After two months of almost continuous clampdowns and lockdowns, 50 systematic killings, and hundreds of incarcerations, the debate in India about protests in Kashmir has continued to hover between bleeding-heart liberal talk and state attempts at dissimulation. While state deception, and the Hindu right racket, is obvious, expected, and nothing new, the increased space for liberal discourse has given a false impression that there is a change in heart. The liberal discourse in India on the question of Kashmir is not open, fair, or objective, but often borders on, and oftentimes overlaps, the more popular, explicitly nationalist polemics.
From news shows to newspaper articles every death in Kashmir is slyly or openly justified. Since the day some protestors in Pampore and Srinagar burnt a few police jeeps and a couple of decrepit old, low-level government office structures, fit not even to be cowsheds, the Indian media suggested that people are shot because they attack public property. They tried to conceal the fact that most of the victims were killed before those structures were burnt down. But then even before the Pampore incidents big media in India tried to create a moral equivalence between intentional murders of dozens of unarmed Kashmiri protestors and Indian paramilitary soldiers not getting enough rest, or their jeeps getting a few bumps.
India’s “Kashmir experts” (including some from Kashmir as well), who fall over each other to get a place on noisy and bogus talk shows in Delhi, have been bandying about that the current series of protests began with the June 11 killing of Tufail Mattoo. The fake encounter killings of three young men in Machil and of a 70-year-old man in Kupwara, the fatal shooting of another man in Keller forests, the wanton killings of Zahid and Wamiq in Srinagar, and numerous others preceded Tufail’s death. Not only were these other killings deliberately forced to recede from the public view, but the immense suffering, the daily grind, humiliation and torture that marks life in Kashmir under military occupation continues to be glossed over.
The gloss often is the much-abused fabrication that Kashmiris live off Indian taxpayers’ money. Somehow it is assumed that Kashmiris don’t pay taxes, or that Kashmir doesn’t have an economy of its own beyond the government dole. The fact deliberately obscured is that the very thin slice of Kashmiri society that does benefit from Indian handouts is the one the Indian state has actively promoted as a class of collaborators in Kashmir. These are mostly the people who appear on TV shows in Delhi, and their view is projected as the countervailing view to the Indian hawks, who saturate the public sphere in Delhi newsrooms. The problem is that these same people openly announce that common Kashmiris will lynch them if they went out of their security cocoons.
Then there are the nauseating media pundits who, on one side, show injured young children with bullet marks on their chests and, on the other, bring heavy mustached ex-military generals to offer their views on why children get shot. They implicitly announce that if Kashmiri children have to live, their parents better keep them inside their homes. This is the liberal Indian media. On the more popular platforms, like Rediff News or Times of India, respondents openly call for genocide of Kashmiris.
It is crucial to read the low ethical barometer of this Delhi based media since it directly generates much Indian public opinion about Kashmir. How do societies become so pachydermic to gulp down with eager credulity such moral depravity? Even in the left–liberal big media, the systematic nature of deceit is clearly visible to the point that it has become farcical. The Hindu published an editorial that unscrupulously tried to make a case for curtailing Internet services to Kashmiris, one of the few places where the Indian government has not been completely successful in muzzling dissent. So disgruntled was this calumnious piece’s author that he created fictitious names to smear all the protest Kashmiris express online.
For long the existence of Kashmiri protest was shrugged off as directed by Pakistan. Now after those theories have fallen flat, attempts are made to mystify what Kashmiris want. Isn’t it truly baffling that, while the rest of the world clearly know what Kashmiris want, India’s liberal experts have a hard time comprehending this resounding reality? For the last 20 years these experts have repeatedly asked the question: “But what do Kashmiris want?” Kashmiris have declared what they want in clear, succinct slogans (always in English, and in Hindustani) over microphones, on banners, and in protests, by raising fists, throwing stones, and firing guns, through their tears, cries, and wails, through burnt homes, imprisoned lives, and wounded, life-deprived bodies.
