by Huma Dar
And the night’s sun there in Srinagar? Guns shoot stars into the sky, the storm of constellations night after night, the infinite that rages on. It was Id-uz-Zuha: a record of God’s inability, for even He must melt sometimes, to let Ishmael be executed by the hand of his father. Srinagar was under curfew. The identity pass may or may not have helped in the crackdown. Son after son–never to return from the night of torture–was taken away.
… But the reports are true, and without song: mass rapes in the villages, towns left in cinders, neighborhoods torched. “Power is hideous / like a barber’s hands.” The rubble of downtown Srinagar stares at me from the Times.
… And that blesséd word with no meaning–who will utter it? What is it? Will the women pronounce it, as if scripturing the air, for the first time? Or the last?
… What is the blesséd word? Mandelstam gives no clue. One day the Kashmiris will pronounce that word truly for the first time. (Excerpt from Agha Shahid Ali’s “The Blesséd Word: A Prologue,” in The Country Without A Post Office, 1997: 16-17)
Mandelstam might give no clue, but that blesséd word, yet to be “pronounced truly” and freely “for the first time,” is آزادي / Azadi (āzādī). It is an abstract ideal, contraband of the highest degree in the Valley of Kashmir, currently controlled by India. This sonorous word, sweet on the tongue — Azadi — is an Urdu/Koshur word of Farsi origin that means, “freedom; release, deliverance, liberation, discharge; manumission, emancipation; freedom of action, liberty, independence” according to Platts’ Urdu dictionary.
“Azadi” is also the chant whose echoes swirl in the Kashmir Valley with greater resonance each day, from the minarets and playgrounds, boulevards and alleys, schools and courts, despite the crushing screeches of teargas and bullets of the Indian (in)security forces. It is “scriptured” into utterance by each breath of Kashmiri women, children, and men; calligraphed by their blood on their emerald valley; embroidered by their bones in Kashmiri Arabesque on worn cobblestones of the downtown; and papier-mâchéd in paisley tears on the blue of their beloved lakes.
The video above — put together by an unknown young person and set to the Everlast song, “Stone in My Hand” — is a short montage documenting the current popular protests in Kashmir Valley against the Indian occupation. The video above has prompted the Indian Security Forces to “launch a manhunt” for the filmmaker, such is the state’s fear of freedom of expression. Facebook users from the Valley are under the Indian government’s surveillance and the Police has cited many and threatened even more users with imprisonment for uploading images and videos documenting the ongoing protests. Short Messaging Service or SMS has been aborted in the Valley – or as the Kashmiris pun it has become “Silenced Messaging Service!” or “Summoned Messages Spammed” or “Satyaanas [annihilated] Messaging Service.” Armed with Frantz Fanon’s writings, Agha Shahid Ali and Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry, and sometimes with stones, the youth of Kashmir update their Facebook status as a means of instantaneous information-sharing, especially when the “[t]he owners of newspapers in Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir … suspended production because of curbs imposed by the government,” as reported by BBC. So while “Satyameva jayate” or “Truth alone triumphs” is the national motto of India, and “Truth shall set you free” says the Bible (John 8:32), Wole Soyinka responds, “But first the Truth must be set free.” In Kashmir the current struggle is the struggle not just for Azadi, but also for the freedom of expression to set free a truth long enchained in the Indian state’s double-speak. The seductive, yet exclusive nationalism of Bollywood, subsidies from the Centre that trap the client state in corruption, and the lure of tourism revenues are more than balanced by the ledger of tyranny from TADA, AFSPA, PSA, POTA: a veritable alphabet soup of draconian and undemocratic laws that nourish the Indian occupation of Kashmir.
Muzamil Jaleel, a veteran journalist from Kashmir, explicates the history of stone-pelting in the Valley:
Stone pelting or ‘kani jung’ is not new to Kashmir. In the 1930s, when Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s grandfather Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah led a popular resistance against the Dogra rulers of the state, stone pelting was part of that protest.
In the years that followed, stone throwing remained limited to the lanes and bylanes around Srinagar’s Jamia mosque and Maisuma neighbourhood where young boys would throw stones at policemen for a few hours after namaz. In fact, the frequency with which people turned up in Maisuma near Lal Chowk to stone a police post earned it its new name—Kashmir’s Gaza strip.
The discovery in late April, early May 2010 that three innocent civilian Kashmiri villagers — Muhammad Shafi, Shehzad Ahmed and Riyaz Ahmed — had been murdered in cold-blood by the Indian army and police in a staged “encounter,” framed and buried as “Pakistani infiltrators” initially instigated this fresh wave of mass demonstrations, the third in that many consecutive years since 2008. The perpetrators were promised medals, monetary awards, and promotions for this service to the state. To understand the rage that gushed forth at these “fake encounters,” and to avoid its simplistic categorization as the “usual, irrational, fanatic Muslim reaction” naturalized in the current transnational Islamophobic context, it is crucial to realize that these extrajudicial killings and involuntary disappearances have hounded Kashmiri Muslims for more than twenty years, although this history is usually deliberately obfuscated via a cultivated amnesia.
