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AZAADI. NOSTALGIA FOR THE FUTURE.

KASHMIR 2015: waiting for Azaadi (freedom) with nostalgia for the future.
Yet, even as it is devoured by the big states that surround it, Kashmir cannot be understood through the simplistic framing of ‘India versus Pakistan’, ‘Hindu versus Muslim’, or ‘China allied with Pakistan versus India’. Instead, see Kashmir as a vital link in the Himalayan mountain chain; a historic part of the Silk Route, that is now a violent battleground. Why? Because people in none of these three regions identify themselves as primarily and ‘above all’ Pakistani, Indian, or Chinese. Neither should they be forced to.
Cartography might lie, but topography and cultural geography does not. Kashmir is not India. Kashmir is not Pakistan. Kashmir is not China. Kashmir is the boundary zone of India-China-Pakistan. But it is distinctively Kashmir. And its people – whatever their religion or national identity – are Kashmiris. In the guise of crude nationalist narratives peddled by the surrounding post-colonial states for internal politicking and international leverage, their history is being stolen from the Kashmiri people. Wherever in Kashmir they are, their options boil down to bullets or ballots – bullets if they protest being co-opted into the big country which is not their homeland, and ballots if they agree to being co-opted into the big country which is not their homeland. How can a Kashmiri live under this perpetual erasure of his or her identity? The same way that every colonised people has survived through the ages: by interpretation and by insurrection. Interpretations enable a re-understanding of the identity choices available to a person, and insurrections allow a collectivity to challenge unjust dominance by force.IOK (‘India occupied Kashmir’, called ‘Jammu and Kashmir’, including ‘Ladakh’, in India) has never been an indisputable part of India. Paradoxically, presenting this historical fact invariably causes most Indians to assert even more vigorously that Kashmir is an ‘integral’ part of India. Why? Why is Kashmir so fundamental to the Indian psyche?
The average Indian insists that Kashmir is an indisputable part of India to be held by force when necessary in the same way that the Indian state insists that Kashmir is an ‘integral’ part of India while occupying it by military means. Indians and the Indian state find it necessary to repeatedly state this because they know that Kashmir is not actually an indisputable part of India and this galls them. In the colonies the British tried to stabilise and centralise channels of power by classifying their subjects and dealing with them in terms of race, genetic stock, community leaders, and religion. Hindus and Muslims were two important lenses through which people were perceived, roused, and then divided during partition. In the case of Kashmir, this British formula was messed-up – the Muslims were the majority in Kashmir, but the ruler (Hari Singh) was not Muslim, Indian Prime Minister Nehru was Kashmiri Hindu but close to Sheikh Abdullah, the most prominent Kashmiri leader, a Muslim. Plus, the entire Himalayas, including Kashmir, had been constructed as a strategic geopolitical buffer in the imperial trajectory till then; the ‘Great Game’ was a kind of proto-Cold War. When India and Pakistan were being carved up, Kashmir was coveted on either side (this manic struggle over possessing Kashmir has led to multiple wars – 1947, 1965, 1999 – between India and Pakistan – both of whom use Kashmir as a propaganda pawn for their opportunistic and hypocritical purposes – and a continued boundary stalemate, including over the unpopulated Aksai-Chin area, between India and China).The Kashmiris are alienated evermore each day. In the last two decades, the Kashmiri psyche has been surgically cleaved into Kashmiri Hindus and Kashmiri Muslims. An entire generation of Kashmiri Hindus have grown up outside Kashmir in India where they have learnt to identify themselves as ‘Hindus’ before Kashmiris, in accordance with the right-wing Hindu sentiment of mainstream India. This generation of young people is a recruiting ground for Hindu extremists for the RSS, VHP, BJP and the kind. Their justified nostalgia for their homeland is condensed into narratives of anti-Muslim hate which can be exploited for political vote gain. Equally, an entire generation of Kashmiri Muslims have grown up inside Kashmir where they have learnt to identify themselves as ‘Muslims’ before calling themselves Kashmiris in the environment of militancy and a brutal Indian military occupation who view them only as latent Islamic fundamentalists. Their justified aspirations of life and livelihood are daily denied by lack of representation and discrimination. In their imagination, Kashmiri Hindus are a traitorous pro-Indian minority, linked to the oppressive Hindu Indian majority. Often, even the Valley leaders who supposedly represent them are self-serving, corrupt, and manipulate their sentiments for political gain.The arithmetic gets really, truly miserable when it comes to the Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley. Their tragedy is to live their life under constant threat of militancy and an Indian military occupation of anywhere between tens to hundreds of thousands security personnel (and India being a big lucrative market that is ‘secular democratic’ and not Islamic, the world is happy to turn a blind eye to what happens in Kashmir). Since 1989, over 60,000 people in Kashmir have been killed, over 7,000 have gone missing, several hundred thousand have been maimed, tortured, and psychologically damaged. In addition, there are thousands of unmarked graves, thousands of women have been raped, tens of thousands widowed and children orphaned. In the crazy count of violence, numbers lose meaning. The atrocities – murders, rapes, torture, extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances – committed by the Indian security forces in Kashmir are not investigated properly.

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