Kashmir – Of Occupation and Casbah-ization

Umar Lateef Misgar

Kashmir has been subject to a state of untold persecution for the last 500 years. Lately, India, Pakistan and China have all annexed and occupied some part of the historic Kashmiri nation. The country, as we live in it now, feels no better than Occupied Palestine or French Algeria. Colonization, daily demonization and dispossession of Kashmiris are an inherent part of Indian and Pakistani national projects. Hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris have lost their lives for an opportunity to realize their political state. Resistance to foreign rule has permeated every single aspect of life. From trying to be politically correct while writing an exam to not littering, like most of the Indians do, every act is deemed to be dissociating Kashmir from India.

To mow down Kashmiri aspirations, Indian state, on the other hand, has been unsuccessfully employing every single tactic that its erstwhile European colonizers and current apartheid, settler bedfellow, Israel, have perfected through decades. However, Kashmiris remain adamant. If Haqq-Al Awdah (Right to Return) remains etched in Palestinian conscious and subconscious, Azadi (freedom) forms an existential texture of a Kashmiri heart. Each day of our life, as Fanon called it, is a constant struggle to breathe. From checkpoints to hawkish surveillance. From separation walls to the appropriation of land. From incarceration to economic smothering, Kashmir qualifies every precedent in the checklist of colonization and occupation.

 Casbah-ization

During the Algerian national struggle, Kasbah formed a bastion of FLN (Algerian National Front). In consequence, the quarter was perpetually under a siege. Barbed wires, ID checks and dehumanizing harassment were prevalent. Kashmir is no stranger to this tactic of selective demonization. Albeit, we have multiple Kasbahs, dotting the entire landscape. Palhalan, Maisuma, Tral, Islamabad town are some of the countless quarters, constantly quarantined and, essentially, turned into teargas-chambers. This is not to say that other places are safe or free of the violence of occupation but whenever the sentinels of Indian state feel like flexing their muscles and exhibiting their imperial domination, some designated places, the Kasbahs of Kashmir, are a terminus a quo. In many remote areas, Indian occupation forces have erected huge metal gates to completely seal-off villages and hamlets from the rest of Kashmir, whenever they like. This not only curtails freedom of normal movement but has also proven to be lethal during medical emergencies. Needless to mention here are the effects that this Casbahization of a place has on the psyche of its residents, especially children. They grow under the dark shadows of barbed wire, gun-toting aliens and trauma.

 Self-flagellation

“The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves,” Fanon’s assessment of how the colonized and occupied people internalize the perceptions of imperial masters, finds vindication in the everyday conversations of many Kashmiris. “Do we deserve Azadi?” “We are dishonest.” “We aren’t pious enough.” are some among numerous absurd dinner-time professions that many Kashmiris dole out in the apparent might of Indian establishment. This “horizontal-violence”, as Friere calls it, is delectation for the colonizer. The elementary-school idea of divide and rule needs only a spark and once the fire is lit, it’s self-perpetuating. Indian state vehemently tries to stir-up the conversations that turn away the focus of Kashmiris from the brutal occupation of their land and lives. Due to heavy militarization, heaviest in the world, Kashmir, a benchmark of communal unity is increasingly becoming a place riddled with negative perceptions and deep suspicions within individual exchanges. I am, in no way suggesting that things like corruption and obeying traffic rules aren’t important but what about state-sponsored murder, rapes, torture, enforced-disappearance and other crimes against humanity? I’m sorry to burst the bubble but robberies and traffic-jams will happen even after Azadi.

 Appropriation of Land

Indian army occupies more than 1500sq. kilometers of land in Kashmir. That is three times the total municipal jurisdictional areas [1] held by settlers in occupied west-bank or approximately equal to the territory of Bahrain and Singapore combined. A significant portion of this land is highly cultivable with the potential of producing cash-crops like almonds, saffron and apples. The Indian army and paramilitary structures are not confined to the fringe. They are erected and operate within residential areas and occupy community spaces like playgrounds, cinemas, schools, hospitals and post-offices. The presence of large army cantonments on the foothills of cities shuts down any prospects of upward urbanization, forcing the population to build on the flood-prone lowlands and marshes. This not only puts peoples’ lives and security at risk but also contributes to a disastrous ecological stress. While only a miniscule percentage of Kashmiris are dependent on tourist activities for their livelihood (3%), various hill-stations and resorts occupied by the Indian army makes these potential recreational spaces inaccessible, also putting a hold on cherished carnival practices and ancient cattle-grazing patterns.

 Checkpoints

Checkpoints form an essential element of Indian occupation’s machinery in Kashmir. While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact number of checkpoints that occupying forces man in Kashmir, the number could very well run into thousands. The enormity and ambiguity in number of checkpoints exists because of the fact that every automobile driven by Indian and sponsored forces in Kashmir is a potential checkpoint. The troopers, all the times in their own right, can erect a make-shift checkpoint anywhere they like and filter or completely block pedestrian and vehicular movement. Not unlike Israeli ones, detentions, torture and executions are carried out at the checkpoints in Kashmir.

Appropriation of Culture

Appropriation and erosion of indigenous culture is a primary weapon in the arsenal of a colonial project. European settlers did this in America; Chinese are doing this in East-Turkistan; Israel in Palestine and India in Kashmir. Culturally, India and Kashmir are planets apart but various Indian-sponsored media and agencies for the promotion of Kashmiri culture, hand-in-hand with the occupying state are performing a rouff (traditional Kashmiri dance) of deceit by trying to incorporate Kashmiri culture into the Indian frame.

