Monday, August 25, 2008

What Frenzy is this?

Freedom is never free
~An old European maxim

Kashmir is irate like never before. A new-found furor floats around. Fresh slogans -- ingenious and irascible -- have been coined. They call their processions, freedom marches. A million people converge at the slightest notice. These marches have now been successfully repeated as many as four times in the last one fortnight. The youth fight the state in spirited battles -- with whatever is available to them: half-bricks, petite stones or slippers. Even the audacity is new. People stand still like frozen statutes when fired upon. Bullets have failed to cut the exuberance. I can’t make out, in all honestly, what is this frenzy! They call it the yearning for Azadi [Freedom].

Arundhati Roy -- one of my fave authors -- in a brilliant article calls the latest uprising Kashmir’s epiphany. I don’t think people outside Kashmir may ever understand it. The land row [which fuelled the present situation] has been forgotten and relegated to the back-burner amidst slogans for Azadi. Why was a mountain made out of a molehill, my journalist friends keep asking me in Delhi. Why should Kashmiris object to a mere chunk of land been given to the shrine board? When it is terra Kashmir, I try to vainly argue, meanings often go beyond the obvious. It is complex and confounded.

What Kashmiris are trying to demonstrate at this point in time has gone beyond the 40 hectares of land. The masses are desperately trying to hang onto the faint glimmer of hope that the land controversy has thrown to them and in doing so they are demonstrating a very unusual, raw power, which is both dangerous and defiant. Politically very well versed -- unlike many average Indian’s -- Kashmiris understand that in a world of 24 X 7 media attention, their old pent up anguish and emotions -- will not go unnoticed. If India is disturbed, it clearly has a huge reason to be.

Going back to the land row, Kashmir is anything but communal. For once Kashmiris resisted the land transfer because it would have diluted the special status of the state that the constitution of India confers to it. The land was being given/transferred/leased out/ordered/whatever to an autonomous body, which was not Kashmiri. The yatra, Kashmiris opined, could very well be managed by the state government and people, as has always been the norm. Handing over the land to a non-state entity compromises our position, they maintained. I guess there is nothing remotely communal about it. Debatable yes. Exclusivist yes. Nationalism yes. Communalism no.

This greatly dandered up the Hindu right wing in Jammu. They forced a punishing economic blockade of the valley. This peeved Kashmir no ends. Kashmiris maintained that they indeed did resist the land transfer order but only because certain elements -- in this case a fat ex-governor -- were deliberately trying to undermine Kashmir’s special status. The scheming right-wingers in Jammu rather mischievously painted the issue in overtly religious colors. The average Indian was made to believe that Kashmir has purposely denied land to the cave-god. Nothing can be more farther from truth.

It was actually somewhere during this time, that the almost-forgotten yearning for Azadi again stirred. Soon it had a ripple effect, which caught everyone unaware. Including India’s myriad intelligence agencies in Kashmir. Cities and villages poured out -- in the open -- in one huge show of civil disobedience. The panicky police and para-military resorted to naked aggression. People dug in deep. Multiple duels ensued. Crimson blood spilled. People got bolder. The movement, as I’ve previously posted, is solely powered by people.

There is no love lost for India in the dell. Apparently there is a lack of trust in Kashmir. A huge deficiency of credibility exists. Kashmiris say that they trusted India when the Indian troops landed in Srinagar for the first time in October 1947 [Kashmir was a princely state before Oct 47] but they never held the much-promised plebiscite. One elderly person I spoke to -- this time in Kashmir -- without batting an eyelid said, ‘Pandit Nehru took the Kashmir issue to the UN and told us that we shall be free to decide our fate. I heard him myself on All India Radio. Well I’ve been waiting all these years.’ They haven’t forgotten anything in 62 years.

The alienation sentiment lives on. People remember the 90’s when the armed struggle -- variously called militancy or terrorism -- began in Kashmir. As a kid I didn’t like the violence. A decade and a half later, as a contentious citizen of this country and as a humanist, I think it was utter devastation. Kashmir used to be a surreal, magical place. The conflict turned it into a phantom land. However India perpetuated terrible human rights violations during those years and - yes - people forget nothing. When you try telling them, India is a leading democracy, they point to the martyrs graveyards, full of innocents, killed in cold-blood. Not really, the sad glint in their eyes suggests.

India admits this much, that except for may be two or three elections, most elections in Kashmir during the last 50 years were rigged. There never was true representation. Alas people were never allowed to elect their real representatives. Don't you think they will ever feel dis-enchanted?

Sample this: One gentleman who lost to a rigged result from Srinagar’s Habba-kadal constituency went on to become the commander in chief of the most dreaded militant outfit in Kashmir. Presently the same guy, Mr Yusuf Shah, is the boss of United Jehad Council [an amalgamation of major militant outfits in Kashmir] and calls himself by his code-name Syed Sala-din. His polling agents, I must quickly chip in, Yasin Malik, Javed Mir and Hamid Sheikh all went on to become top militant leaders. While Sheikh was killed, Mir is in Hurriyet, while Yasin Malik, is the single most loved leader in Kashmir now.

I’ve to concede this much: I get put-off by the bike-protestors, waving green flags and shouting their allegiance to Pakistan. I don’t think Pakistan has to ever be an option for Kashmir. It is a failed state after all these years. The country, despite the apparent good-will they still command in the valley, is struggling to rise on its own feet and is crowded by a corrupt elite who will suck in Kashmiris for their own ulterior, shallow motives.

I don’t know when will India get its act right in Kashmir. Till now flawed, stultifying policies have resulted in old wounds being ripped open. Like an old active volcano Kashmir has seen it all growing inside her. Broken promises, deceit, rigged elections, corrupt leaders, armed struggle, bullets, bombs, blood. Tulips. Land grab.

It suddenly erupted on a summer morning.