Why silence over Kashmir speaks volumes

by Pankaj Mishra

Once known for its extraordinary beauty, the valley of Kashmir now hosts the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world. With more than 80,000 people dead in an anti-India insurgency backed by Pakistan, the killings fields of Kashmir dwarf those of Palestine and Tibet. In addition to the everyday regime of arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids, and checkpoints enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers, the valley’s 4 million Muslims are exposed to extra-judicial execution, rape and torture, with such barbaric variations as live electric wires inserted into penises.

Why then does the immense human suffering of Kashmir occupy such an imperceptible place in our moral imagination? After all, the Kashmiris demanding release from the degradations of military rule couldn’t be louder and clearer. India has contained the insurgency provoked in 1989 by its rigged elections and massacres of protestors. The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that fill the streets of Kashmir’s cities today are overwhelmingly young, many in their teens, and armed with nothing more lethal than stones. Yet the Indian state seems determined to strangle their voices as it did of the old one. Already this summer, soldiers have shot dead more than 50 protestors, most of them teenagers.

The New York Times this week described the protests as a comprehensive”intifada-like popular revolt”. They indeed have a broader mass base than the Green Movement does in Iran. But no colour-coded revolution is heralded in Kashmir by western commentators. The BBC and CNN don’t endlessly loop clips of little children being shot in the head by Indian soldiers. Bloggers and tweeters in the west fail to keep a virtual vigil by the side of the dead and the wounded. No sooner than his office issued it last week, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, hastened to retract a feeble statement expressing concern over the situation in Kashmir.

Kashmiri Muslims are understandably bitter. As Parvaiz Bukhari, a journalist, said early this week the stones flung randomly by protestors have become “the voice of a neglected people” convinced that the world deliberately ignores their plight. The veteran Kashmiri journalist Masood Hussain confessed to the near-total futility of his painstaking auditing of atrocity over two decades. For Kashmir has turned out to be a “great suppression story”.

The cautiousness – or timidity – of western politicians is easy to understand. Apart from appearing as a lifeline to flailing western economies, India is a counterweight, at least in the fantasies of western strategists, to China. A month before his election, Barack Obama declared that resolving the “Kashmir crisis” was among his “critical tasks”. Since then, the US president hasn’t uttered a word about this ur-crisis that has seeded all major conflicts in south Asia. David Cameron was advised a similar strategic public silence on his visit to India last fortnight.

Those western pundits who are always ready to assault illiberal regimes worldwide on behalf of democracy ought not to be so tongue-tied. Here is a well-educated Muslim population, heterodox and pluralist by tradition and temperament, and desperate for genuine democracy. However, intellectuals preoccupied by transcendent, nearly mystical, battles between civilization and barbarism tend to assume that “democratic” India, a natural ally of the “liberal” west, must be doing the right thing in Kashmir, ie fighting “Islamofascism”. Thus Christopher Hitchens could call upon the Bush administration to establish a military alliance with “the other great multi-ethnic democracy under attack from Muslim fascism” even as an elected Hindu nationalist government stood accused of organising a pogrom that killed more than 2,000 Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat.

Electoral democracy in multi-ethnic, multi-religious India is one of the modern era’s most utopian political experiments, increasingly vulnerable to malfunction and failure, and, consequently, to militant disaffection and state terror. But then the west’s new masters of humanitarian war, busy painting grand ideological struggles on broad, rolling canvases, are prone to miss the human position of suffering and injustice.

Indian writers and intellectuals, who witnessed the corrosion of India’s secular democracy by Hindu supremacists, seem better acquainted with the messy realities concealed by stirring abstractions. But on Kashmir they often appear as evasive as their Chinese peers are on Tibet. They may have justifiably recoiled from the fundamentalist and brutish aspect of the revolt in the valley. But the massive non-violent protests in Kashmir since 2008 haven’t released a flood of pent-up sympathy from them.

Few people are as well positioned as the much-revered Amartya Sen to provoke national introspection on Kashmir. Indeed, no one can fault Sen’s commitment to justice for the poor and defenceless in India. Yet Sen relegates Kashmir to footnotes in both of his recent books: The Argumentative Indian and Identity and Violence.

