An old man with a red eye standing next to me said, ‘Kashmir was one country. Half was taken by India, the other half by Pakistan. Both by force. We want freedom.’—Arundhati Roy
I am a Keralite and I have never been to Kashmir. But the fate of the Kashmir valley which has once been described by Jahangir as: ‘If there is paradise anywhere on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here,’ always perturbs me, because I have read that when rivers of blood flowed in North India and innocent men, women and children were massacred in the wake of partition, there was not even a single murder committed by fanatics in Kashmir valley. ‘Even while Hindus and Muslims were butchering each other on the borders of Kashmir, in the Punjab and in the North-West Frontier Province in that extraordinary decade of the 1940s,’ says M.J.Akbar in his wonderful book India: The Siege Within, ‘there was not one case of bigoted murder in the valley of Kashmir. Instead the Muslims of Kashmir died fighting against the Pakistanis who sent in both their army and their surrogates in a ‘holy war’ to ‘liberate’ their Muslim brethren in Kashmir.’
How has such a Kashmir metamorphosed into the Kashmir of today, the Kashmir that needs Azadi from India? Arundhati Roy says in her essay “Azadi” published in 2008, which is included in her Listening to Grass-Hoppers: Field Notes on Democracy: ‘India needs Azadi from Kashmir just as much—if not more—than Kashmir needs Azadi from India.’ And she asks: ‘Does any government have the right to take away peoples’ liberty with military force?’ Why does India, the largest democracy in the world deny the people of Kashmir their liberty in the name of democracy? Arundhati Roy speaks of a banner she has seen in Srinagar which said ‘Democracy without freedom is Demon-crazy’. And look at the activities of our ‘Demon-crazy’ in Kashmir: “For all these years the Indian state has done everything it can to subvert, suppress, represent, misrepresent, discredit, interpret, intimidate, purchase—and simply snuff out the voice of the Kashmiri people. It has used money (a lot of it), violence (a lot of it), disinformation, propaganda, torture, elaborate networks of collaborators and informers, terror, imprisonment, blackmail and rigged elections to subdue what democrats would call ‘the will of the people’. The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all.”
Nandita Haksar, in an interview with Mehboob Jeelani, publishd in The Hindu (Sept. 26, 2015), observed that it is the Hindu nationalists who turned Kashmiris against India. What the author of The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism says is true, but we can’t deny the fact that the attitude of even (Nehru’s) secular India towards Kashmir was not secular and that is why Kashmir has been alienated from India. Sheikh Abdulla, who said: “I had a religion in common with Jinnah, but a dream in common with Nehru” was arrested and jailed for ‘sedition’ by the same Nehru, who allowed his vision to be clouded by the opportunist politician Bakshi Gulam Mohammad who wanted to be the ruler of Kashmir ousting Sheikh Abdulla.
The Kashmiri people, overwhelmingly Muslim in population, under the leadership of Sheikh Abdulla, refused to believe in the two-nation theory and go to Pakistan. Sheikh Abdulla told an audience of Mulims in Delhi on 20 October 1947: “Prophet Muhammed was a benefactor of all, not Muslims alone…You fell a prey to the two-nation theory and hatred preached by some of your leaders. We, the people of Kashmir, resisted this, with the result that we are living in peace and you and thousands of your brethren are undergoing untold misery. My advice to you is: “Live peacefully, and don’t be misled by propaganda.””
To understand the genesis of Kashmir problem and the attitude that has made it worse and worst, let me quote in detail from the autobiography of Kwaja Ahmad Abbas—I am not an Island: An Experiment in Autobiography:
“At the instance of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Maharaja released Sheikh Abdullah from jail in September (1947). The maharaja was still dillydallying when in October the Pakistani raiders attacked Kashmir under the leadership of Russell Height, an American who presumably belonged to the CIA. The maharaja drove overnight to the safety of Jammu with his ranis and treasures and left the valley to the raiders and to God. It was at that time while the raiders were burning and looting Uri and Baramulla…I found one day in the office of Jawaharlal Nehru. “What do you want this time?” he asked me. “I want to go to Kashmir.”
“The Uri sector was then under Brigadier (later General) Sen who was most cordial and cooperative. He even sent me with some soldiers to inspect the site of a skirmish the previous night, where some Pakistani raiders’ dead bodies were lying. There were three of them, presumably ignorant tribal people of the Frontier province and the cry of Jehad had brought them to their death in Uri. I was surprised however, to find the Indian soldiers refer to them as “Musallahs” and not as Pakistanis! The subtlety of the correct nomenclature entirely eluded them. After all, this was the war which was being waged with the help and assistance of the people of Kashmir, most of whom were Muslims and, thanks to their leader, the redoubtable Sheikh Abdullah, anti-Pakistanis. This was the war in which, only a few miles away, a Muslim called Maqbul Sherwani rather died than give up his secular and pro-Indian attitude.”
“I took up the matter with Brigadier Sen and he expressed his helplessness. He said, “It is difficult to change the thinking of these soldiers who are ignorant of the basic principles of secularism.” I wanted to ask him: then what is this war about? What am I, a “Musallah” doing here? But I preferred to keep my mouth shut, making a mental note of it for reference to Jawaharlal Nehru, if and when I got a chance to discuss the matter with him.”
We don’t know whether Abbas has had the chance to discuss the matter with Nehru. But we know that Kashmir which has been described as the heaven on Earth has been turned into a virtual hell and it boils still. The so called Indian secular democracy, the Hindu nationalists or rather the Hindu chauvinists and Muslim fundamentalists, everybody and everything, generously contributed to metamorphose the paradise into a virtual Hell. Will the valley ever regain the peace that it has had in abundance once?
If the Kashmiri people have to have real peace and freedom, two fascist nations —Pakistan, the theocratic fascist state and India, the democratic fascist state—should stop meddling with the internal affairs of Kashmir. The Kashmir valley is neither the property of Pakistan nor of India; it is the motherland of Kashmiris. I urge the Indian state to let the people of Kashmir live peacefully without being forced to be a part of the Indian Union. How can you force others to be a part of your country and call it ‘union’? Isn’t it ridiculous? I urge Pakistan to let the Kashmiris live with the liberal and secular mindset they have inherited from the legacy of Sheik Abdulla who was called Baba-e-Qaum, yes Father of the Nation, without being forced to emulate the religious bigotry of Pakistan.
Let me conclude by quoting a paragraph, which is still alarmingly contemporaneous, from Arundhati Roy’s essay “Azadi” which was published eight years ago: “The unimaginable sums of public money that are needed to keep the military occupation of Kashmir going, is money that ought by right to be spent on schools and hospitals and food for an impoverished, malnutritioned population in India. What kind of government can possibly believe that it has the right to spend it on more weapons, more concertina wires and more prisons in Kashmir?”
The author is a former JNU student. Email id: firstname.lastname@example.org