Wednesday, August 27, 2008


After days of dithering over how to go about Kashmir and apparently not finding a way out, New Delhi finally found the talisman. Some smart ass in the South Block probably suggested a punitive crackdown to deal with the situation. So three days ago, India flexed its military muscle in Kashmir. Everthing since has been gasping for some air.

I met Arundhati Roy today. She agrees it is the cruelest curfew ever in the chequered history of the valley. Ms Roy retains a beautiful sense of satire. She said, “You know, I was in Kashmir recently and I witnessed the million strong marches. The most striking thing about them was that they were all very peaceful”. This curfew is the government’s way of telling the people that we would tolerate no non-violence, she said with a chuckle. I couldn’t agree more.

The curfew has been a total clamp-down. The security agencies were perhaps given a clear brief. Not a soul should exit their homes. Not a single silly slogan must echo. It matters not that someone could be sick and would want immediate medical attention or someone may need to travel urgently. There are no concessions. It was like the big brother finally coming down heavily on its small pestering cousins. And the para-military forces acted exactly as was expected of them, like mechanical creatures, completely insensitive to human plight.

I cringe with dejection to think of this hobgoblin. One of my friends was supposed to fly to the middle-east where he works as a surgeon. He had a connecting flight to catch from Delhi. Stuck in curfew in Kashmir, he tried arguing with the troopers manning the curfew-colored roads. All in vain. He missed the flight and his schedule went haywire. This is nothing. I read in news-papers today that even emergency services were disallowed. As a result ambulances couldn’t ply. A girl, from south Kashmir, withering with stomach ache, died in the ambulance while her aged father trying to convince the mechanical creatures. Again in vain.

The curfew is so cruel that it looks like a revenge exercise. A collective punishment is being meted out to people for daring to look at the state in the eye. I see no other reason why local media must be gagged. Why national/international media should be barred from reporting. Why doctors who show their curfew passes are asked to back-off and return home. On the humanitarian side, bodies of people who have died in hospitals over the past three days -- due to natural causes -- are lying in morgues for the want of transportation. No ambulance driver wants to risk his life. There are reports that water tankers couldn’t reach orphanages. This is a dire and deliberate agony.

There are times in history when states act nasty. A very few states treat people -- they never tire to call their own -- in such high-handed fashion. I asked Arundhati -- one of the best living writers of English -- about her article, espousing Azadi for Kashmir. She was candid in her response. “India is giving the same arguments that the British once gave us -- That the natives are not yet ready. We shall send the Simon commission.” New Delhi, Ms Roy added, continues to live behind glass walls. I throw these stones at the wall so that it develops some cracks and they wake up to realize that there is a problem in Kashmir.

One can immediately draw parallels between Arundhati and that great Frenchman Jean Paul Sartre --who once famously refused the Nobel prize. Sartre would exactly poke the administration of the legendary French President Charles de Gaulle over French atrocities in Colonial Algeria. Intellectuals and writers, wherever they are, always speak up the gospel truth.

Dissent and debate is part of any democracy. While India's self-righteous leaders never fail to highlight our democratic credentials, they remain ignorantly indifferent to the misery of more than six million people, who have been cooped inside one of the world's biggest and the most beautiful prisons. The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual crime, Max Stirner the German philosopher once averred.

The Kashmir problem shall remain.