The Mercury

An uprising for self-determinat­ion

The unpreceden­ted fight in Kashmir isn’t about lawlessnes­s or terrorism, it is about dignity – and the faster authoritie­s recognise this reality, the better

- Azad Essa

INDIAN-held Kashmir is reeling from a wave of protests following the killing of a rebel commander, Burhan Wani, on July 9. People in the region have once more taken to the streets to demand azadi, or freedom, from India.

In response, the Indian state has forcefully suppressed the largest, and most vehement people’s movement for self-determinat­ion in the region to date.

And make no mistake, the story of this uprising is indeed unpreceden­ted in the region’s history. It is indigenous-born, intersecti­ng class lines, and overwhelmi­ngly rural.

In response to this grassroots uprising, the Indian state has responded with force. In an attempt to prevent people from congregati­ng in large groups, a curfew has been imposed, mobile phone services have been disrupted, and internet connectivi­ty has been periodical­ly shut down.

Since July 9, Indian forces have killed at least 85 people, most of whom were young men participat­ing in protests. Some were throwing stones at police kitted out in riot-gear.

Others, including children or young women have also lost their lives, after suffering fatal beatings, subjects of a collective punishment. Take, for example, 11-year- old Nasir Shafi Qazi whose body was peppered with 300 plus lead-based pellets last Friday, and then beaten to death.

Or Yasmeena Akhter, a 21-yearold student, who was shot in the head while searching for her brother during a breakout of stone pelting in her locality in July.

These, and many other, deaths have left people seething. They has also revealed the lengths to which India will go to advance its authority on the people here.

More than 12 000 others have suffered injuries, including beatings, and respirator­y problems from prolonged exposure to tear gas and pepper gas.

One doctor estimates that around 1 000 people have been struck in the eye with lead pellets – the majority of whom will lose vision in at least one eye.

Indian forces have also barged into homes, breaking windows and harassing the inhabitant­s, including women, in their search for “trouble-makers”. But as a peoples’ movement for self-determinat­ion – every man, woman and child has become legitimate targets for the establishm­ent desperate for a return to the status quo. The call for freedom is not new. Since India was partitione­d in 1947, Kashmir has been claimed in full by both India and Pakistan. But Kashmiris say they want the chance to decide for themselves, and a vast majority of them would prefer to remain independen­t.

While the UN has passed resolution­s for a plebiscite to be held in the region, neither side has demonstrat­ed a sincere commitment for a referendum to take place.

India has also blatantly ignored and actively suppressed internatio­nal efforts to observe the outbreak of violence.

Last week, India refused the UN High Commission for Human Rights’ request to send a delegation on a fact-finding commission after it expressed concern over the “excessive use of violence.”

Then, Khurram Parvez, the co-ordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition Civil Society (JKCSS) was not allowed to travel to a session at UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva.

He was subsequent­ly arrested in Kashmir on charges of “inciting violence”.

Parvez’s arrest has prompted outrage from Amnesty Internatio­nal, Human Rights Watch and has seen writers like Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy rally for his release.

On Sunday, 17 Indian soldiers were killed in an early morning attack on a base in north Kashmir.

No one has claimed responsibi­lity for an attack that is likely to be blamed on Pakistan-based armed groups. India will, however, use these attacks to distract from the unpreceden­ted people’s uprising in Kashmir.

India and Pakistan both have little interest in letting Kashmir go.

Not only for its geo-political location as a buffer zone placed between India, China and Pakistan – but also for key water resources, one of the understate­d extenuatin­g factors of the conflict.

The Indus River that quenches the agricultur­al needs of India’s Punjab and Pakistan originate in Kashmir.

Also, in the broader Indian public, Kashmir is one place among a few that has been resisting the sovereignt­y of the Indian state. If they “let Kashmir go,” they are worried that it will dismantle the “idea of India”.

The fight over Kashmir is often framed as a religious one, but it is at its core, a political issue.

The fact that India refuses to acknowledg­e Kashmir as a dispute remains the root of the problem.

Instead, Narendra Modi’s government, like his predecesso­rs, has continued to brush off the dissent in Kashmir as being spurred on by Pakistan, or being an issue of poverty, or being perpetrate­d by a small number of misguided youth.

It is a mistaken approach that has left the Indian state searching for military solutions for a political dispute. And the repression has gone beyond sheer physical violence. Mobile and Internet services have been cut intermitte­ntly for two months.

Over the Eid celebratio­n last week, Kashmir was plunged into a communicat­ion void, as families were unable to call each other.

Meanwhile, no large congregati­ons were allowed for morning prayers. Instead, millions of Muslims “celebrated” an Eid beneath helicopter­s and drones surveying for areas where large crowds might have gathered.

The main mosque in Srinagar hasn’t offered prayers for 10 straight weeks. People are still not deterred. Journalist­s who have made the journey to south Kashmir, the heartbeat of the resistance, say: “people carry themselves as if they are free or will achieve independen­ce.” In Srinagar, pro-freedom slogans can be heard loudspeake­rs of the mosques at least five times a day.

The reverberat­ions are splinted between blasts of teargas canisters and pellet fire.

In the old city, Srinagar is on perpetual lock down.

Here, barbed wire is angled across roads, and armed forces in khaki uniform or camouflage, strapped with bulletproo­f vests and knee guards, stand at road corners with semi-automatics strapped around their shoulder.

Throughout the city, shops, schools and offices are completely shut, and lanes and gullies are sprinkled with rocks and stones –as residents refuse to allow normal activity to return to the streets.

This isn’t about lawlessnes­s or terrorism, as the Indian state suggests. This is about self-determinat­ion and dignity. And the faster the authoritie­s realize that, the better.

Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.

 ?? PICTURE: SHUAIB MASOODI ?? People voice their anger during a protest in Srinagar, in the wake of the killing of a rebel commander in Indian-held Kashmir. The Indian state has responded to the indigenous uprising with a show of force.
PICTURE: SHUAIB MASOODI People voice their anger during a protest in Srinagar, in the wake of the killing of a rebel commander in Indian-held Kashmir. The Indian state has responded to the indigenous uprising with a show of force.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa