Kashmir: Power of mass protests shock Indian regime

Struggle against brutal army oppression intensifies

The people of Kashmir are under siege. The Indian occupation forces have imposed round- the- clock curfews and severe restrictions on civilians’ movement. As a result, they have no access to the basic necessities of life, including healthcare. They have been living in a perpetual state of uncertainty, insecurity and helplessness.

Basic foods and fuel supplies are running low and the people have been confined to their houses, with schools and businesses shut. The Indian Express reported from Srinagar: “with no letup in unrest in Kashmir where curfew was re-imposed…people in cities and towns are facing a tough time getting food and essential commodities including medicines for their families”. Volunteers have established blood donation camps, pooled rice and vegetables in community kitchens at various locations and supplied food to the people in need and affected by the siege, and also to patients in hospitals. There are committees working in the neighbourhoods and communities mainly consisting of young people, which are trying to help the people in their respective areas.

Imagine being cooped up in your house for a day, or may be even a week, unable to work, attend school, buy groceries, visit a doctor. Than imagine months of this, year after year, dating back to 1989. That is the reality for the people of the Indian-held Kashmir, who have been forced for decades to navigate work stoppages, curfews, militant incursions and army crackdowns. It is working people who have suffered the most. Life is very difficult for working class people. Some times, workers cannot find work for weeks and are left with nothing to eat. ‘I can not buy anything, I have gone to the market four times, but nothing’s open. And when you find something, the prices are jacked way up,’ said 50 years old Jalalah, a day labourer. Constant work disruptions- 1,560 days over the past two decades by some estimates, with $50 million in lost output a day- force Kashmiri people to find unique, sometimes ingenious, ways to cope.

Middle class and rich families keep at least a month’ s supply of rice, flour, sugar and other supplies and some stock pile for months. But poor people cannot afford such luxury and consequently suffer.

‘New warriors’

The current protests are not solely driven by aims of nationhood and autonomy or even material grievances like the poor local economy. The immediate issue is the Indian military apparatus in Kashmir. Ranged against it are stone throwing youths clashing almost daily with security forces. With each death, anger builds and hatred mounts. One protester said, “When they pick up an 8 years-old boy and beat him to death, how can I resist my feelings”. The Indian security forces killed the 8year old boy when he tried to go to shop during the curfew on 2 August.

Kashmir is now rearing its third generation of militants. The first comprised local politicians who tried to negotiate with Indian rulers. The second was made up of separatists and their militant brethren, who took up arms in 1989. The current crop, however, is amorphous. As one protest chant puts it, “Who is our leader? The stone pelter!” Anyone can be a ‘stone pelter’, as they call themselves, and crowds are drawing their numbers not just from angry young men but also from schoolboys, public and private sector workers (especially young workers) and elderly shopkeepers. One worker said “as soon as we heard about protest, we leave our work and go for it”.

The stone pelters have won the respect of a broad spectrum of Kashmiris. Shad Salim is an oncologist in his 50s who returned to Kashmir in 2007 after 20 years abroad. He was dismayed to find out that underneath the surface calm, Kashmiris were still subject to security checks and intimidation by security forces, much as they were during the worst of militancy. “The same amount of fireworks was not happening, but all the other things were as they were”. Salim says that he is not a stone pelter but share their anger. He says, “The torch of independence has been handed over to them”.

These young men are engaged in 21st Century forms of protest. They collectively organise through Facebook, Twitter and You Tube. Text messages are blocked throughout the Kashmir Valley, so young rebels find each other and share news of protests through Facebook pages like “I am a Kashmiri Stone Pelter”. They do not trust newspapers or television, but debate and share the reports of latest shootings on Twitter feeds. Their propaganda medium of choice is the You Tube video, setting hand held digital footage of protests and clashes to music like Everlast’s “Stone in my hand”.

Suhasini Haider gave an eyewitness account in The Hindu newspaper at the end of August 2010. She wrote, “Ironically, the prolific nature of protests also negates claims made by separatist leaders Musarat Alam Bhat and Aasiya Andrabi that they control and plan them. In fact, to many youngsters I met, Bhat and Andrabi are equivalent of MNS and Shri Ram Sene leaders – with a volume higher than impact.”

The Hurriat calendar of protest has certainly been followed religiously by shopkeepers and business owners, but for Kashmir’s GenNext protestors, there has been little by way of coordinated planning. ‘I just stand on the street and callout for Azadi’, says Rafiqa at the night procession in Rambagh. And people join in. Even at 1am, more women, accompanied by infants, join the march to chant slogans.

