Kashmiris: Not a non-party

Published August 23, 2014
It's amusing that the very people whose land happens to be the issue, are treated by India as non-party to the dispute. -Photo by AP
It's amusing that the very people whose land happens to be the issue, are treated by India as non-party to the dispute. -Photo by AP

The Indian state has placed the blame for the recent fallout of Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries' meeting in New Delhi on the Pakistani diplomat's meeting with Kashmiri leaders — the Hurriyat.

Funny thing is, this is the same ‘separatist’ leadership that India has negotiated with before.

The latest development came as India recently shifted from the ‘ambit of the humanity’ policy toward a more hardened nationalist stance, and this could make the conflict more complex.

All of this is not helped by the fact that the nationalist rhetoric emerging in India asks why Pakistanis are talking to Kashmiris.

This line of rhetoric is rooted very clearly in the desire to disengage Kashmiri factors from the talks between India and Pakistan on the issue. Another line of thought prevailing in India says that Pakistan should not talk to Kashmiris or about Kashmir before dealing with other issues between New Delhi and Islamabad.

What needs to be made clear is that Kashmir is not solely a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, as the former likes to posit with reference to the Shimla agreement. Because the fact is that the Shimla agreement does not abrogate the right to self-determination of the people in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, it even calls for the ‘final settlement of Kashmir’ and fundamentally maintains the region’s disputed status.

What is even more baffling is that the very people whose land happens to be the issue, have been rejected by India as a non-party in the dispute.

In his last visit to the Kashmir region, the Indian prime minister was met with a complete shutdown on the call of the Hurriyat leadership, because a majority of Kashmiris support the Hurriyat in its demand to bring an end to Indian rule in Kashmir.

This is also the reason prominent Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has been under house arrest since 2010 and has even been prohibited from Friday prayers. Small wonder then that Kashmiri youngsters are being hounded too for demanding their right to self-determination.

What’s worse is that in this scenario, the Indian media has played a key role in perpetuating the state’s dismissal of Kashmiri sentiment.

I remember how in 2010 Indian journalist Barkha Dutt tried to balance the deaths of 128 youth in Kashmir with the 'pain' of the Indians. The mournful father of 17 year-old Tufail Matoo, whose skull was taken apart by a tear-gas shell, was treated as a counterweight to an Indian soldier’s grievance over his truck's bulletproof windscreen being damaged.

While local journalists in Srinagar had been reeling under a siege for days, there was no hurdle for reporters from elsewhere in India flying in to cover the conflict.

But while the Kashmiri sentiment has largely gone unheeded by Indian journalists, there still remain some dissenting voices there. Arundhati Roy in 2010 remarked at a civil society meet that it was a historical fact that Kashmir had never been a part of India.

The Booker Prize-winning author was bashed on Times Now and called anti-nationalist for stating a fact that is actually noted in Section 18 of Indian Penal Code; it denotes that India is a territory excluding the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Another notion that often floats on Indian media outlets is that the true representatives of the Kashmiri people are not the Hurriyat leadership but the so-called elected government led by pro-India parties. It is pertinent to mention that these parties have termed their elections as meant strictly for administrative purposes and not as an endorsement of Indian rule. Unlike India, which is fond of saying that Kashmiris have voted for ‘Indian democracy’, the people have repeatedly boycotted previous elections. And even after the so-called elections, the pro-India parties in Kashmir pursue their own agendas like autonomy and self rule which hardly ever gets discussed at length.

Many would also find this interesting to know that although there’s a UN resolution maintaining that elections in Kashmir cannot be a substitute for plebiscite, New Delhi sees boycotting these polls as unjustified defiance of Indian rule in Kashmir.

The 'foxification' of Indian media when it comes to Kashmir becomes very obvious when protesters in Kashmir are labelled as a mob and are blamed when they get killed. The double standards become even more apparent when Indian media outlets question the state’s use of force against unarmed civilians elsewhere in India. What then becomes clear is that New Delhi does not regard Kashmiris, as civilians, at least this is how the Indian media projects the scenario.

What the Indian media should, however, not ignore is that despite the UN's failure to resolve the dispute, the presence of a UNMOGIP office in Srinagar continues to signify the Kashmiri sentiment that it is not an Indian state but an internationally recognised disputed territory.

What is important at this point is the realisation that ignoring the plight of Kashmiris will not make it disappear — a plight whose resolution is imperative in stabilising the South Asian region.

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