Kashmir is happy, I say

Why, you ask, would I say Kashmir is happy? I’ll tell you why: Kashmir is happy because the test of whether or not people are happy is that they continue to exist and function. Well, I wouldn’t say that, of course. But Manu Joseph does. He asks:

Is it obscene to search for happiness in Kashmir, is it obscene for a writer from the south of India to wander around Kashmir interviewing people who will tell him that they want to get on with their lives despite the presence of the Indian Army?

It is an elementary finding of psychology that people get used to their lives. If I asked you now whether you would rather have a limb chopped off or win a million bucks in the lottery, you’d have no hesitation making, or any doubt about, your choice; but ask an amputee and a millionaire whether they are happy with their lives and you are likely to hear answers that aren’t that different. This isn’t that difficult to understand.

But let’s assume Manu Joseph isn’t into his pop-psychology. How about history, then?

India was a colony for two centuries under, one might add, the same country that also engendered the mess that has today become Kashmir. By the end, India had its own government with elected Indian representatives and a functional system of jurisprudence. We also had a Reserve Bank, the Railways, the Postal system and so forth. Manu Joseph would probably have commented that us Indians were a happy lot. Happy happy happy. Yes, there were those who were all charged up about not wanting to be somebody else’s colony, but the ordinary man or woman on the street was happy with their life. Sure, they rose up in agitation once in a while, but hey, they went about their lives most of the time.

A few days ago, some boys had tampered with an electrical transformer and they were picked up by the police. The stone-pelting was in protest against the arrest.

We don’t turn back, we head towards the venue of the apparent protest. There are about thirty boys standing on the road, doing nothing but laughing. They were the stone-pelters. The fun was over, for the moment.

How’s that for due diligence? Manu Joseph has, without so much as blinking, reduced the massive protests the valley has seen over the years to a bunch of miscreants ‘doing nothing but laughing’. His stories of why Kashmiris are happy are just as – I don’t know what the right word is – misguided; far-fetched; blinkered; overly-optimistic, perhaps, is a kinder way of putting it.

His judgement of Kashmiris and what they think of India and Pakistan is just bizarre. He claims, in an off-hand way, to know that Kashmiris dislike Pakistan, that they like India but still can’t get over the whole independence thing, and know in their hearts that a sovereign state is just not feasible. He even has a source. A journalist, no less.

That there are differing opinions about Kashmir even among the people of Kashmir isn’t surprising. Kashmir has a long and complicated history, and any solution to the Kashmir problem will have to involve soul-searching by everybody concerned.

The one point Manu Joseph makes that may be worth the wasted ink is that Kashmiris want development regardless of when, or whether, the political issue of Kashmir gets resolved. These are stories of the human spirit that is willing to live – and live well – despite being put in a miserable place, and deserve proper telling.

To call this ‘peace’ is misleading.They make a desolation, and call it peace, says Agha Shahid Ali. (But he’s one of those Kashmiris who has gone away to a western country with its burgers and Armani clothes, so why listen to him?)

To call this ‘happy’ is to trivialise the yearning for Azadi either as miscreants doing their mischief or as misguided idealism which really should know better. Given this, I shudder to ask what Manu Joseph might consider simmering discontent.

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In today’s disturbing news…

I read two news reports last night that left me feeling very bad. Both have to do with politicians in India, so if you are going to read ahead, you’ve been warned.

The first story was the CWG in Delhi. For an event that I don’t agree with at all, it still pains me how badly we suck at organizing a two week ten day event. With all the money that’s been put into CWG 2010, and all the people that have been discomfited, and all sorts of liberties taken with the poor of Delhi, you’d expect some level of competence at preparations for the event. You’d be dead-in-the-shark-infested-water wrong. The CEO of the games has said on record that the games village is filthy. The main stadium for the games, the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, still isn’t ready. There are stray dogs in every part of the games village. And this:

A foot-bridge linking some parking lot to the main stadium has collapsed, injuring workers, some seriously. And apparently, the engineer in charge of the project worth 10.5 crore rupees (can you guess what the bridge should actually cost? Experiential estimates should tell you there should be a factor of about 10 involved) thinks there’s still enough time to build the thing before October 3.

