Stories India’s Kashmir Experts Don’t Tell

I was in Vijbal, a small hamlet of fewer than hundred households, located seven kilometres from Sopore, in Baramulla (north of Srinagar in Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir), and just three kilometres from Afzal Guru’s village Jageer, when the news first broke. My cousins had invited me over for the dinner as I was scheduled to leave for Delhi anytime soon after Eid.

One of my friends from Tral, in Islamabad (south of Srinagar), informed me through a Whatsapp text: Burhan Wani martyred. I didn’t believe him. It was a usual rumour, I thought. Half an hour later, the Indian media erupted in celebration, announcing victory. The party began on twitter and continues on television. “…Burhan Wani elimination BIG NEWS”, tweeted Barkha Dutt of NDTV. Abhijit Majumdar, the managing editor of Mail Today wrote “With Burhan Wani’s killing, Indian forces have eliminated entire gang of Facebook terror poster-boys of #Kashmir one after the other. Salute.” Entire Valley descended in gloom and it began to rain incessantly. Outside, cars, trucks, motorcycles and other automobiles began to honk mindlessly. My aunt became curious and asked her son to look outside if everything is alright.

Burhan gove shaheed (Burhan has been martyred), I announced to them and they looked back at me in shock. My aunt hit her chest, as hard as she could, like women in Kashmir do and began to wail. I do not know how to translate that moment in words. Such display of mourning can only be felt, witnessed and committed to memory. Perhaps the rain gods felt agitated when she pulled out her headscarf, spread that on her hands and, looking skywards, began to yell. Ye kusu tawan cxunuth khudayoo (what tragedy did you send on us, oh God), she lamented. The sound of rains hitting the tin-roof turned louder.

I looked at my cousin, red-faced, eyes welling up, his hands shivering and his body shaking. From inside he was as agitated as everyone in the house. I signalled to him. He didn’t seem to notice anything. I wanted him to get the keys to his car. I wanted us to move out and join the peoples-convoy moving towards Tral. He didn’t seem to hear anything. On the fifth or maybe the sixth ring on his phone he moved, after looking at his phone, he looked at me. I knew it would be my mother. By the next morning, internet was blocked. Now people waited for the mobile networks to be snapped by the government to restrict the information flow from one place to another. People know how the State functions. In its execution of oppression, the Indian State is as routinised in the war-time as it is in the peace-time. People know, in coming days, the only way to gather information is to move internally, on foot, from village to village, avoiding the “highways” which are constructed in such a way so as to allow a smooth movement to the Indian military convoys.

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Rafiabad, the place where I live, is as militarised as any other place in Kashmir is. Indian army camps are located in such a manner that every village, its people, have been assigned to one camp or the other which are located less than five kilometres from one another. They know the number of family members in a household, they know the number of males and females, educated and uneducated, new-borns, adults and old. They know our professions. They have numbered our houses. Categorised localities. Marked our streets. Our shops. Our playgrounds. Our apple orchards. They know the size of our courtyards and backyards. They even know the shape of our cowsheds. They know everything. Such extensive militarisation of our private and public spaces has affected the way our life functions. It makes us conscious of and suspect everything. That is perhaps the first thing a military occupation does. It interferes with the basic human instincts; thoughts, movement, relationship with the immediate environment.

Ferozpora, my village, is surrounded from all sides by apple orchards. Almost a hundred thirty of the two hundred families are apple growers, mine included. Achabal, a village adjacent to ours, towards Sopore produces apples in abundance. So does Tragpora on the other side. So do Ladoora and Hadipora. Vijbal and Doabgh, on the other hand, are mostly landless. A huge chunk of the population either own the band-saws and mills or work there. They produce wooden boxes for apple packaging. A section of them are famous cooks in the Valley and beyond. Some are government employees and others work as daily wagers and only a handful have land of their own.

As entire Valley shut down in mourning—protests, stone-pelting, congregational funeral prayers—people began to count the dead. The numbers kept rising. The protest demonstrations kept swelling. The campaign of killing, blinding, maiming and torturing of people continued. The Indian State and the constructed rivals within Jammu and Kashmir lost all the ground, if at all any, they had covered by creating divisions—Shia-Sunni, Muslim-non-Muslim, Kashmiri-Ladakhi, Tableegi-Salafi, majority-minority—to obfuscate the truth. The façade fell down and disappeared like the tear-gas smoke in the air incensed by the songs of freedom. In the newsrooms in India, the usual suspect was being accused of fomenting the trouble. Pakistan, they say, is responsible for causing unrest in Kashmir. The claim is that 24 crores rupees have been sent from across the border. They mean, in essence, that 24 crores are more in worth than 80 thousand crores. However, a Kashmiri will agree but translate it differently. The 24 had a familiar, loved and longed for face and the 80 had a boring, loathed and hated face on the display. Sometimes, one imagines, if Pakistan were to, by an act of pure miracle or magic, shift (ok, tectonically) from here and appear somewhere near Antarctica, where will the Indian State, its jingoistic media, derive its sense of existence from? Where will they throw the culpability of their own failure and guilt, own deception and debauchery? Bhutan, maybe. They cannot dare hold China responsible.

