by Gerry Emmett
Something new is happening in Kashmir. In August, thousands of Kashmiris took to the streets shouting “Azadi”–freedom! Previously, Pakistan was behind the unrest in this disputed territory between India and Pakistan, but these demonstrations–continuous for three months–are indigenous, a human outcry against over 60 years of oppression.
At this point it does not appear to be a battle over religion–Muslim-majority Kashmir ruled by Hindu-majority India. Rather, Kashmiris are rejecting the occupation of their country by 600,000 Indian police and paramilitary troops who have tried to control Kashmir’s eight million people by overwhelming force.
Now the youth who have taken to the streets are demanding an independent and free Kashmir. They are not stand-ins for Pakistan, but are fighting for genuine freedom and self-determination.
Youth protests, essentially leaderless, escalated during the summer, as did Indian repression. Some 900 clashes occurred with more than 60 civilians killed but minimal harm to soldiers. Operating under an “Armed Forces Special Powers Act,” the Indian military gave itself great latitude to use force and seems to do so at every opportunity. For example, in June a student, Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, was hit by a tear-gas canister and killed, setting off new protests and more deaths.
The origins of India’s frantic, heavy-handed treatment of Kashmir lie within the original bloody partition of British colonial India into India and Pakistan when independence was finally won in 1947. Kashmir’s then-stated desire for independence has been a victim of the new states’ rivalry ever since. Since independence the India-Pakistan dispute has resulted in three wars on the subcontinent–two focused on Kashmir–and the two nuclear-armed powers face each other with intermittent saber-rattling. Relations have only deteriorated with the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, by Pakistani militants in 2008, and now India’s plans to build a hydroelectric dam in Kashmir, which would give India the potential to threaten Pakistan’s water supply.
But the Kashmiris’ actions show they will no longer tolerate being pawns in India and Pakistan’s fight for power.
Their bid for freedom and self-determination has created a sane possibility against nuclear madness: a demand for independence from India, not to join Pakistan, but for an independent state.
The Kashmiris’ demand for self-determination is the key for any viable solution. In the words of Malik Shahid, a 17-year-old who took part in a protest in Pulwama, a small town 20 miles from Kashmir’s capital: “If India took steps against those who kill us, maybe the people of Kashmir would be willing [to be part of India],” he said. “But when there is no justice, how can we remain with India? They are not doing anything but killing. So we will just go for freedom.”