Certainly, as Arundhati Roy’s recent writings prove, anyone initiating a frank discussion on Kashmir risks a storm of vituperation from the Indian understudies of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. The choleric TV anchors, partisan journalists and opinion-mongers of India’s corporate media routinely amplify the falsehoods and deceptions of Indian intelligence agencies in Kashmir. Blaming Pakistan or Islamic fundamentalists, as the Economist pointed out last week, has “got much harder” for the Indian government, which, has “long denied the great extent to which Kashmiris want rid of India”. Nevertheless, it tries; and, as the political philosopher Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of the few fair-minded commentators on this subject, points out, the Indian media now acts in concert with the government “to deny any legitimacy to protests in Kashmir”.

This effective censorship reassures those Indians anxious not to let mutinous Kashmiris sully the currently garish notions of India as an “economic powerhouse” and “vibrant democracy” – the calling cards with which Indian elites apply for membership to the exclusive clubs of the west. In Kashmir, however, the net effect is deeper anger and alienation. As Bukhari puts it, Kashmiris hold India’s journalists as responsible as its politicians for “muzzling and misinterpreting” them.

“The promise,” Mehta writes, “of a liberal India is slowly dying”. For Kashmiris this promise has proved as hollow as that of the fundamentalist Islam exported by Pakistan. Liberated from political deceptions, the young men on the streets of Kashmir today seem simply to want to express their hatred of the state’s impersonal brutality, and to commemorate lives freshly ruined by it. As the Kashmiri writer Basharat Peer wrote this week in a moving Letter to an Unknown Indian, Indian journalists might edit out the “faces of the murdered boys”, and “their grieving fathers”; they may not show “the video of a woman in Anantnag, washing the blood of the boys who were killed outside her house”. But “Kashmir sees the unedited Kashmir.”

And it remembers. “Like many other Kashmiris,” Peer writes, “I have been in silence, committing to memory the deed, the date.” Apart from the youth on the streets, there are also those with their noses in books, or pressed against window bars. Soon this generation will make its way into the world with its private traumas. Life under political oppression has begun to yield, in the slow bitter way it does, a rich intellectual and artistic harvest: Peer’s memoir Curfewed Night will be followed early next year by a novel by Waheed Mirza. There are more works to come; Kashmiris will increasingly speak for themselves. One can only hope that their voices will finally penetrate our indifference and even occasionally prick our conscience.

Pankaj Mishra is an Indian author and writer of literary and political essays. This article first appeared in the Guardian.

8 thoughts on “Why silence over Kashmir speaks volumes”

  1. Indian forces wearing blue UN (Peace hats) hats are killing Kashmirs. It has to stop immediately by the UN.

    Awakening of the world conscious is the need of hour. Closing of the eyes and ears by the international community on the ongoing massive human rights violations in Occupied Kashmir by Indian security forces would not end the issue. Rather the seething protest against Indian human rights violation would endanger the world peace to an extent that may be unimaginable until now, as India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed countries. Therefore, the UNO and major powers must pressurize India to immediately end the human rights violations in Occupied Kashmir, pullout its brutal security forces and resolve the issue as per the wishes of Kashmiri subjects in the light of UN resolutions. This would bring peace and stability in the region as well at the global level.

  2. This is simply a struglle between a Supressed and a Supressor.Kashmiris are facing Gross Human Rights violations at the hands of so called largest democracy in the World.The forces of India are free to unleash any misery on Kashiris under the shield of Barbaric Laws like AFSPA and PSA. With such a huge military presence ,even Basic human rights of Kaashmiris are stamped resulting Tens of thousands killed,more than ten thousand missing, thousands of women raped and thousand are suffering in Indian jails. Indan Army has been convicted for staging Fake encounters to get awards and an excuse to hold on in Kashmir becoz it has become a lucrative business for some Army Officers.Tens of thousands in Mass Graves. India is misleading the World that it is facing the Islamists inspired by Pakistan but Kashmiris ae fighting for thier right of self determination as promised by U.N and himself , then Prime Minister of India Jawahar Lal Nehru in the Historic Lal Chowk of Srinagar. To Suppress the Just Voice of Kashmiris India cannot hide behind Pakistan and it has to be held responsible for the Gross Human Rights Violations against Kashmiris.World has to Wake up for the Support of Rights for kashmiri People who have been Ignored untill now.