The protests do not relent. The fatigue does not set in. The promises of accused-will-be-brought-to-justice are finely distilled out as same old trash, a divisionary, time buying tactic (remember, the people know how the State functions) and the instructions in the calendar—a word that has assumed new meaning in our lexicon—are followed religiously. “Do your work, don’t allow government employees to join duties, follow the calendar”, announced a pro-freedom leader while addressing the funeral congregation of a Hurriyat member in Sadipora Rafiabad who was killed under mysterious circumstances by the unidentified gunmen. Few varieties of apple were ready to be plucked from the trees and packed, that was the work people were asked to do. “Do not stop civilian cars plying on the roads. Anyone who leaves his house today is out of some compulsion or emergency. We are together in this”, he said.

On one of the days (dates have lost their significance) following the martyrdom of Commander Burhan Wani, people of Rafiabad assembled near the Eidgah in Achabal. People from adjacent villages poured in. The announcements were made through loudspeakers from Masjids. As the numbers kept rising, slogans swept across causing panic inside the Indian army camp situated at the entrance to the Jageer village on way to Sopore. People started to march towards Sopore. The procession kept swelling, some began to march through apple orchards to keep pace with the sloganeers at the front, and others kept watch at children. As the protesters neared the army camp, two armoured vehicles, called Baktarbans in Kashmir, blocked the way on one side and they had sealed the rest of the road with the concertina wires. The marching demonstration came to a halt. Sloganeering did not stop. Soon there was chaos. As the stones were hurled on the armoured vehicles, more army men from the camp arrived and started walking towards the protesters with guns and lathis. Few protesters started to walk back. A direct confrontation with the Indian Army, we are told by our elderly folks back home, should be avoided. Few among the protesters didn’t relent. The stood their ground firm.

Some of these protesters were later picked up. All security installations in Kashmir are equipped with high-quality surveillance cameras to keep a watch on every movement around. From the footage, they identified the persons who were at the front and later picked them up. They knew these boys. Their addresses. Their house numbers. They could pick them from anywhere, the bedrooms included, let alone the playgrounds. Inside the camp, they were tortured. One of the tortured boys later said:

They made us stand naked. They abused us, spat at us, beat us up with their guns, broke dozens of sticks on our backs, and used their belts to turn our backs bloody red. They threatened to kill us. Some of us were made to jump in pohur (a tributary of river Jehlum), naked. I was tied in front of the armoured vehicle and taken out on the road. They wanted to turn me into a spectacle for their own entertainment and also make an example of their brutality so that others would desist from protesting. But as soon as the vehicle made it to the road, and as soon the boys spotted me tied to the front of it, they stopped pelting stones and a few ran towards me. They helped me untie myself and took me home. But look at me now, I am going out to protest again in a few days.

Another one, a boy in his pre-teens, lying flat in his room, front side down, smiled as I entered to see him. He knew me (and I won’t say how). He didn’t appear to have moved by the torture at all. He was waiting for the cotton to be removed from a few spots on his back. “I remember the face of the army man who beat me up”, he said, “I won’t spare him”. He was clearly enraged. He wanted to avenge what was done to him. There was a clear danger of revenge in his eyes. It is this anger and this sense of revenge in the pre-teen kids which the Indian Kashmir expert’s and filmmakers amplify and manipulate and present the issue as a problem of inteqaam (revenge). They also see in him a rage informed by a Salafi or a Wahabi or a Jama’ati version of Islam. In him, they see a problem which can’t be solved by providing justice, nor by allowing him to speak for himself, nor by listening to the slogans he shouts at the top of his voice, but by offering him a laptop. (I am reminded of my seven-year-old cousin who plays the most sophisticated of games on his Apple iPad and watches Doraemon on YouTube.)

India’s Kashmir experts have, like in the past, tried to attribute the “anger on the streets” to various reasons and they believe and want every Indian to believe that only these reasons make a Kashmiri angry. We need not go back into the history to know how Indian public opinion has been shaped by these Kashmir experts as their association or one may say obsession with Kashmir is so deep that they produce enough evidence for us to analyse that. Here we will talk only about the work these Kashmir experts produced this year.

