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India in Kashmir: Winning a battle only to lose the war?

by Gautam Navlakha, 22 November 2008

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Economic and Political Weekly, 8 November 2008

The brutal suppression of the peaceful mass protests that swept across Kashmir in August has restored New Delhi’s "control" of the Valley. The centre may have won this battle, but it has lost the war and if it was not apparent before it should be obvious now that the people of Kashmir no longer have faith in the constitutional processes. The allocation of land for the Amarnath yatra controversy that triggered an explosion first in Kashmir and then led to agitations in the Jammu division, and the State’s differential response to the demonstrations in these two parts of Jammu and Kashmir have signalled a message to the people in the Valley that they cannot expect justice and dignity from an increasingly communalised state apparatus.

In convincing itself that the aspiration for freedom had waned in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), New Delhi became a victim of its own machinations. So much so that it was unnerved by the non-violent display of people’s power in Kashmir in August-September, and meted out "collective punishment" to the people for their mass demonstrations. The imposition of a curfew between 24 August and 1 September, accompanied by shoot at sight orders, was carried out to restore the writ of the State in J&K.

The agitation, which began in late June 2008 over "diversion" of 800 kanals
(one kanal is one-eighth of an acre or one-third of a hectare) of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) for the Amarnath yatra, went beyond the issue of land diversion, which had brought people in Kashmir on to the streets. It was overtaken by the demand for azadi
from India.

The immediate trigger for the resurgent demand for azadi was the sense of insecu- rity in the Valley at the communal attitude of the security forces and the complete dependence on New Delhi for their physical well-being during the agitation in Jammu for reversal of the order cancelling alloca- tion of land to the SASB. The State’s abysmal role, especially of its law enforcing agencies, which failed to stop rioters in Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur from fomenting a communal divide and block- ing the national highway - the only road connecting the Valley of Kashmir with the rest of India - infuriated a people whose right to life, already under threat from a ubiquitous security apparatus, was further imperilled by a fear of starvation.

Now the Election Commission has decided to hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir, in a seven-phase schedule spread out from 17 November to 24 December. It is widely expected that given the sequence of events over the past year - especially between late May and September - voter participation, other than in Jammu, Ladakh and Leh, will be very low.

The People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference may have agreed to participate in the election. But after the explosion of anger (from end May to end June) in Kashmir first over the allocation of land to the SASB (which briefly subsided when the state government revoked the
decision on 29 June), the subsequent blockade of the Kashmir Valley (from end July to end August) by the agitators in Jammu who were demanding a restoration of the land allocation, the caving in of the authorities to the Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti (SAYSS) on the land issue (30 August), the mass demonstrations in the Valley and the State’s brutal response with firings, crackdown and a nine-day long curfew in all the 10 districts of Kashmir (24 August to 1 September), it is highly improbable that the people of the Valley will show any enthusiasm for the "electoral process", all the more so since both the Hurriyat groups have called for a boy- cott of the elections.

For 18 years, the rest of India claimed that if only the movement for self-determination gave up armed resistance, the State would be willing to hold a dialogue. Yet, when non-violent demonstrations began, and the militants declared their decision to silence their guns in civilian areas, the government cracked down. Strict curfew was imposed - reminiscent of the early 1990s - and protestors were fired at resulting in a loss of lives.

According to chronological data collected by the Srinagar-based J&K Coalition of Civil Society, between 22 June and 12 September, 57 persons were killed and at least 1,500 injured (of whom nearly 600 suffered bullet injuries). And even doctors, ambulances and hospitals were attacked by the security forces. Amidst all this, as late as 25 August, agitators in Jammu threatened to reimpose an economic blockade on the Valley even as there was a complete ban on electronic channels and print media across Kashmir for four days and journalists were beaten and their movement curtailed.

That all this can happen despite the formal presence of a "free" media, a "vibrant" middle class, and an "independent" judiciary goes to show that once "national security" is invoked, the government clamps down on dissemination of news and information and even autonomous state institutions fall in line.1

Consequently, it is imperative to look closely at the mistakes the State has made in recent times in J&K for us to understand how the Amarnath spark exploded into a mass manifestation for separation from India.

