Autumn Number 2019

"India's Kashmir War"

Shades of the Past in Kashmir Today

Sumanta Banerjee

Nearly thirty years ago, in early 1990 (from March 12-16), we—a four-member team of social activists, (me, Delhi IIT professor Dinesh Mohan, film-maker Tapan Bose and journalist Gautam Navlakha)—visited Jammu and Kashmir, and toured extensively the Valley as well as Jammu, during a popular upsurge demanding 'azadi' in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley. This broke out in reaction against a rigged election that was held in 1987, under the auspices of the Centre in New Delhi that debarred Opposition candidates from contesting the election, thus helping the Centre to impose its hand-picked candidates to rule the state. While interviewing people, we could sense the simmering anger which they had been nourishing since then against the Indian state, for depriving them of their right to choose their representatives in a free and fair election. But their movement for 'azadi' failed to unite both the Muslims and the Hindu Pandits of the Valley. Rather, its reins were often taken over by Islamist religious fundamentalists and their clergy, who from their sermons in mosques sought to divert it into an exclusivist Islamist 'azadi' that not only mentally alienated the Hindu pandits, but also threatened their traditional living style of co-existence with Muslim neighbours in the Valley. In a situation which turned into a Hindu-Muslim conflict, large numbers of Pandit families left their homes in the Valley and took shelter in refugee camps in the Hindu-majority Jammu.

We collected evidence of the atrocities suffered by the Muslims in the Valley from the Indian security forces on the one side, and the violent persecution suffered by the Hindu Pandits by the Islamic militant forces on the other. After we came back, we prepared a report entitled 'India's Kashmir War,' which we released at a press conference in Delhi towards the end of March that year. It was well attended by most of the mainstream press representatives. But curiously enough, our report was never carried by the national newspapers—because the findings that we revealed were unpalatable to the then ruling powers who controlled the press.

Today, in view of the recent developments in Kashmir, it may be relevant to quote a few passages from that report, in order to remind the present generation that what is happening in Kashmir today is a continuation of the traditional policy of the Indian state—irrespective of which political party rules it. After interviewing relatives of those killed by police firing, and watching the agony of bullet-hit youngsters undergoing treatment at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Srinagar, we wrote in our report: "…the government's policy to suppress terrorism is leading up to a situation where the hitherto non-committed masses are being pushed to a position where they feel that 'independence' from New Delhi—as demanded by the assortment of secessionist militant groups—is the only escape from state repression."

During our visit in 1990, we walked through deserted streets of curfew-bound Srinagar with only para-military forces moving around—the same scene that is being reproduced today in Kashmir. On March 15 that year, we interviewed the then chief secretary of Jammu and Kashmir, R K Takkar, who in response to our queries claimed: "everything is normal." It is the same cock-sure arrogant attitude that is being displayed today by the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and the BJP ministers at the Centre—despite visual evidences of public protests and police firing in Kashmir which have been circulated by the BBC and other international news agencies. In 1990, we saw people injured by bullets in their legs that left them crippled. Today, we see pictures of youngsters hit by pellets which will leave them blind.

During our stay in Kashmir, the central government announced an action plan on March 15 that year, promising pumping more money for 'developmental purposes'. We sought responses from the local people. Almost everyone we talked to told us that development was no longer the priority in their thoughts. "We can't be bought with money," they said. Even relatives of those killed in police firing, refused to accept compensation offered by the administration. Today again, the Modi government is justifying its decision to bifurcate the territory of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories by promising 'development.' The Modi model of development will open up opportunities for the Ambanis, Adanis and similar corporate houses to capture land in the Valley (which had hitherto been out of bounds for outsiders under Article 370 and 35A), oust the original residents, and set up industries. Will the people of the Valley, who have a strong sense of self-respect and pride in their culture of 'Kashmiriyat' accept such intrusion into their life-style and exploitation of their resources? In our 1990 report, referring to the then central government's promise of 'development policies' in the Valley, which was then under the rule of security forces, we warned: "…coercion and brute force by the state can never create conditions for generating confidence and loyalty among the people... the continuation of the present state of affairs in Kashmir would jeopardize the secular credentials of the Indian state... erode the confidence of the minorities in the Indian state and provide a handle to communal fundamentalist forces…"

Alas! When writing that report in 1990, we never imagined that our fears would come true. The last two decades saw the devastation of Kashmir—thanks to the repressive policies of successive regimes at the Centre, formulated by bureaucrats who, as we described in our report : "...suffer from an inability to distinguish between pro-Pakistani groups and those groups who want a separate state of Kashmir, independent of both India and Pakistan." That legacy of bureaucratic ignorance and arrogance is being carried out by characters like Doval, the National Security Advisor, under whose advice veteran politicians of Kashmir like Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar, Mehbooba Mufti and leaders of several political parties were put under house arrest, residents were not allowed to come out in the streets to buy their daily necessities, thousands of Indian army jawans were deployed to suppress popular protests, making Kashmir the most militarised zone in the world. Do you think that the Kashmiri people will ever forget this humiliation imposed on them?

But the Modi government's abrogation of Article 370 has darker implications for other states of India, beyond Kashmir. We ended our 1990 report on a note of premonition: "We would further remind political parties—both national and regional—that on several occasions in the recent past they themselves had raised questions about the encroachment by the Centre into the domain of states and about the need for more autonomy of the states. The erosion of autonomy in Jammu and Kashmir is also a matter that needs to be considered by them in this general context of centre-state relations."

No state in India is today exempt from the Modi government's policy of centralisation of power and encroachment on its autonomy. Tomorrow, the Modi government can, through some ordinance, bifurcate or trifurcate West Bengal into union territories, and put them under the control of some Lieutenant Governor, who could be an RSS sangh-parichalak, or a recent recruit to the Sangh Parivar!

[Our report 'India's Kashmir War' was eventually published by the Economic and Political Weekly, in its issue of March 31, 1990, Vol 25, No 13, pp. 650-662. Interested readers may take a look at the file.]

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Autumn Number 2019
Vol. 52, No. 13 - 16, Sep 29 - October 26, 2019