NOTE: In the early hours of September 23, 2011, I landed at Indira Gandhi airport in
As I still have no official explanation as to why I was denied entry I can only speculate that it has to do with my coverage of the revolt in Kashmir, the rebellions in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere, and interviews such as the one below as well as with human rights activists such as Himanshu Kumar, Khurram Parvez, and Dr. Binayak Sen. Friends and allies in India have submitted a petition to the government to allow me back in the country (for more information see alternativeradio.org). – DB
BARSAMIAN: Parvaiz Bukhari is an independent Kashmir-based journalist whose articles have appeared in major South Asian newspapers, journals, and magazines. Give a sense of what life is like in
BUKHARI: For the first few years, it’s been alternating between some sort of triumphalism—people getting together to express themselves in some political way—and a sort of widespread depression because of what they have to go through, given the number of armed forces watching people all the time. On an average day, for example, it’s possible for a Kashmiri citizen to come across an armed soldier, whether from the
If you don’t encounter a camp or if you don’t come across a checkpoint, what generally happens is you hear conversations from people who describe what the forces have done at this or that place. Over a period of time, it has an effect. Even if you personally don’t experience something, you hear the stories. So people live in fear all the time.
Have there been any studies on the effects on children?
There are very few formal studies by professionals, academics or institutions about what is happening to children or women. There is this hospital in Kashmir where the doctors have reported consistently—before the armed conflict began in
In terms of what is happening to children, we’ve seen it in our families, we’ve seen it all around us. When we were kids, we used to go everywhere and play and interact with people of all kinds. But after this situation started in 1989, small kids have been restricted to their immediate families. There is much less interaction with the larger society, even in the neighborhoods. There are kids in
That’s also now being, in some sense, responded to by the youth. That’s also visible in the anger. People who grew up as kids in the 1990s are now in their early twenties or late teens and they’ve started figuring out what happened to them in their childhoods. Part of the anger is responding to that condition and an impulse to see that change for the better.
What has the stress done to gender relations inside families?
Again, there are not many studies, but in terms of reports put out by professional doctors and mental health practitioners, there is heightened tension within families. More marital discord has been noticed in the past decade or so. Many professionals have ascribed it to the fact that men and women suffer different kinds of trauma, which they do not deal with when they’re together in the family.
If you look outside the family, what’s happening is that people are getting more and more disconnected. There are very few opportunities to connect. When people try and look for opportunities to connect, they begin to encounter problems. They see how connecting at a social or political level imposes costs in terms of security and intelligence agencies reports. People are beginning to say, “Look here, we are being reported on even from within our kitchens.” That heightened surveillance produces psychological consequences.
As with the French in
It’s very difficult to find people trusting each other. If you’ve not had a long association, you really are not sure who you’re talking with. I’ve been reporting on
To enforce its rule,
Very much so. The last elections took place after a massive peaceful and unarmed mobilization of people against Indian rule in
When Omar Abdullah became the chief minister, the vote was interpreted by politicians and the media as a vote for
The spark that ignited the initial rebellion in 1989 was rigged elections. What was going on under the surface in
An impulse of breaking away from
So slowly, when things did not go the opposition’s way, it started organizing. In the early 1970s we had the beginning of an armed rebellion. A group of young people came together and formed a group known as the al-Fatah movement. It was an armed group and the idea was to overthrow Indian control in
Around the time of the 1987 elections, there was an understanding within the opposition that we needed to get into electoral politics and the legislative assembly to express our opposition instead of creating a movement that can be deemed illegal. The opposition decided to come under the banner of the Muslim United Front, a spectrum of political bodies and groups to contest elections. The consequence was that, in the estimation of the opposition, the space for Indian electoral politics as practiced in Jammu and Kashmir was finished off, completely neutralized. And I think it was only natural that people thought of an armed rebellion after that.
What place has
There are several things. Post-1989, when the armed rebellion began, it was projected as a terrorist movement. Nothing was ascribed to Kashmiris as their wish.
They were being manipulated by
It’s a fact that armed militancy was supported by
Then there was an attempt to discredit the people and new words were coined. For example, the Indian army started calling peaceful mass protests demanding political rights as “agitational terrorism.” So that in the Indian imagination the demand for political rights can be described in a terminology that “justifies” reprisals by the Indian state. In the summer of 2010, when hundreds of thousands of youth came out in the streets and fought Indian forces with stones, the police began saying that most of the youth who protested were drug addicts.
In the post-September 11 atmosphere, particularly in terms of
Terrorism and being Muslim have become almost synonymous and after 9/11 India portrayed Kashmir in that paradigm, saying that Kashmiri Muslims were amenable to terrorism and manipulated by the “terrorist” state of Pakistan, which is an ally of the United States in their war against terror. By 2008-2010, young Kashmiris were aware of how they were being represented and they began thinking about what to do about it. What we’ve seen happening over the last three summers in
The summer of 2010 saw a major shift in terms of tactics and strategies. What happened?
I think it was a response to accumulated anger and humiliation of the Kashmiri people at the hands of the military and the Indian state. At another level, Kashmiris have been wanting to make it clear ever since the ceasefire line—the line of control, as it’s being called now—came into existence that that needs to change. Kashmiris want an end to political uncertainty.
What happened post-1990 was that everything was being dealt with militarily and so much so that now in
You’ve written, “The new generation of separatist leaders seem to have made a conscious decision not to take up arms, a move to retain moral supremacy over Indian occupation. This represents a major shift in tactics.”
I think it’s been a long process of internalizing what armed rebellion achieved and what it did for
Since Kashmiris also have lived the experience of a military response to their armed uprising, in the process they’ve also discovered the power of peaceful protests: that it is peaceful mobilization around ideas that will get them their political objectives, without denouncing what the armed rebels stood for. I think they represent a change in terms of tactics rather than objectives. The objectives remain the same.
A whole generation has grown up in
They come from all classes. They’re definitely better educated than the youth of 1990 who picked up a gun. They’re definitely more aware of what is happening, not just in
The level and scope of the 2010 rebellion caught the attention of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. She made the comment, “We must ask ourselves why people in
If after 20 years the president of the Congress Party still needs to ask what makes people of Kashmir angry, it reflects a very pathetic understanding of what is happening in
Is there a unified conception of azadi?
On the surface, there is a view that
New Delhi, in response to the uprisings, has announced new initiatives. Are these cosmetic or actually substantive?
From what the three interlocutors that
As we’ve seen, the opposite is being articulated on the street and in cyberspace. Facebook has become one of the measures of how young Kashmiris are thinking. And when people who are expected to be neutral are supposed to be suggesting ways of approaching a political solution of the
I understand that there was a very significant WikiLeaks document dealing with
Yes, it talked about what every Kashmiri has known for 20 years. That torture is widespread and a majority of the young, and including sometimes very old, 80-year-old people, have been put through the worst forms of torture. It was the first time that some kind of a confirmation from outside Kashmir that the Indian state was fully aware of the widespread torture that federal forces and the state police had been doing in the hundreds of camps that people get detained in. And it must have been very embarrassing for those people who have been maintaining that
Have the revolts in
It has definitely informed the discussions in
I think it was made possible not only by the events of the summer of 2010, but also by the fact that people for the first time found an opportunity to report themselves using social media like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. It really did travel far and wide. And for the first time some people outside of Kashmir realized, Oh, well, Kashmir is not only about what the Indian mainstream media, the Indian state, or the Pakistani state have been telling us, but something else is happening. I think that made a huge difference. And the events of the 2010 summer perhaps represent the end of Kashmiris being always represented by somebody else.
David Barsamian is the founder and director of Alternative Radio. He is the author of numerous books with