Decline in Militancy

Until recently it was claimed that militancy had petered out, but that the threat of infiltration remained. In actual fact, the number of attempts at infiltration has fallen sharply. In 2001 it was said to be 2,417, but dropped to 537 (2004), 597 (2005), 573 (2006) and 535 (2007). This year, according to the army chief, there was a 65% decline up to 31 July to just 150, as compared to the same period in 2007 (Times of India, 23 August 2008). The government also claimed a 70% decline in militancy related incidents between 1990 and 2007, from 3,500 to less than 1,000. The number of incidents of firing came down from 671 to 183. The number of bomb explosions declined from 1,000 to just 50. The number of civilians who were killed fell from 914 to 153 (Tribune, 12 December 2007). According to the army chief, the number of militants, "present and active" in J&K, is 750-800. It was also claimed that people are participating in the parliamentary political process and shunning "separatists". Besides, a cease- fire has been observed by India and Pakistan along the line of control (LoC) since November 2003, resulting in an end to mortar shelling and a fall in infiltration. While recent reports sourced to the army claim new ceasefire violations, it is inter- esting that Pakistan has questioned the veracity of such claims (Hindustan Times, 28 August 2008).2

Statistics can arguably be manipulated. But since the government itself has downplayed the incidence of militancy, the question is: why was it unwilling to consider demilitarisation? After all, the military no longer faced a threat, which called for the presence of 700,000 armed personnel. (It is said that the Indian military is in J&K to protect the people from "cross border terrorists".)

After the indefinite curfew was lifted in early September, officials believed that a lesson had been driven home that it does not pay to take on the Indian State. The State also knows that the opinion-makers and media will toe the official line. And that livelihood concerns will eventually come in the way of maintaining a mass upsurge. But the point is not whether the movement can revive and sustain itself or get derailed by subterfuge.3 The political mood of the people is there for all to see. That such mass mobilisation was possible in August 2008 shows that the demands and aspirations will not disappear. By far the largest number among the mass of people was from the 18-25 age group. This is evidence that a new generation is com- ing out into the open. Thus, it would be presumptuous to read into the state- imposed and controlled return of routine, a return to normalcy. When an idea becomes a strong force it does not dissi- pate nor does it have to manifest itself on a daily basis.

Land Grab

The main source of employment in J&K is agriculture and horticulture. According to J&K’s Economic Survey of 2006-07 there are 37.54 lakh cultivators, 2.46 lakh agricultural workers and 20 lakh people directly or indirectly employed in horticulture. In other words 49.2% of the people depend on land, one way or another (Navlakha 2007). Even if 10% of the total cropped area of 1.126 million acres or nine million kanals in J&K is removed from production, it means, for an economy so dependent on agriculture and horticul- ture, a huge loss. Removing this land from cultivation means that much less of earn- ings and that many fewer jobs.

Therefore, involuntary alienation of land in general and of cultivable tracts, in particular, causes serious loss for an economy so dependent on agriculture.

According to a statement issued on the floor of the assembly by the former state Deputy Chief Minister on 1 August 2006 there were more than 667,000 security forces in J&K. This is an incredibly large concentration of troops for an area whose total population is less than 12 million.

There are reportedly 671 security forces camps in J&K (excluding those in Jammu, Kargil, Leh, Akhnoor and Udhampur). Going by the per battalion requirement of land of 150 acres (according to the norms set by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs), for central paramilitary forces and assuming that the army’s requirement is the same, the land required for security forces in J&K would be 100,050 acres.4 By rejecting demilitarisation and relocation, the ministry of defence instead announced last February new rent scales for land occupied or to be acquired. The message that went out was that the armed forces were in Kashmir for a long haul.

Consider the recent hike in rent paid for land taken by the security forces. The previous rent levels were very low. The class I category of irrigated land which earlier fetched Rs 1,125 per kanal per year as rent, is now paid Rs 3,381 per kanal. For double cropped irrigated land, the rent was Rs 1,688 per kanal and this has been increased to Rs 4,087 per kanal. For orchards, the rent of Rs 1,575 per kanal and has been increased to Rs 10,000 per kanal.

The increase in rent still does not cover the loss suffered by those whose land is alienated. Let us consider some other figures. One kanal of an apple orchard is said to have 12 trees, although it is not uncommon to have up to 18 trees. This translates into 300 to 360 boxes of fruit. The income varies from Rs 1.2 to 1.5 lakh a year per kanal. As for walnut, one kanal is said to have six to eight trees. The annual income from this could be anywhere between Rs 4.25 and Rs 6 lakh. If the land is used for paddy cultivation, a yield of between 50 and 70 quintals is the norm and the earnings vary between Rs 90,000 and Rs 126,000 because one quintal fetches approximately Rs 1,800. So an offer of Rs 10,000 per kanal for orchard land as rent is low. Put it another way, farmers or orchard owners are subsiding the deployment of the armed forces in Kashmir.

