Kashmir: Four months of a mass uprising

The past four months have seen a movement, which has been unprecedented in the history of Kashmir. Nearly 100 people have been killed by the ruthless repression of Indian armed forces while 17,000 people, including women and children, have been injured. A large number of the dead and injured have been youngsters, some less than twelve years old. The pellet guns used by security forces have damaged the faces of 1600 people and more than 1100 people have partially or lost their eyesight completely. In many aspects, this has become the biggest uprising in Kashmir's history.

Kashmir revolt 2016 - Public Domain en.wikipedia.org--wiki--2016 Kashmir unrestImage: Public DomainKashmir - commonly referred to as "Paradise on Earth" due to its beauty - has a long history of revolts and mass movements against the cruel rulers who throughout history have looted and plundered its wealth. After the bloody partition of India by the British Raj almost seventy years ago, Kashmir has become a festering wound in the subcontinent. The ruling classes of Pakistan and India have fought three wars over Kashmiri territory, leading to the deaths of thousands of people on both sides. Both of these imperialist states have treated the Kashmiri masses in their occupied territories as pawns in their strategic maneuvers in the region. The heavily militarized areas on both sides and continuous shelling at the Line of Control (LoC) has made this place a living hell. Pakistan has maintained a mockery of "Azad (Independent) Kashmir" under its occupation with its puppet legislative assembly, though the army commander has the final say in all political or strategic decisions. On the other side, India has declared Jammu and Kashmir its state with some special autonomous powers. Despite all this, the Kashmiri masses have never accepted this slavery as a fait accompli.

The biggest uprising in Kashmir against occupation was in the 1990s, which continued for more than a decade; more than 70,000 people were killed. In 2010 a big uprising of youth was again seen in which they raised the demand of employment along with Azadi (freedom). 119 people were killed in this movement by the repression of security forces.

But this movement, which started on 8 July after the killing of 21-year-old Burhan Wani, has surpassed all previous movements in its depth and magnitude. For four months curfew has been imposed continuously and life has been paralyzed in most parts of the valley. This has broken all records, including the last record of seventy two day of continuous curfew. Along with a huge number of killings and injuries, 10,000 have been arrested so far, many under the Special Powers Act in which anybody can be detained without charge for up to two years. Out of these, 1,500 are still in prisons. 2,400 cases were registered in these months.

A large number of those killed, injured and arrested are youth. The youngest ones killed so far are eleven year old Nasir Shafi Qazi, twelve year old Danish Sultan Haro and thirteen year old Junaid Ahmed. Many Indian journalists who visited the valley during this uprising have reported that youngsters of even only eight years old have taken to the streets and are throwing stones at the Indian security forces. On almost every wall the slogan of "Azadi" is seen, painted by rebellious youth. Despite heavy repression by the army, they come forward throwing stones and chanting slogans while tearing apart their shirts, taunting the army to go ahead and kill them. But they will never step back from their demands. Indian security forces are using a special pellet gun to crush this rebellion, which has injured a large number of protestors. When they hit the face, these lead pellets  damage it and injure the eyes. Those arrested are subjected to severe humiliation and torture inside the prisons. Sixteen-year-old Qaisar of Srinagar who died in an ICU on Sunday 6 November was allegedly given poison when in police custody. He was a student of school year ten. In Kashmir, security forces have a long history of torture and brutality. An excerpt from a recent report in the Guardian sums it up:

"Rebellion against India’s rule over Kashmir is neither new nor surprising – and the brutality of the state’s response is equally familiar. In the 1990s, India came down hard on a widespread uprising in the Kashmir valley – killing, torturing, disappearing, and imprisoning thousands. Some estimates put the number of people killed since 1989 at 70,000. Some 8,000 non-combatants are thought to have been disappeared, and 6,000 are believed to have been buried in mass graves. Human rights reports have identified thousands of cases of torture, including shocking techniques such as ‘simulated drowning, striping flesh with razor blades and piping petrol into anuses’.”

According to a 2012 report in the Guardian, government documents revealed that one group of security agents had “lopped off the limbs of suspects and fed prisoners with their own flesh”. (the Guardian, India's crackdown in Kashmir, 8 November)

Despite these brutal and horrifying measures, the movement continues to spread and relentless youth keeps on sacrificing their lives for their freedom. Although there is a long history of struggles, this movement is qualitatively different from all previous movements. An important aspect of this movement is that it is not limited to urban areas, as is usually the case. This time the movement has a strong base in the rural parts of South Kashmir. Most of the time, bourgeois analysts have belittled the movements in Kashmir, characterising them as simply a mischievous act of rogue boys living in cities. But this time the movement has its base in far off villages and remote parts of the valley. Sanjay Kak, who made a documentary "Jashn-e-Azadi: How we celebrate Freedom" in 2007 on the uprising in Kashmir, while talking to Al-Jazeera, called this movement a peasant revolt due to its size and depth. Many others have also remarked in similar ways and have tried to persuade Indian authorities that this movement can't be controlled this time through repression alone.

