Last Summer, during a massive unarmed revolt against Indian rule in Kashmir, the writer Pankaj Mishra posed the following question about the situation in the territory. It remains as valid today as a year ago – especially after the recent discovery of thousands of bodies in mass graves:
Once known for its extraordinary beauty, the valley of Kashmir now hosts the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world. With more than 80,000 people dead in an anti-India insurgency backed by Pakistan, the killings fields of Kashmir dwarf those of Palestine and Tibet. In addition to the everyday regime of arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids, and checkpoints enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers, the valley’s 4 million Muslims are exposed to extra-judicial execution, rape and torture, with such barbaric variations as live electric wires inserted into penises.
Why then does the immense human suffering of Kashmir occupy such an imperceptible place in our moral imagination? After all, the Kashmiris demanding release from the degradations of military rule couldn’t be louder and clearer. India has contained the insurgency provoked in 1989 by its rigged elections and massacres of protestors. The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that fill the streets of Kashmir’s cities today are overwhelmingly young, many in their teens, and armed with nothing more lethal than stones. Yet the Indian state seems determined to strangle their voices as it did of the old one. Already this summer, soldiers have shot dead more than 50 protestors, most of them teenagers.
The tolls of last summer’s unarmed uprising, violently suppressed by Indian forces with live fire, eventually rose to more than 100. And, though Kashmir is even less in the headlines today, protests and abuses – particularly the arrests and mistreatment of teenage boys – continue.
For decades, until today, the two-thirds of Kashmir under Indian control has been ruled under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, emergency rule as repressive as the worst Arab dictatorship.
Mass graves uncovered
If all the suffering of the living in Kashmir has not succeeded in awakening international concern, the recent revelations of mass graves must. Amnesty International reported on 22 August:
Following a report by a police investigation team, confirming the existence of unmarked graves containing bodies of persons subject to enforced disappearances, urgent action needs to be taken including preserving the evidence and widening the investigation across Jammu and Kashmir said Amnesty International today.
Over 2700 unmarked graves have been identified by the 11-member police team of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in four districts of north Kashmir. Despite claims of the local police that the graves contained dead bodies of “unidentified militants”, the report points out that 574 bodies have been identified as disappeared locals - 17 of these have already been exhumed and shifted to family or village grave sites.
The police report concludes that there is “every probability” that the remaining over 2100 unidentified graves “may contain the dead bodies of [persons subject to] enforced disappearances.” The report further clarifies that the only way to negate such a claim is to study the DNA profiles of the unidentified dead bodies and warns that in the absence of such tests, “it has to be assumed/ presumed that [the] State wants to remain silent deliberately to hide the Human Rights violations.”
While Amnesty welcomed this report, it calls on Indian authorities:
to initiate thorough investigations into unmarked graves throughout the state. All unmarked grave sites must be secured and investigations carried out by impartial forensic experts in line with the UN Model Protocol on the disinterment and analysis of skeletal remains.
The fact that an investigation has reached this point at all is to India’s credit, but given its appalling record in Kashmir, there is little reason to believe that India will provide justice for victims without strong pressure and exposure.
The silence of the liberals
While almost every other week, the United States issues orders to this or that country’s leader to step down, or to (very selectively) “respect human rights,” the Obama administration has been totally silent about the crisis in Kashmir. During his visit to India last year, Obama did not mention it.
In US media and establishment discourse, India is often presented as a colorful, “vibrant democracy” with a booming economy and an emerging middle class which is eyed hungrily by American corporations looking to export consumer goods – or jobs to India’s cheaper labor force.
I was reminded of the general obliviousness to the situation in Kashmir by a recent comment on Twitter from Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning in Obama’s State Department, on the occasion of India assuming the chairmanship of the UN Security Council:
I can’t think of an occasion when I have heard American establishment intellectuals call for a “serious international response” to the repression in Kashmir; and surely if India wants to “distinguish itself” in international leadership it should deal frankly with the situation in Kashmir.
Israel and India, Hindutva and Zionism
Although the crisis in Kashmir is off the media radar – and that of many writers and activists concerned with Palestine – thanks to many people in Kashmir I have encountered via Twitter, I have become more educated about the situation. Nonetheless, in recent years, the patterns of Indian behaviour and discourse around Kashmir have come to closely resemble those of Israel toward the Palestinians.
This has been particularly true with the rise of Hindutva over the past two decades – an extreme form of Indian nationalism which views Muslims as alien and often denigrates them in ways familiar to Palestinians subjected to such dehumanizing discourses from Islamophobic Zionists and their allies in Europe and the United States.
Hindutva nationalists and Zionists often try to reframe the “conflicts” not as ones over human and political rights, sovereignty, consent and self-determination, but as being caused by irrational and implacable “Muslims” and “Islamists” who if not confronted and stopped will take over the world. In this context, all the repression and state violence to which millions of people are subjected is justified in the name of “fighting terror” and defending “democracy” and “civilized values.”
And, as Yasmin Qureshi pointed out in an analysis for The Electronic Intifada, Zionist and Hindutva groups are increasingly cooperating on US university campuses to try to shut down discussions of both Palestine and Kashmir.
India-Israel alliance aids repression
The cooperation moreover is not just discursive: India has greatly increased its military ties with, and weapons purchases from Israel – including drones. And Shin Bet and other Israeli agencies responsible for human rights abuses and extrajudicial executions of Palestinians and Lebanese have provided training and advice to India on how to suppress the people of Kashmir.
“My most recent film is about the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front in India. I am not allowed in India anymore. Interestingly, India is one of the biggest arms trade partners of Israel,” Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni told The Electronic Intifada last year, “India uses the same tactics against the Kashmir people as Israel does against the Palestinians.”
Justice must not be delayed
Ultimately there can be no solution to the question of sovereignty over Kashmir – a painful remnant of British colonialism – until the region’s people are given the right to determine their future, a promise made and long denied to them, free from manipulation by India or Pakistan, which controls most of the rest of the territory (China also occupies a smaller segment). Pakistan has its own ignoble record of interference in Kashmir and using its people as pawns in its conflict with India.
In the meantime, India’s global image as a “vibrant democracy” should not be allowed to obscure the reality of mass repression – and mass graves – or to delay justice for the victims any further.