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Is There A Solution For Our Burning Paradise?

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Let us begin by admitting the fact that most people in Kashmir want Azadi (independence) from both India as well as Pakistan, even if they don’t confess the same openly to the public/media. This solution stands on the third footing under the UN Security Council’s Resolution 47, for which neither India nor Pakistan would ever give its consent as it would be politically unacceptable and also disastrous for any future election. 

India has deployed 1 soldier for every 10 civilian Kashmiris with an estimate of 700,000 security forces consisting of army, paramilitary forces, JKP and other agencies

Some Kashmiris do accept that this is never going to happen; however, many youngsters cling on to their dream of an Independent Kashmir, with losing in this quest, many of their lives.

The youth of Kashmir, no doubt, are against both of these nations for the loss of their basic rights as human beings. The ground reality in Indian Administered Kashmir (IAK) is that India has deployed 1 soldier for every 10 civilian Kashmiris with an estimate of 700,000 security forces consisting of army, paramilitary forces, JKP and other agencies, to fight around 250 to 300 freedom fighters.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency field manual says that experts recommend ratios close to 25:1,000 residents, which the US has never met in Afghanistan. Compare this to India’s 59:1,000 ratio, bearing in mind that the US Army is better trained and has better weapons and equipment.

In IAK, there have been charges of human rights abuses, 94,479 killings, 10,283 disappearances, torture and suppression of basic human rights. Indeed, Pakistan faces similar charges of human rights abuses in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK), ranging from political repression, electoral fraud, forced disappearances, torture and suppression of freedom of speech. 

Neither country has allowed the UN high commissioner for human rights unconditional access to their respective protectorates. Both of these countries, first cousins and nuclear powers, are in a state of a dilemma of the first and second solutions, fluctuating between them depending on which government is in power. This is particularly in Pakistan, where the army chief or the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) exercises power over the civilian government. 

The genocide of the Partition and the 1971 Bangladesh War, along with other conflicts, have institutionalised hatred towards the “other” within the government. This is reflected in the armed forces’ and intelligence services’ approach, even if Indian and Pakistani civilians get along perfectly well and are the best of friends abroad. 

It can be stated that the issue of Kashmir is a delicate and complex web which serves the interests of only those in power and no one is interested in negotiating on a permanent solution to this disputed and burning “paradise”. Religious radicalisation, nationalism and territorial ambitions have together created a bloodbath in Kashmir with the lives of all at stake. 

Pakistan is described by academics as being an “ideological state” that is “persistently revisionist”, seeking to acquire territory in Kashmir that it does not need for security reasons, and also to reverse India’s emergence as a global power. The army dominates its foreign and domestic policies. It projects its conflict with India in civilisational terms in a face-off between “Muslim Pakistan” and a “Hindu” enemy, with itself as Pakistan’s saviour. It has undermined efforts by civilian governments to normalise relationships with India, including through trade and investment.

What adds to the complications is that Pakistan’s Army has a more considerable hold over its economy and controls one-third of all manufacturing in the country and up to 7% of its private assets. The Pakistan armed forces run over 50 commercial entities worth over 20 Billion dollars. Key appointments and public sector posts normally occupied by civilians are given to senior retired and serving military officers. 

With this size, scale and power, it needs a constant enemy to define itself in relation to. This complicates problems because India’s traditional approach is to talk to the civilian government on the issue of Kashmir, whereas the army and the ISI — and even Islamists — run parallel governments in Pakistan. 

If India does not talk to all the relevant people at the same time, then it’s simply not talking to the correct people, and the peace process will ultimately be derailed. While India’s nationalist ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, a right-wing Hindu nationalist volunteer organisation), are moving the country towards “saffronisation” — a militant Hinduism — partly with political objectives and partly in genuine fear of Islamic militancy. 

Pakistan is caught up with the problem of Islamic radicalisation. Whatever the antique reasons for the spread of religious terrorism across Pakistan, it’s certainly clear that this is a long dark path that will ultimately crash Pakistan.

It’s not in India’s interest to have a Pakistan caught up in the struggles of militancy because of the risk of it spilling across the border. There’s also the risk that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (in an end-game scenario) find their way into the hands of Islamic militants with disastrous consequences.