In April earlier this year, when an Indian army trooper was accused of molesting a female teenager student in Kupwara, a battery of reporters were dispatched from New Delhi to report the aftermath in which five protesters were killed including one woman. The Kashmiri reporters working for various Indian media organisations, both in TV and print, barring a few exceptions, were asked to ‘stand down’ or take a leave or assist the reporters airdropped from Delhi. The purpose was to normalise the “crisis” and help the government take control of the situation. While as reporters regularly brought contradictory versions of the actual incident, India’s ‘Kashmir experts’ were quick to process the information and construct a narrative which systematically helped India to shift the focus from molestation to killings, from killings to a cricketer, and from the cricketer to Sajad Lone.

Praveen Swami, one of India’s leading Kashmir experts, a journalist who has the audacity to tell a Kashmiri that he knows more about Kashmir than the Kashmiri himself, tried to historicise the violent protests which erupted after what he termed as “false rumours” of sexual harassment. For Swami, “The underlying crisis in Kashmir needs to be read against the slow growth, from the 1920s, of neo-fundamentalist proselytising movements.” He implies that allegations of sexual violence against an Indian army personnel, true or false, do not merit any protests as per secular traditions and only religious movements, like the Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith and Jama’at-e-Islami, can inspire people to take such a recourse. For him, it is only because of the “religious fundamentalism” imbued in young Kashmiris that they chose to face and pelt stones at the gun-wielding Indian forces. Swami’s theory finds quick approval in the writings of many other Kashmir experts. Consider, for example, David Devadas and reporter Aarti Tickoo Singh. Both of them wrote about the protests in Kashmir following the molestation incident. Devadas, like Swami, believes that the allegations levelled against the Indian trooper are false and the case of sexual molestation, if any, should be made against the youth on the streets because they molested girls during a marathon run in Kashmir University last year. Aarti Tickoo Singh, locates the reason behind protests in high rates of unemployment.

For the killings in Kupwara, Devdas provided the same justification as Mehbooba Mufti did recently in a press conference. Devdas wrote that the different “narratives emphasise that unarmed ‘civilians’ were killed by armed forces, with no reference to the fact that the mobs attacked an army bunker and a camp before the army retaliated.” Clearly, the five people killed by the Indian forces had not gone to buy milk. Four months after Devadas concedes that “It still isn’t clear what exactly lies at the heart of the current unrest.” Aarti Tickoo Singh, believes  that in 2010 “stone pelting phenomenon that led to the death of over 100 youth during clashes with the forces, was restricted to urban poor Sunni Muslim youth in Srinagar.” Even though an interviewee, Javed, tells her that he and his family are “traditional Hanafis”, she still begins by asking “Are stone pelters influenced by radical Wahhabi indoctrination?” By the end she gets the answer she seems to be looking for. A study by “Police officials” on “stone pelting socio-economic demographics” tells her that, among other reasons, “lack of entertainment resources and Saudi-funded religious radicalisation” motivate the youth towards violence. Very recently, besides the above mentioned regular lot, Prem Shankar Jha and Tavleen Singh—who both have written a book each on Kashmir—made similar reductionist, highly prejudiced, and purely colonialist remarks about Kashmiris. Almost in a style characteristic of the “Lord of the Times”, Mr. Arnob Goswami, Tavleen Singh declared, “never, never, never be another redrawing of India’s borders. So that the children who want to die in this fight for ‘azadi’ will realise that they are fighting a war that is already lost.” For “Kashmir’s violent children”, whom her co- Kashmir expert, Jha, sees as people “devoid of the humanity”, all that she to offer is a laptop.

Many times we have observed that these Kashmir experts provide fodder for the lies the political class need to utter so as to stay relevant. Praveen Swami’s famous “five police station theory”, for example, can be seen as an “intellectual” inspiration to Mehbooba’s “only-four-bunkers-in-Kashmir-now” revelation. Devadas’s justification for the killings in Kupwara came in handy for her at the press conference. Aarti Tickoo Singh’s interjection made her curious to know whether Kashmiris want “Syria-type azaadi”. This is nothing new. This has been the standard practice of the Indian intellectual class, media, and the academics and so-called public intellectuals, to side with the establishment, the State, on matters of Kashmir, which often gets euphemised as a national security issue. Even the subaltern stream of thought can be held complicit in reducing such questions national liberation into security issues. Besides providing fodder for the political rhetoric, some academics, even at the global level have sided with the State to help them trample upon the dispossessed and oppressed masses. In order to maintain its control over and occupation of Kashmir, India has tried various methods to break the movement for self-determination in Kashmir. The following case may appear fitting:

Somewhere in the middle of Vietnam War, around 1965, when both human and economic losses on the American side were attaining astronomical proportions, and when no military action from the anti-communist block against the North Vietnamese army deterred the communist allies, a Harvard economist came up with a theoretical model to rein in the enemies. Thomas Schelling, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2005 for his contributions to game theory, wrote a book, Arms and Influence (1966), in which he introduced a concept called Compellence. Theoretically, compellence is one States’ ability to coerce another state into action usually through military means to bring them to the negotiating table by inflicting damage to the extent that they lose the resolve to fight. Although America could not achieve any success in their operation against North Vietnam, nor in any other war it fought since then, many other states have tried compellence in an attempt to rein in enemy states and dissenting populations from territories these states are in conflict with. Azerbaijan’s illusory belief that compellence can succeed in forcing Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to change policy, India’s misplaced notion that an economic blockade can force Nepal into considering any of their (Indian) demands in making any changes in the constitution, among other examples, have illustrated that compellence as a strategic tool is a failure.

