On 29th May night (2009) in Shopian in Kashmir, two girls Nilofer and Asiya were raped and murdered. The administration tried to prove that it was a case of death due to drowning. The valley erupted into severe protests. The favorite slogan of the protesters from last several years has been, Hamen Kya Chahiye-Azadi (what do we want-Freedom). Every act of trampling on the interests of the people of valley leads to the same. Last time it took place when the Amarnath agitation sparked by the faulty move of Pro BJP governor of Kashmir, to acquire vast stretch of land for the shrine.
The present incident is very disturbing. It shows the role of the army and para-military forces, the attitude of administration in toeing lines which are very much insulting to the people of Kashmir, which cover up the crimes of the forces. Also one should note the tragic plight of the Kashmiri’s and more so the Kashmiri women at the hands of the people with the gun, the militants and the army both. The rising militancy in Kashmir has led to the deployment of more and more forces in Kashmir. Last two decades in particular have seen the life drying out there, and the suffering of people caught in the cross fire between the militant-terrorist outfits and the Indian armed personnel.
The popular perception has been that the Kashmir issue is due to the separatism of Muslims, and that Islam and Jihad is the major culprit. Kashmir has been mired right from the beginning by the ultra nationalism of Hindu right pressuring the Indian government to abolish article 370 and fully merge Kashmir with India. After the tragic partition of India, Kashmir’s Raja Harisingh decided to remain independent. The Hindutva forces in valley said that a Hindu Kingdom Kashmir (since the king was a Hindu) should not merge with secular India. When Pakistan’s army, disguised as tribals, attacked Kashmir, the People of Kashmir as represented by the National Conference with its leader Sheikh Abdullah, did not want to merge with Pakistan.
In the face of aggression Maharaja Harising appealed to Indian government to send its army to protect Kashmir from the attack by Pakistan army. On the insistence of Sheikh Abdullah in particular, the army was sent after the treaty of accession was signed. With Indian army intervention, Kashmir’s 2/3 became part of India with all the clauses of autonomy, article 370. With general elections Sheikh Abdullah swept the polls and became the Prime Minister of Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah must be credited as being one of the most progressive leaders of the time as he was determined to undertake land reforms, which he did once he came to power.
Immediately after the treaty was signed Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the leader of Hindu Mahasabha, started campaigning for abolishing the clauses of autonomy and to forcibly merge it with India. This pressure had its effect and the attitude of Indian Government, over a period of time, hardened towards the autonomy clauses. With such attitude developing, Sheikh felt regret for his decision for accession, started loud rethinking and started talking to other countries, including the US and China. With this the Indian Govt. declared him as anti National and he was imprisoned for long years. This in turn led to the alienation of Kashmir people. As such on one hand Kashmir has been the victim of global imperialist policy on one hand and the attempts to go back from the promise of autonomy, on the other. US was clear that in the geographically crucial area, Kashmir, which has its border with many countries, cannot be left alone and so its stooge Pakistan did all possible to help the disgruntled elements in Kashmir. The later events showed the attitude of India and Pakistan as powers trying to take hold of the real Estate called Kashmir. Kashmir was seen not as constituted by people with their own aspirations but as a piece of property.
In all fairness it must be said till Nehru was alive he cautioned restraint and believed in winning over the hearts and minds of the people of Kashmir. Even at his time the pressure of Ultra Nationalists inside and outside the Government kept going up and gradually army was projected as the answer to the ‘problem of Kashmir.’ Ironically Pakistan which so far has been in the chains of the rule of Army, Mullahs and America, named the part of Kashmir, under its control as Azad Kashmir (Independent Kashmir)! And freedom for Kashmir has been the favorite theme of most of the dictators ruling the roost, of course with due support from Uncle Sam. What an irony; Dictators talking of Freedom! The trajectory of events is long, how after Sheikh Abdullah’s concern of autonomy changed over to Independence in the decades of 1970s, and in 1980-1990 to armed struggle for Azad Kashmir.
Interestingly after the defeat of Al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan, many of them turned their attention to Kashmir and partly communalized the issue. Mostly the theme of the Kashmir struggle has been Kashmiriyat, a concept which incorporates the values of Vedanta, Buddha and Sufis.
India kept sending more and more armed personnel to ‘solve’ the problem. There has been one Indian soldier for every 6-7 Kashmiris. What can be the life under such circumstances? Army is meant to fight the enemies, and not for any prolonged stay in any area. The army stay, domination in an area creates different type of vested interests. Army is no holy cow! From times immemorial army has been plundering and raping apart form other things. While it will be wrong to tar all the armed personnel with single brush, it is also true that section of army’s attitude to women has not been any thing good to write about. Be it the case of Manorama in the North East or the present case of Nilofer and Asiya, the tale is tragic.
The good news from Kashmir has been that last tow lections have been conducted fairly democratically, and even the separatists like Sajjad Lone are now opting for the democratic system with changed equation in Pakistan, with democracy struggling to come in there, the portents are healthy. It is time that army is withdrawn at a rapid pace, democratic process is deepened, guilty of violence against women and their protectors are punished and army rests in barracks rather than dictating terms in Kashmir. Hope Mr. Chidambaram promise in this direction does not remain merely on paper.