In India’s history, debatably, there has never been as influential a government as the RSS-backed BJP, that for all its brawny approaches, both in Kashmir and in its 2019 electoral strategy, has the right intentions to make a difference in India — whether it’s on the right track or not is a different question, though worth a debate. 

It’s very wrongly perceived in India that the Kashmiri issue is a security issue and not a political one which needs a tripartite agreement with leaders from Kashmir, also a party to such an agreement. It’s virtually impossible to achieve a political solution in Kashmir with a weak coalition government at the national level. 

It’s significant to look at the demographics in India to understand the overall context for peaceful coexistence between its Hindu majority (80%) and the Muslim minority (14%). Kashmir was historically a land of Sufi Islam. Sufism is a good fit with Hindu-majority India because of its focus on love and humanity and the fact that almost all schools do not require or pursue conversion to Islam actively. 

Mainstream Islam, on the other hand, will find itself in perpetual conflict with a nationalistic and determined Hindu population, particularly in the hinterlands. This fact needs to be accepted by the institutions in Pakistan (civilian government, army, ISI) and respected in order to have any long-term peaceful solution in Kashmir and also to manage its relations with India. 

Historically, the bravest warriors in India were Sikhs, who were mostly Hindus inspired by the Sikh beliefs of justice, righteous action and martyrdom for a just cause. The current wave of nationalism gripping India is arming and training Hindus in the hinterland for self-defence against Islamic fundamentalists, creating a new breed akin to the Sikh soldiers of the past. 

The bloodbath of radical Islamic militants facing these Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, a right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation affiliated with the RSS) Dharam Yodhas (religious warriors) head-on is left to the reader’s imagination.   

Ordinary civilians in both countries are sick of powerful politicians and generals talking big on nationalism and painting the other as the enemy.

India has followed the same strategy in Kashmir since 1947, in the words of a Kashmiri — “from 1947 to the AK47” — that fits the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

Pakistan is no different. Its backing for cross-border terrorist outbreaks in India via indirect means have successfully labelled the Kashmiri freedom struggle as a terrorist movement and caused them to lose western support. 

People on both sides of the border suffer from lethargy with their governments’ approach to Kashmir. Ordinary civilians in both countries are sick of powerful politicians and generals talking big on nationalism and painting the other as the enemy. This uneven situation in Kashmir and political instability has a great impact on the youth of Kashmir and recent statistics show that 70% of youth of Kashmir suffer from mental depression. 

Besides the issue of human rights violations, a huge amount of money wasted on the armed forces in both countries, the energy expended by its leaders on developing strategy and policy to counter the other, the misuse of the issue to whip up fear and bitterness before elections — all these could be avoided if the political institutions were more sincere and faithful about handling the issue through negotiation. 

They need to give more attention to growing their respective economies and eradicating poverty both in Kashmir and more broadly within the two countries. It’s very significant to understand that India is less of a country and more of a sub-continent with diversities living therein. This diversity, however, is both a strength and a weakness to it as there have been many separatists movements at different points of time at union level. 

The Khalistan movement of the Sikhs, insurgencies in India’s northeast states, the far-left communist Naxalite rebellion and the Kashmiri insurgency, are four key examples of such movements. Whilst some movements are more under control — the Dravida Nadu movement, for instance, is defunct — than others, the Kashmir issue cannot be seen as being anything special or different from other independence struggles, each of which has its grievances and logic.

Similarly, Pakistan also has prominent ethnic nationalist movements, including the Bengali Nationalist Movement (which led to the creation of Bangladesh), Sindhudesh, Pashtunistan and the Free Balochistan movement. 

Realistically, what the Kashmiri people need to expect as an end-goal is a solution within the status quo and a return of peace and economic prosperity in the two Kashmirs. To ask for more is a denial of both the complexities and realities of the Kashmir issue. 

Is there a solution? Let us have a look at the important components to construct a tripartite agreement, implementing the fourth solution in which both the countries would stop firing at each other and let Kashmir live in peace, while both countries add value and levy taxes in their respective administered Kashmir’s. This requires letting go of the past and moving forward in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, focusing on the future rather than being held hostage by the past. 

Over 100,000 Kashmiri Pandits had fled the violence in IAK in the 1990s.

