On Monday, 20 September, a group of more than 40 representatives from all the major parties in India’s parliament are visiting Srinagar, the capital of Indian-occupied Kashmir, on a so-called ‘fact-finding’ mission. It is the first such delegation in two decades. The BBC writes on its web-site: “Kashmir has been on the boil since June (this year), with tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets. In the mainly Muslim valley (they) have been hurling stones at troops and demanded independence from India. Many analysts see the recent unrest as the biggest challenge to Indian rule in Kashmir for 20 years.”
The leader of the Kashmiri nationalist Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, agreed at the last minute to speak to five members of the delegation. But the real feelings and the demands of the thousands who have been protesting on the streets in the recent period will not be heard. The intractable problems require far more than a parliamentary delegation to resolve. In fact they have been heightened by some of the most vicious, relentless police and army repression taking place internationally.
The eye-witness account written by Emma Shaw for ‘The Socialist’ (England and Wales) brings out the human tragedy behind the political crisis in Kashmir.
“A paradise turned into hell”. That is how the people who live there describe Indian-occupied Kashmir, now under indefinite curfew. Monday 13 September saw 18 people, mainly young men, mowed down by some of the 700,000 soldiers in the Indian army who occupy Kashmir. Further attacks mean that well over 100 people have been killed in just over 100 days since 11 June.
Many hundreds, some as young as 14, have been injured; many will never walk or see again. Doctors describe injuries caused by inhumane torture and by the use of pellet guns, banned under international law. Across the country hundreds have simply ‘disappeared’.
During the bandh/curfew the empty streets are peopled only by khaki-clad soldiers carrying lathi (heavy sticks) and machine guns; rolls of razor wire are like some dystopian tumbleweed. Everywhere the walls shout: “Indian dogs go back!”, “Go India go!” and, of course “Azadi! (Freedom!)”.
No-one dares to leave their house during the curfew days. The schools have been shut for three months. Exams have been postponed. Young people’s futures are on hold indefinitely.
Initially, women could venture out for food and necessities but sexual harassment, the snatching of headscarves and the abuse has made this impossible. They dare not let their children out the door. Broken windows and shot out street lamps are the calling card of the soldiers. Water provision has also been targeted. Women tell of soldiers barging through their homes and beating their children. They fear that if the young men go out they will never return.
This is what happened to Meraj-ud-Din Lone, a 22 year-old father and vegetable seller, the sole breadwinner in his family. At 10.30am on 3 August he was shot in the heart as soldiers chased a group of unarmed protesting boys.
His family and his young widow Daisy, who now have to worry about their very survival, have been frustrated in every attempt to seek justice. No-one from the authorities has spoken to them. This is not an unusual story in Srinagar. This is just one family’s hell.
For ordinary Kashmiris Azadi is the only goal. Politicians discuss so-called ‘peace packages’ but these are no more than tawdry tokens. Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Indian National Congress Party, promises an ‘economic package’ of jobs but this has no impact. Almost everyone I spoke to, from civil rights activists to students and workers, said that economic packages which do not address their national aspirations will never satisfy.
The very right-wing, nationalist BJP makes demands such as “total peace” before talks take place. It is an ardent opponent of any reasonable autonomous package or settlement and demands more troops be sent in. Anti-Pakistan sentiment and the threat of ‘Islamic terrorism’ are the mainstays of its propaganda.
The traditional left parties, such as the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), participate in state governments alongside Congress and other parties and do not make serious demands on troop withdrawal.
The occupation has claimed about 70,000 lives. But everywhere, the hospitals, the homes of grieving families, the shops, the streets, people want to voice their demands: ‘Stop the killing, get the army out, the right to self-determination and independence from India, Pakistan and China’. While there is no trust in the government there is hope that resistance in the valley can have an effect.
The Hurriyat is an alliance of political, religious and social organisations. Geelani, one of its leaders, announces the dates for bandhs, a type of general shutdown strike. While support is uniform there is no evidence of mass participation in the decision-making process. The government retaliates and attempts to assume control by imposing curfews at the same time.
Ehadjan, not a stone-pelting youth but a 52-year old policeman, was at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital to receive treatment for kidney damage after four days of severe torture. He had thrown a shoe at the state chief minister during a flag unfolding ceremony. He, like others, is desperate for the eyes of the world to focus on the daily mass torture and incredible denial of human rights that is life for the masses of Indian-occupied Kashmir.
Most people fear that the Indian government’s propaganda is widely accepted outside Kashmir. While this may be the case in general, some young people are starting to discuss the issue and to connect it with other aspects of the reality of life for the majority in ‘shining India’.
David Cameron, British prime minister, visited Bangalore in June to declare Britain ‘open for business’ with the wealthy elite of India. The Financial Times entreated with him to avoid two elephant traps – speaking about poverty and speaking about Kashmir. He heeded the FT well and actually described so-called Indian democracy as “a beacon to our world”. This must be a warning to the working, poor and young people of Kashmir, of India and of the UK.