Kashmir has been in the news for the longest time, however, not always for the right reasons. It is important to understand the ‘everyday-reported-conflict’ and critically analyse the issues. I got such an opportunity to visit Kashmir, interact with the people and listen to their stories and their reality, as part of my doctoral research. As most others, I too had certain pre-conceived notions about the general population and the place, mostly sourced from the ‘national’ television channels. Despite these notions and the not so encouraging perspectives from my fellow researchers and associates, I wanted to be in Kashmir.
When I travelled through Kashmir, I realised that this region is the victim of ‘hateful journalism’ both by hyper-nationalist and the liberal press of India. The narrative of history and the portrayal of the general population of Kashmir in mainstream India are far from the truth. There have been constant attempts by the news media to obscure the reality and create a situation that legitimises military persecution of the residents of Kashmir.
The Kashmiris are losing confidence in the Indian democracy because of this sort of media behaviour. These media activities deepen the rift and constrained the extent of peace initiatives and conflict resolution. The government’s artful conduct towards managing the Kashmir issue also needs to be blamed. Kashmir separatist leaders assert that the government’s peace talk process and arrangement of delegates is just a time-buying strategy, taken under international pressure and regional compulsion. This statement itself reflects the extent of trust the stakeholders have in the Indian administration.
During my interactions with few youths from different districts across the valley of Kashmir, I was amazed at their deep understanding of issues. They shared their views about political disputes, territorial disputes as well as the alleged polarisation of their freedom movement. Their perspectives are fundamentally the same as discussions revolve around the sob for freedom. For them freedom is the suspension of all the military atrocities, repealing of the Armed Force Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and extra-judicial killings in the name of terrorism.
At the same time, they also demand the government to provide a legitimate platform for self-determination. There is sheer outrage in the valley against all the military barbarities in the name of cross-terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The administration of India is still of the supposition that military annexation coded as ‘Operation Polo’ against the princely state of Hyderabad can likewise be executed in the valley of Kashmir. This non-stop push to mutilate the historical backdrop of Kashmir and propagate a narrative of Pakistan’s role in destabilising the valley with funds, arms and terrorism, delegitimised the freedom struggle in Kashmir. However, I am not of the opinion that Pakistan’s impact in the Kashmir valley is insignificant; but it should not belittle the Kashmiris’ aspiration for freedom or self-determination just as a foreign influence. Likewise, the ‘National News Media’ in several cases attempted to communalise the desire of the Kashmiris.
The big question here is why every citizen of India should know and understand the Kashmir strife. Being a part of India’s democratic society, we Indians remain absolutely uninformed about the politics of Kashmir. We have ideas that the region is an ‘aggravated/a contested region’ and adhere to the well-known accounts propagated.
According to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society’s (JKCCS) Annual Human Rights Review 2017 report, the year 2017 saw an upward surge in human rights abuse as compared to 2016. After the death of Burhan Wani, the Hijbul commander and the poster-boy of new-age militancy in Kashmir, there has been a significant rise in human rights violations and killings. Burhan was the most popular freedom fighter the valley had seen in the last three decades of the armed uprising. The administration was under the assumption that the slaughtering of Burhan will help control militancy in the valley. However, it backfired. It infused a new life into this freedom movement which has now reached more households than ever.
The year 2017 has seen an aggregate of 451 killings, which includes civilians, militants and armed forces. The killings have been highest in the last 8 years with another much-abused practice of administrative detention in the form of Public Safety Act (PSA) to curb and curtail dissent. In the last three years, 1059 PSA dossiers have been prepared against political activists and youth accused of stone pelting. Even the local news media faced the wrath of Indian administration. As many as 8 incidents of assault against journalists were reported in the valley, including the arrest of photojournalist Kamran Yousuf by India’s National Investigating Agency (NIA) in September.
It is important to know that Indian administration has refused visas to the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) as they aimed at ascertaining human rights infringement in Kashmir. India persistently denied visas to International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team and several other human right activists and numerous international columnists for visiting Kashmir. This rejection of different UN delegates and additionally human right activists and columnists reflects that the government of India is terrified of reality being disseminated to the outside world.
The year-long cycle of savagery and continuous abuse of human rights such as the killing of innocent civilians, enforced and involuntary disappearances, torture in custody, utilization of pellet shotguns, and arrest under administrative detainment still continues. Although the enforced and involuntary disappearances have decreased significantly over the years it still exists. There continues to be no trace of more than 8,000 vanished people in Jammu and Kashmir and their families endure relentlessly. The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) asked the administration a few times to investigate the presence of 2080 unmarked and mass graves in the twin locales of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu territory. At the same time, fatalities and permanent blindness caused by the pellet guns to the fate of the younger generation of Kashmiris is unimaginable.
The impunity enjoyed by the armed forces operating in J&K keeps denying justice to the casualties of human rights abuse since 1989. A friend of mine narrated the spine-chilling Kunan Poshpora mass rape and how Supreme Court has been dreary to begin the trial of armed forces associated with the rape. No other case reflects the way in which the impunity shields the military from any sort of indictment better than the Kunan Poshpora case. Various massacres, unending fake encounters and Cordon and Search Operations (CASO) proceeded as a phenomenon in the valley of Kashmir with 540 CASO’s in a year which is more than one CASO every day. CASO is a practice in which military and a police cordon an entire area and start searching houses of the civilian populace. The most extreme assaults and killings occur amid the act of CASO. Allegedly the military takes possession of the private and agrarian property after Cordon and later transform it into a camp.
India has always been averse to accept global consideration and mediation in the Kashmir dispute. Other than direct infringement of the privileges of Kashmiris, the Indian State utilise communication blackout, to turn away global leaders and citizens from accessing the current information about ongoing violations.
Undemocratic means to curb political dissent, slapping sedition charges against the fighting voices and humiliating mothers, sisters and fathers of young political activists have created a dread psychosis among the general population of Kashmir. With India’s expanding worldwide presence, it should go about as a responsible democracy in the valley by giving space to peaceful resistance. As during the Indian freedom movement, British had also provided several genuine political spaces to Gandhi to pursue a peaceful resistance. The people of India could at least stage resistance, debate, and question and pressurise the Indian administration to peacefully resolve the issue of Kashmir. The appeal to resolve the conflict is only to bring normalcy back in the valley and let the people live with dignity.