by Anupama Handoo
The Cambridge Dictionary defines secularism as ‘the belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country.’ Armed with this simple definition and a personal experience of being hounded out of my homeland, Kashmir, the JKLF’s campaign for a secular independent Kashmir is surely a wind up. JKLF argues (Lokmarg 1 Aug) that an independent, secular Kashmir is the only peaceful and long lasting solution to the region. This argument would have been funny if it wasn’t sinister.
JKLF established itself in the Kashmir valley in 1987, when under the pretext of ‘rigged local elections’, ‘disaffected youth’ were ‘disenchanted’ by the ‘Indian government’. This youth was brainwashed to believe that the only way to rectify the problem was to get militant training from Pakistan. When these youths came back they practised their guns on innocent Kashmiris. Anybody who worked for government institutions automatically became a soft target, especially Kashmiri Pandits (KP). Labelled as ‘mukhbirs’ (informants of Indian administration) these innocent men, women and children were kidnapped from their homes, butchered in broad daylight on streets, killed inside their homes, cut off on woodmill saws, hung dead from trees, raped in front of their parents, their body parts were disfigured and their privates were chopped off. Let me tell you what I saw and heard. Every night masjids blared slogans like ‘Azadi ka matlab kya – La ilaha illalha’; ‘Kashmir mein agar rehna hai, alah hu akbar kehna hai’; ‘yehan kya chalega nizaam-e-mustafa’; ‘Pakistan se rishta kya – La ilaha illalha’; ‘we want Pakistan without the KP men and with the KP women’; ‘Ralivc-Galivv-ya tchalivv’(Convert – Die – or flee). None of this sounds like the perpetuators were protesting for a secular independent Kashmir. It was a systematic brutalisation of an innocent and vulnerable community.
The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990s from the land of their ancestors; the loss of their homes and livelihoods; and the pathetic conditions they have been living in since; is well documented and I will not go into that. I will also not go into the reasons for the change of direction of JKLF in 1994 towards non-violence. Much water has flown under the Jhelum bridges since. The current situation in Kashmir is driven by a hard-core radical Islamist strategy dictated from across the border that has no regard for safety and progress of Kashmiris or peace and stability of the region.
Kashmir is an integral part of India but for the sake of this article let me indulge the separatists and analyse the viability of an ‘Independent Kashmir’ as a promoter of peace and harmony between India and Pakistan.
The princely state of Jammu & Kashmir was an Independent state in August 1947. In only 3 months after the Independence and despite signing the ‘stand-still agreement’ with Maharaja Hari Singh; Pakistan attacked Kashmir. Despite the UN resolution on Kashmir, Pakistan has still not vacated half of the erstwhile princely state and has in fact sold a part of it to China. The whole world sees Pakistan as a precarious democracy controlled by its Army that is ready to stage a coup or an assassination anytime. Notorious criminals and dreaded most-wanted terrorists find safe haven in Pakistan. Its politicians, ISI and Army have their corrupt fingers on the illegally acquired nuclear bomb which the home-grown Jihadis and ISIS are desperate to get their hands on. Pakistan just cannot be trusted to let a ‘Neutral Independent’ Kashmir thrive.
J&K as an integral part of India has its own constitution and its own flag. Its religious and ethnic make-up is protected by Article 370 whereby no one from India can settle down or purchase property there. It has the autonomy to elect its own local government and also to send elected representatives to the Indian Parliament. I would like to mention 65% turnout in the 2014 election that brought PDP-BJP alliance to power. J&K is comprised of Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir Valley. Jammu and Ladakh have the autonomy and the freedom they desire and are not part of any protest to separate from India. Kashmir valley with only the 15% landmass and 50% population has a small minority of violent protestors controlled by pro-Pakistan separatists who are demanding this so called aazadi. So when a demand for aazadi or plebiscite is made, where should we draw the borders?
Option 1 is to consider the whole princely state of J&K as acceded by Maharaja Hari Singh to India in 1947. For a plebiscite to take place under the aegis of UN resolution, Pakistan needs to first remove its army from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan and buy back from China the areas sold to it. Secondly, to restore the pre 1947 demographic make-up of the princely state will involve resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits and demographic re-engineering of PoK. In all honesty these conditions are almost impossible to be fulfilled, at least by Pakistan.
Option 2 is that Ladakh and Jammu should not be dragged into this conflict and the 15% landmass of Kashmir valley be given aazadi that it supposedly desires. In that case how will this small, tourism based, land locked valley, function as an independent country? Can Pakistan and China be trusted to leave this small land mass as independent, neutral and secular? Let’s analyse the evidence available:
Indian Security Forces have been stationed in Kashmir valley post-1989 to neutralise militancy and kill terrorists like Hizb-ul-Mujahidin commander Burhan Wani. Every time such militants are killed, violent mobs protest on the streets by pelting stones, petrol bombs, Molotov cocktails and grenades instigating the security forces. Enforced hartals, systematic destruction of non-Muslim religious places and stage managed violent protests create an atmosphere of unrest; while tourism, education, business, development and infrastructure suffer. Poorer sections of the society are threatened or paid to be part of the protests. Young children and women are used as human shields for militants in order to increase casualties playing victims for the TV cameras. Masked and armed young men raise ISIS and Pakistan flags side by side in Kashmir after every Friday prayers. NB: not J&K flags. Girls are forbidden from driving vehicles and wearing western clothes. The connotations of the current struggle are based on the tenets of ‘nizam-e-mustafa’ and ‘sharia law’ in a ‘Muslim majority’ state. These are the makings of IS Syria, not Switzerland.
This is the situation when Security forces are present to enforce law and order in the valley. Security forces are in reality opposing an armed Islamisation of a strategic piece of land at the behest of Pakistan. Dressing up the supposed aazadi movement as a secular fight for independence is a sinister façade. Imagine a situation in a supposed aazad valley where administrational vacuum is created and ISIS style radicalisation and Islamisation gets an unrestrained grip on people’s lives. This will destabilise South Asia just like Syria has destabilised Europe. It is evident that if the valley of Kashmir is allowed independence, it will self-destruct and disintegrate like Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria. For world peace to prevail, and for a secular Kashmir, Kashmir valley needs to be part of the secular Indian democracy and not of a remotely controlled arm of Islamic fundamentalism.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Anupama Handoo was born in Srinagar, Kashmir at a time when Kashmiriat was still the living ethos amongst its people. Her family also got scattered around the globe after 1989, like millions of other Kashmiri Pandits. The sharp pang of love for our Maej Kashir always lives on in Anupama’s heart.
She is a Commonwealth scholar, an engineer through education and works as a risk professional. Coming from a family of poets, Anupama writes poetry and prose on socio-political topics mainly concerning Kashmir. She lives near London with her husband and two children. Anupama is the founding member of the Kashmiri Pandit Cultural Society (UK) – a non-profit community initiative and leads its Cultural and Heritage wing. Her dream is that the next generation of Kashmiri Pandits are aware of their roots, speak good Kashmiri, and follow the age old cultural and religious traditions.