Monday, September 26, 2016

SHAKIR MIR - It’s Time to Bring Kashmir’s ‘Miserable Guillotine’ Out from the Shadows

When the struggle against the tormentor becomes a torment itself, it is imperative to speak out.

Srinagar: On a warm morning a few weeks ago, the city was uncharacteristically serene. The previous night’s protests had died down, giving way to a tranquil dawn. But outside my home in an old part of town, a loud bang woke me up. I thrust my head out, eyes half-closed with sleep. A knot of young men, their heads and faces wrapped in cloth, had gathered around a grocery store whose owner had been tending to a line of customers. In a flash, one of the men lifted a thick lathi into the air and brought it down with full force. It struck hard. The first blow was furious, as was every blow after.

The reason? By opening his shop, the grocer had defied the state of collective defiance in the Valley. His act was seen as an affront to those who willingly incurred losses, inflicting harm on themselves in the hope that it would push India into giving up Kashmir. From a distance, I saw his wife running towards him. Sobbing, she pleaded for mercy with the assailants before herself passing out. The men left. The neighbourhood women eased her into their arms, offering her water, while the men watched impotently, muttering curses between their teeth.

For over two months, the Valley of Kashmir has been convulsed by chaos. The trigger was the death of a popular militant leader. Though it is said that he had not mounted a single attack, the purpose of his killing is being questioned. He had been part of a media blitz for over a year, yet the security forces never sought to close in on him. The month before he was killed, he released two back-t-back video messages. In one, he aspires to carve Kashmir into an Islamic Caliphate and in the other, he promises attacks in case Jammu and Kashmir policemen don’t come over to his side.

Whatever the reason, the decision to kill Wani turned out to be a terrible error of judgment. It mobilised thousands and thousands of people, spurring both peaceful protests and widespread instances of rioting – leading to the death of over 80 people, and injuries to 12,000, of which more than 5,000 are police and CRPF personnel.

The government is facing protests of the kind it does not know how to bottle. In trying to, it ended up committing terrible acts of brutality upon the civilian population using pump action guns, firearms, clubs and what have you. But then, there is a reason why I began my essay with an incident so out of keeping with events as we know them.

A few days ago, Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani reiterated his message that azadi was round the corner. He asked people to keep steadfast and persevere until it drew nearer and nearer. The more roads we fill, the more rocks we hurl, the closer it is getting.

But is it? On the contrary, we have embarked upon a great slide into a dead-end and azadi is yet to show up across the horizon. It hasn’t and in fact, never will. Not at least till another cataclysmic event embroils South Asia, dismembering the powerful nation states of today, leaving a fertile ground for smaller states to seek their separate nationhood. Britain did not relinquish control over India until it felt the crippling pain of World War II – never mind how “steadfast” was India’s struggle for freedom.

The current groundswell in Kashmir is spontaneous. There can be no two views about this. Separatist leaders have wielded formidable influence but they can do so only as long as they don’t stop mouthing platitudes that are palatable to a large section of the pubic. For instance, if the Hurriyat even tinkers with its protest calendars – to make them more flexible for daily wagers and businesses, perhaps – protesters will cut them down to size. That is perhaps why even on Eid, thecompendium of hartals followed the same course as on other days.

Spectre of public fatigue
The truth is that even the separatists are caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they cannot show so much as the merest sign of exhaustion. On the other, the spectre of public fatigue has risen all around them. The craving for a normal life is beginning to take hold among a cross-section of people as they come to terms with the futility of self-harm. Anger against India is fine. Nursing dreams of azadi is too. But how long can one do so at the altar of one’s own livelihood?

The police will succeed in breaking the cycle of violence. They did so in 2010, allowing the anger to dissipate, rather slide, beneath an illusion of normalcy – only to turn effervescent again and re-emerge out through the cracks, drowning Kashmir afresh. All it needed was a trigger and there were always plenty of those.

The fatigue couldn’t be more apparent when recently, despite announcing that fruit growers have sworn allegiance to the Hurriyat and are ready to bear losses, it suddenly turned out that 8876 metric tons of fruit had been hauled off in 953 truckloads outside the state in the first half of August alone. There is no telling what mark it touched thereafter.

The separatists have channelised public anguish in a direction into which it is destined to peter out. Had it not been so, the situation of the 1990s would have reigned till today. The violence that flared in 2008 and 2010 would not have ended either. This is not because fellow Kashmiris are prone towards treachery or that their conscience is shallow but because human beings are hardwired to not want to live by violence for too long. The bedrock of the secessionist movement has always been the angst stemming from atrocities Indian soldiers commit. When the excesses halt, so does the angst and every other consequence it had branched off into. The movement is intrinsically unsustainable once the dynamic of the “oppressive military presence” is taken out of the equation.

A case in point is what happened on August 29, when the authorities lifted curfew for the first time since it was imposed on July 8. The response surprised everyone. Besides the re-eruption of protests across Kashmir, people came out in hordes in those areas which saw incredibly lower levels of violence – such as Srinagar. Traffic trickled past the streets once again and store owners lifted their shutters. By evening, the situation had all reversed. Frequent mob attacks coerced people into scaling back. So scandalised was Geelani by what had happened, he openly warned shopkeepers the next day that if they acted “traitorous”, they would be “wiped out like straw.”

In one fell swoop, the ageing leader also alienated thousands of taxi drivers and auto-wallas when he accused them of acting on India’s behest and receiving bounty for taking out their vehicles to commit an act no less sinful than scraping together a living.

I asked an ardent pro-azadi friend to show me this stash of money which the ‘deviant’ and ‘corrupt’ taxi drivers were drawing cash from. “I will tell a couple of auto-walla acquaintances so that they don’t have to starve,” I told him, tongue firmly in cheek. He smote his brows together before mumbling a few unintelligible words and leaving in a huff. I smiled inwardly, both at his naivety and the utter irony of the moment.

For India, Kashmiri protestors can only be provocateurs driven by Pakistan and Hurriyat to instigate trouble. For their part, the Hurriyat see ordinary Kashmiris who are desperate to make a living in trying times as “Indian agents” – entrusted by Delhi to “derail the movement.” Both sides see events though their own black and white vision, overlooking the real people out there with aspirations spanning a million shades of gray... read more:

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Praveen Swami - The new language of rage ...