Our billboards, signposts, milestones, even religious sermons- All propagated in Indian languages. Kashmiri music is designated as not-so-cool. Indian and Pakistani music galore. Flow of culture, in normal circumstances is perfectly alright and should be encouraged but when there is a huge disparity of power between two sides, one being the occupier and other occupied, every exchange is bound to chisel away the culture of “weaker” party. Also, the incorporation of Indian languages as ‘normal’ modes of communication in educational institutions and administrative offices has unfortunately put Kashmiri in the list of “optional” languages to be learnt and spoken by the newer generation. Kahw’e and Harriss’e is to be found more in Indian food-fests than Kashmiri homes and restaurants. One is again reminded of Israel that claims Falalfel, the centuries old Arab cuisine, to be its national dish. In a searing commentary of Israel’s cultural robbery, Roger Sheety recently wrote, “How exactly is falafel – which existed long before Israel – a signifier of ‘Israeli pride’ unless one is proud of cultural theft?” Altering this question, I want to ask the Indian state, “What gives them a right to appropriate our culture into their national consciousness even after they have inundated Kashmir with rivers of blood?”

 Division of territory

Since 1947, India and Pakistan has installed their own high-tech separation wall dividing Kashmir into two halves. This has had two devastating consequences. One, the never ending separation of Kashmiri families- mothers from sons, brothers from sisters- somewhat akin to the Korean scenario. Except for a few lucky ones, Kashmiris generally cannot travel through this heavily-fortified border. And second is the decimation of Kashmir’s old trade routes that crisscrossed central Asia, middle-east and beyond. We find a mention of Kashmir’s craft in the nobel-winning author Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red. The book certainly is a work of fiction, so do Kashmir’s historical exchanges look in present times- only imaginable. The fences are made of high-end steel-wires not concrete, so no prospects for Graffiti either.

 Dispossession

If India and Pakistan go for an atomic war, besides erasing each other from the face of earth, they will initiate a nuclear winter that shall at least starve a billion people [2]. Since, I hope, that won’t happen in near or distant future, they’re busy raining-down their conventional sins into Kashmir. The border, discussed earlier, is a scene of frequent mortar and gunfire exchange between Indian and Pakistani forces, result being a large-scale dispossession of Kashmiris on both sides. These power-drills are termed as “skirmishes” in mainstream media.  Imagine the “double-violence” one faces when decimation of your entire life is described as a mere aberration.

 Rentier Government

Repression is lacquered with cooption [3]. In absence of a collaborative mechanism, colonial projects are bound to fail. In 1993, after promising 22% of original Palestine to its people, Israel formally installed a machinery of lackeys in Ramallah [4]. India accomplished that decades before Israel. However, the difference between Palestinian Authority and Indian-installed government in Kashmir is that Kashmiri version is openly traitorous and even proud. The sycophants that fend for India in Kashmir enjoy impunity and high incentives from the metropolis. However, in the realm of liberating politics, all they can provide is chains. The futility of this establishment can be gauged from the fact that they cannot even respond to their salary needs et al. without begging from their masters. The imperial masters, of course, don’t part with anything without a gain. So, when the long-fought political aspirations of Kashmiris are dismissed under the shadow of this Rentier government, the people running it nod without a glint of shame.

 Historical Wounds

A couple of months before Israel formally commenced its ethnic cleansing in Palestine [5], Kashmir’s Jammu region was being cleansed of its Muslim population by extremist-Hindu mobs. The scale of this largely ignored atrocity was such that upwards of 200,000 individuals lost their life and hundreds of villages were completely depopulated of their Muslim residents. Most of them still live in mainland Pakistan and Pakistani occupied part of Kashmir. This forgotten Nakba of Kashmir is yet to be formally recognized by any state or international agency, let alone being investigated. During the course of India’s ongoing occupation, tens of massacres have been inflicted upon the Kashmiri population. From Gawkadal to Bijbehara, from Islamabad to Sopore, Kashmir’s recent history is full of state-sponsored massacres, rapes, torture, extra-judicial executions and sickening denials. Rather than investigating the mass rape in Kunanposhpora, Indian agencies consistently called it a “Hoax”. I wasn’t born when the horrendous crimes of Kunanposhpora, Badasgam and countless other places were brought down upon my people but whenever I hear the word “Hoax”, my consciousness takes me to those nights and days of persecution and makes me even more resolute for a fight that shall entail freedom, justice and further struggle for my people, being persecuted in Palestine, Ferguson, Syria, Mexico, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Western Sahara, Bahrain, Turkey, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Iran, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, China,Yemen and numerous other places.

 Notes:

1. Although entire Israel is a mammoth settlement and is built upon the ruins of Palestine, the total area under illegal Israeli settlements in West Bank is 2399.824 sq. km; B’Tselem (2010)

2. Nuclear Famine Report  of 2012, released by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)

3. Perry Anderson; House of Zion, New Left Review (December 2015)

4. See Edward Said; The Morning After, London Review of Books (October 1993).

5. Illan Pappe: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006)

Umar Lateef Misgar, from Islamabad Kashmir, studies International Relations at Islamic University of Science and Technology. (umar.misgar@gmail.com)

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