Force Will Not Curb Protests, Unconditional Dialogue Only Way Out
SRINAGAR: Kashmir has seen many periods of extreme suppression during its history of last four centuries. At one time the grand mosque of Kashmir, Jama Masjid was locked, Pather Masjid was converted into a stable and many mosques were locked.
However, never ever were the people prevented from celebrating the religious festival of Eid-ul-Adah! Not only were people during the present time prevented from offering prayers in the main Eid Gah where these prayers are usually held but no open congregations were allowed anywhere!
No Eid prayers were allowed in the famous mosque of Hazratbal for the first time in its recorded history. Similarly, no Eid prayers were allowed in the Sayed Sahib’s mosque in Sonawar which is claimed to be a VIP mosque as most of the top government functionaries usually offer prayers here.
The mosque at Maqdoom Sahib too was surrounded by security forces and no one was allowed inside. For more than eight Fridays no prayers have been offered in the Jama Masjid, the grand mosque of Srinagar.
In spite of these extreme curbs, people at many places took out marches for “Azadi” after Eid prayers in the local mosques which were dispersed by use of force causing death of four persons and injuries to scores of people.
One is not able to get exact news as there is a total communications blockade. All mobile phone networks have been shut. Mobile internet is already off for more than two months and even the landline based broadband internet has been shut down. This has resulted in total communication blockade within Kashmir and with the outside world.
Incidentally, these harshest measures on religious gatherings in Kashmir, especially on the occasion of Eid, are reminsicent of Kashmir under the rule of Sayeds who claim to be direct descendants of the companions of the Prophet! 700 of them are supposed to have accompanied Mir Sayed Ali Hamadani popularly known as Shah-i-Hamadan when he came to Kashmir to preach Islam.
One is here reminded of a saying of the patron saint of Kashmir, “Malleh te Gosain yeli raj karan; trutte wassan; yvethe phaton; draag wathon”! This translates into, “When Mullahs and Sadhus become the rulers; cloud bursts will occur; rivers will be flooded and famines will occur!” It seems so true now with the present ruling establishment!
Eid under curfew appears to be the direct follow up of Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh’s directive to security forces to restore normalcy within a week’s time. His statement on the subject sounded as if he was ordering the forces to crush all Kashmiris within a week! Thanks to the local government and the security agencies, the Union Home Minister appeared to be totally unaware of the ground situation.
All earlier uprisings in Kashmir used to be mostly confined to the down town area of five to six police stations. Imposition of strict curfew would restore virtual normalcy in a short time. However, no one seems to have told the Home Minister that Kashmir has 5,000 villages and all the villagers are out on the roads!
According to media reports, the four districts of South Kashmir have been handed over to Army for area domination. It is alleged that there is free movement of militants in the area due to continuous civilian unrest and the counter insurgency operations have come to a standstill. However, from the Army’s own admission, the number of militants is not even 100!
The induction of a full-fledged division in addition to the already present thousands of troops of Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force to control a hundred odd militants amounts to killing a fly with a sledge-hammer.
It is only going to fuel more and more uprisings all over the Valley and beyond. In fact, the forces are not only forcibly dispersing peaceful gatherings but are also vandalizing the residences of the people and beating the inmates to frighten them. Allegedly as reported in the press, Kashmir forces have gone into the villages, beaten the residents, looted their valuables and damaged their household goods just to cow them down. This has happened after the top authorities have declared that the forces have been directed to exercise maximum restraint! What would “unrestrained” soldiers do? Burn down entire Kashmir! The people ordering and directing this brutal suppression seem to be ignorant about the history of Kashmiris.
Mehmud of Ghazni who attacked India 17 times and destroyed the famous temple at Somnath was not able to enter Kashmir. His forces could not subdue the Kashmiri garrison at Loran and had to retreat. Alberuni accompanying him wrote about Kashmir in his memoirs sitting at Loran. Even the Alexander’s Army could not penetrate and subdue Kashmiris. While retreating some of the soldiers stayed back in the mountains surrounding Kashmir. Their progeny are called Kailash on Pakistani side and Drokhpas on this side. Mughal Armies of Akbar were defeated three times by Kashmiris.
In one of the attacks, the Mughal Army was so harassed by the Kashmiri Guerillas that they begged them to show them the way out of Kashmir! It was only through treachery and collaborators that Mughals were able to annex Kashmir to their Empire.
Incidentally, Yaqub Shah, the son of the last ruler of Kashmir Yusuf Shah fought a guerilla war against Mughal armies for six months and was finally captured in Kishtwar. One may again remind these people bent upon crushing Kashmiris about Kalhana’s saying, “The country of Kashmir may be conquered by the force of spiritual merit, but not by the force of soldiers!” Kashmiris are the most invincible people but at the same time very tolerant and resilient!
A number of top Indian political leaders and writers have recently opined that Indians have lost Kashmir even if it is still physically in their possession! The physical possession of the world’s highest militarized area does not necessarily mean emotional and psychological possession!
So if Rajnath Singh wants restoration of normalcy, he has to stop sending armies of soldiers and extend a genuine and sincere hand of friendship to all the Kashmiris after stopping all the brutal and harsh assaults, and removing all undemocratic and totalitarian curbs on freedom of expression even if the people are asking for “Azadi”!
An unconditional dialogue in a free and peaceful atmosphere is the only way out of the impasse. The alternative is unthinkable destruction, both for Kashmir and the entire sub-continent!
(Mohammad Ashraf is former Director General of Tourism, Government of Jammu and Kashmir)
(Photograph Basit Zargar of women mourning the death of 11 year old schoolboy Nasir Shafi in Kashmir)