to fight an armed military, sacrificing everything for a cause. He/she considers resistance to be supreme and paramount than other issues or the so called changes. The ‘change’ that police was sponsoring would have been significant if they had also introspected and stopped the gross human rights violations committed in Kashmir by the armed forces. The change would have been if they had booked those police officials involved in killing 120 innocent people in the summer of 2010. The change would have been putting behind bars the perpetrators of the Sopore massacre.
All major state-backed concerts, marathons, picnics, talk shows in Kashmir have always been tried to be legitimised by the narrative that people want enjoyment and fun in their lives and these events will have no ramifications. Isn’t it similar to “just for fun and one minute laugh only” statement every time misogynists try to defend cracking jokes on women? Art and culture are a very important part of resistance movements across the globe. Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir, that was organised by the civil society as a parallel to Zubin Mehta’s concert was one example of it. And as expected, the common Kashmiris had absolutely no issues with it. It was lauded by everyone, and people participated with fervor. Unnerved by the mass participation, the government clamped down and barricaded all roads leading to the venue.
Nobody in Kashmir will have issues with concerts, laughter shows, marathons, cricket tournaments etc, as long as they don’t enjoy the state’s backing. Whenever an attempt will be made to shadow the ground reality, the abnormality, the common masses will rise to resist it. Of course, we need marathons and concerts, but they shall all be part of the people’s movement and help in strengthening the resistance. And words like peace, prosperity, development will remain meaningless until the last Indian soldier leaves Kashmir along with the remotest remains of occupation. Peace in Kashmir will always remain secondary to the end of Indian rule, nothing short of it.