Kashmir : ‘Revival of Militancy’

(from New Democracy)

‘Revival of local militancy’ has been the watchword of reporting on Jammu and Kashmir by national English dailies over the last few months. Two comments are worth recounting-‘Militancy has been in a slow revival mode in J&K over the last few months. One of the key reasons is the sudden spurt in the number of local militants joining the ranks. Army sources insist that there was a desperate effort to push in militants into the Valley to push up the militancy related incidents. Until October 2015, 169 militancy related incidents have already taken place against 170 in entire 2014.’ (Hindu, 24th Nov. 2015). In the same paper on the same date there was a central article by M.K. Narayanan, ’The mood in the valley is sullen. Anti India sentiment is growing’. He went on to write that ‘radicalization’ is the new danger, the ‘underestimated’ ‘new threat.’ The Hindustan Times, in an editorial piece on 1st December 2015, was far more forthright, ’Several factors compound the fraught scenario’. It enumerated them- absence of justice for past excesses, military presence fortified by draconian legislation, steady rise of communalization and communal politics, pitting of the regions of Jammu and Kashmir against each other and curbing of democratic freedoms. Yet another newspaper specified that it was the pro independence Hizbul Mujaideen whose ranks the local youth were strengthening. At ground level, a continual series of incidents have been on in which people have poured out to protest the killing of local unarmed youth by the Army- unprovoked and in full daylight- and have closed down areas for days in protest. Interspersed are incidents in which militant teams have engaged the Army by hiding in the dense jungles and displaying that they are locals and know the territory well unlike the Army despite its long occupation of the Valley. Alternatively, the Army has managed to localize them in some local house where an ‘encounter’ goes on for hours and even few days. When all the youth have been killed, they are usually willingly mourned and buried by the local populace and the Army is invariably able to announce both full names and even addresses of those killed- all of which indicates they are Kashmiris even while some may be from across the border.

Thus have passed 68 years and the 69th has arrived without Indian rulers attempting to win over the people of the state, with the state under virtual Army rule no matter what parliamentary party speaks of running a ‘government’ there. What ruling parties of India repeat ad nauseam is a distortion of history, creating a distance between people of the rest of India and those of that state, while themselves further distorting the ground situation.

What is the basis of Article 370?

After the defeat of Punjab by British colonialists, Kashmir was bought from the British by the Dogra King Gulab Singh of Jammu around 1846. The major ethnic groups in this state since then are Kashmiris, Gujjars (Bakarwals), Paharis, Dogras and Ladhakhis. Gulab Singh sided with the British in the 1857 war of Indian Independence.

In 1947, princely states were asked to choose between joining either India or Pakistan. Hari Singh, the Maharaja of J&K, wavered towards independent existence, being the Hindu king of a Muslim majority province while the J&K Assembly veered towards joining Pakistan. However, when Pathan tribals infilterated into Kashmir, he signed the Instrument of Accession on 26th October 1947 so that the Indian Army should help him retain control over his area. This Instrument was accepted the next day by the Govt. of India with the provisio that it would be submitted to a ‘reference to the people’ i.e. a referendum. Thus it was a provisional accession. A referendum to ascertain the will of the people was in fact conducted by the Govt. of India in Junagarh where the Muslim king had a Hindu majority population and thus that state joined India. Hari Singh’s accession was conditional to Indian Govt. legislating for the state only on external affairs, defence and finance. In the Constituent Assembly of India, the representatives from Kashmir stated that the same provision should be maintained. This is the genesis of Article 370 and those who emphasize its ‘temporary’ nature rarely choose to recount the ‘provisional’ nature of the accession accepted by the Govt. of India. Also as a result of the conditions of accession, J&K has its own constitution, flag and till 1974, its own Prime Minister and President (Sheikh Abdullah and Hari Singh respectively were the first incumbents).