Anger over occupation of their land, loss of livelihood and earnings, as well as the State’s attempts to silence the demand for demilitarisation through rent hikes provide the backdrop against which the SASB landed itself in controversy last June. Diversion of forest land to the SASB, as well as the manner in which the CEO of the board went about claiming it was a "permanent transfer" was seen as setting a legal precedent, which could be used for transferring forest and other land to non- state subjects. Conspiracy theories had a field day after this event. So let us revisit the issue of land for the Amarnath yatra.

Nitish sengupta committee

The SASB, set up by the National Conference government in 2000, is presided over by the governor, and sees as being a sovereign body accountable to no one.

Clause 16(d) of the SASB Act authorises the board to carry out "development activity concerning the area of (the) shrine and its surroundings". Using this, as well as the Jammu High Court’s pronouncement that everything being done by the board is above legislature’s scrutiny and will be deemed to be done in "good faith", the SASB began to make outrageous demands.

Recall the infamous statement of Arun Kumar, the CEO of SASB (who as a member of the IAS was principal secretary to the governor) on 1 January 2008 wherein he claimed that the legislature had no authority to question the SASB. Or the statement issued on 16 June that forest land had been "permanently transferred" and that the board had paid the state government Rs 1.25 crore to purchase the land, that the period of the yatra should be extended, and that Kashmiris were willing to wink at "pollution caused by Muslims but not by Hindus". These statements were meant to provoke anger.

The SASB, it is said, was set up on the basis of the recommendations made by the 1996 Nitish Sengupta Committee. A reading of that report makes it abundantly clear that the committee’s recommendations were all but ignored. For instance, the SASB was not tasked with micro managing the yatra or turn it into an all-Hindu affair from which Muslims were to be kept away. Among the various acts of S K Sinha when he was governor (until
June 2008) was to summarily discontinue the traditional role of the Malik family as protectors of the shrine and their right to receive one-third of the offerings. Instead of regulating and restricting the number of pilgrims, the SASB went on an overdrive to extend the yatra over a longer period and to accommodate an ever increasing number of pilgrims. This year, despite the agitation in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu, 5.29 lakh yatris visited the cave. This is more than the combined figure for 2006 and 2007 of 2.65 and 2.14 lakhs, respectively.

What exactly were the Nitish Sengupta Committee’s main recommendations?

Set up by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs after the 1996 Amarnath yatra tragedy in which 205 yatris and 25 porters and security personnel lost their lives in a snow storm, the report emphasised that "the pilgrimage to Amarnath is not just pilgrimage but high altitude mountaineering" (p 54). It wanted a minimum age of 15 and maximum of 65 for the yatris (p 55). It repeatedly makes the point that at this altitude the hazardous nature of the track and uncertain weather conditions call for regulating the number of pilgrims and the period of the yatra. "It has to be emphasised here that (the) carrying capacity of this pathway of about 32 km, i e, between Chandanwari and the cave, is extremely limited. It passes all along at a very high altitude, well above the tree line and through areas with no human habitation" (p 5). For eight months of the year there is snow and the formation of natural stalagmite (the snow lingam) begins only by June.

Therefore, the Amarnath yatra cannot be compared with any other pilgrimage and the closest parallel that can be drawn is Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet and Gomukh in Uttarakhand. At both, Kailash Mansarovar and Gomukh the duration of the pilgrimage is restricted and the numbers strictly regulated. There is also a ceiling on numbers at Vaishno Devi where a cap of 20,000 per day is in place. In fact, the report says that "(a)long with the reg- ulation of the total number of pilgrims to about 1 lakh during the 30-day period, we should also regulate the maximum number of people who can be permitted at any point of this journey at any given time" (p 52). And adds "we could lay down a ceiling of 3,000 pilgrims that can be permitted to travel on any of these sectors, (i e, Chandanwari to Sheshnag; Sheshnag to Panjtarani; and Panjtarani to the cave) in a single day".

It also called for restricting the performance of havans at the cave since they "pollute the purity of the atmosphere and also constitute (a) fire hazard" (p 58). The report opposed a proposal to make the road from Chandanwari to Sheshnag and then up to Panjtarani motorable, because "(a)llowing the motor vehicles to go into this area will not only damage the environment of these areas, but will also spoil the pristine scenic charm of these mountains and valleys" (p 60). But the SASB went ahead, not only encouraging havans by all and sundry VIPs but also introduced heli- copter services for pilgrims, which are a major source of pollution. The meltdown of the natural stalagmite or the "snow lingam" this year within 15 days of the yatra must be seen as the impact of the presence of a huge numbers of yatris and the operation of helicopter services. The critical importance of protecting the ecology of this area cannot be underemphasised since while tourists come and go, the local inhabitants depend on the water and land for their life and livelihood. Any damage to the ecology could, thus, have a serious impact on the local people, which is what pollution of the Lidder river by SASB’s unregulated promotion of the yatra and destruction of the ecology of Nunwan valley threaten to bring about.