Another important aspect of the movement this time is that it has no central leadership. All the parties in the valley are discredited and have deceived the aspirations of the masses many times. This is why nobody is ready to believe their demagogy and is not following any so called leader. The Indian state has tried to send many delegations to start farcical negotiations with separatists to calm the situation down and regain control, but this has not been fruitful this time. Previously, leaders of Huriyat Conference used to issue a calendar of protests and strikes, and the masses followed this calendar. But this time youngsters in every area issue their own calendar and everyone follows it. Muzamil Jaleel writes in Indian Express:

"Though the separatists aren’t in control of the streets and are only reacting to the azadi groundswell that had filled villages and towns across Kashmir, the Hurriyat’s protest calendar is the reference point for the protesters."

The separatist Huriyat Conference, a loose formation of many splinter groups, was itself split for more than a decade; its leaders Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were not even on talking terms. But the pressure of the movement has brought them together, and on 8 November they held a day-long meeting in which Yasin Malik of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was also present. The meeting, it was said, also included representatives of different sections of society and announced the formation of the Joint Resistance Leadership to continue the agitation. The meeting included representatives from traders, transporters, religious and political organizations, lawyers and others.

In fact, none of these represent the youth on streets, who are ready to sacrifice their lives but will not follow these leaders. The Huriyat Conference and all other parties have become totally irrelevant in this situation. The ruling PDP and its Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, were discredited when she formed a coalition with the right-wing Hindu fundamentalist BJP two years ago. The National Conference, which has ruled Kashmir for the most part of the last seventy years in coalition with Indian Congress, couldn't deliver anything and was responsible for brutally crushing the 2010 uprising in which 119 were killed.

Apart from these parties, there are small outfits involved in armed struggle against the occupation. Most of these have been sponsored and backed by the Pakistani state in the past, but now a phenomenon of homegrown militancy is rising. Burhan Wani was one these militants who joined Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant outfit from the movement in 2010, at the age of fifteen. He was from a new generation of militants who used social media extensively for recruitment. Using his real name and regularly uploading pictures of his militant actions, he was immensely popular among youth.  This was confirmed after his death when over 200,000 attended his funeral. At many places his funeral prayers were offered in absentia.

This shows a shift away from the Pakistani-sponsored militancy which derailed the movement in 1990s. At that time a large number of Mujahideen (holy warriors) who were fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan, backed by the US, were also used by the Pakistani state to infiltrate across the LoC in Kashmir and attack the Indian security forces. This gave the Indian state an excuse not only to brutally crush the movement through severe repression, but also to increase the presence of troops up to 600,000, making it one of the most heavily militarized zones in the world.

Since the start of this movement, both the imperialist states of India and Pakistan have started accusing each other for the atrocities in Kashmir. An attack on an army camp in Uri, near the LoC, by terrorists killed 19 Indian soldiers and injured many on 18 September. Both have accused each other for this and the exchange of fire across the LoC has intensified after this, killing many civilians and soldiers on both sides. Soon after this attack, India launched a 'surgical strike' inside Pakistani-occupied Kashmir in which they claimed to have killed a number of terrorists who were planning to be launched to the Indian part of Kashmir. The Pakistanis, meanwhile, claimed to arrest an Indian soldier involved in this operation from crossing the LoC. These intensified hostilities are a tactic to drive the attention away from the real issues and derail the movement. India has claimed that a large number of terrorists are infiltrating Kashmir from Pakistan and are attacking Indian forces, which Pakistan denies. However, this has given them an excuse to increase the repression on ordinary rebellious youth.

However, the serious strategists of the Indian state have warned them to avoid using the usual tactics to deal with this situation and to first try to understand the realities of this new situation. In an article in The Hindu on October 11, former National Security Adviser and former Governor of West Bengal, M.K. Narayanan, tried to analyze this new situation for the Indian state. The article, entitled "Address the 'new normal' in Kashmir", explains that we are witnessing a whole new situation, unprecedented in history, saying:

"History will not, however, spare those who do not make a distinction between current realities and past situations."

He describes the new generation of militants as 'unattached', as previously they were linked with Pakistani state-sponsored terrorist organizations.

"The death of Burhan Wani in a July 8 encounter (Kokernag, Anantnag district) would in the past have routinely led to a minor flare-up. Pakistan’s involvement in such instances was a given. Hence, this long spell of continuing violence in the Valley needs somewhat deeper introspection to understand the real causative factors responsible for this situation.

"The ‘unattached’ militant involved in the current violence is a new phenomenon — and a far cry from the erstwhile ‘foreign’ militants. Kashmir had become accustomed since end-1988 to the presence of foreign militants and their involvement in stoking violence."

This serious strategist of the Indian state points at the change in the situation on the ground as compared to previous movements.

"Treating the current turmoil in the Valley as an extension of the earlier spells of unrest could be highly simplistic. Since end-2013, signs of a change in atmosphere had become visible. This was apparently missed. Even now…no meaningful attempt has been made to understand what is happening beneath the surface. Few seem to think that this could well become a dangerous watershed in the troubled history of Kashmir.

