Why are Kashmiris still brutally denied the right to self-determination?

Perhaps, the most sinister modus operandi employed by a hegemon is obfuscation to incapacitate the will of resistance among an oppressed populace.

This strategy has been carefully employed against the citizens of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir ever since 1846 and the signing of the vile Treaty of Amritsar,  which is described by Kashmiris as the 'sale deed of Kashmir'.

With the bifurcation of the British Raj in 1947, the Indian state inherited that ruthless stratagem in attempts to appropriate Kashmiri Muslim identity, undermine its life-force, and usurp its sovereignty.

Ultimately, to no avail.

The ebb and flow of Kashmiri resistance has not diminished. Itstrajectory is steadily intensifying and emboldening. It should be unsurprising, since, historically speaking, the hegemon may delay but cannot suppress freedom in perpetuity.

The long life cycle of violence in Kashmir is indicative of this. And, as Kashmiris around the world mourn 'Yawm al-Trath', or what loosely translates into the Day of Devastation/Lightening, on January 26th, as its very own 'Nakba', these escalation and de-escalation waves are relived.

Categorically, freedom is earned. Thus, with every gruesome death, grotesque rape, callous betrayal, innocent child blinded and home destroyed, the flames of resistance burn brighter.

Now, as it enters its 72nd year of civil resistance against the Indian state, it is clear: Kashmir has witnessed one of its deadliest years of violence. The lucid theory on the role of human rights violations when describing the life cycle of conflict speaks to why this happens. This contribution is crucial as it helps us deconstruct the conflict cycle in Kashmir and identify catalysts, which are: human rights violations; denial of conflict resolution mechanisms;  cultural hegemony; and aspirations for self-determination. Together, the complex interplay of these dynamics keeps the cycle of violence turning, making it impossible for Kashmir to simply 'go away'. 

Violated at home

First, the primary catalyst of Kashmiri alienation from India are the ongoing, gross human rights violations. From 1989 to present-day, 95, 234 people have been killed, 11,107 women gang-raped/sexually assaulted, 107, 351 children orphaned and 145,342 civilians arrested.

The recent official 2018 UN Report on Kashmir, and the release of the British All Parties Parliamentary Group (APPG) report on Kashmir,  under the chairmanship of its chairman MP Chris Leslie, both meticulously detail massive human rights violations, including thousands of mass graves, in Indian occupied Kashmir.

The sheer monstrosity of the mass graves is unreservedly a crime against humanity and is well-documented by reputable international organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Resolution is not even an afterthought

Second, official Indian state policy vis a vis Kashmir has aptly been described as a 'blinkered policy' of talking but never negotiating. No meaningful mechanism of conflict resolution has ever been advanced to address the underlying causes of frustration or alienation among Kashmiris.

Instead, fraudulent elections, economic impoverishment, blackmail, and, if all else fails, curfews and murder is employed. Recall, more than 700,000 Indian army soldiers patrol the Valley of Kashmir, making it the most militarised space on the planet.

The blatant truth is that Hindutva India is terrified that any conflict resolution mechanism will ultimately mean Kashmir’s independence. And, to further complicate matters, Hindutva radicals instil a false narrative that alleges 'everyone was a Hindu before Muslims came.'

Not just Muslim history, Hindutva fanatics arrogate Buddhist history as well, claiming and conflating Buddhist temples or icons as their own. The net result of this is that those who challenge official discourse are threatened with death.

In this atmosphere, conflict resolution mechanisms go nowhere. Resultantly, the internationalisation of the conflict is essential because Kashmir is not a bilateral issue – mainly since it was India who took the Kashmir dispute to the UN, under Charter 6. And, since then, significant UN resolutions have been passed, none of which are time-bound.

Cultural imperialism

Third, India’s attempts at cultural hegemony further infuriate Kashmiris.  There are several instances of this, yet only a few weeks ago the Indian state foolishly attempted to ban the Kashmiri phiran. What is so threatening about Kashmiri apparel that the entire force of the Indian army wishes to impose itself against it?

Such ill-informed policies are not just insulting, but completely cement Kashmiri alienation from Indian society. Forcing the Sanskritisation of society and humiliating Kashmiris by ridiculing their character and venerating their cultural output is absurd. It’s mind-boggling how Hindutva extremists detest and envy Kashmir in the same breath.

Self-determination is an inalienable right

Fourth, the most painful lesson for the Indian state to humbly learn is that Kashmiris demand self-determination.

This is what so many fail to appreciate. You cannot kill the spirit, even if you take the body. The glaring inability to honestly admit that Kashmir exists, and is disputed territory, is a major hurdle towards a peaceful resolution. And, they would do well to consider their struggle against British colonialism and the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, who said ‘I believe in Liberty for all men: the space to stretch their arms and their souls, the right to breathe and the right to vote, the freedom to choose their friends, enjoy the sunshine, and ride on the railroads, uncursed by colour; thinking, dreaming, working as they will in a kingdom of beauty and love.’

This is the aspiration of liberty that turns the cycle of violence in Kashmir, and all over the world. This is what Kashmiris want: A life of dignity. To take a breath of fresh air, a stroll down their narrow streets, and look up at the bright, blue sky, and over to the majestic Himalayas, without the ugly glare of thousands of scattered Indian soldiers strewn across every intersecting road.

Lastly, the real nightmare of Kashmir resides in its cruel subjugation by an elite that hides behind the mutually informing and poisonous notions of post-racial and falsely secular liberalism.

India’s pretentious oratory of being the world’s largest democracy is exposed in Kashmir and falls into a convenient rhetorical obfuscation. That, consequently, ignores how structural, cultural, institutional and individual xenophobic ideologies, practices and policies devour any useful concept of justice, democracy and freedom for Kashmiris.

Alas, it took Algerians over 100 years to get independence from France. Kashmiris, too, can wait. As the famous Pushtoon saying goes, concerning fighting a more well-equipped opponent: 'You have the watches, but we have the time.'

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