There have been many attempts by the Indian State to propagate the short periods of calmness as ‘peace’ and ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir . Now the year 2011 is being called as the “peaceful” year and the Indian State has already started selling this assumption at the ‘national’ and ‘international’ forums and media houses. The basis for this argument about ‘peace’ and ‘normalcy’ in my opinion is three-fold – decline in the levels of ‘ violence’ in the valley, increase in the level of participation of people in electoral process and their engagement in the activities of sports and recreational activities.
As far as levels of violence is concerned, it has decreased, if one agrees with the Statist definition of violence in terms of attacks by armed groups on security forces, incidents of blasts and firing and the number of deaths of civilian population. But the definition of violence from people’s perspective varies from that of State. The violence which people in Kashmir face on daily basis continued even in 2011. The stories of illegal detention, torture and custodial deaths were still alive in Kashmir valley. The pro self-determination leaders and the young generation supporting the movement have been arrested under Public Safety Acts in 2011 too. Even the members of the Bar Association were seen as threat to the ‘security’ and put behind the bars. For last two decades the major threat to the local population is from the Impunity which the Indian armed forces enjoy in Kashmir under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) where in anyone can be picked-up, tortured or killed on the basis of mere suspicion, thus becoming the sufferer of violence . The ‘peaceful’ year 2011 continued to have enforcement of this draconian law, which according to senior officials of Indian army is biblical word for them.
In search of his legitimacy, Chief Minister is trying to convince the people that he is trying to get away with this law in certain areas of the valley, but he cannot push too hard against his Bosses in New Delhi or against the armed forces who have been real Bosses for last two decades. History is witness that the appointments of his grandfather as well as father as Chief Minister were cancelled by the Bosses in Delhi once they tried cross the subscribed line.
The cases of enforced disappearances did not get any justice and the fake encounters by security forces were still a phenomenon in 2011 Kashmir (Mentally challenged person from Hindu community in Jammu became one of the victims of fake encounter in 2011). Noteworthy to mention here is that it was in 2011 only that the State Human Rights Commission gave authenticity to the findings of JKCS about 2730 bodies in unmarked graves, out of which 574 bodies have been already identified as local villagers. The Indian national media was busy in covering the fast of self acclaimed Gandhian -Anna Hazare, while giving Nelson eye to the Mass graves in Kashmir No doubt the number of people who were either part of armed struggle, sympathizers or just civilians killed by Indian armed forces were relatively less than last three years but those who were killed in past have become part of the public memory as martyrs. All these forms of violence – impunity to armed forces, enforced disappearances, fake encounters and mass graves have become part of the discourse of self-determination movement. To read less number of militant acts or no major incidents as arrival of peace in the valley is immature and this assumption has been proved wrong many times. Before any claims for the return of ‘peace’, one needs to look at t he history of Kashmir politics and ponder why a small incident can turn into mass movement.
Secondly the electoral process has been made a measurement of the peace in Kashmir. The logic of the State goes like this: people participated in the elections, where they voted for the Government (hence for India ), which means they are against the movement of self-determination. So the participation of people in the Panchayati elections in 2011 has been added by the Indian state to the menu of ‘peace’. But can one signify the high participation in elections cannot as a waning away of the movement of self-determination or return of peace as claimed by Indian State. In the recent past there was relatively high voter turn-out for State Assembly election in November/December 2008 in the Valley, which in fact, occurred against the backdrop of massive demonstrations for the right of self-determination during the Amaranath land row and an election boycott called by many pro self-determination groups. The hypothesis of ‘peace’ and “participation of election as a vote for India ” at that time was proven null and void in 2009 and 2010 when people were again on streets reverberating slogans of Azaadi. As far as the participation in elections and high voter turn-out is concerned , the population in Kashmir valley has discovered that it can pursue its short-term economic objectives by participating in the official state-sponsored electoral process while continuing to express its long-term demands for Azadi outside the institutional political framework. Many voters while participating in elections claimed that our vote is to have daily needs for bijli (electricity), pani (water), and sadak (roads) addressed, and not in affirmation of Indian control over the Valley. We continue to support the movement for Azadi, was the response of the voters in post 2008 elections in an interaction with me during a fieldwork in the valley. This dynamics is the strategic compartmentalization by Kashmiri people of their short-terms interests into daily issues of management and governance, differentiating it from their long-term goal of self-determination. The Panchayati-raj election (2011) as a symbol of ‘peace’ needs also to be looked in this perspective. Still the issues of sovereignty, right to self-determination and human rights violations continue to simmer beneath the surface of constitutional politics in Kashmir.
One more scene added to the picture of ‘peaceful’ year of 2011 by the State is the engagement of young generation in sports and other recreational activities. The year of 2011 did see the various sports tournaments being organized by the State authorities. There has been renovation of some sports grounds even in the localities which a year back were termed as ‘sensitive’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘hubs of stonepetlers’. Even in the winter session football tournaments and other sports activities are being organized. No doubt the young generation – the Children of Tahreek (term used by Sanjay Kak for the youth born and brought-up in last two decades) have showcased their talent in these tournaments. One cannot but appreciate the talent of these young boys and girls who in amidst of turmoil around them are being able to compete with ‘others’.
But this participation of Children in the sports activities has been added to the picture of ‘peaceful’ year of 2011 by the State Government. If one looks at two decades closely, the sports activities were never stopped in the valley in real terms….the young generation continued to play cricket and football in small Kochas (lanes) if not in big stadiums. Even the cricket and football tournaments were being organized in remembrance of the Martyrs’ in different localities. It is noteworthy that the many such sports events and even tours outside Kashmir for children are being organized by the Indian armed forces – either in the name of goodwill these forces are in search of legitimacy or are equally like State government trying to Indian-ize the local population. One needs to understand the politics of this benign face of the state – how in the name of ‘peace’ and ‘normalcy’ these sports activities are being pushed to divert the attention of the people from the real issues. In order to prevent revolution to happen and maintain status-quo the rulers of the day endeavour every possible strategy.
One of the ways is to de-politicise the population by distracting them with entertainment and personal pleasures (sometimes by design of those in power) that they no longer value the civic virtues and bow to civil authority with unquestioned obedience. In order to maintain the position of their Masters from Delhi and their own position, they try to avoid the basic demand of self-determination of the people. The cultural, sports and recreational activities are sponsored and given priority over the other burning issues like de-militarization, fake encounters and disappearances.
The end of violence, electoral process and recreational activities in valley has been projected as the indicators of ‘peace’. There is a deliberate attempt of portrayal of movement for Azadi opposite to that of ‘peace’. The ‘peace’ defined by the Indian State is not the same as aspired by the people in Kashmir. The short periods of calmness cannot be regarded equivalent to the peace. Denial of the basic human rights – right to life and right to self-determination is itself amounts to violence. Unless this structural violence which amounts to denial of basic human rights and aspirations of Kashmiri people is addressed, how can one see the return of peace and normalcy in Kashmir.
Khalid Wasim completed PhD thesis recently from Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore.