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'India has failed to craft Indians out of Kashmiris'

Feb 12, 2009

Seema Kazi in her book: Between Democracy and Nation: Gender and Militarisation in Kashmir, has focused on the drastic consequences of militarisation on the Kashmiri society. She explains the need for real democracy, justice and peace in the conflict-hit Himalayan territory in an online interview with OneWorld South Asia.

Here are the excerpts:

OneWorld South Asia: Your book is different from many other works on Kashmir by Indian authors who largely view the conflict as an issue between India and Pakistan. What makes you to attribute the conflict primarily to militarisation of the Indian state?

Seema Kazi: I am not the first to talk about Kashmir’s civilian dimensions. Sumantra Bose, for example, has touched upon this issue, albeit, very briefly. Kashmir’s great human rights tragedy, however, is not generally the focus of mainstream analyses.


I attribute the conflict to not just militarisation of the state but more primarily to the subversion of democracy in Kashmir during the 1987 elections that brought the military to the Valley.

While India sought to stifle Kashmiri grievance through military means, Pakistan exploited this grievance to advance its own interests, reinforcing militarisation over Kashmir.

There are thus two dimensions of militarisation here: the domestic and the international, with the domestic driving and reinforcing the international.

OWSA: How can India – in the backdrop of terrorist strikes like Mumbai and the worsening situation in Pakistan – afford to withdraw military from Kashmir which you forcefully argue would “eliminate” the principal source of militarisation in the state?

SK: I don’t imagine India is going to withdraw the military unilaterally. Any major change has to be preceded by formal talks with Pakistan and the Kashmiri people. To this end, Mumbai attack and Pakistan’s domestic chaos are serious setbacks.

While I argue that military withdrawal shall remove the principal source of militarisation in Kashmir, it is also my argument that such withdrawal shall not erase the grievance that brought the military to Kashmir in the first place.

The source of this grievance is the Indian state’s fatal attempt to discredit regional demands for greater autonomy.

India has failed to craft Indians out of Kashmiris; nor has two decades of militarily-backed ‘democracy’ dimmed Kashmiris’ desire for a political future without central control.

Even as Kashmir’s future is contingent on Indo-Pak dialogue, military withdrawal must happen in conjunction with recognition and respect for Kashmiri identity and Kashmiri Muslims desire for political autonomy.

OWSA: You’ve advocated restoration of ‘real democracy’ in Kashmir. Don’t you think the impressive turnout in recent elections in the state is a triumph of democracy? After all, there were no allegations of rigging or of coercion unlike in the past elections.

SK: I think the November-December 2008 elections are important and a sort of watershed. But, in my view they affirm India as a formal, rather than substantive democracy.

Democracy is not only about holding elections or possessing the formal institutions of governance; it is equally, if not more importantly, about its libertarian dimensions: are citizens free from harassment by state agencies? Are the courts free? Is free speech/ assembly possible?
Democracy in Kashmir is incomplete and seriously flawed because of the lack of basic rights and freedoms that are the cornerstone of any democratic state.

The right to free speech and assembly in Kashmir remain suspended; the Armed Forces Special Powers Act deprives citizens of the right to life; the Public Safety Act violates India’s own Constitutional provisions as well as that of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which India is a signatory.

The impunity accorded to the military is in violation of the Geneva convention and a flagrant violation of the rule of law; the contempt shown by state authorities towards the tens of thousands of habeas corpus petitions pending in the Kashmir High Court reflect how the institutions meant to protect citizens from abuse are either disabled (like the judiciary) or collude in the abuse of power (such as the police and military).

There is, accordingly, neither security nor justice for citizens in Kashmir. Such a state of affairs cannot, by any standards, be deemed ‘democratic’. The recent elections may usher in more responsive governance at the local level but it shall not alter these realities.

OWSA: The conflict between Indian troops and separatist militants has devoured the Kashmiri society, an issue that forms a major portion of your book. How has the state failed to mitigate the sufferings of the victims?

SK: The state, since 1987, has persistently denied Kashmiri grievance and sought to represent Kashmir as a territorial issue between India and Pakistan. This sleight-of-hand politics obscures and shies away from democratic accountability and is exactly the reason behind India’s failure to mitigate the sufferings of Kashmiris. If you deny Kashmiri grievance, how can you possibly address it?

OWSA: Do you think a few international organisations working in Kashmir have also failed to deliver?

SK: I don’t have comprehensive knowledge regarding the work of international organisations in Kashmir, other than what I have read. I think organisations like Oxfam and Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF) are doing important work in very daunting and challenging circumstances. Others like International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been criticised for accepting a limited mandate.

I think there are local NGOs too, though all their efforts cannot in any way match concerted efforts by the state to address the multiple tragedies of Kashmir’s society.

OWSA: According to your book, rape has been used as a ‘weapon of war’ by the Indian military in Kashmir. But the Indian government and the Army insist that after enquiry allegations were found ‘'baseless’ in most of the cases?

SK: Yes, indeed, rape has been used as a weapon of war by the military in Kashmir. This has been documented, among others, by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who note its frequent use as well as the difficulty in documenting cases many of which occur in remote rural areas.

Official acceptance of sexual violence would not only dismantle the notion of a morally just, sanitised war against militants, it would seriously undermine the authority of a state whose soldiers rape the citizens they are meant to protect.

So I am not surprised by official denials, which, in any case, do not detract from the gravity of the crime or the need to prosecute its perpetrators.

OWSA: The strength of your work is the source of your information – interviews conducted in the homes of survivors of the conflict. How was the experience?

SK: The experience was profoundly moving and deeply disturbing. I can never forget it. I was struck by the dignity and generosity of unknown people, including victims who had suffered violence, abuse and humiliation.

Each one of them could separate their own suffering at the hands of the state from people like me. I think this is a great virtue and symbolic of Kashmir’s secular and syncretic traditions. I learned a lot about Kashmiri culture and traditions which I can see have been greatly damaged by the conflict.

Kashmir’s tragedy also brought me face-to-face with the abuse of power and the terrifying violence and suffering underpinning grand abstract narratives of ‘the nation’ or ‘national interest’; it made me question the nation-state.

OWSA: Any workable solution for the Kashmir issue, besides demilitarisation?

SK: Demilitarisation, of course, shall be the first step towards possible resolution. There are three arguments I make in the book: the first concerns India’s ill-fated attempt and disastrous attempt to forge a nation and a ‘national’ citizen out of its cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, Kashmir being a perfect example. Kashmiris don’t wish to be Indians and India must respect this.

My second point relates to the foundational basis of any possible solution, which must accommodate the wishes and aspirations of Kashmiri Muslims. India (and Pakistan) must take this as a starting point and guarantee the Valley’s Muslims political autonomy with minimal interference from either states. This can only happen as part of an international agreement between India and Pakistan.

My third and final point is that a restored Kashmir can bring lasting peace to a subcontinent divided by competing nationalism, nuclear weapons and a militarised Line-of-Control. In effect, this means a formal agreement between India and Pakistan to demilitarise the border with free movement of goods and Kashmiri citizens across the LOC.

A restored Kashmir can, in turn, bridge the great divide between India and Pakistan. A restored Kashmir is crucial to South Asia: it offers us a plural, accommodative vision of a collective future. It offers us hope.

We have a great deal to learn from Kashmir; by fulfilling Kashmiri aspirations we can think of a different future for South Asia.

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