By Tapan Bose

Srinagar, buildings burning

From the ramparts of the Red Fort, celebrating the 64th anniversary of India’s Independence, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, offered to hold dialogue with the agitating youth of Kashmir if they “abjured violence”.

Since June 11, the youth of Kashmir have been agitating for “Azaadi”.  All over Kashmir, defying curfew orders people are holding rallies, demonstrations, sit-ins, mass meetings and hartals. They are willing to hold a dialogue; however, they want New Delhi to immediately repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, removal of all Central security forces and release of all political prisoners.

Those who visited the valley in the early nineties, when the movement for “self determination” began might see glimpses of the past in today’s struggle. However there are two major differences. Unlike the earlier movement which was dominated by armed groups, the current movement for “azadi” has abjured guns. The “Jehadis”, the “Mujahideens” or the “militants”– who are classified as “terrorists” by the Indian government are nowhere in the picture. This is a movement which was launched by the local youth. It is being led by locals and in fact it has made the so-called “Separatists” leaders almost irrelevant.

In the early 90’s the movement had begun as a popular struggle. Hundreds of thousand of Kashmiris–men, women and children were on the streets demanding “azadi”. However, when Indian state sent out its army and other paramilitary forces to carry out valley wide campaign of cordon and search, abductions, torture, killings, rape and burning down of  religious shrines, residential houses, bazaars and commercial and residential buildings –the people were terrorised. As the army and the security forces spread out all over the valley shooting and killing people on suspicion, set up bunkers on almost every road junction, erected roadblocks and check posts, forced passengers to get down from buses and private vehicles and frisked them on the roads – the civilians retreated to their homes. After the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front which led the movement for azadi in 1989-92, declared unilateral ceasefire, the control of the movement passed into the hands of the Separatist who were by Pakistan.

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Today, the movement is being led by the youth who grew up seeing their parents being thrashed mercilessly by the Indian soldiers. They tremble and hid under the bed when soldiers broke into their home in the dead of the night and broke up every thing and pulled them out of their beds. They saw their neighbours and relatives being marched to the outskirts of the village and shivered when the sound of gunfire and the anguished cry of the people being summarily executed pierced their ears. When their fathers, uncles and elder brothers did not return home they understood that the army had taken them away. At a tender age they learnt about rape as the women committed suicide while mothers, aunts and sisters cried quietly to cover their shame. Most of them never played any games. They grew up hiding from the hawk eyes of the soldiers.

Today’s youth, unlike their elders do not know what “peace” is. They identify India with army and paramilitary forces. Their worldview is overshadowed by their experience of death, depredation and degradation. They have been robbed of their dignity and humanity. They are not afraid of the guns. They are ready to make the supreme sacrifice. They sought – “We want freedom, Go India go back”. When stopped by the security forces or pushed back, they throw stones, knowing that the security forces will kill them. During the last 70 days, 61 persons have died on the streets ok Kashmir.

During the months of June and July about 26 lives were lost in Kashmir. The agitation intensified in the beginning of August. In the first week of the month 21 Kashmiris had fallen to the bullets of the CRPF and Kashmir police.

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New Delhi woke up to the deepening crisis in Kashmir. Prime Minister Dr. Monmohan Singh held a meeting with representatives mainstream political parties. He addressed the people of Kashmir on August 10. Dr Manmohan Singh regretted the killings and called for dialogue with all sections of the society to put an end to the unrest.

Ironically, during the last ten days since New Delhi and the State government have intensified the efforts to bring “peace” in Kashmir, another 14 persons including a nine year old boy were killed in the valley by CRPF and police.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the UPA and President of Congress party has joined Dr Singh in the government’s efforts to bring peace to the valley. In her recent statement she expressed anguish, “at what has been happening in the Valley.”   She stated that dialogue and mutual understanding was the key to ending the cycle of violence.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and India’s Home Minister Mr. Chidambaram have refused to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The home minister claimed that he could not decide on amending certain sections without consulting all the stakeholders. Clearly the people of Kashmir who are out on the streets demanding its immediate repeal are not a “stakeholder” in the opinion of the home minister.

New Delhi wants the Kashmiri youth to “abjure violence”. New Delhi asserts that Kashmir is an “integral part” of India and the solution has to be within the framework of India’s constitution. For a youth which has only seen the brute face of India and see themselves as the victim of the Indian constitution which uphold the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, these terms may not be appealing.

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The author: Tapan Bose is the Secretary of the organisation The Other Media in Delhi. He is a leading human rights activist in India and has been working with the human rights movement and indigenous peoples in India for 15 years. He is an internationally known film-maker and has made a number of films dealing with the situation of indigenous peoples in India. In 1984, he publishes one of the most comprehensive studies of indigenous tribal peoples of inches, ‘Scenario of the 7 per cent’.

Published under special arrangements with the author.

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