Kashmiris resent, quite rightly, the intrusive presence of India’s jawans on their streets. But the jawans don’t want to be there. New Delhi doesn’t want the jawans there either. So why are they there? India says the army is in Kashmir because of terrorists, who can only be handled militarily. This is only partially true. The reason the army is deployed in Srinagar city is to block its citizens from coming out on the streets and demanding azadi, as they did in the early 90s.
If Kashmiris would elect their leaders and not demand azadi, the army would go away. This is what the Indian government wants, and is desperate to do, but too embarrassed to say. This is not debated in India’s media either because, since Pakistan is involved, we have fed ourselves myths about how the problem in Kashmir is the creation not of India but Pakistan.
The question that we should consider is: What does azadi mean? It means freedom, of course. But freedom from what?
Kashmir cannot relocate itself geographically. It will stay where it is even if Kashmiris get azadi. What will change are its laws. Azadi means freedom from the Indian constitution. But what is offensive about the Indian constitution? This is not debated by the champions of azadi because it is a tricky one. The Hurriyat Conference is vague about what comes after azadi is achieved, whether through plebiscite or jihad. This is because the Hurriyat doesn’t want to offend those who support the freedom movement out of universal liberal values. India’s occupation and human rights violations by its army are easier things to rally people against. We know what the Ali Shah Geelani’s Jamaat-e-Islami wants: It wants shariah in Kashmir. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq also is attracted to Pakistan because of its Islamic laws. But more broadly in the Hurriyat, this specially religious demand is cloaked under the universal call of azadi.
This is why there is little sympathy in the world for the movement in Kashmir. This is why India has been able to get away with its oppression and its occupation.
This is why there is no enthusiasm in the international community for enforcing a plebiscite in the valley. India’s position is quite indefensible, it is true, and it really has no case to make except for the accession document signed by a monarch. But the position of the others in this problem is even worse. And they have no solution that is workable.
The Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front’s Yasin Malik is called secular, but on a visit to Pakistan he rejected the idea of western secularism. So what version of government does he want for Kashmir if not western secularism and presumably not Indian either since he demands azadi? In Lahore, in September 2009, he said he wanted “secularism which is based on religious mysticism”. The problem is that mysticism is an individual matter. One cannot frame laws based on mysticism, because it gives no legal guidance. And the question that arises is: The mysticism of whose religion? That of Ladakh’s Buddhists? Jammu’s Hindus? Or Srinagar’s Muslims? Or, all of the above?
Malik hasn’t expanded on his theme, but we can speculate that it will be the sort of thing that Pakistan’s Objectives Resolutions promises. That is to say, “freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam”. The power to legislate in such a state will be “exercised within the limits prescribed by Allah”.
Such things have been tried and have failed. As South Asians, we must admit that our religions haven’t been able to produce an internal system that is workable. India hasn’t even attempted to do this. Its constitution prohibits the practice of doctrinal Hinduism (through Articles 14, 15, 16, 17). We must all lean on the west’s principles of government. There’s really no getting away from this, and it is difficult to think of how to improve upon the Indian constitution. It guarantees Muslims sharia in their personal law (polygamy, talaq, inheritance). But its criminal laws are secular: There is no zina, rijm or irtidad. And it does not promise abolition of riba.
It is not utopian, but it works. Kashmir’s leaders who demand azadi from India’s constitution should explain why they are rejecting it.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2012.