NEW DELHI: Dear Mr Venkiah Naidu,

Your remarks even as Kashmir was burning in protest were surprising, actually astounding. And as one cannot dismiss your remarks as casual, you being a well informed Minister with considerable experience, it stands to reason that the three quick points you made were to further underscore a certain political approach to the crisis that is Kashmir.

Yes Mr Naidu, you have said it repeatedly as have others before you that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. So integral that you bring out the guns any time the people move. So integral that young Kashmiris are beaten in other parts of India, are not allowed to gather in groups in the markets or at cafes. So integral that even basic protests on mundane issues such as teachers pay scales or better amenities are met with tear gas and firing. So integral that rape and encounters during and just after the decade of militancy are not probed, but covered under the cloak of ‘national interest.’

Today even as one writes this, 23 people including a 13 year boy and a young girl have been killed by the forces. Hundreds have been injured, many with those terrible pellet injuries that might leave several of the protesters blind. Is this justice? Can this be done in any other integral part of India without inviting a storm of protest? Not so long ago the government had to bow when the Jats went berserk in Haryana over their demand for reservation, and could not even use rubber bullets let alone lethal pellet guns with the soldiers and policemen trained to fire these straight into the Kashmiri eyes.

Surely there is a standing operating procedure that clearly has no meaning when it comes to the Valley. In Delhi, despite protests, the procedure followed is something like this: warnings, lathi charge, water cannons, tear gas. In Kashmir, the procedure is: no warning, no lathi charge, tear gas along with firing straight into the crowds, above the waists. Any number of times the people who were killed had bullet injuries above their waists. There was this young Kashmiri woman in Kupwara, who subsequently died, who was paralysed as she was hit by a bullet in the back, above the waist. For doing what? For going to buy medicine for her sick daughter. She never got any compensation, no Minister visited her, and she died with tears running down her cheeks when she spoke of her daughter and her future.

Integral part, dear Minister, comes with responsibilities. It comes with compassion, sensitivity, development, trust, care. Even if the people protest, the state as you said is powerful and can make the choice between a humanitarian approach arising out of confidence, or a ‘hit them where it hurts’ attitude that is always based on insecurities and fear-driven politics. You are a smart man Mr Naidu and it is surprising that you have also discarded the first for the second approach to Kashmir. As you should know better than anyone else that this violence by the state will not stem the tide of protests, and people in any part of the world when desperate can sustain battles that the state cannot win without large scale casualties. And not even then in the long term. History has proven this over and over again, and even if we re-write it, we cannot change the lessons it has delivered in the past.

And then for no reason at all you widened the scope of your remarks to include “some people” presumably outside Jammu and Kashmir, and question their citizenship as they were sympathising with the protesters. You said Mr Naidu, “We are really surprised that some people are trying to support the so called protesters who are sympathising with the terrorist. He is (was) a Hizbul Mujahideen commander. How can any Indian have sympathy for such people?”

But you know what, it is precisely because we are Indians that we have sympathy. It is precisely because our nationalism flows from the ideas that marked the freedom struggle, that we have sympathy with the young people of Kashmir who have spent the decades after militancy paying for a crime they did not commit. And while their families lived with enforced disappearances, in the aftermath of encounters and rape, successive governments did not even bother to bring justice to their door. And ensure that the perpetrators of violence were also brought to book, that justice was dispensed with an even hand, and that the integral part of India was made to feel integral, and not alienated and isolated.

Do not be surprised Mr Naidu when Indian citizens embrace other Indian citizens, without allowing hate politics to divide us. It an embrace of solidarity, of concern and peace as the citizens of India know what the politicians do not want to recognise, that those on the streets in Kashmir today are young desperate people, not terrorists or extremists by any standards. That they have been pushed with their backs to the wall, branded, arrested, watched, pilloried and then shot at for resisting.

These were not just protests for Burhan Wani Mr Naidu. That is again the big mistake being made by New Delhi. This was a protest against what they perceive as the victimisation of Kashmiris, relentless and ceaseless, both in the state and outside. One knows Kashmir helps politicians consolidate votes in other parts of India, but perhaps you will realise that this now amounts to playing with fire. And the repercussions will weaken ‘us’ and not just ‘them.’

As for nationalism and anti-nationalism. Haven’t we overstretched this? Its simple, Indian nationalism is enshrined in the Constitution of India that guarantees freedoms and rights, most importantly in this context the freedom to dissent and protest.

We empathise with the Kashmiris Sir, we will try and bring the peace that governments have always resisted. And in this we believe we are bigger and better citizens of India, not lesser.

All the very best,

A Concerned Indian

(Photograph by BASIT ZARGAR)