The March of the Romans

In the Oscar-winning movie, Ben-Hur, the protagonist of the same name, a wealthy Jewish Prince played by Charlton Heston, finds himself a prisoner for the ‘crime’ of slipping on his roof, and accidentally dropping a tile on the marchers of the newly-appointed Roman Governor of Judea. His own friend, a Roman citizen, an ‘occupier’ of his land, throws him into jail, where his trials and struggles to attain freedom and exact revenge become the subject of his story.

Sounds familiar? In Kashmir, yes.

The ‘march’ of the Romans in Kashmir began more than four hundred years ago, when the last Kashmiri King was tricked into imprisonment by a Mughal Emperor in 1586. Kashmir has seen Garrisons on its lands filled with Mughals, Pathans, Punjabis, Britishers, Dogras, and now currently the Indian Armed Forces. Marching uniforms have changed, marching patterns and marching bands have changed, the flags have changed, the names and faces have changed, but the concept of ‘occupation’ of Kashmir has not.

It was only reinforced by the recent killing of two innocent youngsters in a ‘firing incident’ – the very term ensuring complete immunity for the perpetrators of the crime. I was witness to a similar ‘firing incident’ in North Kashmir a few years ago when, during a night patrol in a silent village, a young boy of 18 was shot dead point blank outside his home. People were prevented from coming out of their homes to see what happened until the Officer confirmed that the youth was dead. It led to protests and shutdowns too, just as now. Also, just as now, nothing happened to the perpetrators.

I wonder how the people of India would react if the Indian Army shot four unarmed teenagers outside the Delhi Cantonment, and then labelled it as a ‘firing incident.’ The masses and the media would spare no effort to have those involved brought to book, and swiftly. Double standards? Of course. There are two Indias – the truly ‘free’ India which is its Hindi heartland and the Dravidian states, and the ‘occupied’ India – that lives on the periphery in the North and North-East.

As the current Government’s hardline approach towards the Kashmir issue becomes more irreversible with each passing day, and locally important issues of the revocation of the AFSPA, demilitarisation, and release of detainees, are pushed to the background, the Kashmir issue seems to be receding from public awareness in India. The rise of neo-fascist forces, which claim that the Indian Army can do no wrong, and that the current Prime Minister is nothing short of a Gift from God, has left very little space for sane-minded individuals to find a just, durable, and permanent solution for Kashmir. It has led to hardening of stances in Pakistan. The Foreign Office in Islamabad recently described talks as a ‘necessity, not a favour’ in the interests of peace and development in South Asia, and refused any preconditions for talks. It talked about the ‘Kashmiri right to self-determination.’ In 2007, that was not important.

The end-result of this scare-mongering is even more scary. The trigger-happy Indian Army continues to operate outside the ambit of normal processes of law, Kashmiri youth continue to be victims of state-backed military adventurism, free political space continues to shrink due to massive corruption and Central interference, and the job market is stagnating. What next for Kashmiri youth?

The infernal horn of the infernal truck of the Indian Army that acts as a ‘force of occupation,’ according to a Rajya Sabha MP, in what is supposed to be its own land, continues to honk on the roads of Kashmir, day and night. Trucks, hundreds of them, carrying supplies, carrying soldiers, carrying weapons, to and fro, to perpetuate this monstrosity.

The March of the Romans goes on.

But did anyone ever ask the Romans whether the day would come when Rome would cease to exist?