There are many articles on Kashmir without the viewpoint of an average Kashmiri. This post assumes that the protests in Kashmir today are not a product of the terrorist movement, but by average Kashmiris who are trying to make ends meet. I have seen a few points by media, friends, and few bloggers on this issue. In this post, I don’t plan to make judgements, but present some flaws in the arguments. I will end the post with an empowering-based solution rather than a secession-based solution. I am not willing to debate on who is currently taking part in the protests as it will rely on circumstantial evidence.
I present the question first, followed by arguments, followed by counter arguments. If you have some answers, the comment section is open. Do not get personal; the comments will be moderated.
0. Can we question Kashmiris’ demand for Independence?
India is a democratic nation and the constitution does not allow secession. Any grievances they have should be addressed within the framework of the law. They have to do that in a democratic way.
If one believes in the ideals of democracy, there is a fundamental hypocrisy in questioning the demand for independence. The point, however, that is open to debate is whether or not there is wisdom in Kashmiris making such a demand. We will examine that in the rest of the post
One of the ideals of democracy is to be able to establish a government that is accepted by a group of people. Thus, there is no justification necessary to demand freedom if one believes in democracy. Freedom is an inalienable right. Therefore, from a philosophical standpoint, demanding freedom requires no justification, only the will of the people demanding it. Therefore, arguing about whether Kashmiris should be allowed to demand secession invalids the moral principles behind democracy and republicanism.
1. Is Kashmiris’ demand for freedom without reason?
a. Independence struggle is fought by those who are oppressed against the oppressor. India has not oppressed Kashmir.
b. Kashmir faces several issues today. These issues are faced by many others too. Bomb blasts are a regular occurance in Kashmir. Bombay, Jaipur, Bangalore etc. have all witnessed them too. Elections were rigged in Kashmir in the 80s. Elections are rigged all the time in Bihar. AFSPA is misused in Kashmir. Even in the north-east, AFSPA is misused. Corruption has caused havoc in Kashmir, but corruption is common everywhere in India. When Bihar, Bombay, and other are not demanding secession, why should Kashmiris?
a. That is not entirely true. Massive rigging (allegedly) of elections (more than Bihar and other states) (link) and denial of justice to Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) victims count towards oppression (link). Rigging elections was a concerted effort by the central government to force-feed their agenda. Misuse of AFSPA is also a form of oppression. You only feel it when you lose a loved one. In Karnataka or UP, you know that the guilty is going to get punished some day. There is statistically more chance of accused facing a court of law in Karnataka or UP (for some crime) than in Kashmir (when an army officer misuses AFSPA). This adds to the loss of hope in the Indian administration.
To say that Kashmir is needed for India’s protection is to say that we are using Kashmir as human-shields and that we are using Kashmir for our own good. That is exactly what the British and the rest of imperialists did to its colonies. They used them for their own good.
If you are looking for regions fighting for Independence with reasons that resonate with Kashmir, Chechnya (link) is good example. Torture was used against separatist forces and the elections were allegedly rigged. Inter-ethnic and separatist conflicts have led to 150,000 people being displaced. In both cases, terrorism (only few people involved) has diluted the legitimacy of their demands. But the plight of the common man in both the regions is similar.
b. In isolation, each of those individual issues do not necessitate secession . But is there a place where all of them have happened at the same time? In Kashmir, all misfortunes have happened. That’s why Kashmir is an exception. Let us also look at the magnitude of each of the issues before we say that their demand for freedom is an over-reaction.
Firstly, bomb blasts have happened at the frequency of once a month for last twenty years. What Bombay, Jaipur or Hyderabad have witnessed is not close to that. Secondly, elections are allegedly rigged in Bihar and few other states too. They are mostly restricted booth capturing and bribery. In Kashmir, the entire legislature was allegedly chosen to represent people favoured by the Indian government (link). Thirdly, there have been reports of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) being misused by army officials. The culprit goes unpunished (link). I am not sure of the extent of misuse in the north-east. We have been neglecting north east and I wont be surprised if we do see a big rebellion there. Fourthly, corruption to rest of India is having to wait for 30 min more in traffic or pay Rs. 500 more to get your passport. In Kashmir, it is a matter of life and death. Don’t expect Kashmiris to tolerate corruption like we do.
Demand for secession is born only when people lose hope of having a better life being part of the parent country. In Kashmir, there is no hope. If you go to market, there is no guarantee that you will come back home alive. In other parts of the country, people are hopeful fora better future. NREGA and farmers’ loan waiver are two examples where even the poor are able to see a better future. You cannot say the same about Kashmir. For 20 years they have only seen violence and there is no indication of the war subsiding.
I am only opposed to the insensitivity with which their protests are viewed. I am not talking about what actions need to taken by India. To be insensitive is to further alienate the Kashmiris. That does not bode well.
So, where is the threshold for justification of demand for secession? Is 10 bombs a year a good enough reason? Is it 15? or 100? I think the answer lies in the answer to the following question: when do the people lose hope in the administration? Do you believe Kashmir will be peaceful in next 10 years as part of India? I am guessing the answer is ‘no’. Does a Kashmiri believe his place will be peaceful in 10 years? The answer is definitely ‘no’. This also poses another question: When to take these demands seriously? Next part will shine some light on that.
2. Will Balkanisation of India happen if Kashmir secedes.
If Kashmir secedes, the rest of India will also split up thanks to some lunatics who will demand independence for frivolous reasons.
