December 8, 2009 has seen the Kashmiri Intifada completing its twenty years. It was exactly two decades ago that the grassroots uprising was initiated with the abduction of Dr. Rubiya Saeed, daughter of Indian Minister of Home affairs Mufti Saeed , as she emerged from a Hospital in Sri Nagar to return home. With that the volcano of the Kashmiri pent up anger burst with a fury that was staggering in its magnitude and repercussions. The following days witnessed the emergence of dozens of Kashmiri insurgent groups that took up arms to fight the Indian occupying Army. The hatred for the Indian occupation of Kashmir transcended all shades of ideological differences. Authority of the Indian State virtually collapsed. Berlin wall had been destroyed by the will of the people only months ago and the Kashmiri uprising sought to change the status quo that India had so brazenly imposed on the Kashmiri Population with sheer courage of their ideals and conviction. A lot has occurred in the past two decades and the time is ripe to take a stock of the cost and benefits of the upheaval that has transformed Kashmir into a throbbing issue even bringing Afghanistan into the festering equation.
What triggered the spontaneous uprising in India’s only Muslim majority state remains a conundrum but the Kashmiri voice seeking a say in deciding the ultimate fate of Kashmir had been suppressed for too long. Kashmiris had patiently tolerated the political chicanery of Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference which, over the decades, had been reduced to the level of an Indian vehicle for conducting the charade of democracy in IHK. New innovations in mass media, however, were breaking the pall of ignorance and political awakening was building up public anger against the Indian state. Large scale electoral malpractices in Kashmir had been a routine but the 1987 elections crossed all limits of fraud and intimidation. Congress Party and the National Conference jointly contested the elections against a conglomerate of smaller political parties under the umbrella of Muslim United Front (MUF). The landslide victory of Indian supported candidates broke the proverbial back of the Kashmiri patience. The young generation of Kashmir was convinced that to make itself heard, gun was the preferred mode. Interesting to note; some key resistance leaders like Shabbir Shah, Yasin Malik and Javed Mir were the polling agents for the MUF in the 1987 elections.
Mass killings by Indian Army
The response by the Indian state was Draconian. It saturated the Kashmiri landscape with the force of bayonet; the high water mark being reached with the presence of seven lacs of Indian soldiers. Draconian laws, like Armed Forces special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) were enacted by the Indian parliament to facilitate untrammeled use of force and freedom from prosecution for committing gravest possible excesses by the Indian Armed Forces. Thus facilitated, the Indian Armed forces began the killing of Kashmiris with an abandon. Troops occupied every nook and corner of cities and hamlets and crisscrossed the forests turning the landscape into a virtual jail. Around one hundred thousand Kashmiris have lost their lives during twenty years of conflict and 8000 – 10000 people have simply vanished after arrest by the security forces. The Indian Armed Forces employ infamous Special Operations Group, an officially patronized band of local collaborators, to perform the dirty job of extra judicial executions. The culture of fake encounters thrives whereby innocent locals are killed and dumped in nameless graves as Pakistani militants and cross border terrorists to enable their killers to claim gallantry awards and promotions.
The unrelenting use of excessive force against the civil population over prolonged period and the sea change brought about by 9/11 has tended to transform the nature of the Kashmiri freedom movement– changing in character from essentially an armed resistance to embracing the tactics of non violence. The civil society in Kashmir is getting organized to challenge the Indian state authority through massive displays of non-violent resistance. This power was evident in the summer of 2008 when a transfer of 100 acres of forest land to Shri Amar Nath Yatra Shrine Board for construction of staging facilities for the Hindu pilgrims caused unprecedented uprising. The climax of the agitation came on 11 August when 500 000 people formed a rally and marched towards the LoC to breach it. Fifteen people were killed when Police opened fire. Sheikh Abdul Aziz a moderate leader of APHC was among those killed on that day. His burial the next day saw even a greater gathering of people defying curfews and shouting anti India slogans. Another fifteen Kashmiris were killed on 12 August. In total over fifty people were killed in the upheaval. The coalition state Government of Congress and PDP disintegrated in face of mounting public pressure and the Indian Government had to rescind its decision concerning the transfer of Kashmiri land. The trend of mass protests has persisted continuing to this day when IHK is up in protest to mourn the rape and killing of two young Kashmiri women by Indian security forces in May this year. The trend is chilling from the Indian perspective. It is deep rooted, determined, non violent and says it all so emphatically – Kashmiris have had enough of state sponsored repression and their urge to cut ties with India have reached a point of no return.
The organization of civil resistance is evident through formation of organizations like the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and by resilience of activists like Parves Imroz, who have begun to draw attention at forums like the European Parliament for the unending pain that the Kashmiri population has to bear with. During 2008 a benchmark was reached when the efforts of APDP, resulted into unmasking of a mass grave site where one thousand graves are believed to contain bodies of the victims of fake encounters , enforced disappearances , torture and other abuses which the Indian security forces had used as a dumping ground. The findings have been compiled by APDP in a report; “Facts Under Ground” and lists the graves of at least 940 people discovered in 18 villages of Uri District. The Indian Army claimed that those buried were “foreign militants” killed during military encounters but the report presents testimonies of locals asserting that buried men were Kashmiris. The protests and demonstrations launched by APDP attracted global attention to the Indian atrocities in Kashmir. In Jul 2008 the European parliament during its plenary session in Strasbourg France adopted a protest resolution regarding the existence of mass graves in Kashmir and called upon the Indian Government to “urgently ensure independent and impartial investigations into all sites of mass graves in Jammu and Kashmir and as immediate first step to secure the grave sites in order to preserve the evidence.” For India, aspiring for the regional leadership and claiming the right to have a seat in the Security Council, an organization of Kashmiris’ mass resistance exposing state brutality and expressing its alienation with Indian rule is stuff of the nightmare.
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