Hari Singh’s decision to accede to the Indian Union led to much unease in the valley, mitigated to an extent by Sheikh Abdullah’s support to the accession. National Conference was a bitter critic of Hari Singh, had wide support among the people of the state and had relations with the Congress since 1930. Sheikh Abdullah stated that he was in favour of the Indian option because of its commitment to secularism as opposed to Pakistan’s theocratic state. With the accession, 60%of the old state came with India while 40% comprised “Azad Kashmir” or the part ofJammu & Kashmir under Pakistan.

Communal Conspiracies Against The People

India was divided by plunging the country into a communal bloodbath while transferring power from the British to the ruling classes of divided India and Pakistan.

In the 1941 census, J&K was a Muslim majority state with a 77% Muslim population. 61% of Jammu’s population was Muslim (this figure was quoted as of 1947). Communal disturbances began in West Punjab in March 1947 and spread towards Jammu where a cleansing of Muslims began. The perception was that state troops (Dogra Hindus) participated in the anti Muslim violence. Conservative estimates were that one million Kashmiri Muslims settled in Jammu were uprooted and 2.5 lakh killed between August to October 1947. Horace Alexander, writing in the Spectator (January 16th 1948) put the killings at 2 lakh Muslims and stated that they occurred with ‘the tacit consent of the state’. Kashmiri sources put the number at 5 million. Kathua District reportedly lost 50% of its Muslim population. In October 1947, there was a major bloodbath in Jammu in Poonch District, five days before the entry of tribals into Kashmir and nine days before the accession. Between 1941 to1961 the Muslim population in Jammu fell from 61% to 38%, partly also due to some areas of Jammu going to ‘Azad’ Kashmir.

Quite in line with these communal moves, one of the proposals regarding J&K was advanced by India’s first Home Minister, Patel, who suggested the trifurcation of the state into the Valley, Ladakh and Jammu, with India retaining the latter two and a strip of the Valley to connect Jammu and Ladakh. A similar proposal was advanced by L.K.Advani in the course of the first NDA Govt. It is this vision that colours the communal conspiracies of India’s ruling classes, who are fearful that the entire state may opt for ‘independece’.

The population of J&K according to the 2001 Census, was Kashmir Valley 54,76,970, Jammu 44,30,191 and Ladakh 2,36,539. In 2011 Census, the population recorded is Kashmir Valley 69,07622, Jammu 53,50811 and Ladakh 29,0492. According to the Religious Census of 2011, 68.3% of the population is Muslim, 28.4% Hindu,1.9% Sikhs, 0.9% Buddhist and 0.3% Christian. 97% of the Valley is Muslim. Shias constitute 14% of the state population. In Jammu, 60% of the population now consists of Hindus, 36% of Muslims and 4% of Sikhs. Some of the districts are Muslim dominated. In Ladakh, in Leh 68% of the population is Buddhist while 91% of Kargil’s population are Muslims. Overall, 50% of the population is Muslim, 44% Buddhist and 6% are Hindus. The Indian state is at great pains to convince the Buddhists that they are essentially from the Hindu fold, with even the Census recording them within the bracket of Hindu religion, leave alone the similar push of the Hindutva forces.

Crushing of Democratic Rights

The Accession treaty allowed the entry of the Indian Army and a barrage of intelligence personnel into the state. First Indo Pak war ensued. In the peace brokered by the UN Security Council, both Indian and Pak. Govts signed a resolution promising to conduct a referendum throughout the state to ascertain whether the entire state would go with India or with Pakistan. However, the Indian state and successive Govts. of India had no intention of ever executing that resolution. The Army, which entered the state in 1947, has never moved out or restricted itself to the borders; rather there is no actual civilian life in the Valley and it exists basically under Army rule.

