The Divisions and the Divide

After repeatedly failing to act with any integrity or bare minimum decency for the last five years of their rule–forget improve people’s lives–the parasitic political formations in Kashmir, led by the National Conference, have come out with their latest joke. Local newspapers uncritically reported that the plan to “administratively” divide Jammu and Kashmir into further 650 units was a major event. NC’s statements were quoted verbatim to present the plan as an equivalent to the ‘Land to Tiller’ program of the early 1950s, based on which tens of thousands of landless peasant toilers had received land while their crushing debts were written off. ‘Land to Tiller’ was a great achievement indeed, and would have been one of most progressive political events to happen in Kashmir’s modern history, had it not been accompanied by the 99-year leases on Kashmiri lands that were handed to the Indian occupying forces. Our land was returned to us with one hand and taken with the other–simultaneously.

But ‘Land to Tiller’ is an old story now. What about the new divisions plan? Given our long experience with the parasitic forces in Kashmir, this new plan or some other similar deceit, should have been expected. The election drama is again round the corner. Apart from overblown announcements of lofty new plans, we will see sops to government employees, fake threats of resignation, some statements that diverge from the scripted narrative (scripted by the Indian establishment), and a few other antics as we move further into this year. The divisions plan is nothing but a new shenanigan; at best a nominal government’s attempt at showing that they do sometimes make decisions (that not everything is decided in Delhi), at worst, this plan is indeed also scripted in Delhi, perhaps to give the Congress party an advantage in the elections by rearranging the electorate. The second seems unlikely, for India really does not need to go to this length to make the Congress win; they can just rig the elections as they have been doing. Democracy in Kashmir is, after all, a managed affair.

The plan is also being trumpeted as some kind of a solution to the ‘problem of governance’, at the end of five years of anti-Kashmiri politics, during which time NC and other parties consistently represented India and their colonial interests in Kashmir. The sole face Kashmiris have seen from these parasitic formations is the volte-face: each time Indian child killers killed, maimed, raped, destroyed, or burnt, NC, Congress and PDP were ready to clean up behind them, sow confusion, produce cynicism, accuse Kashmiris of exaggerating, and unleash police on them for not being obedient to the Occupation. Each time Kashmiris expressed their political will for azadi, the parasites kept saying Kashmir is dependent on money from India–when it was only these parasites that have been dependent on the latter. (To be fair, perhaps, it would be more correct to say that the Indian establishment and the Kashmiri parasites have been dependent on each other. It is more of a symbiotic relationship than parasitic. Kashmiri parasites have a parasitic relationship with the people they claim to represent).

In any case, the new divisions are inconsequential. That is so because the only divisions that matter in Kashmir are the ones Indian army has carved to control the Tehreek. Those divisions are not run by tehsildars or patwaris (government revenue administrators) but by Kilos, Romeos, Victors, and Deltas (Indian military’s special counterinsurgency forces; one of the most brutal militaries in the world operating in civilian areas during peacetime). If people think that the new divisions would mean more focused attention to their problems, they are wrong, and it certainly beggars the imagination. After everything Kashmiris have witnessed, who really has any expectations left from the parasitic forces?

Yet, I do not want to blame the people. Kashmiris have been crushed not only militarily but also under a suffocating political system. This system has been outsourced to a mediocre Kashmiri elite who, if they were not supported by the Indian bayonet, would find no respectable place, leave aside leadership role, in any thoughtful society. The education minister in Kashmir, for instance, is perhaps the most violently foul-mouthed politician ever to have been appointed the speaker of any government assembly anywhere in the world in the three-hundred year history of the parliamentary system of rule. He is responsible for the education of Kashmiri children. The only saving grace is that the government-run education system is so dysfunctional that the minister’s malignant speech skills, in which the worst sexist expletives perform the function of punctuation, will likely not even trickle down to children.

Yet, there is something worrying which the new divisions plan has unleashed: a different kind of division, a more consequential divide.

People from the countryside came out to protest that their areas were not given due considerations when new divisions were created. Some townspeople in Srinagar and elsewhere have derided the countryside people for this, seeing the demand for new divisions as a betrayal of the tehreek! While the new divisions plan is certainly inconsequential in terms of meeting people’s actual needs, and mischievous (designed to fragment people)–and it is important to critique it as such–what we have seen unfortunately is a snowballing of exactly the kind of discourse that the occupiers had calculated to be its outcome: the divide between the town and the countryside. In most of the talk around this, an important thing seems to have been forgotten. Not only has the countryside seen the worst Indian atrocities over the last twenty-three years, but much of the armed struggle has been kept alive in the countryside. That this has happened away from the lenses of the media, doesn’t mean that the countryside has had it any easy. While one cannot emphasize enough the sacrifices of rural folk for the Tehreek, stating it this way makes it appear as if they don’t own the struggle. All Kashmiris own the struggle, because the struggle owns all Kashmiris.