The Nitesh Sengupta Committee report proposed that administration of the yatra be handed over to the Department of Tourism, as is the case with religious tourism in every other state. Insofar as the high powered board that it recommended be set up was concerned, the committee proposed that the chief minister should be the chairperson. The board (constituted in 2000 as the SASB) was to supervise the yatra and prepare a strategic plan for providing temporary facilities. As of now 2,204 kanals, of which 1,500 kanals are forest land (and from which 800 kanals are to be "diverted" to SASB for tempo- rary use) are being used for yatris in the Baltal route.

Economic Blockade

Once the agitation began in Jammu last July against the revocation of the government order diverting land to the SASB, supplies to the Valley began to be disrupted. It is true that earlier during the protests in Kashmir in June against the first decision to allocate land, the agitators had targeted some of the trucks with Jammu number plates and the drivers were injured. However, the fact is that the protestors in Kashmir even if they had so wanted, would not have been able to disrupt any supplies to Jammu because essential supplies to that region come from the rest of the country and not from the Valley.

The report presented by the J&K police to the all party delegation on 9 August stated, the "(a)gitation started blocking the National Highway repeatedly with a view to obstruct (sic) supplies to the Valley including LPG, oil, petrol, diesel, etc". And went on to say that "(m)any incidents of attacks on the Highway on individual vehicles and supply load carriers...(and) beating of drivers created a sense of in- security..." (Indian Express, 10 August 2008.) That New Delhi could deny that the blockade took place is astounding because it flies in the face of the people’s own ex- perience of shortages and it ignores the findings of the police department of J&K. Economic Times (21 August 2008) citing excise department figures noted that in the first 18 days of August 2008, state- bound truck traffic fell by 49% and out- ward bound traffic by 64%. Also the fruit merchants of Delhi’s Azadpur mandi say that in the first 15 days of August 2008, only 124 fruit trucks reached the market as against 814 in the same period in August 2007 (Hindustan Times, 20 August 2008). Another report in Economic Times (31 August) noted that between 30 July and 29 August, 16,229 truckload of petrol, food and other provisions reached Kashmir.
This means a daily average of 524 Srinagar-bound trucks which was less than half of the daily average during 2007. The movement of outward bound trucks (103 trucks per day) was less than a quarter of the daily average of 2007.5

The leader of a Jammu based transport association Ashok Nanda told Tribune (21 August 2008) that the Kashmir Valley would soon face an acute shortage of foodgrains because four out of six Food Corporation of India depots were run- ning out of stocks. According to Nanda, normally 200 trucks carried foodgrains everyday to the Valley, but at that time less than 20 trucks were plying. On 18 August the All J&K Oil Tankers Association warned that truckers from Jammu would stop loading vehicles for the Kashmir division of the state from 20 August. Call it disruption or "chakka jam", there was a blockade in place.

Besides, why was it that Jammu’s right wing extremists, who were publicly declaring their intent to starve people in the Valley in order to "teach them a lesson", not charged and prosecuted? On 21 July, BJP leader Nirmal Singh asked Indian tourists to boycott Kashmir. On 23 July BJP leader Ashok Khajuria stepped up the rhetoric by saying that they would starve the Kashmiris by imposing an economic blockade. On 25 August the leader of the SAYSS, Leela Karan Sharma, said that "we will strangulate Kashmiris no matter even if this means (leading to) opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarbad road" (Greater Kashmir, 26 August 2008).

Differential treatment

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) claimed that during the two agitations earlier this year in Jammu and in Kashmir they used force as per the scale of provocation. And they allege that whereas there were 75 violent incidents in Kashmir in the August agitation which left 231 jawans injured, in Jammu during the July-August agitation there were 30 such incidents which injured 90 personnel. Again as against 16 attacks on bunkers in Kashmir and damage to 20 CRPF vehicles there was only a single incident in Jammu (Mail Today, 30 August 2008). What the CRPF does not say, however, is that while they used live bullets on the protestors in Kashmir from 11 August 2008 onwards, resulting in the loss of 57 lives and injuries to 2,000 (many with bullet injuries), not a single security force personnel died in Kashmir at the hands of protestors. Whereas in Jammu, while the security forces exercised restraint, two policemen, Zafar Javed and Zakir Husain, were lynched by a mob in that division of the state. Besides, of the death toll of 13 in Jammu, seven were Muslims. Of the six Hindus who died, two committed suicide and four were shot dead by security forces.