Infact, rather than naturally integrating the people of J&K into the rest of the country, the Indian state has been steady in its understanding of keeping the state ‘captive’. The citizens of the Valley are suspect almost in their entirety because they are Kashmiris and because they are Muslims. The only consistent aspect of India’s governance has been its steady commitment to communalizing the state. The change effected in the demography of Jammu has been noted, effected in the course of Partition. Home Minister Patel articulated the understanding that Jammu and Ladakh can move separately from the rest of Kashmir. Subsequently, many more steps were taken, each bringing the people of the Valley in direct and thorough conflict with the Indian state. All this has changed the ground situation in the state. In the Valley, the choice between India and Pakistan (the latter option represented by powerful and widely followed figures in the Hurriyat) has given way to the demand for an independent J&K. Yet, in the main, the demand for ‘azadi’, whose resounding in the Valley India has provoked fully, is in the main a demand to be free of rule of India’s Army and may not represent so clear a choice between Pakistan and independent existence.

A great variety of draconian measures and laws are the rule in J&K including the AFSPA and the Preventive Detention Act (PDA). The latter has been used to great effect to keep leaders permanently incarcerated by re-slapping charges under one section or the other whenever the person is released by the courts. PDA has even been slapped on children under 15 years caught during stone throwing incidents, children returning from school have been mistakenly encountered by Army in broad daylight even on the streets of Srinagar. Encounters of this nature abound in the rest of the districts, with the Army shooting down a father and son returning with firewood in the early hours of the morning, because it mistook the wood for guns.

The rampant denial of all democratic rights under the virtual Army rule is best depicted by some of its fall outs. There is an Association of relatives of missing persons in Kashmir and their list is of over 7000 people. The people on this list are those whom the Army picked up from their homes at night in infamous ‘search’ operations, or picked up in ‘house to house’ midnight searches in entire villages and who have never been seen or heard of again. There is no proof that they have been killed either. Thousands of unmarked graves dot Kashmir. Recently, one of the older gravediggers in Kashmir passed away. His funeral was attended by thousands of grateful families whom he had helped to locate their killed kin by preserving some belongings of the bodies that the Army made him bury under cover of darkness. Many graves have been thus identified and marked by small flags bearing the name and address of the killed, giving lie in the main to the ‘foreign’ militants charge of the Indian Govt. The fact is that they are usually Kashmiris even if from across the border.

The Army and The Women of Kashmir

The description of what the Indian state has done with the people of J&K is incomplete without recounting the experiences of the women. There is, firstly, a category of women in Kashmir, who are termed ‘half widows’. These are women whose husbands have disappeared, usually after searches or patrolling by the Army. Many of these have aged in wait and recently, the daughter of one of them held the funeral of her unfound father because she could no longer bear the misery of her mother.

The second is the experience of the women with the provisions of AFSPA. Leave alone the scattered complaints coming in hundreds every year, there are two cases which stand out for depravity and underscore how alienation deepens. In the first case in 1990s, a search operation at midnight by Army in the dead of night was used to gang rape the women and girls of Kupwara. Not even children and aged women were spared. To date the Army has not allowed anyone to be held guilty. In another case in this century, two young women in Sopore from an orchard owning family disappeared while out for a stroll and their bodies were found in extremely shallow water. The state insisted they had ‘drowned’; the postmortems were several, did not substantiate the cause of death and the people pointed to the CRPF camp situated adjoining their village. The movement rocked Kashmir for months, with Sopore, the apple growing district, remaining shut down for weeks together. Again, no one was held guilty but the perception of an ‘occupation’ Army and the need for ‘azadi’ has only been strengthened.

In fact, a new feature of protests emerged at about the time of the Clinton visit to India, when Sikhs were gunned down in Kashmir in a fairly obviously staged incident. The Army immediately killed five youth holding them guilty. Kashmir poured out in Intifada style protests seen in Palestine (hundreds of people pouring out in protest and refusing to disperse) shouting that the killed were innocent local youth. This was a case where the Govt. was forced to resort to DNA verification and this substantiated the assertion of the protestors. Not surprisingly, the Army has reserved the right to identify and punish the guilty for itself, and Courts and Govts. are fully compliant.