With all this, perhaps the only silver lining to the commonwealth games cloud is that India will never again be asked to host anything. Ever. The poor in India’s cities can perhaps think of breathing easy. The other news report that I found unsettling has no such silver lining, however.

The Union minister of State for Defence has said the army in Kashmir is being made a scapegoat, and that the army needs the AFSP Act to protect the human rights of the soldiers. That sentence has to be read twice to be believed.

In what has to be the stupidest thing anybody’s ever said in justification of the AFSPA, the minister betrays a remarkable lack of understanding of what the situation in Kashmir is. The army is being made a scapegoat? What that should mean, unless words have been redefined since I last took note, is that somebody wants to throw stones in Kashmir, and that they would’ve thrown these stones regardless of the presence of the army; and that they’re just saying that the stone-throwing is to protest the army as an excuse. If I tried saying that to you, would you be able to keep a straight face? And the fellow spouting this nonsense is in charge of the defence of this country. Goddamn.

Says the moron of a minister:

The will to create trouble and foment trouble is still there and that is why the infiltration is still continuing and till that happens I think the security blanket (is needed) […] it is an essential instrument for forces in strife-torn areas and gives them a security blanket. You don’t want somebody thrusting human rights violations on our soldiers. So you have to give some amount of security blanket to these guys who are doing a hard job and you really don’t know in conflict places where the threat is coming from and how the terror element is going to strike.

The people who need a ‘security blanket’ aren’t the army. The people who need a security blanket are the people who get shot at by the army, people who have to fight bullets with stones. The way to not get our soldiers killed is not to give them carte blanche in Kashmir; it is to not send them to Kashmir in the first place. Oh, and that will to create and foment trouble the minister seems so set against? Its called the desire for freedom and self-determination. We used to respect and value it, once upon a time.

Up is down, down is up…

I was told about this video that shows Indian security forces (some variety of soldiers, they look like)  in Kashmir throwing stones at Kashmiris in a residential area. On the other hand, we’re talking about Kashmir. This is just business as usual then, perhaps.

The worst part of the situation in Kashmir, people say, is that the Public Safety Act (PSA) allows Kashmiris to be locked up, even for protesting peacefully, without requiring that the security forces give details about who is locked up where – a suspension of Habeas Corpus, essentially. Public Safety Act. Ironic how these things are named, isn’t it?

While it isn’t hard at all to find examples of atrocities committed by Indian security forces in Kashmir, here’s something that at least looked heartening. Kashmiri policemen are resigning in droves. It also looks like many of them might even become part of the stone throwers – the ones throwing stones in the right direction, if you will.The Tehelka story also quotes many policemen who say on record that the CRPF – the Indian security forces – have gone from being in Kashmir to assist the local police in controlling the situation to taking over the job of the local police. What they’ve done with this control is, of course, plainly seen.

While no resolution to the Kashmir problem seems to be in sight, here’s something that should make everybody involved shudder. In the absence of any degree of compassion from either India or Pakistan, radical Islam – the Taliban kind – is taking root in Kashmir. Which may not be all that surprising, granted, but is as I said, terrifying. The group I’ve mentioned, the Daughters of Islam, is headed by a woman who wants her sons to become warriors for Islam, and not doctors or politicians. This is what awaits Kashmir, and us, if the present situation in Kashmir isn’t resolved amicably. This is the nightmare scenario – our own version of the Taliban, knocking on the doors of New Delhi.

That allowing Kashmir freedom would let the caprice of Pakistan get within striking distance of Delhi is how the Indian occupation of Kashmir is usually rationalised. You see what I mean when I say ironic?

Of thrown shoes and suspended policemen

Omar Abdullah joins the league of GW Bush and P Chidambaram, in that he’s had a shoe thrown at him at a public gathering too. The shoe was thrown from the VIP gallery at the Independence Day function at Bakshi stadium in Srinagar yesterday. (In contrast to GW and PC, though, the shoe was thrown from behind him. I’m sure some numerologist somewhere is working out what this ‘means’.)