  3. Selective outrage hardly convinces anyone and this piece is no exception. Why is author silent about hundred thousand Kashmiri Pundits hounded out from their homes by peace loving Kashmiris? Their plight has not even been touched in this long post on Kashmir as if they did not exist.

  4. u cant produce a single case where u can prove ur statement.no one were hounded out by any Kashmiri. those Pandites who left Kashmir they left for there own interests,in order to get subsides.those Pandits who had nothing to eat in Kashmir they got flights in heart cites of India jobs with out Qualification.may some one ask them who force them to leave the Kashmir.i am living in a velige in my villages there are Pandites some of them went jummu and other cites and and got free and straggle less benefits i am asking why rest of those not left.those who left they are spending their sumer in Kashmir and winter in other places where they are living luxury life and we kashmres r for bullets.
    so what are u talking about author should touch?

  5. Maknon: I do not have to produce a case to prove my point. Please take time to visit any of the several dozen refugee camps in Jammu and see for yourself what subsidies they are getting. As far as your claim that no one was hounded out from Kashmir, all you have to do is to browse Kashmiri newspapers circa 1988-90, when infidel pundits were killed by the dozens by peace loving soldiers of Azadi.

    Even now when fate and future of Kashmir is discussed why no one even wants to talk about Kashmiri pundits? Does anyone even ask if they also long to go back to their homes?

    1. Time is running out for Indian government. This issue should have been solved long before 1988. UN have had resolutions on Kashmir since 1947, and are more then 70.
      Just as usual Indian mind set and denial expressed by you with out any facts. In the mean time please enjoy this one.
      Vigil before White House

      The 100-hour long candle-light vigil before the White House by the people of Kashmiri origin was a stirring wake-up call to the superpower as well as the world community to realize their obligation to protect Kashmiris against the human rights abuses that the Indian security forces are freely and blatantly committing in the Valley. To President Obama, in particular, it was a reminder to honor the commitment he had made when as candidate he presented himself before the American public as a harbinger of peace in the world, determined to resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of the people. The slogan most commonly voiced by the marchers on Pennsylvania Avenue and written on the placards was “Quit Kashmir”, clearly addressed to India. Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, Executive Director, Kashmiri American Council said, “now, bleeding and betrayed, they (the Kashmiris) ask for the pledge (made by the UN) to be redeemed.”
      The situation on ground in the Indian occupied part of the state and the call from the Diaspora are ample proof of the yearning of the people to be free of India’s stranglehold. The passage of 62 years under its illegal occupation and the coming of age of the new generation of Kashmiris have not blunted the desire to exercise the right of self-determination to decide their future. The Kashmiri settlers in Canada have not stayed behind and they held demonstrations in front of the Indian consulate in Toronto shouting the “Quit Kashmir” slogan. They were joined by the Sikh immigrants, who like most other minorities in India, have grievously suffered at the hands of the Hindu leadership. For the past nearly three months, the Indian occupied part has either presented a haunted look with shops and business houses, government offices and educational institutions, closed down in response to a strike call by the Kashmiri leadership; or alive with angry shouts of protesters demanding an end to Indian rule.

      The unnerved and desperate security forces have responded to the stone-pelting with live bullets that have so far killed 62, mostly young people, some as young as nine. Forty-eight of them, including 14 security personnel, were injured on Sunday. The urge for freedom from India is so widespread and strong that the protest rallies are now joined by the womenfolk. Since the troops are protected against prosecution under a draconian law they have become outrageously trigger-happy. The situation has come to a boiling point and it is high time for the world community to compel India to honor its word. The people of Kashmir and the rest of the justice-minded world are looking up to President Obama not to sacrifice a beleaguered people’s lives and honor for the sake of strengthening Washington’s strategic relations with New Delhi