The ones, who have finally managed to read the writing on the bloodied wall, fulminate in self-righteous anger that India will never give azadi to Kashmiris. This rejection of Kashmir’s freedom takes supercilious forms. They tell us Kashmiris to see ‘reason.’ Free Kashmir is not viable. In return, we ask them, if unfree, occupied Kashmir is viable for Kashmiris? They tell us Kashmir will become another playground for Great Power politics, and we ask them if India’s denial of Kashmir’s right to self-determination has not already turned Kashmir into one. Some of them warn us that independent Kashmir will be taken over by the U.S. But we ask them, have India and Pakistan not been ‘taken over’ by the U.S. already? Didn’t India eagerly, and without being asked, offer the U.S. its bases to attack Afghanistan? Don’t India and Pakistan race to Washington to get a little smile, a nod, a shoulder brush, an acknowledgement from Americans? They even tell Kashmiris that we will not survive, because we are landlocked, as if through history, which we successfully survived, we weren’t landlocked. (Are there no landlocked countries in the world?) And when these arguments sound all speculative, they tell us that Muslims in India will come under great threat from the majority Hindus if Kashmir separates from India. And, in the same breath they hasten to add that Indians are a tolerant, pluralist nation.
Only in the end they tell us that we need to see the “harsh reality” of India’s power. Well, this is an argument that is shorn of fake sympathy for Kashmiris, of moral self-righteousness, and of the supercilious concern for the viability of an independent Kashmir. This is an argument, which one can grant a degree of objectivity, if not morality. The argument that uses the rationale of India’s superior military power against the logic of the Kashmiri struggle for freedom, however, also lays bare the irreconcilable interests of the present nature of the Indian state and those of the Kashmiri people. To that question, however, we ask them, who more than Kashmiris has faced, and knows about, the “harsh reality” of India’s power? According to their argument it is clear that Kashmiris should live with the occupation, if they must at all. Some even point out that gradually the “perception” of military occupation will go away.
For instance, in a number of circles in India, it has falsely been argued that killings happen in reaction to protests, rather than the other way round. It is claimed that if protests were to stop, the so-called “cycle of death” will stop as well—a thesis India’s prime minister also delineated while asking Kashmiris to end protest. The fact is that the killings, protest or no protest, are intimately tied to the grating reality of the military occupation. This occupation, which lets half a million military personnel, along with a chain-link network of dark operatives of intelligence agencies, sit atop a dissenting population as a force for suppressive pacification, has uses for these regular killings.
Regular killings, maiming, rapes and molestations, random raids and arrests, merciless beatings, forced labor, daily dishonor, are all employed to destroy our social bonds, to pulverize our sense of self, to create utter disillusionment and despondency, to demolish the basis for any claim to self-respect, and ultimately to tear apart being political from being Kashmiri and achieving the death of these feelings of belonging. Or better, kill politics and turn us Kashmiris into artifacts of our presumed culture. Is this in the Kashmiri national interest, one may ask those who justify it all in the name of “Indian national interest”?
Occupation is a vicious process. It has gradually entered, and continues to enter, all aspects of Kashmiri life. Mass protests are outbursts, impassioned attempts to wriggle free. Freedom from this occupation is not just an aspiration, a wish, or a longing for a pipedream, but a desperate need. The struggle for life in Kashmir is the struggle for freedom. The protests surely intensify the occupation, but they also render the beast more visible, and easier to grasp. Ending protest will definitely not end the occupation, only it will be a sure, if slow route to a form of death down the road. The liberal discourse covers up all the contradictions present in the forced relations between India and Kashmir, and sells the dream of the Great Indian Democracy, a dream which large number of Indians themselves hardly believe in any more. This liberal discourse, which is too close to power, doesn’t mediate between Kashmiris and the Indian state. It is often just a face of the latter; a sleazy, slippery one.