At a time when President Asif Ali Zardari has just concluded a controversial visit to Britain and the worst floods in the country’s history have directly or indirectly affected over 12 million people, it may seem odd to talk about Kashmir. But over the last two months, it has evolved into one of the most fascinating political struggles of modern times.
Perhaps the most incomprehensible bit about Kashmir’s current situation is the world’s indifference towards it. Tune into any major international news channel and it is highly unlikely that you will come across even a mention of Kashmir, let alone any detailed coverage. It is utterly bizarre.
Srinagar has been under curfew for nearly two months. Shopkeepers, milkmen, those in need of groceries, relatives of the sick looking for medicines, all have to wait till late at night when it is dark enough to venture out without being spotted, and shot. In brief, the entire city’s economy wakes up long after the sun has set.
The only activity during the day is protests. A whole generation of young men and women who have grown up over the last decade have no idea of the kind of political normality that even we in Pakistan, despite the murderous campaign by Taliban bombers, take for granted. More than 50 protesters, mostly youngsters, have been shot dead by the security forces in these two months.
The youngest to be killed only a few days ago was a mere eight or nine-year-old.
Even housewives have joined the protests. There are protests every day in which men, women and children gather in small numbers wherever they can and pelt stones at the security forces. They know they will be met with bullets, they know they will be beaten to death if caught, they know that there is no immediate relief in sight, yet they risk their lives every day, day after day, despite the increasing number of security forces, despite the curfew, despite there being little hope of the situation turning in their favour.
The sheer relentlessness of their protest campaign is news in itself. Had it been happening anywhere else in the world, it would have been headline news. But Kashmir isn’t, not even inside India.
That part, though, is easy to understand. Indian journalism is nothing like the kind of journalism one comes across in the rest of the world — or at least that part of the world where the media remains relatively free. So strong is the consensus behind the Indian state in mainstream urban India that it seems to have robbed journalists of their ability to look at their country with a critical eye.
Perhaps they are still drunk on the India Shining philosophy that turned them blind towards the hundreds of farmers driven to suicide by sheer poverty and hopelessness. Perhaps they feel that (India being the world’s largest democracy and an emerging economic superpower) if people are unhappy with India then the fault must lie with the people and not with the affairs of the state.
Whatever their reasons may be, let us not argue with that. But what about the rest of the world?
Will it only wake up to what is happening in Kashmir when the unarmed protesters of today are driven to taking up arms against the state? Does it have to come to that? And even if it does, where is the guarantee that India will not be able to paint it as terrorism as opposed to a political struggle for basic rights? That, indeed, could be a very convenient way out for a government that seems to have nothing to offer to a part of itself that it incessantly describes as its atoot ang – its integral part.
The world owes this to the people of Kashmir. Before its stone-pelting youngsters become gun-toting rebels to be described by their political adversaries as foreign-funded terrorists, the world must wake up to the situation. India must be shamed for its inexplicable harshness towards Kashmir, just as Pakistan is shamed everyday for its scary softness towards violent religious ideologies.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2010.