The wheels of Communalization

From time to time, apart from consistent attempts to communally polarize Jammu and Ladakh in favour of India and away from the Valley, there are also attempts to change the demographic pattern of Kashmir apart from communalizing the Kashmiri identity. One major such fingering was the move to permanently acquire land in the name of facilitating the pilgrims of the Amarnath Yatra by the non Kashmiri Amarnath Trust headed by the Governer of the state. This move ofcourse had the blessings of the Centre and the state‘s Congress Govt. of Gulam Nabi Azad. Land and property in J&K is non transferable to outsiders, but the biggest violater and also huge land grabber in the state is the Army. Large swathes of land have been enclosed by it and this is one more source of anger against it.

The move of the Amarnath Board was against the very traditions of the Yatra which for years has been facilitated by the people of Kashmir irrespective of religion. The move to transfer land to the Board for permanent constructions was vehemently opposed as the Valley poured onto the streets in a vehement mass movement raising the slogan of ‘azadi’. The similar type of mass outpouring sustained for weeks as was witnessed after the killing of two young women in Sopore.

A major question stemmed from the sudden near total efflux of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in the 1990s after some reported attacks on them and a few provocative pronouncements of a section of the spokespersons of the azadi movement. This migration, in totality, has hurt the question of the right of self determination of the people by allowing a communal twist. The leaders of the Kashmiri people who are the spokespersons of this right, woke up to this injury to their issue somewhat late. The role of Jagmohan, then Governor of the State, in arranging for the Pandits to leave the Valley en mass has always been an issue of interest. Mr. Pradeep Magazine, himself a Kashmiri Pandit and a prominent sports writer, has called his people the ‘most pampered refugees in the world’. Since then, the major leaders of the azadi movement have issued several calls for the properties of the Pandits to be kept secure by their neighbours and also some of them have issued calls for all Kashmiris to return and live in security. However the Modi Govt. has carried forward the RSS understanding of deepening divisions rather than allowing them to heal, by moving to build enclaves in Kashmir Valley where the Pandits would take up residence. In a positive step, many of the Pandit families have defied these moves and returned to their neighbourhoods voluntarily in the recent months and some of them have been featured in stories in English dailies of India.

The forces comprising the Azadi movement are varied in their demand. The Hurriyat is an umbrella organization with this common demand of ‘azadi’ implying freedom from India. Within it are pro Pakistan forces in a time wrap of taking the state to join that country, as well as forces who visualize an independent Jammu and Kashmir. The major party of the latter is the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the Hizbul Mujaideen, in the main, has the same orientation. Viewing the Indian Army as an occupation force which is perfectly substantiated to the people by the behavior of the Army, the people of Kashmir have been conducting armed struggle against it through armed formations of variable outlooks and mostly crossing to and fro from the part of Kashmir under Pakistan. Youth from both sides of the Valley are part of such movements. Pakistan Govt. and ruling classes obviously support, train and equip these fighters, called ‘militants’ in the terminology of India’s press and Govt. but there is a significant section of it which takes the Pakistani support but visualizes an independent J&K; this obviously does not meet the approval of the Pakistan Govt. but whom nevertheless it is forced to aid. The movement to open trade borders between both the parts of the state was vociferously welcomed by Kashmiris on both sides. The state is not an intrinsically poor state despite the impoverishment of the peasantry on both sides of the border. Its orchards produce an abundance of fruits, for instance, whose export can be a flourishing business. It should be noted that J&K is the state where Sheikh Abdullah carried out comprehensive land reforms.

The last major new assault on the sensitivities of the Kashmiri people was the unjustifiable hanging of Afzal Guru, against whom the Supreme Court itself admitted there was no evidence, but who was awarded capital punishment to satisfy a ‘conscience of the nation’ whose keeper the Court chose to become despite so many forces in India decrying this injustice and there being substantial evidence that the nation had more than one conscience. But all voices for democratic rights of Kashmiris in the rest of India are termed ‘anti-national’ and ‘pro-terrorists’. The hanging was carried out in secrecy by the UPA Govt. anxious to prove its majoritarian and ‘nationalistic’ credentials to the RSS backed organizations.