"The character of the struggle has also altered, and the reasons for this also need deeper introspection. It is not a case of rumours metamorphosing into a violent movement. The particularly ferocious public reaction to Burhan Wani’s death should be troubling to everyone — politicians, authorities, the security establishment and even ordinary people. The movement gives the impression today of being on autopilot, without any known leaders. …

"Hackneyed arguments to explain the current upsurge in Kashmir can prove counterproductive. The Burhan Wani phenomenon will not go away by sympathetic references to the accumulated animosities and suspicions of Kashmiri youth against atrocities perpetrated by the security forces, or by attributing the situation to Delhi’s lack of understanding of the Kashmiri Weltanschauung. It must not also be mistakenly attributed to a new generation of youth from the educated classes exploiting the social media seeking ‘freedom from India’. The basic causes are much deeper. The presence of over 200,000 people at Wani’s funeral needs a satisfactory explanation.

"...The spontaneity of many ‘mini-uprisings’ demands a different explanation from earlier ones, for it smacks of near total alienation of an entire generation of young Kashmiris angry with the present state of affairs. Many are even willing to commit suicide to vent their anger."

Narayanan also points out the irrelevance of the current political leadership. About the Huriyat Conference he says,

"Talking to separatist leaders may make good copy, but they are irrelevant in today’s context, and out of sync with the younger generations now in revolt…"

This clearly shows that alarm bells are ringing amongst the state authorities and they haven't yet found out the 'real reasons' for this change in the situation and the mass movement. Narayanan explains that using force will stoke the anger further. He writes,

"Using force of the kind employed against the Lashkar, Jaish and Hizbul against today’s 10 and 12-year-old schoolchildren would only inflame passions further."

But in the end he has no alternative solution, and only suggests that the assistance of social scientists and psychologists should be sought to deal with this situation.

Kashmir map - Public Domain

This clearly shows the bankruptcy of the current system and the ruling class that preside over it. The real cause of this unrest is mass unemployment, which has left the youth with no other option but to come out on the streets and fight for a better future. Azadi for the youth means not only freedom from the torture, killings and search operations of occupying forces, but also a bright future with full employment and better living standards. In 2011, Mercy Corps, a development organization in the US, reported that 48% of youth in Kashmir are unemployed. With seventy percent of the 12 million people in Kashmir under the age of 31, this makes a huge number. This figure must have increased in the last five years, with no major breakthroughs seen. This shows that this rotten system cannot offer the youth any future, and they are abandoning classrooms to get an education on the streets by fighting day and night.

The last four months have also provided many new lessons for the entire population. Surviving continuous curfews would not have been possible without a collective effort at the community level. Collective kitchens and the sharing of essential items necessary for survival has developed into a new routine. This has given more depth to the movement. In many places, large protests of women have taken place, and children have been seen throwing stones at the Indian armed forces. This is actually the new normal, which cannot be defeated by any armed force in the world.

Another tactic of the BJP-led government in Delhi, with their stooges in the valley, will be to stoke the flames of religious hatred amongst the Hindus of Jammu and the Muslims of the Valley - to drown this movement in a religious frenzy once again. Memories of mass rioting in 1948 are once again hyped, with armed militias of the Hindu fundamentalist RSS organizing everywhere in India. For the first time, the BJP got a majority from Jammu in the last elections, giving it the authority to spread its venom among the masses.

A bigger threat to the movement is a limited war between two nuclear-armed states occupying Kashmir. Pakistan has kept its 200 million people in hunger and poverty while spending billions of dollars on its nuclear arsenal and huge military personnel, under the pretext of fighting a war with India. It is the same case on the other side. To drive attention away from the real issues facing the 1.5 billion living, the ruling classes of these two countries have used their traditional animosity to curb any internal dissent. But this time, these usual tactics may prove counterproductive.

There is a huge movement of the working class in India taking place, which led to the biggest general strike in history on 2 September, in which 180 million participated. A student movement in the elite universities of India is spreading, protesting against 'reforms' in education. Similarly, movements and strikes in various public sectors are emerging on the other side of the border in Pakistan against privatization and other anti-worker policies. Any flare up on the border or scaling up of tensions can also give a new spark to these movements, which can become more widespread and deeper.

The only way forward to counter these threats is to build solidarity with the mass movements in both countries along class lines. This can be attained only through connecting with those movements that are also protesting the brutalities of the ruling classes on both sides. The common enemy of the masses of India and Pakistan and the whole world is the capitalist system and the class which is beneficiary of this system. The Pakistani ruling class is exploiting its workers and oppressed nationalities and has thrown them into deprivation, hunger, disease and placed them at the mercy of terrorists and suicide bombers. An independent Kashmir under capitalism will also be unable to provide any jobs to such a huge population and will always be at the mercy of the imperialist powers. Only overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist federation can give the Kashmiri masses Azadi (freedom), not only from the occupying forces, but also from unemployment and poverty. This can be achieved only through a socialist revolution, in which working class and revolutionary youth of India and Pakistan will play a key role. In a socialist federation of South Asia, Kashmir will be free - not only from the oppression of a bourgeois state, but also from the economic tyranny of Capital. This is the only way forward; the only way to guarantee a life full of happiness and pleasure in the 'Paradise on Earth'.