The J&K police department’s own figures, which they presented to the all-party dele- gation which visited Jammu on 9 August are again quite revealing (Indian Express, 10 August 2008.) The report said that the 1,171 persons who were arrested (includ- ing those who probably lynched the two J&K police constables) were given bail. And of the 129 cases registered by the police in the Jammu region none were under any draconian law or provision. There are few instances of Section 302, 304 A and 307 registered against rioters in Jammu. In fact, there are several cases of Muslim protestors in Jammu division, Poonch and Rajouri being booked under PSA. And as part of the agreement struck between the Indian government with the SAYSS, it was decided:

As regards the registration of criminal cases against various persons during the period of agitation, it is agreed that all cases of non- serious nature which shall mean bailable and compoundable will be withdrawn. The remaining cases will be reviewed, on the merits of each case, by a Committee headed by Shri Anil Goswami, Principal Secretary (Home) within 60 days. Till the completion of this process, no action will be taken in such cases. Also, specific allegations of atrocities on agitators, based on prima facie evidence, could also be looked into...

What is intriguing is the fact that while the entire J&K region was declared
as "disturbed", in areas where the SAYSS-led agitation was taking place in Jammu division, the security forces waited for the executive magistrate to issue orders to open fire, but in the Valley no such procedure was followed (Tribune, 7 August 2008).

The communal mobilisation in Jammu, directed against the Muslims of Kashmir, is brought to light by the same police report made to the all-party delegation. Out of 10,513 incidents that took place in Jammu, until 10 August 2008 the incidents in the Hindu majority areas of Jammu were 3,758, in Kathua 2,270, in Udhampur 1,850 and in Riyasi 740. Thus the movement was confined to predominately Hindu areas.6

So obvious has been the patronage extended to the right wing groups in Jammu that it is astonishing that otherwise sensi- tive people have all these years not once spoken out against permission granted to the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to hold weapons training camps in Jammu, which is a Disturbed Area. It is strange that people chose to look the other way when the Shiv Sainiks and Bajrang Dal habitually disrupted and engaged in fisticuffs at press conferences held by Hur- riyat leaders in Jammu city.

Such is the extent of promotion of communalisation in J&K that 90% of the
25,000 armed members of the Village Defence Committees in Doda district
(where there is a 60-40% Muslim-Hindu distribution of the population) are Hindus. This bodes ill for the people each time communal passions are inflamed in the Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban, Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu division, all districts which have a mixed population.
Some police personnel and members of the civil administration reportedly led a mob of Hindu fanatics in the murderous attack on a Muslim procession in Kishtwar town on 12 August, in which three persons lost their lives while they were protesting the killing of civilians in Kashmir. These are early signs of what these 25,000 pre- dominately Hindu VOCs, with many be- longing to right wing organisations, are capable of unleashing, aided and abetted by a pliable police and civil administration. The Muslims of J&K were reminded of August-September 1947, when Muslims were massacred in Poonch and Jammu by the soldiers of the princely kingdom along with RSS and Akali Dal cadres. It says a lot about their sense of insecurity today that memories of the massacre in 1947 have been rekindled (Chaudhury 2008).

Prejudiced view

It is a mark of the maturing of the movement in Kashmir that only two incidents directed at the pilgrimage are reported to have happened in 2008 during the Amarnath yatra. The yatris were otherwise not abused or inconvenienced through this year which saw an unprecedented turnout despite the agitation in the Valley. But the relations between the security force personnel and the inhabitants of Kashmir have been one between an occupation force and an occupied people. One does not argue with a person who is armed and enjoys immunity from prosecution. Yet had not security forces opened fire on protestors during the Muzaffarabad march on 11 August, angry protests against the security forces would not have followed. But once the Jammu and Kashmir Coordination Committee announced that troops should not be abused and that there should be no provocation for them to open fire, not only did more people turn up for the demonstrations, but barring slogan shouting no untoward incident took place. This is not to deny the pre- sence of fanatically inclined persons and groups among the Muslims in J&K. But it is worth reminding ourselves that if the presence of fanatic Hindus in Parliament and in power in several states, and the repeated display of communal prejudice by the security forces and administration has not converted the Indian State de facto into a "Hindu Rashtra", then how does the presence of some fanatic Muslims in a mass movement, make the entire population fundamentalist? In fact, it is mischievous on the part of observers to invoke the fear of the Taliban in J&K and yet ignore the spectre of state-patronised Hindu fanaticism that is looming over the state.