First, there needs to be time-bound engagement on both sides with multiple stakeholders, including the civilian government, army, intelligence, separatist leaders and civil society. This needs to include the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley. Ultimately, the land being fought over in Kashmir is not as important as the people and their right to peace, security and to enjoy the fruits of development — to lead a normal life that we take for granted. 

Over 100,000 Kashmiri Pandits had fled the violence in IAK in the 1990s. Currently, the numbers in India are around 62,000; 40,000 of these live in Jammu, 20,000 live in Delhi and its satellite cities. In addition to this, more than 94,000 Kashmiri civilians have died in this conflict, and this is continuing for years now. 

Kashmir traditionally had a peaceful composite culture called Kashmiriyat, signifying the centuries-old indigenous secularism of Kashmir that demanded religious and social harmony and brotherhood. This needs to be restored to the valley. Interestingly, Muslims in the valley want the Pandits back and not in segregated townships. While ghettos are undesirable in the long term, for reasons of security, it’s likely that initially a mix of new townships and restoring Pandits to the areas originally inhabited by them is needed. 

Second, the powers and constraints placed on the armed forces need review and modification. India needs to address the humanitarian concern around Kashmir by repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in its current form, replacing it with a version that recognises and protects the human rights of innocent Kashmiris. This is unlikely to offer protection to known terrorists, putting a brake on enforced disappearances of innocent civilians detained for questioning. 

Third, there should be a focus on autonomy alongside integration. India’s Kashmir used to enjoy a high degree of autonomy on paper through Article 370 of the Indian Constitution (except for defence, foreign affairs, finance and communications), and Pakistan-administered Kashmir also has significant autonomy, although actual practice differs. For peace in Kashmir, India must address rights abuses by security forces so that people of Kashmir have more faith in them and less hatred for them. But while the human rights abuses continue, peace in Kashmir will continue to be an unaccomplished dream. 

Fourth, personal and religious freedom must be protected in both parts of Kashmir. India and Pakistan need to create a joint mechanism that agrees a common minimum plan for the entire Kashmir area, including, for example, enhanced monitoring (such as using artificial intelligence) of radical preachers in mosques and madrassas, including publications distributed by them. 

Fifth, eventually, demilitarisation is needed. This can be considered on both sides of Kashmir based on a phased manner once peace is firmly established, leaving sufficient armed forces to maintain law and order. 

Sixth, establish the international border. Of course, the LOC would need to become a permanent international border in the context of the above (including Kashmir territory under Chinese control), legitimising the status quo and ideally solving India’s other border disputes on its northeastern border with China in the same deal. India would need to make its peace with China on its BRI running through Kashmir, using it to benefit its half of Kashmir and the rest of India economically. 

Seventh, create a role for the UN. In the framework of an agreement between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leaders and separatists, unconditional access needs to be given to the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights on both sides of the new international border. 

Eighth, recognise that friends don’t fight. It obviously follows that Pakistan would need to give up its “bleed India with a thousand cuts” policy using proxies, and India would need to stop interfering in Balochistan altogether. Both would need to release all Kashmiri political prisoners from their respective jails. 

Pakistan would need to remove extreme messages inciting religious hatred against Hindus from all school textbooks and cease all training camps for Kashmiri freedom fighters. There’s a need to win the trust of the people of Kashmir who right now feel unsafe in their own nation.

The solution is as simple as we want it to be or as complex as we want it to be. It can take six months to agree or 60 years. But without recognising the existence of multiple stakeholders and having a time-bound negotiation, we can never expect to see peace in Kashmir or in the region as a whole. 

India’s approach of closing its porous border and treating Kashmir as a security problem is a short-term, stop-gap solution that does not recognise the humanitarian cost, nor does it treat Kashmir as the unfinished business of Partition. Pakistan’s approach of funding cross-border fighters is ultimately a piecemeal and failing strategy that achieves nothing long-term other than trouble for the local Kashmiri population. 

It remains to be seen whether both countries have the political will, wisdom and compassion needed for an actual solution. Thoughts, words and deeds have to come together for this. We cannot say one thing and do something else. Ultimately, the land being fought over in Kashmir is not as important as the people and their right to peace, security and to enjoy the fruits of development — to lead a normal life that we take for granted. 

To those who say that peace is never possible, please remember that no one had predicted the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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