The desire for freedom that glows in the people’s hearts cannot be put out, though it occasionally flickers low. It is sustained by the justice of the cause and nurtured by sweat and blood; hurdles and difficulties only strengthen a people’s resolve. This is certainly the case with the people of Kashmir, whose yearning for freedom from Hindu colonialism has been revived over the last two months after losing some of its glow during the previous year, not because the Kashmiris had lost interest but because world attention was diverted to trouble-spots elsewhere.
The latest impetus to their decades-long struggle was provided by the state government’s decision to grant 99 acres of land to an organization that caters to Hindu pilgrims who come to worship an icicle they consider to be the incarnation of Shiva, one of their gods. That in the twenty-first century such ridiculous practices can pass for acceptable behaviour is beyond belief. The Kashmiris, however, were not taken in by such trickery, rightly seeing this as a ploy to settle Hindus in the predominantly Muslim state of Kashmir, in the manner of the zionist occupiers of Palestine. They reacted in the only way possible: by holding rallies to protest both the theft of their land and the surreptitious settlement of Hindus in Kashmir in order to begin the process of diluting the Muslims’ demographic advantage.
Indian police and paramilitary forces reacted to Muslim protests in the usual way: they shot and killed more than 50 people, thirteen of them on August 23 alone, though the first mass protests erupted on July 1. Copying the tactics of their zionist allies in Palestine, the Indians also imposed a blockade on Kashmir to starve its people into submission. It did not work: far from the Kashmiris being subdued, they rose up with even greater vigour. On August 22 occurred the biggest ever rally in Srinagar’s history: at least one million people participated; there were similar rallies in other parts of Kashmir, all shouting in unison the one word that has come to symbolise their struggle: “azadi” (Urdu for “freedom”).
While the resistance has been ongoing since December 1989, in the last year or so it had subsided somewhat. Despite the relative lull, on average about 100 Kashmiris were being murdered each month by the Indian occupation forces. An estimated 100,000 Kashmiris have been killed since 1989; tens of thousands picked up by Indian occupation troops have simply disappeared and are presumed dead. The Indians have been equally beastly in their behaviour toward Kashmiri women; even the most conservative estimates put the number of rape victims at 9,800. Few Indian soldiers have been punished for such heinous crimes, but the people of Kashmir have not been discouraged or cowed down even if entire neighbourhoods have been turned into wastelands and graveyards.
The reason is that the Kashmiris’ struggle has been nurtured by the blood of 100,000 martyrs and the cries of grieving mothers and daughters even if the world, including much of the Muslim world, has turned its back on them. They have been betrayed even by their own leaders, some reposing hope in the rulers in Washington, others doing the rounds of European capitals in the forlorn hope of securing some recognition. Those unable to go abroad have been compromised by successive Pakistani rulers, who have little interest in seeing the Kashmiris realize their dreams; their real aim is to present themselves as champions of the Kashmiri struggle in order to garner support from their own people, who have consistently displayed a deep attachment to the cause of Kashmir. It would be unrealistic to expect that those who are not prepared to grant rights to their own people might be interested in securing the rights of Kashmiris. Despite all these difficulties, the slogan that remains on the lips of every Kashmiri is azadi. The harder the Indian occupiers try to suppress them, the louder the cry grows.
This was shown on two consecutive days, August 21 and 22, when hundreds of thousands poured into the streets of Srinagar to press their demand for freedom. The rally on Friday August 22 was particularly large: even people from outside Srinagar gathered in the Martyrs’ Cemetery to hear speeches and to shout slogans. On earlier occasions the Indian occupation forces had been quite brutal; this time they kept a distance in order not to pour fuel on the Kashmiris’ rage. Despite the huge numbers, the rally went off largely peacefully, disproving India’s claims that such rallies are instigated by “terrorists” bent on creating trouble for the peace-loving people. Violence has always been initiated by the occupiers, who have shown little regard for the Kashmiris’ life, limb or property. The gathering at Martyrs’ Cemetery was also significant symbolically: the people reaffirmed by their presence there that they had not forgotten the sacrifices of those who sustained the spirit of resistance for nearly two decades. The Kashmiris were further outraged by the discovery of 4600 unmarked graves, certainly marking the gruesome murders perpetrated by the Indian occupiers of people whom they picked up from the streets of Srinagar and other towns.
The recent protests also confirm that the popular unrest in Kashmir is not simply instigated by Pakistan, as India habitually claims. It was not Pakistan that urged the Indian government to grant 99 acres of land to a Hindu organization; nor did Pakistan tell the Kashmiris to start agitating. When people see their rights being usurped, they react in the only way open to them: protest rallies. This is precisely what the Kashmiris have done and continue to do. The Hindu rulers of India would of course like to blame Pakistan; hence their decision to start firing along the Line of Control that divides the two parts of Kashmir. This, however, runs the risk of internationalizing the conflict, something the Hindus prefer not to do because they insist at international forums that the “Kashmir dispute” is a bilateral problem between India and Pakistan. Successive governments in Islamabad have been bullied into accepting this argument, but New Delhi has flatly refused to discuss the issue to find a reasonable solution to the problem, which has festered for more than 60 years.
General Pervez Musharraf, the disgraced former president of Pakistan, also inflicted immense damage on the Kashmiris’ cause by uttering ill-conceived remarks that the wily Indians encouraged him to make. Not known for any great intellectual prowess, the former general had a habit of issuing policy pronouncements without giving much thought to them or consulting his advisors, much to their embarrassment. His off-the-cuff remarks and give-away style of diplomacy undermined the confidence of the Kashmiris, as they have historically looked to Pakistan for moral and political support. In a telling reflection of this reality, there is grief in India at Musharraf’s departure, while there is great relief in Pakistan that this petulant dictator, whose presidency has been an unmitigated disaster for the people of Pakistan and Kashmir, is gone. For four years India and Pakistan have been engaged in so-called peace talks, but they have got nowhere primarily because India is not interested in a just solution. It simply wants to maintain the pretence of a dialogue while really doing nothing at all.
What the current surge in the struggle demonstrates yet again is that the people of Kashmir have not been taken in by the rhetoric of peace talks or India’s desire to maintain the status quo. “Before the storm, there is always a calm,” a 34-year-old Kashmiri woman, Assabah Khan, was quoted as saying by the New York Times on August 21. “The uprising we see now is the latent anger against the Indian state that has erupted again.” Unless the people of Kashmir get their fundamental rights, there is likely to be little peace in the Himalayan mountains and their foothills.