By Gautam Navlakha
The Azaadi movement condoling the killing of Indian soldiers displays political sanity and sagacity, at a time when India is gripped by jingoism and bigotry. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, while condoling the deaths of Indian army soldiers chided India’s political elite for its hypocrisy in not condemning the deaths, injuries and brutality inflicted on civilians in J&K and for failing to bring a halt to bloodletting that has been going on for the past 74 days.
This statement, coming as it does from a movement under severe repression, has a political significance that goes far beyond.
The escalation in militancy was foretold. It has been in the making since 2008, informed by the ups and downs of 1989-2007 and spiraled after Burhan Wani’s killing. It was motivated by the ‘facts being created on the ground’ by the mighty Indian state, which yet again appears vulnerable having lost the authority they had created based on fear and coercion.
After the new phase of military suppression and the speech of the Indian PM from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15th, when he spoke of Baluchistan, the escalation was embedded in them.
No wonder pellet guns are to the CRPF what AFSPA is to the army. Ranks and field commanders refuse to operate without them respectively, that is the “fact” created.
The impunity and lethality are part of the same coin. It is common sense to ask as the Indian Supreme Court itself wondered how long will this “normalcy” remain elusive and how much longer will it take to be established? And why is it not happening and keeps breaking down? Why are people carrying out an unprecedented ‘civil disobedience’? All this is happening in the midst of war hysteria.
But there is some disquiet in my heart. While I affirm that the humanity and compassion against all odds displayed by the movement in the most trying circumstance is second to none, there is an incipient discourse which has emerged and can take the movement towards a slippery slope. By design and by circumstances, an argument has grown that for 68 years Indians have played havoc with Kashmiri people’s lives and aspirations. They have shown themselves to be hypocritical about their commitment to their own principles of secular democracy. They have acquiesced if not supported military suppression for 68 years, known nothing of the history of what happened under 100 years of Dogra rule which preceded, or even respected whatever they themselves promised. The only voice people are provided of India is the one blaring hatred, blood lust and a cruel contempt for what is being done to people. That is also the only face we confront in India and it is “facts” conveyed by them which inform Indians. Print media is an exception. There has been a better coverage.
But neither are there just a few individuals who are speaking. Those who speak out carry clout and are heard. When Jigmesh Meswani, the young Dalit leader from Gujarat spoke up for Khurram Parvez or Irom Sharmila in her first speech after breaking her 16 year long fast she spoke in support of right of self determination of Kashmir, their voices matter.
The other day I was sitting with some ex-servicemen who have been on protest for more than 700 days at Jantar Mantar. Many had served in J&K on several stints. After a few preliminary sessions of chit chat, I asked them how they feel that after restoring authority they are called back to do it again, and then again and again.
They said “hamara manobal girta hai”, our morale comes down.
I asked them what is missing. “koi solution uske baad nahi hota”, there is no solution afterwards.
I asked who will bring the “solution”? Army? Answer was that is not what “fauj” can do. Such information is never brought before the public. India’s corporate media represents the India of the rich and privileged, not its working people. The love for India’s military is, therefore, graded by the love for hierarchy and glamour of its elite and indifference of the ranks. They come from peasantry or working class families, landless or land poor and return to it.
Never is a question posed about their experience and frustration at what they are asked to do – wage a dirty war repeatedly where they succeed in restoring authority after much bloodletting and see it break again in ferment. How can any force keep on suppressing the same people for 27 years and not also entertain nagging doubts about it and not feel disgust at the lack of any “follow-up” political solution. So there are harsh truths Indians do face and will have to face.
The contempt in which Indian state and society holds them is hidden behind the glamourised chest beating performance/s, which displays a disdain for their service conditions, wages and pension. That is why when ranks sit on protest, media ignores them. Rich brook no challenge. But scratch anyone of the rank and ask simple questions and see how they respond.
In college and universities students are divided with a large section questioning and searching for answer and receptive to saner voices. After all the jingoists and bigots also affect crores of Indians and we witness their crimes every day. Four hundred delegates of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation marched on the streets of Delhi on 9th September and among other slogans, ones in support of Kashmir’s Azaadi were sung. In fact, an understanding has sunk that it is a defiant people who are asking for Azaadi.
I am not making a point about good Indians, bad Indians. People change as have Kashmiris remarkably from 1989 to now. It is happening among those who are resisting RSS-BJP on the ground in India. Paradoxically, the present is pregnant with possibilities because emergence of RSS-BJP to the seat of power has slowly polarised India. And the voices from the ground are very different today. So it’s simply to realise that one must always keep in mind that the solution to the Kashmir dispute necessarily requires a change in Indian state’s position. And support of Indian people is needed. In any case while geography will not change, political maps can. As compatriots or as neighbours the destiny is intertwined. States can remain mortal enemies but most people do not remain enemies.
I say all this because those who argue that all Indians are equally guilty and all are one with their oppressors and therefore the line between civilian and combatant gets blurred or indistinguishable, open up the door for a politics of revenge; an eye for an eye. This is a close kin of “jaw for a tooth” propounded by closed minded RSS-BJP. What has stood the Azaadi movement and enabled its supporters is also the record of how Muslimness of the movement has not deviated towards fanaticism directed at ‘other’ or nurtures hatred of the ‘other’. Yes there’s anger and resentment but it is remarkable how what Burhan Muzzafar Wani, and through him the indigenous militants, expressed their non-fanatic vision. Look at his welcoming of the Amarnath pilgrims and appeal to the Kashmiri Pandits to return. He did not veer away from resistance he espoused what was politically a powerful expression of openness of heart and mind. So to revert back to Geelani Sab’s statement, it is a poignant affirmation of a very humanist movement of the Muslims for their political azaadi.
A movement away from this would demean and besmirch the movement, so I believe. Because the struggle this time, relatively decisive, will take some time to fructify. But fructify it will. When fear gives way to defiance the whole ‘ball game’, so to say, changes. That is what has happened.
There are millions of Indians, whose voice never reaches you, whose solidarity never gets conveyed, but they are there. And today for the first time since 1989-90 the middle ground has all but disappeared. Indian society has more questions than answers. Indian state can no longer escape from facing the truth because the ‘chickens are coming home to roost’. Their own arrogance and dogmatism is bringing the endgame closer. Raising the pitch of conflict is easy but to put leash on it difficult because options are shrinking and raised pitch will inflict political damage. So it is easy to ‘mount a tiger but difficult to dismount without being devoured’. That is the catch-22 Indian state, thanks to RSS-BJP, has placed itself in. Because, every step towards escalation has its own fallout, which are pregnant with quite devastating consequences.
A movement survives if it remains indigenous and by its wits. And it needs solidarity of all, in particular, of public which matters.
Gautam Navlakha is a human rights activist and a veteran journalist.
—Views expressed by author are personal