In Kashmir India continuously tries to bring the “stakeholders”—as if Kashmir were a corporation—to the negotiating table to talk, an old trick to buy time, and delay any resolutions people may bring on their own. The Indian State has used its military force to kill, in massacres and staged fake encounters, break people will to fight through enforced disappearances and rape. It has used brute force to torture and maim, pellets to blind people for life, tear-gas and pepper-gas shells to suffocate children. But the protests have not died down. Military compllence did not work. Now, they use the card of economic blockades. While as the supply of essentials has been halted on and off, the Indian security establishment has systematically denied people access to petroleum, milk, and health services by disallowing any movement particularly on occasions when the resistance leadership has asked people to relax the shutdowns. The police and other security agencies, army, in particular, have imposed restrictions on night movement. The protests, however, continue. This is what has annoyed the Indian state the most. Even after killing more than 70 people, mostly young, injuring more than 8000, and blinding dozens, Indian armed forces, who number more than seven lakhs have been unable to keep people from coming into the streets to defy curfews, challenge India’s military prowess with stones and slogans and assert their own aspirations loud and clear.

On the 54th day of the continuing protests in Kashmir, the Indian state agencies tried another card to economically paralyse the people. Fruit Mandi Sopore, Asia’s second largest fruits and vegetable market, has been functioning smoothly all these days. After the martyrdom of Commander Burhan Wani, in a meeting between apple growers and commissioning agents at the Mandi it was decided, after consultations with the Joint Resistance Camp, that the Mandi shall open at 4:00 am and close down by 7:00 am for sales and all other purposes. For almost twenty days the Mandi functioned smoothly. Sales in the morning, shutdown and protests during the day. By ending July, on one morning, government forces in civvies pelted stones on vehicles and damaged property inside the Mandi area. The growers and the commissioning agents didn’t relent and followed the resistance groups program. On the morning of 31st August, I spoke to my father who informed me about the killing of another youngster, Mehraj-ud-Din alias Danish. He said that those who say morning prayers in the Mandi Masjid were locked from outside by the Indian forces and all lorries and trucks carrying apple packs were stopped and sent back. No sales were allowed to take place. Protests erupted and forces barged into different villages, beating people and damaging houses. They killed one, Danish Manzoor, and injured over a dozen.

This peoples-run institution provides jobs and livelihood to hundreds of youth from the adjacent areas of Sopore, Rafiabad in particular. Recently when a policeman from Bahrampora Rafiabad resigned I called my uncle and asked him the reason as to why the policeman did so. My uncle explained that in the most simple and logical terms:

He gets paid rupees 1500 per month as a policeman to kill his own people. If he works with some apple grower here, he will earn rupees 400 a day, which is rupees 12000 a month. So why to risk his life for a mere pittance!

In 2013, Fruit Mandi Sopore did business worth rupees 2500 crores. Since then, it has increased and shown high degree of resistance against the attempts made by successive governments to either overtake it—by means of fielding their party workers in association elections—or simply subject it to official apathy—by leaving the roads towards it either dilapidated, by allowing erratic water and power supplies, etc. The fact that this hub of economic activity is located in Sopore—centre for pro-freedom activities—also adds to the governmental negligence. Over two million people in Kashmir derive their means of sustenance from this market, directly or indirectly. At the peak of apple season, as many as 30,000 people visit the market each day. So to break this phase of movement for freedom in Kashmir, the Indian State, among other things, wants to make the market completely dysfunctional. Breaking Kashmir economically helps the Indian State to create a situation where it can ‘show’ that the “Kashmir problem” is one economic and thus requires more development packages, more employment schemes and, possibly, investment of the private sector. The people, the apple growers and the commissioning agents have, however, not yielded to the governmental pressure. Many in India wonder where Kashmiris derive their sustenance and resilience from. Even though many Kashmir experts we spoke about above do believe that unemployment is the reason for the “discontent in valley”, and economic blockade or shortage of milk for their children may break them, it is the likes of apple industry, economically, which proves to be the Achilles’ heel for the methods of compellence of India in Kashmir. And not being able to kill, blind and maim us all, India is trying all means possible to break us.

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Basharat Ali Written by:

Basharat Ali is Research Scholar at MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. He blogs at www.basharatalisays.wordpress.com

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