Autonomy Pitted Against Self-Determination

In essence, what the people of J&K were demanding was the implementation of the right to Plebiscite assured to them by the very decision at the time of Accession and also enshrined in the Security Council Resolution of 1949. The Indian state has done its best to ensure deep polarization within the state so that it essentially remained ‘an expression of the democratic right of the Kashmiri people in the Valley’ for self-determination. Thus now, futile but pointed disputes are sought to be raised that ‘Laddakhis’ and ‘people of Jammu’ should also have ‘separate’ rights of self-determination, whereas the issue pertained clearly to the people of the entire state. Even in 1947, in any referendum, there would have been a majority and a minority. However, as time passes and communal polarization within the parts of the state are emphasized repeatedly, this issue is getting further and further distorted. Across the border, the situation of ‘Azad’ Kashmir which is with Pakistan, is not different in terms of poverty. The Pakistan Govt. has taken care to retain the ‘azad’ semblance.

However, in India, the consistent attempts of the Indian state have been to take back as far as possible terms conceded to in the accession. The BJP ofcourse has the demand of scrapping of Article 370 high up on its agenda, appropriating the right to decide what is ‘national’ in Hindutva terms. However the rest of the parliamentary gamut has no different aspiration. The Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1974 after the Sheikh had been incarcerated in prison for well near 20 years, was to convert the designation of the Prime Minister and President (Sadr-e-Riyasat) of J&K to that of the Chief Minister and Governor i.e. one step to make it like ‘any other’ state of the Indian Union. However, whenever the movement for azadi upsurges, there are players from among mainstream parties, like the PDP, as also many intellectuals and civil rights bodies, who emphatically demand democratic rights, but also advocate ‘further autonomy’. Attempts by Hindutva communal forces to attack the ‘separate’ flag and Ariticle 370 are able to sometimes put the entire perspective into defensive outside the state, though the struggle in the Valley never loses the focus on ‘azadi’ rather than simply ensuring democratic rights and some measures for autonomy. Because even the minimum democratic rights are not enforced, the people of Kashmir are further alienated. The Rangarajan Commission set up by the UPA Govt. recommended AFSPA be restricted to certain areas and some other minor changes. The Indian Army was adamant that not a sentence should be diluted. Erstwhile Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Justice J. S. Verma, struck down a petition against AFSPA, and also did not accept the demands of the women’s organizations in December 2012 that AFSPA should be scrapped. Instead a watered down recommendation was made in the Verma Commission Report to allow civilian enquiry into cases of crimes by Army personnel against women.

Elections in J&K mostly face calls of boycott from pro-azadi forces in the Valley and the 1990s to 2000s did see almost total boycotts in major parts of the Valley. Army forced voting in scattered booths and the results were rigged results. Many newspapers have carried photographs of youth tied to poles and being forced to vote. Whatever ‘govt’ took power in the state was mostly standing on the basis of Army backing.

In recent years Kashmiris have participated in local body elections, to some extent in state assembly elections also. In J&K elections this time, the call for boycott was only symbolic and the Valley took to the ballot to keep the BJP away from power.

But these are surface episodes, as are the huge crowd of youth who turn up for rallies of various PMs where false assurances of creation of jobs are made. In Kashmir the Army represents the Indian state, and ‘azadi’ is visualized commonly as azadi from Army rule. Even in devastating floods one year back, while mainstream newspapers in the rest of India made much of Army’s role, people of the Valley were sullen about the discriminatory way the Army sent aid only to the residences of the elite.

In fact the struggle in Kashmir is the struggle for self-determination. The India ruling classes and state have succeeded in making it restricted to a demand of the people of the Valley. This is a commonly propagated restriction.

Even parliamentary ‘left’ parties are confined to stating the question as only of restoration of democratic rights, not extending to referendum. All ruling class parties including the new party, AAP, too see such a demand as anti-national. Surprisingly, those who say they are part of the ML camp, like Liberation, do not uphold this right whereas it was a part of the programme of the CPI(ML) at the time of its formation.

India is a multinational country and the democratic rights of the people of J&K involve self determination. Other nationalities of India may not choose to invoke this right as they have integrated and their ruling classes find sufficient space within the Indian Union.