Massive solidarity demonstrations by the Kashmiri Muslims following the brutal killings of Pandits at Nadimarg reveal that Kashmiriyat continues to flourish and also highlights the alienation and plight of the Kashmiris who continue to be brutalized by the militants and the Indian forces.
In a dastardly act, “unidentified gunmen” massacred 24 Kashmiri Pandits including 11 women and two children in Nadimarg village in Indian-administered Kashmir, on March 24. Kashmiri Muslims rallied in solidarity with their Pandit brethren, voicing their outrage against the carnage. No militant group claimed responsibility; India promptly accused Pakistan-backed militants, while Pakistan also condemned the killings. Some local villagers besides militant groups have in fact accused Indian authorities of masterminding the carnage to undermine their freedom struggle. What is really going on?
The pattern is all too familiar and is reminiscent of the massacre of 35 Sikhs at Chattisinghpora by “unidentified gunmen” in March 2000 when India had promptly accused Pakistan sponsored “foreign militants”; Following the massacre, Indian forces killed 5 persons in the nearby Panchalthan village and portrayed them as “foreign militants” responsible for the massacre; However, DNA test results released on July 16 have established that the slain persons were indeed innocent civilians, thus exposing the deception. Despite repeated demands by the Kashmiris for an impartial inquiry into the seed incident at Chattisinghpora, no inquiry has been conducted as of date. Similarly, the 1998 massacre of 23 Pandits at Wandhama went uninvestigated despite repeated demands by the Kashmiris; The All Party Hurriyet Conference, the leading separatist umbrella group, observed a protest strike demanding an inquiry; Amnesty International’s request to investigate Wandhama carnage was refused. This raises doubts about the credibility of the assertions of the Indian State.
Let us take a snapshot of the chilling human rights record in Kashmir; 2477 civilians had been killed by the Indian forces during 1990-1998 according to conservative official estimates(which mostly exclude thousands of custodial killings); 6673 civilians had been killed by the militants in the same period which include 982 Hindus and Sikhs. Besides, thousands of renegade militants in the employ of the Indian forces have perpetrated excesses. In 1999, Gurbachan Jagat, the Director General of Police admitted that there were 1200 renegades in the payroll of the government. Renegades are believed by the locals to be behind many unexplained killings by “unidentified gunmen” such as the killings of human right activists Jalil Andrabi, H.N.Wanchoo and Dr. Farooq Ashai and continue to be the most dreaded group.
While it is not yet clear who perpetrated the carnage, it is clear that the killers were interested in derailing the peace process initiated by the State Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. The killings have been a devastating blow to his efforts to bring back the minority Pandits who fled the Valley in a massive exodus in 1990. The killings also come closely on the heels of the disbanding of the dreaded SOG(Special Operations Group) which has committed massive human right violations in the past. As part of the “healing touch” policy, he is also considering releasing hundreds of those Kashmiris under detention who are not involved in militant activities; There are concerns that the Center may be planning to wrest security matters from the State government following the massacre, which will reverse the “healing touch” policy. The motive of the gunmen is clear: To prolong the Kashmir tragedy, terrorize the minorities and taint the Kashmiri freedom struggle with a communal colour.
It is heartening to note that thousands of Kashmiri Muslims rallied in support of their Pandit brethren and held protest demonstrations; the entire Valley shut down on March 25 in response to a call for a strike by the Hurriyet, thus sending a clear signal to the killers that Kashmiri Muslims do not approve of killings of their Hindu brethren and that Kashmiriyat- the composite culture with the glorious traditions of communal amity, tolerance and compassion- is still flourishing.
It is also clear that the Hurriyet enjoys immense support across the Valley; the strikes called by the Hurriyet are observed in near-total. The 42% voter turn-out in last October elections in Indian-administered Kashmir has been misinterpreted by some, as a sign that Kashmiris are happy with India. It should be noted that , in response to Hurriyet’s poll boycott call, the turn-out was only 11% in Srinagar district and only 29% in all of the Valley, where insurgency is concentrated. Those who voted were in fact voting for local issues such as electricity, hospitals and employment and voted in favour of a better administration; The larger issue of the resolution of the Kashmir issue remains unresolved. For instance, last October 27 – the 55th anniversary of the arrival of Indian army – the Valley observed a complete shut-down in response to a call by the Hurriyet. Every year, this day is being continually observed as the “Black Day” on the call of the separatists since 1989 when the militancy erupted in Kashmir. The writing is on the wall for India to see.
“Unidentified gunmen” are often interpreted in Indian circles as a monolithic group of “kashmir militants” while in fact, there is a significant presence of renegades and self-appointed/Pakistan-backed foreign militants fighting for their Muslim brethren, who end up undermining the cause of the latter. There is an urgent need to order an impartial investigation by an independent agency to identify the killers in such incidents of communal killings and bring them to book; Kashmiris have long demanded impartial inquiry into such communal killings and India must address this grave matter.
There is a greater need to address the larger problem which sustains militancy and alienation, namely the non-resolution of the Kashmir issue. As Moti Lal, one of the Nadimarg survivors pointed out, “such killings cannot be stopped unless Kashmir issue is resolved. How can our Muslim brethren ensure our security when they are themselves dying?”. Kashmiris, without doubt, are crying for peace, but certainly not for a peace on the terms dictated to them. India needs to recognize their legitimate grievances- long-denied self-determination and erosion of autonomy- and engage them and their representatives, namely the Hurriyet, in unconditional dialogues. The present “carrot and stick” policy has devastated the people in the past decade and must be abandoned. Any attempt to integrate Kashmir into India needs to be an emotional integration; Winning the hearts and minds alone can lead to lasting peace.
Akhila Raman works as a software consultant in California, USA, and is a researcher on the Kashmir Conflict. References for above article and further writings can be found at: http://www.mindspring.com/~akhila_raman/