The distressing death toll in Kashmir is still rising. Amid the unrest and tragedy unfolding in Kashmir, it was encouraging to listen to two brave and articulate young women from Kashmir – Ifrah Butt and Natasha Rather – who are among five co-authors of the book Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? (Zubaan, 2016), in a programme organised in Kolkata by Ardhek Aakash (Half the Sky).
Despite healthy debates and differences over contemporary events, the interaction reaffirmed that a large common ground exists between those seeking justice against sexual violence in Kashmir and the rest of India.
Wounds of Kunan-Poshpora
The young authors had embarked upon their writing project in the wake of the anti-gangrape protests in Delhi in December 2012. The jury is still out on whether the large mass of people, especially the students and youth, who hit the streets in Delhi and elsewhere in 2012, came out only to seek justice for Nirbhaya or whether the incident proved to be a tipping point for all the pent up anger and resentment against the appalling state of violence against women across the country.
|More than a hundred people are being treated for pellet injuries in Kashmir.|
With rape being the fastest growing crime in India, increasing by over 900 percent since 1971, such protests were perhaps just waiting to happen. Out of every 100 FIRs filed for rape in the country, chargesheets were submitted in 56 cases, trials completed in only eight cases and convictions happened only in a meagre two cases.
This, when more than one lakh rape cases were pending in the criminal justice system in 2012. Despite the justifiable anger of the people during the anti-rape protests, the government of the day had relied on coercive police action to deal with the protesters.
The schism that we are witnessing today between the protesting people of Kashmir and the Indian state runs much deeper. Twenty five years ago, the Kunan Poshpora incident evidenced a similar schism, when residents of the two villages in Kupwara district alleged mass rape by the security forces during a search and interrogation operation, and the Indian Army denied the charge – two entirely different versions for the same night without any meeting ground.
With no FIRs lodged, initial fact-finding reports in the incident called for further investigation. On the invitation of the Indian Army, it was a Press Council of India team that rubbished the allegations as "baseless", providing basis for the Army and the government to stonewall any substantive investigation. Twenty five years on, the Indian Army has petitioned the Supreme Court of India against the J&K High Court order for investigation and compensation, with people in the two tabooed villages of Kashmir still awaiting some closure.
The basic premise of any modern nation is that the state must be the arbiter of justice for its citizens. In any society, many socio-economic inequalities exist based on class, gender, caste, tribe, religion, region, race, sexuality, et al, which add to daily injustices as well as crimes.
But when any aggrieved party knocks on the doors of the criminal justice system, it is assumed that the state will deliver justice. Practical experience, however, runs contrary; with the criminal justice system often siding with the powerful and the rich. The task of strengthening democracy and securing justice, therefore, remains urgent for the people across our country.
We know that successive cases of caste violence have ultimately resulted in acquittals of the accused citing lack of evidence. Justice for victims of communal violence still remains elusive – be it 1984, 2002, or numerous other incidents. The grievance against the state in such instances is of culpability, complicity or oversight. State violence, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish, for when the state itself becomes a perpetrator of crime, the situation becomes truly alarming.
It was not a co-incidence, therefore, that the Justice Verma Committee, constituted in the aftermath of the anti-gangrape protests in 2012, recommended that the permission required to prosecute armed personnel in regions under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and other special laws be amended for instances of sexual violence; but to no avail.
Wounds like that of Kunan Poshpora also continue to fester, without any justice or closure. The book courageously and painstakingly written by the five young women from Kashmir needs to be read and contemplated upon, to understand the reasons for the deep alienation felt by the ordinary people of Kashmir from the Indian state and its criminal justice system.
Kashmir today and ‘Azadi’
For the current situation in Kashmir, the jury will always be out over whether the current outpouring on the streets of Kashmir is an expression of unequivocal solidarity with Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, or did the encounter of the young militant prove to be a tipping point for the pent up anger and resentment of people living in the most militarised zone in the world.
In either case, 35 people have already lost their lives, over a hundred have had had eye and other injuries from pellet wounds, and scores more are seriously and critically injured, including children. The rising death toll is both alarming and shameful. Despite the provocation, the highhandedness of the state is disgraceful. In the absence of substantive political initiatives, it has been left to the security forces to contain the people; and their method as always is the only one that they know – use of repression and lethal force.
It is distressing that periods of relative lull in militancy have been repeatedly frittered away by successive governments. Off late, initiatives to take the peace process forward in Kashmir have always been stonewalled by chest-thumping ultra-nationalism and jingoism of the RSS-BJP variety. It is apt to recall Rabindranath Tagore in this context:
Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live. I took a few steps down that road and stopped: for when I cannot retain my faith in universal man standing over and above my country, when patriotic prejudices overshadow my God, I feel inwardly starved.
Unless the repression unleashed by the state is halted, it is humanity which will suffer. And if inhuman impulses take over, the state itself will get embroiled in a vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence, eroding its legitimacy and loss of lives of soldiers and security personnel. There is no other choice to stop violence and initiate political dialogue. There can only be political solutions to problems in a democracy. Endless militarism is the problem in Kashmir; it cannot be the solution.
Even as democratic voices of protest against state repression get stronger and seek to rebuild some common grounds in the search for peace in Kashmir, let us also not get deluded by the romanticism of the slogan of "azadi" in present-day Kashmir. Azadi has changed its meaning over time from "azad Kashmir" to "azadi from India" often towards joining Pakistan, riding on a sectarian Wahabbist-Islamist wave sweeping across the region, overriding its long tradition of Sufi Islam.
The numerous omissions and commissions by the Union and state governments have no doubt contributed enormously to the current impasse, but being oblivious to the role of the Pakistani state and the ISI as a contributory factor is of no help either. Democratic voices across the country should be raised both against state repression as well as against extremist militancy.
Armed, pro-Pakistan militia like the Hizbul Mujahideen want nothing less than another religion-based partition in our subcontinent. They have handed over guns and rocket launchers, supplied by the Pakistan military, to the disenchanted youth of Kashmir like Burhan Wani, to kill or get killed.
This Islamist urge is fed both by international factors and also the majoritarian communal forces in India like the Sangh Parivar. All such forces are merchants of hate politics. There can be no peace unless all the hatemongers are isolated and defeated.
Lasting peace in Kashmir can only be premised upon a democratic and just solution involving the people of Kashmir, including the Kashmiri Pandits. The governments of India and Pakistan should also realise how their militarism is militating against peace and prosperity in the entire subcontinent.
The repeal of the AFSPA and demilitarisation of Kashmir must be addressed without further prevarication.
Women have been the worst sufferers of decades-long violence and militarisation in Kashmir. Despite having a woman chief minister in Jammu and Kashmir now, the agonies of women from Kashmir are not being heard. The voices of those – like the authors of Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? – must be heard if we have even an iota of commitment to democracy and justice. There can be no lasting peace without justice.
It is in the quest for justice in Kashmir that a new meaning of "azadi" can be found by those besieged by decades of state repression and extremist militancy.
In these troubled times, the importance of healing and humanitarianism cannot but be underscored. As Ghalib wrote: