Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice.
Kashmir, Oct. 26—I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.
Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get insaf-justice-from India, and now believed that Azadi-freedom-was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I traveled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.
Tens of thousands of people across Indian-administered Kashmir have joined protests against Indian rule in the Himalayan region. The Indian police has been battling to contain demonstrations for months, ignited by the killing of a 17-year-old student by police in June.
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.
In annexing Kashmir, Indian leaders put aside their progressive anti-colonialism, and pursued a policy that stood in direct confrontation with the goals of struggling Kashmiris. Nehru’s professed derision for princes and despots proved facile in Kashmir in this first real test of his commitment to anti-colonialism and democratic values. His decision to urge the discredited and runaway Dogra ruler to sign the imperial Instrument of Accession, and then accept it, was a defeat for the oppressed Kashmiris who had, with great sacrifices, forced the Dogra ruler out. By recognizing the authority of the Dogra ruler, Indian sovereignty over Kashmir simply replaced the sovereignty enshrined in the Dogra maharaja. But along with that sovereignty, India inherited Dogra rule’s illegitimacy as well.
On 26 January 1992, Murli Manohar Joshi, the leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, after travelling by road all the way from the southern tip of India, was airlifted from Jammu to the heart of Srinagar where he half-raised the Indian flag near historic Lal Chowk. All of Kashmir was put under severe curfew, and the army was given shoot-at-sight orders. Throughout the day soldiers shot dead more than a dozen Kashmiris in the streets of Srinagar. Over the previous two years, the Indian government had unleashed a reign of terror on the people, with massacre upon massacre of unarmed protestors dotting Kashmir’s timeline. Joshi’s Ekta Yatra (Unity March), protected and provided of full support by the Indian government, was an important reminder of the nature of the Indian state and the relationship it sought with the people of Kashmir. The event was designed to put on display the majoritarian character of Indian nationhood, and line up power of the state behind it to send barely coded messages to audiences in India and in Kashmir.
“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.
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)
Lies are created around the truth of our struggle. But truth has a habit of confronting falsehood. Occupation is based on a pile of lies. There’s truth in the resistance of unarmed people on the streets. And truth triumphs in the end. It always does, even if it takes time.
by Majid Maqbool
The street is the home of our stones. Streets can be occupied, but stones are free for us to pick up, and angrily fling in the air — in protest. From the hands of the oppressed, once pelted, the stones deliver a message to the oppressor: while you kill with no remorse on my soil, and stage false encounters with all your advanced weapons, I’m not going to keep quiet. I will not let you kill us without offering resistance. I have these stones on my streets. I exist in these stones. If your occupation is in bullets, our resistance is in these rough-edged, homegrown stones.
We, who come out protesting on the streets, are not an ignorant, frustrated and unemployed lot — as the occupier likes to frame us, and the whole world seems to simplistically believe. Far from it! We are the ones who refuse to keep quiet in tyrannical times. We are the ones who shape the songs of resistance, as we practice them in our streets. It takes much courage and conviction to come out on the streets, and protest against the heavily militarized state forces. The sentiment of freedom confronts the idea of occupation. In every stone that’s pelted, there’s a promise to bring down the structures of occupation, bit by bit, crack by crack. We know in our hearts and minds that this ugly structure of occupation — built on deceit over the years — is bound to crumble one day under the force of our stones. It is this hope that keeps the resistance alive.