The former governor of J&K, S K Sinha, delivering the first Field Marshal Manekshaw lecture on 16 August, claimed that he "made extensive efforts to bring about a mind change among Kashmiri Muslims who constitute 45% of the population... Contrary to their past heritage, religious fundamentalism had seeped among them to a very large extent" . As the chancellor of Kashmir University, S K Sinha also got his way and the history course taught in the Centre for Kashmir Studies located in Kashmir University ended at the 13th century, when Islam became ascendant. It was his great idea that in order to wean away people from fundamentalism, the army should begin to renovate sufi ziarats. He argued that "if (the) Haj subsidy was acceptable, how can there be any objection to the army renovating ziarats" (ibid: 7). Sinha was innocent of the fact that when an army, present in large numbers in a state begins to carry out renovation of religious shrines, it will be perceived by the population as a mischievous act directed against them.

Besides, such has been the nature of the State’s attempt to bring about a "mind change", that the killing of 209 Kashmiri Pandits (out of a total of 1,500 non-Muslims who lost their lives in J&K between 1989 and 2007) and the migration of 125,000 is a major issue, while the killings by Indian security forces of primarily Muslims in J&K remain shrouded in obscurity. Without pitting the suffering of one against the other, the fact is that the sheer magnitude of the death toll of 70,000, arrest and torture of at least 60,000, 33 recorded massacres, the enforced disappearance of 8-10,000 persons, denial of passports to more than 60,000 because of their presumed links or those of their family with militancy, the uncovering of nearly 1,000 unidentified graves in the Uri sector, encounters and custodial deaths, rape as an instrument of war...this is simply staggering.

Even where relief and rehabilitation is concerned, the communal bias is evident. The alacrity with which New Delhi announced compensation for the family of Kuldeep Kumar, who committed suicide in Jammu in July, supposedly angered by the speech of the National Conference leader, Omar Abdullah in Parliament during the debate on the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, is in sharp contrast to the refusal to extend relief and rehabilitation to the victims of firing by government forces. Presumably, this would have demoralised the armed forces who carried out these killings. Remarkably, no compensation was announced for the next of kin of the 57 civilians killed, 1,500 injured or for property damaged in the Valley by the security forces during the peaceful demonstrations in August 2008.

In contrast to Jammu, where rioters remain free and it appears that all and sundry may be paid compensation, in Kashmir 250 first information reports (FIRs) were filed against the protestors and 300 persons were detained after the August agitation. One hundred and fifty persons have been booked under the Public Security Act, as against two in Jammu. On 2 September, when newspapers began to come out in the Valley, reports started appearing of security forces singling out young men in the villages for organising protests, taking them into custody in batches and releasing them after a severe beating. Such repressive steps by an administration, which today does not comprise a single Muslim in the higher echelons of the security grid, is designed to either break the resolve of these young men or to push them towards picking up the gun. It is not without irony that it is the CRPF which has asked for protection from being charged under J&K’s Ranabir Penal Code of 1989, which allows local police to lodge an FIR and arrest security personnel who open fire or indulge in assault (Mail Today, 30 August 2008).

The State was defending "territorial integrity" when the security forces opened fire in Kashmir, but appeasing "nationalist forces" when it soft pedalled the BJP-Congress-led agitation in the Hindu majority
districts of Jammu. Lest we forget, the only criterion for S K Sinha to characterise the agitation in Jammu as "nationalist" and the one in the Valley as "anti-national" was because in Jammu "agitators have been carrying (the) national flag" whereas in Kashmir "they have been carrying Pakistani flags". The National Security Adviser, M K Narayanan, said that security forces could not accept the Indian flag being abused by the non-violent agitators in Kashmir. But apparently there is nothing wrong in the Jammu rioters committing crimes while holding the tricolour.

Therefore we should ask who are at the receiving end of the state’s crackdown and who are the recipients of its benevolence? Who is being patronised and who is being persecuted? Who gets bullets and who is bailed out? Who is detained and who is compensated? Who is being chased and beaten and who roams free?