“There is a sorority – a feeling of empowerment that these women exude that is very different from the previous years of militancy in Kashmir. None of the women I met wears a stern black burka like Andrabi’s; instead they are a colourful mélange of popular printed Kashmiri ‘cheent’ muslin. The police will tell you women and children are being used as human shields that they make it difficult for the forces to crack down on mobs. If they are shields, they are voluntary shields, and quite often keep protests from turning more confrontational.

“At the Bone and Joint hospital, I met 18-years old Samreena Jan, who suffered a fracture in the leg, during protest in Sopore. Would she go back to protest, I ask. Yes, of course, she says with a giggle, but also with resolution that she is in this for a long haul.

“If the voices of confident women like Samreena’s distinguishes these protests from previous ones in one way, then the other is the lack of regional and religious acrimony between Jammu and Kashmir of the sort witnessed in 2008. Also worth noting is that while thousands of devout protesters were denied permission to pray at big mosques like the curfew bound Jamia Masjid for six weeks, no protester attacked the passage of lakhs of Amarnath pilgrims who cross the valley at this time of year. And, despite more than 10 weeks in this round of agitation, the protesters have not been armed with anything other than stones. For a generation born in the early 1990s, which learned ‘A’ is for AK-47, ‘B’ is bomb long before going to school, that should be seen as an achievement.

“As I spoke to the crowd that night I realised the other big mistake both the Central and State governments are making in their efforts. By constantly referring to job creation as a solution, leaders are wrongly identifying the protests with unemployed frustration. Of Jammu and Kashmir’s 65% literate population, nearly 10% is out of work, and for a State so dependent on seasonal tourism, unemployment and underemployment is always a worry. But that is not what is bringing people on the streets. In any case, a large number of those out since June are students. Of the rest, I met doctors, journalists, government workers and lawyers (all the top functionaries of the Kashmir Bar Association are in jail at present), otherwise well-settled professionals.

“Rehana Ashraf, a female teacher in Indian-held Kashmir, has said that they are out on the streets with a message- ‘kill us before you kill our young boys and girls. Under such circumstances, you can not expect us to remain silent. We want to send out the message that we are not weak.

“’We have lost our patience. They have killed our sons and brothers. How do you expect us to be mute spectators’, said 41 years old Mehbooba Akhtar, a mother of three teenage sons.’”

Syeda Afshana, a leading columnist and university lecturer, said that the increasing female presence reflects the sense of injustice felt by Kashmiris. One of the most prominent leaders in Kashmir, Sajjad Ghani Lone describe the situation in these words; “The protests seem to have taken a direction of their own, which we have never seen before. There is not a leader who could say stop the protests and they would stop it”.

State brutality

Thousands of people, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, are defying the curfews and out on the streets protesting against India’s rule and the occupation forces’ reign of terror, which is an attempt to silence the people’s movement demanding an end to India’s occupation. More than 100,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1989. Thousands have been injured and become permanently disable. There are nearly 100,000 orphans and 40,000 widows in Kashmir. 10,000 people, picked up by security forces, are still missing after many years. 8,000 women have been raped by Indian security forces.

More than 100 protesters, mainly young boys, have been killed and hundreds have been wounded, in less than two months, in pitched street battles between anti-occupation protesters and Indian troops. The youth with stones chant, “Go to India; go back! We want freedom!” The Indian occupation forces are using brute force against defenseless Kashmiri people, including live ammunition, crackdowns, surprised night raids, random arrests, severe beatings and tortures, humiliation and rapes of women, and other tactics to terrorise the population.

The New York Times reported from Srinagar on 20 August: “Paramilitary soldiers fired live ammunition to disperse anti-India protesters and wounded three people after residents accused troops of attacking their homes in India’s portion of Kashmir on Thursday (19 August). ‘They came to our homes, broke windows and tainted their guns at us’, said resident Mohammad Abdullah. ‘All of us came out and protested this aggressive and bullying act. But they fired on us’. An 8 years old boy wounded last week in firing by troops in the southern town of Anantnag died in a hospital on Thursday, taking the death toll to 60 in the last two months of demonstrations and clashes between the Indian forces and Kashmiri people”.

Kashmir burns

“Kashmir burns again as India responds to the dissent with violence”, wrote Andrew Buncombe from Srinagar for The Independent (London): “The largest towns are packed with heavily-armed police and the hospital wards are full of young men with gunshot wounds. The dead include young men, teenagers and even a nine-year old boy, reportedly beaten to death by the security forces after he tried to walk to the local shop…More people have taken to streets- women and the middle classes among them-and protesters have seemingly been more ready to accept the police’s bullets as price for their struggle to break away from the Indian state… The police and paramilitary forces have responded with crushing force… ‘The police are firing at the head and the body, and not the legs. This is against human rights, said one senior doctor. A female colleague, who had worked there (Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences) for seven years, said the situation was worse than she had ever seen. Children and women were among the victims…’ Protests will go on, young people will through stones, the police will kill people, there will be angry funerals that lead to more protests, more stones will be thrown, the police will shoot and kill more people; Kashmir’s agony is set to continue”.

