India is the only country that does not accept Kashmir to be an international dispute. This forms the basis for ‘denial of rights’ to Kashmiris. The untenable state of affairs has met varied responses by the citizens, including recourse to arms by a section of the people when everything else seemed insufficient for securing basic political rights. The consequences common people have faced due to a crushing military response to the armed struggle in Kashmir also enabled serious introspection. Many commentators have said that unarmed mass mobilisations between 2008 and 2010 were a well-thought popular response for limiting the deadly effects on the society of armed confrontation with the Indian State.
New Delhi, in the autumn of 2010, also appeared to acknowledge that the status quo in Kashmir was unsustainable and a possibility of a “unique solution” found sympathetic mention among a certain liberal commentariat. But as soon as government forces regained control on the ground the same old denial also regained currency. Nothing has changed since then, structurally or politically, but the people keep finding ways to express and press to be heard. The frequent instances of people, sometimes thousands at a time, trying to march towards sites of armed encounters between militants and the government forces appears to be a response, following another comprehensive and silent introspection by the masses. This could be a fresh cry for changing conditions on the ground and break through suffocation caused by extreme militarisation. The cry, it seems, has been clearly heard by the administration. However, the state’s response so far has been no different than at any time in the past.
First, the state police, the primary enforcing arm of the state, warns the people to stay away from sites of the armed encounters. The warning came as a combination of automatic imposition of Section 144 in areas where a gunbattle may break out and an ‘appeal’ to community elders to convince the youth to stay indoors – sans any agency. As it turned out to be an insufficient deterrent, the army stepped in to enhance the effect of the initial warning. On Thursday, the army sternly warned of ‘appropriate counter action’ against crowds that may ‘take law in its hands and threaten life and property’. Put simply, that means military action against political protest! It is always time for replacing the militaristic with the political, not for inverting the clearly articulated political demand, but to begin imagining means to fight for rights.