On Kashmir and its Law-Breaking Heroes

On Kashmir and its Law-Breaking Heroes

When you think of a delinquent, the word ‘criminal’ is never far from the mind. In fact, a synonym for ‘delinquent’ is ‘lawbreaker.’ But when the law is oppressive and cruel, what is so criminal about fighting for what you believe in?

Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a commander for the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, who are active in the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir, was seen as a delinquent in the eyes of the law. To many others, however, he and his fellow protesters were heroes.

Wani was considered a terrorist by the Indian government. He orchestrated violent attacks on police and recruited new members by broadcasting on social media, where he amassed a large following and gained international support. So much so that, when he was inevitably killed in a gun battle against security forces, thousands protested against the exertions of the authorities. The actions that took place on the 8th of July 2016 were amplified by the loss of a charismatic, educated – violent, yes – but ultimately brave youth. A youth who brazenly broke the law to fight for what he believed in. A lawbreaker in the name of justice. A delinquent.

Amid the shocking headlines outlining death tolls and arrests, it’s easy to overlook the point of all the angst. Journalist and filmmaker Tariq Ali has said that Kashmir is both never spoken of, “and has never been allowed to speak.” By this comment, Ali was pointing out the Western media’s tendency to pay heed to this particular issue only as a result of headline-making bloodshed.

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The underlying problems behind the conflict have hardly ever been explored. The bottom line is this: Kashmir was never given a choice between being part of India or Pakistan in the early days of post-colonial independence. A referendum determining the will of the Kashmiri people was due to take place in 1947. To this day, that referendum has yet to be held. It was a referendum, according to author Arundhati Roy, “that was indefinitely postponed.” India’s accession of Kashmir was meant to be provisional. But through “money… violence… disinformation, propaganda, torture… imprisonment, blackmail and rigged elections,” according to Roy, “the will of the people was subdued” and India’s grip on Kashmir remained firm.

System-fighting lawbreakers can come in many forms. More commonly, delinquency evokes an image of riotous youth, like Malcolm X, a young Mandela or Burhan Wani. Lawbreakers can, however, provide hope to many. Especially when dire circumstances call for a response. Through these events, some rise to become the voice of the persecuted. They do not possess superhuman qualities and abilities. They are not better than their fellow sufferers. In reality, the first to speak up have been pushed to unrelenting limits, embroiled in the storm of the moment.

That is what happened to Wani. A child from a middle-class family, something clicked in him when he and his brother were beaten in the streets by the police. Because his people had been demanding “azadi” (freedom) for decades, his run-in with the authorities was inevitable. He knew conflict from a young age, grew up with it. After that moment, at just 10 years of age, a delinquent was born. He became active within the militant group at 15.

A decade on from that catalyst and over 4,400 miles away, another form of rebellion was unfolding. Again, social media was used as a tool to elicit change. In August, a young woman (who shall remain nameless) sat silently protesting in the centre of Bristol. She was blindfolded and holding up a sign outlining how Kashmiri protesters advocating for independence had been blinded by Indian authorities as punishment. With an illustrious cathedral serving as the backdrop, the contrast between British affluence and her message was unsettling. It’s no secret the circumstances in Kashmir occurred as a result of India’s independence from a forcefully imposed colonial rule: Britain’s.

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Irony aside, the visual of a young Hijabi woman sat on the ground just outside a towering cathedral presented some interesting juxtapositions. Staidness versus chaos, for example. The ignorant complacency of passersby mocked by the reported suffering of others, albeit far, far away. What’s more, her activism also spanned the digital world. Her Twitter account was – and still is – consumed by all things Kashmir. She, with her updating and retweeting, was showing her followers uncensored realities the media was portraying as myths. The process seemed isolating. For example, there were enraging replies from those less aware and proud to shroud the issue with dismissive blanket statements. But there was support, too.

Thus it would be naïve to question the relevance of social media in the real world. The lens through which it depicts our shared existence can be harsh, even harrowing. But it provides a necessary window into the lives of those so easily ignored. It permits us to raise questions. For example, what would a Kashmir separate from India and Pakistan actually mean for the people, with all the variations in minorities the land possesses? In attaining this independence, will the people of Kashmir be trading in one oppressive moral code for another? What of those who reside in Kashmir but do not fit the mold of “either or”?

In an essay for the Guardian, Roy questioned whether the “minorities [will] also have the right to self-determination.” With unflinching honesty, Roy posed the question: “Will a free Kashmir do to its minorities what India has done for the past (69) years?” It seems there is an emphasis on immediate “azadi” (give or take a few decades) but little thought of the aftermath, should such an accomplishment be achieved.

Although logical, this slant may be a little defeatist. After all, everyone has a right to freedom, no matter how slow the process. As novelist, poet and academic Nitasha Kaul wrote in her essay, Kashmir: A Place of Blood and Memory, “Kashmir is not India. Kashmir is not Pakistan. Kashmir is not China. Kashmir is the boundary zone of India-China-Pakistan. But it is distinctively Kashmir. And its people – whatever their religion or national identity – are Kashmiris.”

 

Written by Patricia Yaker Ekall,

Contributor

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