The shoe-thrower was a suspended cop who somehow got past four levels of security with a black flag, (not to mention his shoes), which he tried to hoist after his propulsive endeavour. He also shouted slogans for Kashmir’s Independence, reports say. Omar Abdullah seems to have taken this incident in his stride, so to speak, asking for more shoes to be thrown at him. I’m sure there are many people who can’t wait to oblige. If only the leadership at the Centre said something like this!

The thing that bothers me about this incident isn’t that the J&K police is calling the man’s sanity into question – this sort of cynicism, one could almost have predicted. What bothers me is the solution the J&K police have come up with. They’ve suspended 15 policemen who were on duty at the venue.

News from the box

When you’re at home, like I currently am, your primary source of information become the embarrassingly many 24 hour news channels. Some of these stories registered, which means that they were especially worrisome.

1)  Times Now has run a story about some taped telephonic conversation between leaders of the Hurriyat and some other Kashmiri separatist faction in which these people are allegedly discussing how to make the stone-pelter riots bigger. Times Now claims that this is evidence that the recent riots in Kashmir were engineered by separatist elements. (a) What these conversations prove is that two weeks after the riots began, some leaders of some political parties want the riots to intensify, and not that the sentiments themselves are made up.  (b) Are we surprised that they see an opportunity in the groundswell that is currently present in Kashmir? Would one have said something about some march that Gandhi undertook because he sensed that the people of India were restless?

2) There have been an ever-growing number of  ‘honour-killings’ in North India, sanctioned by Khap Panchayats and supported, if not also carried out, by the family of the victims themselves. What honour these fuckers find in killing their own family members evades my understanding. What I find especially troubling about this pattern is the kind of people who are carrying out these murders. They aren’t old dyed in the wool patriarchs from two generations ago, imposing their ideology on a younger generation. The people committing these atrocities are urban-looking, articulate, probably college-educated motherfuckers. An interview with two of these idiots (aired on CNN-IBN’s Y-Not — as in ‘NOT gen-Y’) was especially scary.

It is a maxim of social thought that the vanguards of social freedom in one century are usually surpassed even by the laggards of the next. Thomas Jefferson may have been a great prime-mover for democracy, but his writings are also unbelievably racist, IF judged by today’s standards; nobody, of course, would do something like that and expect to be taken seriously. It seems, however, that we in India haven’t moved ahead at all. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was preaching women’s equality and widow remarriage in the first half of the 19th century. And here we are in the 21st century, with people having to live in fear of their own families because they married someone from the wrong caste, sect, religion, or whatever else the frikkin’ crazy assholes think brings them ‘honour’.

3) I saw some report about a school in Vadodara suspending students because somebody in the administration found that the students had badmouthed the school on their  facebook pages. Granted, this isn’t nearly as troubling as people killing family members for ‘honour’, but it is a transgression of the students’ right of free speech, and a grave one at that. The students, it seems, later apologized and were reinstated.

4) There was also the story of the boy who was killed because he couldn’t be brought to the hospital on time as the PM’s convoy happened to be somewhere in the astronomical vicinity of where the father happened to be driving. Yes, this is a problem, and it is well known to be a problem. Might I ask the TV channels running this, however, not to run the incoherent  rambling of a presumably grieving mother over and over again? Surely the people of this country can appreciate that this is a tragedy without also being shown pictures of a lady seemingly too choked to string together four sentences?

5) I envy people who have things other than watching TV most of the day to do, because I’m quite irked about the number of mentions of Paul the Octopus on national TV. I mean, it’s OK when it’s done for fun the first one hundred times, but these people mention that damn thing every time they talk about the world cup or football! So much so that I fully expect to be pointed to one of these stories the next time someone I happen to be having an argument with wants to ‘prove’ god to me.

6) The third-place play-off should be starting about now. Loew, Oezil, Podolski and some others are down with influenza, I hear. Hmm…

Kashmir Burns, Again

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.