Since 1989, the 700,000 strong Indian forces have killed more than 100,000 Kashmiris- many more are injured – to try to silence the people’s demand for justice, respect for human rights, freedom and the right of self-determination. They continue to carry out arbitrary detentions, summary execution, custodial killings, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape, sexual exploitation, torture and fake encounters. Generations of Kashmiris have grown up under the shadow of the gun. Not a single family is unaffected. Property worth hundreds of millions of dollars has been destroyed and the suffering and devastation continues unabated. The loss of life and destruction is on an unprecedented scale and drawing no attention from the so-called ‘international community’ and Western powers because they are more interested in trade and arms deals with India.

Anil Choudhary wrote an article entitled, ‘India buries dissent in Kashmir’, for the Harvard Law Record on January 2010. He wrote, “Nearly 2,600 bodies have been discovered in single, unmarked graves and in mass graves throughout mountainous Indian controlled Kashmir. This report is one of the most damning pieces of evidence of the crime against the humanity perpetrated by the Indian armed forces in their occupation of the disputed territory of Kashmir. The Indian occupation of Kashmir casts a dark shadow over India’s shining image as the largest democracy in the world. Indian democracy prides itself on freedom of speech and expression and right of its people to dissent. But the manner in which the dissent of the Kashmiri population has been crushed illustrates that India has a long way to go to be a real functional democracy. The Indian state has for decades been suppressing the largely non-violent dissent of the Kashmiri people against the militarisation of Kashmir. The Indian state has used the divisive propaganda of militancy and religion as tools to suppress any kind of dissent against its forced occupation of the region”.

The voice that India has tried so forcefully to silence in Kashmir has massed into a loud thunder. Kashmir’s young generation that helplessly watched the Indian forces’ brutality against innocent civilians for more than 20 years has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, which has shocked both Pakistan and India. Both the governments have been surprised at the intensity and scale of the present movement called the ‘Kashmiri intifada’.

No lasting, just solution on capitalist basis

The perception that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan is unfounded. Kashmir is not a territorial or bilateral issue. It is about the future of 15 million people with their own history of independence and their own language and culture. This is the fundamental reason for the failure to resolve the Kashmir issue, through on-again and off-again, ‘bilateral dialogue’ for the past 63 years. The people of Kashmir have lost complete faith in the bilateral process of India and Pakistan and their ability to resolve the issue. The experience of last decades clearly shows that no lasting, just and durable solution of this issue is possible on a capitalist basis. Whatever solutions had been discussed and put forward by the both sides to resolve the issue were clearly proposals to protect their own interests and to maintain direct or indirect control.

The masses in Kashmir are so tired of the status quo that they want to do whatever it takes to have a normal life. This is precisely the reason the entire population is in support of the ongoing protests against India’s occupation. Whether the Kashmiri people are being heard or not by India, Pakistan and the world, the masses in Kashmir are making a point, clearly and loudly, every day for the past three years, more particularly for last two months, that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

The unprecedented sacrifices and sufferings experienced by the masses against this volte-face in terms of death and destruction, life and property, torture and persecution, rape and repression over the years, particularly during the last 21 years, is much too great to go unrewarded. The Kashmiri freedom struggle is now entering its twenty-second year with firm and unwavering courage and determination in the face of unspeakable suffering and injustices to achieve the right of self-determination.

There is no viable solution possible under capitalism to the Kashmiri issue. An independent socialist Kashmir is the only way forward that can bring durable peace, stability and prosperity to the Kashmiri workers and peasants. A mass movement of the working class in the region needs to be built to force the withdrawal of all foreign troops from both Indian and Pakistani Occupied Kashmir. The working class of the area should enforce a non-military zone territory. As part of this struggle, trade unions and working class organisations should form elected committees to take control of the running of society into their own hands. These committees should discuss and draw up plans for the convening of a constituent assembly, with representatives from all sections of the working class and poor peasantry, on an equal and democratic basis, to decide the future of Kashmir.

A planned economy under the democratic control of Kashmiri workers and poor peasants, using the huge human and mineral resources of the country, could solve the economic and social problems faced by the masses, within a generation. But the overthrow of capitalism is essential to achieve this goal. Through the socialist transformation of society, the lives of millions of impoverished people will be transformed. A Socialist federation of India, Pakistan and Kashmir, on a free and democratic basis, can guarantee a lasting and durable peace in the region.

  • End the occupation – troops out of Kashmir!
  • Stop repression, release all the political activists and protesters!
  • For the right of self determination for Kashmir!
  • For a socialist Kashmir and a socialist federation of the region!

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November 2010