A study conducted among army personnel in 2005 (Chowdhury et al 2005) showed that 88% of the surveyed experienced a "feeling of anger/frustration at fighting with ’one arm tied behind their backs’";
84% an "anger at public admonition"; 64% a "bitterness at not being able to deal with the unarmed but vicious ideologues/motivators/financers of militants, the ’jamayatis’ who were blatantly misusing religious institutions such as "madrasas" in their anti-national activities"; 30% an "ambiguity with regard to aim"; 26% a feeling of uncertainty; 25% a feeling of fighting a futile war with no benefits to the country, and 18% a fear of "ever present danger/ attack from unexpected quarters". What this suggests is that anger and resentment among soldiers outweighs fear and doubt among the personnel. Therefore, when jawans are deployed and guided by a prejudiced understanding of the situation, then the likelihood of brutality is stronger. There are eyewitness accounts and video recordings which provide first hand account to the effect that in Jammu, security per- sonnel either allowed arson and looting to go on or encouraged rioters by openly declaring their support for the agitators. This is also evident in the communal abuse hurled by CRPF personnel in Kashmir when they beat people to a pulp. Consequently, it is time to ask what is the extent to which the armed forces of the union have been infected by Hindu communalism? Needless to add that for a plural and diverse society like ours a communalised security force can prove fatal as has already happened in J&K.

It is this existing reality within which the issue of land for the Amarnath yatra, the issue of occupation of land by security forces, and the recent economic blockade are located.

People’s right to Decide

Consequently, the Indian state has become its own worst enemy and in the process has brought great dishonour to the people of India. "National security" concerns can- not hide the reality that the Muslims of J&K seem to have little confidence left in the State.

The march to Muzaffarabad on 11 August was not a rhetorical drama, but something that emerged from a palpable sign of insecurity and was perceived as one way in which J&K’s dependence on the rest of India could be weakened. In contrast to the Srinagar-Jammu road which gets blocked in winter, the Srinagar-Rawalpindi high- way, which passes through Muzaffarabad and was in use until 1948, remains the only all weather link for Kashmir with the outside world.

The State has established that not only is it unnerved by the scale of people’s protests but that the only way in which it can retain its hold is by cracking down on the people. Perhaps it is necessary to remind ourselves that the perceptions of those who suffer oppression must be accorded due recognition. The horrible actions committed by many sections of the militants in the 1990s are not being repeated now and they have announced a silencing of their guns in civilian areas because of pressure from the vocal and articulate Kashmiri intelligentsia, whose robust presence today makes a huge difference. Thus a similar intellectual clarity is required among the Indian intelligentsia to ensure that at least now six decades of obfuscation can be bid goodbye to and the reality of the demand for azadi be heard carefully.

It is necessary to ask ourselves: If J&K was an integral part of India, then why have the Indian state and society been so cruelly indifferent to the violence inflicted on the people by the military? Is it because we look upon J&K and jealously guard it as a trophy of war - a conquered Muslim majority territory won by India in a war with Pakistan in 1947-48? We need to ask ourselves why and how our constitutional democracy has been abridged and devalued, thanks to a war against a people who have been treated as a subject population.

Therefore, instead of cowering before the demand of a right to self-determination, it is time we embrace it, because this offers us the only chance of a peaceful and democratic closure to a 61-year-old dispute. It enables every state subject across the LOC-divided state as well as in communally polarised J&K an opportunity to make her wishes known.

Arguably, the lack of a vision for the future for J&K among the Hurriyat and other separatists complicates the issue. But the other side of the picture is that unity forged among separatists is based on the demand for right to self-determination and this can come unstuck over contending visions. Consequently, it appears more realistic to argue that the emergence of a language of politics in which ideas and visions can compete and reduce the appeal of fanaticism and jingoism will follow when we accept the right to self-determination.

Notes

1 For the response of the judiciary to crimes by the security forces, see "Missing in Action: A Report on the Judiciary, Justice and Army Impunity in Kashmir" by PCHR (Srinagar) and PUDR (Delhi), November 2007. www.pudr.org/publications/year2007.

2 The army’s role in provoking violation of ceasefire has surfaced at least in the instance of Nowgam sector of LOC in north Kashmir’s Handwara district. (See, for an eyewitness account Mail Today, 1 August 2008).