The truth regarding the actual extent of the horrendous tortures, forced disappearances, “extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, as well as massacres committed by the Indian military and paramilitary forces” might finally be unearthed only when the skeletons buried in many thousands of unmarked, mass graves in Kashmir are exhumed, studied, and accounted. A significant study, conducted by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir (IPTK), albeit “only [of] partial areas within 3 of 10 districts” of the Kashmir Valley controlled by India, reveals more than 2,943 bodies in 2700 graves. More than two-thirds of all the Kashmiri districts have yet to receive such scrutiny; more than 8000 Kashmiri Muslims remain “disappeared.” The most conservative and official Indian estimate of the number of Kashmiris killed in the past twenty years is 47,000 — an overwhelming majority at the hands of Indian state. Given the approximately 5 million population of Kashmir Valley versus the 300 million in USA, one may imagine the proportional impact of such catastrophic violence if more than 2.8 million American citizens were killed in a popular movement, in the last twenty years. Human right’s organizations and the Kashmiri public put this estimate at much higher.
At unarmed protests that followed the recognition of the buried “Pakistanis” as local Kashmiris “disappeared” by the Indian army and Kashmir Police, the Indian security forces fired teargas and bullets and targeted the head of a 17-year-old Pre-Med student, Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, at close range, on June 11, 2010. Not a protester, Mattoo was simply walking back to his home after a tutorial and had had to take refuge in a stadium when the police started firing. (Note that this was not the first such death this year either.) The shocking narrative is further exacerbated by the fact that the Police tried to dodge its culpability, and in spite of eye-witness reports” issued a statement saying the teen had actually been murdered, and pointed a finger of suspicion at the men who had driven him to hospital.” YouTube videos, uploaded by the protesters, immediately disproved these assertions. More protests followed Mattoo’s funeral procession; once again the Indian forces fired bullets and teargassed, killing more young boys. Each round of killing elicits escalating protests, accompanied by stone-pelting and strikes, followed by more state-violence, more funerals, and more and bigger rallies. The youngest victim of the Indian security’s bullets is nine-year-old Tauqeer Ahmad.
To the photograph that accompanied Tariq Ali’s excellent article on Kashmir, “Not Crushed, Merely Ignored,” on PulseMedia on July 18, 2010, I would like to add two more to tell a slightly fuller story. These appeared on a Facebook album with someone’s plea that the story of Kashmiri plight “be shared with the world.”
Shivam Vij in “A Conversation at Sopore and Other Stories” makes the significant claim:
All of Kashmir today is a Jallianwala Bagh, but if there is a Jallianwala Bagh moment in the Kashmiri struggle, it has be the Sopore massacre of 6 January 1993.
The firing ordered by the British Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer at an unarmed crowd in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, on April 13, 1919, was arguably the defining moment of the independence movement in India. The only question I have of Vij is, how will we decide which “Jallianwala Bagh moment” will be the defining one for Kashmir: the Sopore Massacre of 1993 or the Gau Kadal Massacre of January 1990, the mass rapes in Kunan Poshpora in 1991 or the Bijbehara Massacre of 1993? Moreover, who are we to say that any of those thousands of moments when a mother lost her precious child, a brother his sibling, a child her parent, in this “demon-crazy”  dance of death is not the defining “Jallianwala Bagh” moment for the Independence movement in Kashmir? Such a choice is made difficult by the sheer length of this grotesque list, yet ironically a simpler choice never made available to the Kashmiris is one that was repeatedly promised to them by the United Nations and by the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Nehru: plebiscites for self-determination. The current slogans make it clear that the Kashmiris want neither India, nor Pakistan, but independence — Azadi. “The Revolution might not be televised” but it is on cyberspace and being written by blood. !انقلاب زندہ باد
Raushan kaheeN bahaar ke imkaaN huwe to haiN
Gulshan meN chaak chand gireebaaN huwe to haiN
In meN lahu jalaa ho hamaara, keh jaan-o dil
Mehfil meN kuchh chiraagh firozaaN huwe to haiN
Ahl-e qafas ki subh-e chaman meN khule gi aaNkh
Baad-e sabaa se wa’ada-o paimaaN huwe to haiN
Hai dasht ab bhi dasht, magar khoon-e paa se Faiz
Sairaab chand khaar-e mughlaaN huwe to haiN
(Faiz Ahmad Faiz, “August 1952”)
Illuminated somewhere are the possibilities of spring
The garden has blossomed a few collars ripped apart
Whether fueled by our blood, or our life and heart,
The assembly has shimmered a few chandeliers ablaze
The imprisoned will open their eyes in the garden’s dawn
The morning breeze has sworn a few pledges, a few promises
The wilderness still is wilderness, but with thy bloodied feet, Faiz,
The desert has crimsoned a few mighty thorns drenched red
 The direct antecedent of AFSPA is the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance, decreed by the British imperial powers in August 1942, specifically to squelch the Quit India Movement. The Indian government promulgated the AFSPA in September 1958 in order to suppress a movement for self-determination in the “disturbed areas” of North East India, and extended it to Kashmir in July 1990. Initially put up for a limited period of a year, the draconian AFSPA has never been put to rest, and in fact has been valorized as a “holy book” by the Northern Army Commander Lt Gen B. S. Jaswal. According to the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre:
Under this Act [AFSPA], all security forces are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed. Even a non-commissioned officer is granted the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to “maintain the public order.”
