By Seema Kazi
No one can remain unmoved by the multiple tragedy in Handwara. The killing of unarmed protestors by army personnel is a grave and gross violation of the army’s own manual wherein (a) soldiers are meant to safeguard borders, not prey upon women’s bodies, and (b) civilians are to be protected by the army, not shot dead in cold blood. However, since General Hooda’s forces flout military ethics, women’s dignity, and the law with impunity, nothing can be expected from Badami Bagh HQ except empty words.
In anticipation of public fury and anger, the authorities take recourse to undeclared curfew, detention and repression, hoping that the intensity of the moment shall ebb away. That may well happen. However, this moment is of particular significance in that Handwara is a deep and forceful moral indictment of the occupation. Pakistan had nothing to do with the behaviour of the Indian army in Handwara; this was not a skirmish against armed militants – used to justify collateral civilian killings; not a stone was thrown at anyone. This was wilful, pre-meditated criminality on the part of a soldier against a young girl; followed by further criminality i.e. the murder of three unarmed civilians by more soldiers. If state-funded soldiers prey upon Kashmiri women’s bodily dignity and integrity, and subsequently proceed to kill unarmed Kashmiri men protesting such outrage, is the state they represent legitimate?
These are questions Kashmiri civil society must raise to wider non-Kashmiri audiences. This may not be immediately possible given the preventive measures in place. However, this moment could possibly shape a civil-society led civic mobilisation against the status-quo. This is a moment to recraft Kashmiri resistance – not in narrow, competitive, and I dare say politically irrelevant frames such as competing nationalisms, or celebrations of defeats of the Indian cricket team (that ends up justifying the status quo, repression against Kashmiris, and complete obliteration of Kashmir’s struggle for justice) but rather in ethically powerful, morally just, politically legitimate, and intellectually substantive terms on the lines of the following (with due acknowledgement to the South African Freedom Charter):
Kashmir belongs to all who live in it, and no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the Kashmiri people.
The Kashmiri people have been denied the chance to determine their political future; in addition to this injustice, they have been robbed of their right to life, liberty, land, peace and cultural life by governments founded on repression and injustice.
We, the Kashmiri people have a right to live without occupation or repression in our traditional homeland; we do not wish to kill any one, neither do we wish our own to be killed by others; we have lost tens of thousands of men, women, children; young, old, infants in our efforts to resist an intolerable status-quo including denial of the inalienable right to life.
That only a Kashmir, based on the universal legal principle of the will of the Kashmiri people, can secure to all in Kashmir political, economic and social freedoms without distinction of religion, region or gender.
And, therefore, we the people of Kashmir pledge to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes set out above have been won.
—Seema Kazi is an academic and the author of “In Kashmir: Gender, Militarization, and the Modern Nation-State”