3 The National Security Adviser M K Narayanan was emphatic that the Hurriyat leader Sheikh Aziz was shot in his back by someone from among the agitators and not by the security forces. And that the separatists after killing him, blamed it on security forces to whip up public emotions. Muzamil Jaleel, one of the most respected journalists for his objective reportage who is a correspondent of Indian Express and was an eyewitness to the killing, nailed the lie. He wrote on 23 August 2008 that he spoke to Sheikh Aiziz just minutes before he went up to the front of the crowd to pacify the people agitated over firing by the security forces and "(t)hen (he saw) the police and CRPF contingent fired (a) few teargas shells followed by bullets. Aziz was hit and he fell on the road". He quoted Saleem Iqbal, a surgeon on duty at SMHS hospital in Srinagar, as saying that no post-mortem was conducted and that his "entry wound was in left hypochrondrium (left side of upper abdomen) and the exit wound was in right hypochrondrium. There was no bullet inside and his intestine was protruding". He pointed out that no investigations were carried out because the police were "in the fire fighting mode." He further quotes the Inspector-General of Police (North Kashmir) as saying, "We halted them (the procession) and it (firing) was a bona fide act. He (Sheikh Aziz) was one among several other people who were injured that day." ("Narayanan says Forces Did Not Kill Hurriyet Leader", Muzamil Jaleel, Indian Express, 23 August 2008). Could the NSA’s remarks be an attempt to plant the seeds of suspicion among separatist leaders, whose coming together was causing concern to the authorities? As part of this effort a compact disk was handed over to the office of Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, which purports to contain a conversation recorded between Syed Salahudin of Hizbul Mujahideen with Masarat Alam, who belongs to the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, just before the Idgah meeting held on 22 August, wherein the former urges the latter to put pressure (dawab) on Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik not to dither. This has been claimed to mean an attack on the two leaders. Of course the authenticity of the CD has not been established.

4 It is worth noting that total landholding of the armed forces is approximately 1 million (10 lakh) acres. Recently, the Planning Commission had wanted the army to part with 2 lakh acres of "surplus" land lying with 62 cantonments. This request was turned down and instead the army
asked for an additional 2 lakh acres! (Hindustan Times, 9 April 2008). The point is that the armed forces are unwilling to part with land they occupy
and their appetite for more land is not coming down. On the land issue see, Navlakha (2004, 2007). There were large-scale protests in 2007 in Kashmir against attempts to transfer land in Gulmarg to non-state subjects in the name of promoting tourism.

5 See also examples of how it took 19 days, from 25 July to 14 August, for Avtar Singh (truck number PB 08 0997) to carry medical supplies from Jalandhar for SMHS hospital in Srinagar (Greater Kashmir, 15 August 2008). Or how five drivers were attacked in Kathua when they were part of an army convoy on 17 August going to Delhi (Rising Kashmir, 20 August 2008). See, in partic ular, Greater Kashmir, 19 August for chronology of highlights of events between 3 June and 17 August.

6 There is a body of opinion which claims that the Jammu agitation was based on a feeling of a sense of regional discrimination. But the inability of these commentators to substantiate their arguments undermines such claims. Indeed data available in Economic Survey 2006-07 and 2007-08 questions this argument. For instance, Table 3.12 in the Economic Survey 2007-08 shows that the per capita gross state domestic product at current and constant prices in Srinagar, Jammu, Kathua, Pulwama, Udhampur and then Rajouri districts, figure in that order, on the top. The bottom is taken up by Kupwara, Kargil, Doda, Leh and Poonch. If this is read together with annual per capita government expenditure in each of the three divisions, namely Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh, between 1992-93 and 2008-09, it is abundantly clear that it is the Kashmir division which receives less than Jammu and Ladakh. For instance, in 2008-09 the per capita outlay for Jammu is Rs 4,818.52; Rs 4,147.30 for Ladakh and Rs 4,081.21 for Kashmir. In 2008-09, Kashmir with 6.7 million people received Rs 2,757 crore; Jammu with 5.4 million received Rs 2,632 crore; and Ladakh with 2.91 lakh got Rs 121 crore. All these figures cut through the argument of regional discrimination against Jammu.

References

Chowdhury, S, P K Chakaraborty, V Pande, T R John, R Saini and S P Rathee (2005): "Impact of Low Intensity Conflict Operations on Service Personnel", Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 14(1-2).

Chowdhury, Zafar (2008): "Muslims in Jammu", EPW, 23 August.

Navlakha, Gautam (2004): "Kashmir: Achieving Fiscal Autonomy", Ecoomic & Political Weekly, October 1.

— (2007): "State of Jammu and Kashmir’s Economy", Economic & Political Weekly, October 6.

Sinha, S K (2008): "National Security: J and K Perspective", First Field Marshal Manekshaw Memorial Lecture, mimeo, New Delhi, August 16.