  6. The Kashmir issue is nothing but a communal problem. Let me say that I am a Muslim and at the same time I am an Indian too. The problem will end automatically once Kashmiris will start thinking in that way. Even a week ago I was in Srinagar and I found that protestors were throwing stones in minority areas, this itself shows the mindset of Kashmiris. In Kashmir they call for Nizam-e-Mustafa. May I ask you why you can’nt live under the Indian constitution which gives you everything. Again I will say that I have got everything in India and nobody is preventing me from doing anything which is under law. Now the presence of large number of security forces in Srinagar, my friends it is only because of you. You have made the situation so bad that it can be controlled only by security forces. Once you start living peacefully the forces will be withdrawn automatically. Again what you expect from security forces when you are continuously throw stones on them and will not follow the instructions. My friends I will again urge you to show faith in Indian constitution and you can get everything in India. Please do not give bad name to Islam.
    PS: Whatever I have written is based on my last two years experience in living in valley.

    1. The Kahsmir issue is not about Muslims reputation. It is about illegal brutal army occupation. Please educate yourself on this issue. The history lessons will help you in this regard. In the meantime see what the world powers are trying to do for you guys.

      Pakistan has once again forcefully asked the Americans to put pressure on Delhi to resolve Kashmir.
      In a drive evidently driven by Pakistan’s Civilians and military establishment, represented at the Washington talks by a large array of ministers, Army chief Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi boldly pitched for US mediation into its vexing dispute with India. FM Qureshe asked President Obama to redeem his election promies and went as far as to challenge President Obama that “his coming visit to the region is the time to begin to redeem the pledge that he made earlier” of a US role in the Kashmir issue. The hint at Obama’s visit to Delhi was poignant, because many analysts view the Obama’s sales trip which is designed to privately pressure Delhi for movement on Kashmir.
      Even though President Obama made no explicit pledge regarding Kashmir, there is ample evidence available in the international media that suggests that the US is privately tightening the screws on Delhi to first aknowledge and then resolve the Kashmir dispute. Qureshi appeared to be referring to reports during the presidential campaign when Obama remarked that “working with Pakistan and India to try to resolve the Kashmir crisis in a serious way” would be one of the “critical tasks” for his administration and mulled about a US special envoy on the issue (President Clinton‘s name was mentioned in this context).
      Senator Obama, and even President Elect Obama had talked about resolving Kashmir. Since assuming office, Obama had dialed down on the issue. He and several high-ranking US officials have publicly used the old American rhetoric that the issue is bilateral and best resolved in that context. Most analysts believe that the US is privately admonishing Delhi.
      There are subtle hints of this in comments emanating from the White House and the State Department. On Friday US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, whose secret portfolio includes Kashmir said “We will be happy to be of help, if both sides want us to be”. The public posturing belies the private focus on Kashmir.
      Pakistan keeps raising issues like Kashmir and nuclear deal despite silence from the US side? FM Qureshi wants to keep the issue remains front and center. “Things we’ve tried in the past, it hasn’t worked. That doesn’t mean we give up. We are persistent. And as they say: Perseverance commands success. So I am not giving up”.
      General Ashfaq Kayani is said to have stood his ground called himself “India Centric” and informed the Americans that he saw India as the principle threat to Pakistan.
      At Friday’s state department finale FM Qureshi, once again reminded his hosts about the current unrest in Jammu and Kashmir and pitched Pakistan’s case. “People of conscience have protested the use of force against the defenseless people of Kashmir, in particular targeting of the Kashmiri youth, which has claimed over hundred lives in the past three months,” he said. “But the Kashmiri mothers are baffled at the deafening silence of the world leadership.”
      The constant buzz about Kashmir forces the Americans to recognize that the disputed area is a major issue. The recent unrest in Occupied Kashmir tells the entire world that Bharat has been unable to quell the aspiration of the Kashmiris–they want accession with Pakistan. In deference to Bharat the US-Pakistan joint statement issued at the end of the dialogue did not directly mention Kashmir, but said the two countries “renewed their resolve to promoting peace, stability, and transparency throughout the region and to eliminate the threats posed by terrorism and extremism.” The White has repeatedly said that the root cause of the conflict in South Asia is Kashmir.

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