And yet, on the angst over the reality of some people in the countryside demanding tehsils etc, I am actually quite curious to know why demanding a tehsil or division is thought to be automatically opposed to demanding azadi, or is seen as detrimental to the movement? If a village demands water supply or a neighborhood in Srinagar demands road repair, would it mean that that village or that neighborhood in Srinagar doesn’t demand azadi anymore? It is not a favor they are asking from India, but their rights as taxpayers. They would be perfectly legitimate in asking for tehsils or roads even if Martians were occupying Kashmir–as long as the Martians collected taxes from Kashmiris.

NC and PDP used to tell us that Kashmiris want jobs and not azadi, but that was not true; people need everyday things as well as azadi; they need jobs and work but not necessarily at the cost of azadi. If there are people who want the ‘safety’ of government jobs, it is because India has thwarted potential for any productive work in the Kashmiri society. We don’t have industry where people can be productive and earn an honest living. This has happened not because people don’t know how to set up industries or work honestly, but because all the infrastructure required for the industries to grow has been diverted either for military use (roads as supply lines) or to feed industrialization in northern India. Indian theft of Kashmiri electricity, for instance, has prevented Kashmiri industries from developing. Blocking Kashmir’s relations with the wider world to the east (East Asia) and the west (Pakistan and Central Asia) has meant people have not been able to trade and sell their goods in more places.

That people have been made dependent is not people’s fault. So, to assume that Kashmiris demanding things that might affect their everyday lives is somehow in contradiction to the Tehreek is to remain oblivious to how the occupation has bred this dependency. And this dependency needs to be undone. But we cannot expect that to come from individuals or any particular community. These are structural issues, which will be swept away with the end of the Occupation. There are thousands of Palestinians who are working or are forced to work in Israeli establishments, but it does not mean that the Palestinian struggle for an independent state is somehow diluted or that it has changed Palestinian hearts about their dispossessors. Therefore, to give people stark choices like azadi or jobs, azadi or roads, azadi or tehsils, is not the smartest thing to do.

There have been an enormous number of social agitations concentrated on issues that do not appear directly connected to the Tehreek: employees union protests, doctors protests, etc. But we will be mistaken to assume that these other issues are opposed to the main struggle of azadi. These ARE related to azadi, and people involved in them need to be shown how the Indian occupation of Kashmir has produced social and economic conditions in which the everyday demands of people will not be met. Tehreek activists need to go out and explain how only azadi will allow sincere solutions to the basic questions  of everyday life. That would be better than allowing the occupiers to claim that these other protests mean that Kashmiris don’t care about their political rights as long as a few crumbs are thrown their way.

All the social protests in Kashmir need to be tapped into and turned toward the struggle against the primary contradiction in the society: the illegal Indian occupation. We have often waited for big moments and ignored the below-the-radar, yet multiplying social protests. Instead of seeing these protests as a distraction, we need to see them as tributaries to the larger struggle. To turn them into tributaries of the larger struggle for azadi would require serious organizational efforts. In 2008 the struggle started with the movement against the land transfer, but pro-freedom parties were successful in making the case that the entire issue emerged from the fact that India occupies Kashmir and makes decisions in which the latter have no part. That is why 2008 then helped us to return to the original struggle, and along the way many things became clear, especially with the Indian economic blockade of Kashmir in August and September 2008.

We have other examples where major movements have begun with the proliferation of smaller ones. In Tunisia, a street vendor’s protest against government confiscation, humiliation and inability to find a decent life, turned into a mass mobilization that led to the fall of that country’s decades old dictatorship. It was not just one protest, even though media iconized Mohamad Bouazizi’s self-immolation as such, but innumerable such Tunisian experiences that condensed into Bouazizi’s singular act. We need to keep our eyes and ears open. One never knows when a small protest or demonstration against any mundane issue may ignite a wider revolution. Especially those of us who understand that the pressing social and economic questions and struggles in Kashmir have their roots in the Occupation, we can hardly ignore these social protests as secondary.

In short, what I am trying to say is that instead of giving people stark choices between problems of everyday life and azadi, a more thoughtful endeavor would be for the Tehreek to own these everyday problems. Turn each problem in the society into a political problem of the Occupation. We need to radicalize everyday life. Turn small demands into demanding the impossible. Impossible because under the existing system of Occupation these demands will be impossible for the Occupiers to meet.

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