 Such “fake encounters” are not rare, “bad-apple” incidents but an integral part of the systemic, institutionalized methods of disciplining directed from the topmost levels of Indian military, as shown in the recent exposé of the “Ketchup Colonel.” Posted in the North East in 2003, Colonel Harvinder Singh Kohli, of the Indian Army, a rare man of conscience, was loathe to increase the statistics of actual “kills” for his regiment, and enacted a fake “fake encounter” — replete with a photo-shoot and ketchup “blood” on posing men — to get around following his boss’s orders “to bump off in an encounter five [Assamese] militants” already in his custody. Not knowing the truth, these “superiors” then “cajoled Kohli to recommend gallantry awards for his men” but things fell through when someone filed an anonymous allegation. Kohli was court-martialled following an inquiry, and then unceremoniously dismissed.
Initially misled by some secret negotiations that lured him to plead guilty, Kohli finally revealed that his superior, Brigadier S. S. Rao, had ordered the staging of a fake encounter with real deaths, perfectly within “the knowledge of the brigadier’s boss — Major General Ravinder Singh, general officer commanding.” As evidence Kohli further “submitted taped transcripts of the conversation that he [had] had with the brigadier.” The brigadier who ordered the unconstitutional killings was let off with forfeiture of five years of seniority and a severe reprimand. In a revealing though unsurprising move, Kohli — the one who bravely refused to carry out the extrajudicial killing — was “given no relief.”
 For example — as in most other media coverage — Lydia Polgreen, in her pathetically ill-informed article of July 11, 2010, in The New York Times, gives no account of the true genealogy of the protests this year: the discovery of yet another “false encounter” to add to a long history of the same. It describes the death of a 17-year-old by “a tear gas canister fired from close range” — notice: no subject in the first paragraph! — but never asks why? Why were the Indian security forces or Kashmiri Police deploying tear gas in the first place, is a question that sadly, yet predictably, never crosses her mind!
 Anyone reminded of the tragic killing of Neda Soltani in Tehran last year and the instant celebrity status accorded to her by the Western media? But then again, Iran is not India, and Ahmedinejad is not Manmohan Singh. Most importantly, the strategic interests of capital and empire accrue differently in the two countries. Different populations need “regime change” at different times.
 The connection of Kashmir and Kashmiris to Jallianwala Bagh is very intimate. Many who died at the Bagh (garden) that day were Kashmiri Muslims who had migrated south due to persecution from the occupying regimes (See public records for the former and Mridu Rai’s Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects for more on the latter). The protests that culminated on April 13, 1919 at Jallianwala Bagh were spurred by demonstrations against the imprisonment of my maternal granduncle, Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew (a Kashmiri Muslim, born in Amritsar) and his colleague Satyapal who had been protesting the Rowlatt Act. In fact the Bagh gathering was symbolically presided over by Dr. Kitchlew’s portrait on the dais. One such portrait still hangs at the martyr’s gallery in Jallianwala Bagh.
 “Demon-crazy” is a pun thrown at India, supposedly the “world’s largest democracy” by protesting Kashmiris; it was picked up by Arundhati Roy in her lucid writings on the issue.
 To those who indignantly and piously point to the high turnout in the Kashmir elections, organized by India in 2008 — some known Indian “progressive” figures in their midst — I would like to say the following: By taking the election turnout as a de-facto referendum of Kashmiris’ consent to be a part of India, they are actually unwittingly reinforcing the exhortations of those Kashmiri leaders who want Azadi. These leaders have historically pleaded the public to not vote, because such a vote would be misconstrued (as a vote “for India”: the claim in question), and not recognized as a legitimate desire to direct the quotidian needs of schools and roads, electricity and industry. Moreover, here’s a thought experiment wittily proposed by Sanjay Kak who made the excellent documentary film, Jashn-e Azadi (2008), on the situation in Kashmir:
I wonder if others have noticed the tremendous boost that the presence of soldiers can give to democracy in remote areas. Gurez in north Kashmir reported 73.59% in the first phase (admittedly down from the 76% in the 2002 elections). It has a population of 30,000 and a registered voter base of 15,000. It also has, for strategic reasons, 60,000 soldiers of the Indian Army permanently stationed there. That’s what – 4 soldiers per voter?
Could that be a solution to perk up the low voter turnout in Delhi (40%)…? I wonder if the Election Commission manuals have anything on that?
Update, Feb 19, 2011:
The video “Stones in my Hand,” which I had originally posted, was removed by YouTube because it “violated” Youtube’s policy “on shocking and disgusting content.” Please click on the “Play” button to confirm. I completely concur — Indian State’s behavior has indeed been “shocking and disgusting.” What escaped YouTube’s notice was that this was all documentary footage, just like the footage that came out of Tunisia and Egypt, and is now coming out of Bahrain, Libya, Iran, Yemen et al.
Here’s another attempt to post that banned video: