My opinion about how the Kashmir debacle should be handled has been quite unshakable. It was, however, pointed out to me recently that the behaviour of the Indian government in militarily occupying Kashmir now, given that it chose to act the way it did in 1949, is pragmatically the best we can hope for. The reasoning is as follows. Kashmir is not only a point of contention between India and Pakistan, but also a major playing ground for the Taliban, now that there is an American presence in Afghanistan. Any attempt to grant Kashmir freedom, or turn Kashmir over to Pakistan will be met with international resistance as any power the Taliban gains is dangerous for the world. My only argument on this front is that six million Kashmiris cannot be sacrificed so that the world may sleep better. The world shouldn’t be sleeping better when it knows that Kashmir is aflame. Perhaps I hope for too much.
There is also the matter of what will happen in the rest of India. The nightmare scenario is that the 14% of the Indian population that is muslim will be slaughtered on a scale that will put Narendra Modi and his pogrom in Gujarat to shame. I agree that this nightmare scenario seems quite possible, even inexorable… Unless we educate the Indian public.
Consider, for example, the killing of 11 Kashmiri teenagers in the last three weeks. The Indian paramilitary forces fired at kids they thought were protesters. (Incidentally, what were the protesters protesting? The killing of other innocent people by the CRPF. Even by official accounts. It turns out that the kids that were actually gunned down weren’t really protesting anything. They were on their way to the market.) The point I’m trying to make is this: the coverage of this issue by the media is appalling; and the rhetoric employed by the Government is despicable. P Chidambaram, the Home Minister, claims the ‘trouble’ is being fomented by the LeT. (Because Kashmiris are of course, spineless insects who are incapable of becoming enraged when innocent people are randomly gunned down by the armed forces of an occupying power, I guess.)
The security forces also claim that rubber bullets were used in crowd control. The thing about rubber bullets is that they are designed to not be fatal. And most security forces who are trained to use rubber bullets are trained to fire them into the ground, to ‘skip-fire’ them, just in front of the protesters. That the paramilitary forces employed in crowd-control in Kashmir managed to kill 11 people will rubber bullets is, if the armed forces are to be believed about the rubber bullets, a statement about how ‘well-trained’ our armed forces are.
The media continually and consistently downplays the reasons that Kashmiris are engaging in these protests and focusses instead on whatever link to the LeT there may or may not be. There is also an inordinate amount of time spent discussing whether the Amarnath Yatris and their Yatra will be safe, and how there was ‘trouble’ the last time the Amarnath Yatra had a problem. What the media never seems to report, however, is that when the Central government tried to allot land the the Amarnath Shrine Board, and there were protests against this perceived insult, not one Yatri was harmed; the yatris were in fact protected by Kashmiris, as is the tradition with this thing. Let me repeat that. NOT ONE yatri was harmed. The yatris were given hospitality and safe passage as they always are, and always have been, since before god started residing in Amarnath, and started requiring believers to go visit him.
It seems to me a tragic existential reality that Kashmiris are destined to be prisoners in their own homes in order to avoid a massacre in the rest of the country. Unless the irony of India occupying territory whose people want freedom is brought home to the people here. Unless the people here are informed about the realities of Kashmir – that Kashmiris aren’t bloodthirsty no-gooders who are up to nothing but trouble; they want their homes, they want their lands, they want their freedom. And more than anything else, they want not to be shot at by an invading armed force for the crime of walking to the market to sell apples.