Demands for secession comes when there is a deep discontent and loss of hope. I am sure that if a poll is conducted in Punjab, Tamil Nadu, or Bihar today, integration with India will be preferred over secession. Even farmers in India have hope. Their loans were waived. They have seen India prosper in other avenues. If there is security and economic prosperity, small uprising against the establishment will not enjoy mass support.
Let us examine some examples of fragmentation of nations in history. Aceh insurgency (link) and Khalistan (link, link) movements are examples of revolts without mass support. There is plenty of evidence of countries breaking up when they are militarily or economically deprived (Yugoslavia: link). Some other fights for secession involve oppression by the parent country (Sri Lanka: link, Ireland: link). The break-up of Czechoslovakia is one example which was carried out peacefully. Czechoslovakia held their first election in 40 years in 1990 (link). The rate of decline of employment also played its role.
None of these examples apply to India. Except in Kashmir and north-east, there is no alleged state-sponsored oppression in India. Our military is very strong. I need historical evidence that shows fragmentation of an emerging economic power. Only a historical evidence will make me think of this threat of Balkanisation seriously.
Kashmir protest today is an exception and cannot be seen as just another act of Khalistan-like violence. As argued before, their plight is far worse than an average frustrated Indian. Small revolts in other parts of India will not have mass support and they can be handled easily through dialogues or military action. If there is an mass uprising against the government, it means that the government has failed miserably. It is too naive to assume India will get fragmented if Kashmir breaks off. Demands for secession do not crop up over night. People must be willing to give their lives for it.
3. Why can’t the status quo be an option for Kashmiris when India is doing all it can to satisfy them?
Kashmir is important to India for its strategic location. If India withdraws from Kashmir, India will be put in a vulnerable position. That, however, does not mean we are using Kashmiris as human shields. In our absence, Kashmir is going to face attacks from Pakistan and China for its strategic location (link). Knowingly leaving Kashmir will make us as guilty of genocide that will follow as using them as human shields. Because of Kashmir’s inexperience in dealing with an existential threat on their own, it is imperative on our part to govern Kashmir for both the good of Kashmir and the rest of India.
Kashmiris are demanding independence mainly because India is unable to protect them even with our best efforts. Status quo is not working. As India believes Kashmir is an integral part of the nation, we ought to restore confidence in them. If it means we must give some power to Kashmir police, we should be willing to so that. They trust their own police more than they trust the Indian Army. India armed forces can man the peaks near the order for its security. This is not an overnight effort. There should be a five-year or a ten-year roadmap built that will empower Kashmiri police to be able to protect themselves from the insurgency. Because of the precarious state of the valley and the trust of the Kashmiri people in their own police, the police can be given more powers than the police in the other states. I am almost certain that such a roadmap to peace will be accepted by Kashmiris. A sincere promise of peace can stop the protests.
To say that we are doing everything we can, and Kashmiris are incapable of protecting themselves is akin to the missionaries and the British doing a favour to Indian by bringing civility to idol worshipping Hindus (link).
More autonomy is a point on the continuum between the status quo and complete independence. We should look at that option. Kashmiris claim that they can better protect their land with more autonomy. Why shouldn’t we give them a chance? They know the terrain better; they know the people better. We ought to be of good assistance and enable Kashmiris to protect themselves. When Kashmiris are shown a roadmap to peace, the hope will be restored and the protests will stop. Status quo does not present hope.
4. Are their means of protest legitimate?
a. Kashmiri Pundits were systematically massacred in the late 80s and early 90s. Kashmiris do not have the moral right to demand freedom as they themselves are guilty of breaking the law and order. They have skewed the demographics.
b. The protesters are violent.
a. I assume that it is the common people of Kashmir who are fighting today. It was the terrorists who killed and drove away the Pundits. We are talking about two different sets of people here. Putting them together is as bad as claiming every Muslim is a terrorist.
Side note: I believe that any referendum that is conducted should include all the pundits who were driven out. It is their land too. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, also believes the same (link).
b. All Party Hurriyat Conference (link) has a peaceful agenda. They have been working towards this in a peaceful manner since 1993. Though election have not been rigged since then, AFSPA misuse has not declined. Peaceful methods have been tried. To resort to violence indicates an average Kashmiris’ frustration with the Indian administration.
Protests are targeted against the armed forces, police, and CRPF. They are not making innocent civilians victims. I assume that it is the general population of Kashmir who is holding the protest and not radical Islamists. Their means are justified except for some stray incidents of burning government property. That is wrong. Then again, it the government they are fighting, not the common man.
5. Why can’t American-civil-war-style forced-action work?
Arguement: US was divided into two, and yet The Union managed to restore it to a single country. Though there may be a popular uprising against the Indian government, the lesson from the US civil war is that there can be solutions that don’t result in Kashmir being separated from India.
Counter Argument: In the US civil war, two armies were fighting. There were some slaves who were fighting against their own interest. But just because America did it then doesn’t make it right for us to do the same. In the current Kashmir protests, we will be fighting the very people we call our own. They are willing to give their lives up for the cause. Any forced action upon them with incur the wrath the rest of the world. War against Pakistan or China will cripple the economy (not to mention the nuclear weapons). We all know how the war against the terrorist insurgency is going. Forced-action is not an option. The secession-based solution won’t work either. I think an empowerment-based solution will work the best.
Acknowledgment: I’d like to thank Semanticoverload and Karthik Swaminathan for their contributions to this post.