Kashmir is one of the issues which many governments inherit- be it at the centre or the state level. Besides the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state elections is also much awaited. In early January this year, the Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said the government is willing to hold assembly elections in J&K along with the general elections due in May.
This reporter of The Policy Times caught up with Dr. Ather Zia, poet, political anthropologist, and faculty at the Anthropology and Gender Studies Program at the University of Northern Colorado Greeley and founder-editor of Kashmir Lit (www.kashmirlit.org) and co-founder of Critical Kashmir Studies Network (www.criticalkashmirstudies.com). She shares her views on the current Kashmir situation and more.
TPT: Kashmir is stuck in a never-ending vortex of conflict in which the youths have been sucked in. In 2018, a number of educated youths took up arms as a ‘sign of protest’ against the Indian occupation. But this did not as much as shake the central government’s conscience. What is your opinion?
AZ: Kashmir is a political issue that needs a political solution. The Indian policy for Kashmir has been only about “managing” dissent and engineering a “legal” annexation right from the inception. In my understanding, India has been deploying a “politics of democracy”, which is not true democracy based on the will of people, which would only have been possible had the plebiscite been held. But how long can people be repressed by the specters of so-called-development or electoral politics that masquerades as being some solution? It is not only now, but Kashmiris in every decade since 1947 have protested and resisted — in different ways and post 1989 you see the ebb and flow of the armed and civilian resistance. Until India honestly starts to recall 1947-48 and begins again to recognize Kashmir as an international and a political dispute where Kashmiri people are the primary stakeholders in the sovereignty of the region nothing will change.
TPT: The Turkish President and Norwegian Prime Minister proposed to mediate between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue but the Indian government has brushed aside saying Kashmir is an internal problem. How can Kashmir be resolved? Do you think it will ever be resolved?
AZ: First off India not recognizing Kashmir as an international dispute is self-contradictory. India was the one that first took it to the UN and then slowly over the years undermined those processes. Second, today if India says Kashmir is not an international dispute but a domestic problem, will it be wished away by just saying that that? It is not that easy. It is not only India’s right to categorize Kashmir. Kashmiris loudly proclaim that their issue is not an internal problem for India, nor is it a territorial issue only between the two nuclear nations. Kashmir issue is within the UN purview, a clear “sub-judice” case as UN called it before their arbitration was sidelined. There are resolutions upon resolutions till the cold war froze the issue at the international level. But most recently the OCHRC report in 2018 validated the fact that Kashmir is an international dispute that needs a solution by making the will of Kashmiris central through right to self-determination. The region has to be demilitarized and de-occupied; a time frame needs to be set to put mechanisms in motion for what people of the entire region to express their will.
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TPT: Last week, IAS officer Shah Faesal resigned in protest against the killings in Kashmir. What is your opinion? Do you think he’s gesture will go to waste? Will it do Kashmir any good?
AZ: I am not sure if I have fully grasped what Shah Faesal’s exact mandate post-resignation is, but generally speaking, if it is to pursue electoral politics within the frame of Indian constitution – it might put India on life support for some more time, especially through the digressions that follow when new faces emerge in the fraught governance of Kashmir. The singular principled stand in Kashmiri politics is to concertedly seek an end to the military occupation, and if that is not a concern it will not deliver the help Kashmir desperately requires. “Governance politics” will only buy India time and that is a proven fact. In the long run, bolstering electoral politics, even it is through well-meaning technocrats passionate about delivering clean governance, will only firm the Indian rule. It will not assuage the underlining problem of Kashmiris because the resistance will not abate at any level nor will India change its policy of blatant repression.
TPT: Apart from Mehbooba Mufti, Asiya Andrabi and Shehla Rashid, there are no other vocal Kashmiri women. Do you think gender disparity is one of the major issues that Kashmir has to address? What can be done?
AZ: Gender disparity, especially in politics, is a global issue. Kashmir is no different. However, in Kashmir old societal constraints have been deeply exacerbated by the military occupation which makes the politics fraught with contradictions and generally becomes regressive. Women have faced this double bind but despite constraints there is a lot of hope. I see a lot of promise in many young Kashmiri women who are getting education, writing, producing scholarship and are engaged in activism; and activism for seeking a solution for Kashmir no less.
Part of your question, which mentions that there, are “no other vocal voices” besides the names mentioned, also makes me think what kind of voices that are being heard from Kashmir. In 2014, in a milestone event, a group of fifty young Kashmiri women came together to file public interest litigation under the banner of the Support Group for Kunan Poshpora. Five activists from the group have co-authored an important book on the case, which has become symbolic of the systematic use of sexual violence by the Indian forces—and what Human Rights Watch has called a crime of war against the people of Kashmir. These young women are growing voices, and their examples will echo with younger generations looking for such inspiration. Also, the recent de-colonial statement on #Metoo is also representative of the kind of interventions Kashmiri women are making. On a similar note, my colleagues most of whom are Kashmiri women scholars and I have co-founded the Critical Kashmir Studies Network. This burgeoning group of scholars, many are Kashmiri women as I said, for the past decade has persistently worked to lay the foundation of a critical and applied scholarship on the issue of Kashmir.
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TPT: How can Kashmir move forward for good? What are some of the policy changes that need to be done?
AZ: India has to stop negating Kashmiri political aspirations for the right to self-determination. Kashmir issue should not be undermined as a proxy-war, internal dispute or territorial disagreement, it is not about unemployment nor is it about “good governance,” alienation, fragmentation or assimilation – the regular buzzwords. Neither is Kashmiri movement “terrorism” a stereotype that has been created to overshadow what Kashmiri people herald clearly as their “Tehreek” (movement/resistance). Kashmir is a political issue that needs a political solution. There are no new answers to this question nor do we have to reinvent the wheel; the right to self-determination for the region is the only way forward – whatever mechanisms are needed to put that into motion, they should be persistently and creatively sought.