What do Kashmiris want?

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Freedom represents many things across rural and urban spaces in India-ruled Kashmir. These divergent meanings are steadfastly united on one point: freedom always signifies an end to India’s authoritarian governance.

In the administration of brutality, India has proven itself equal to its former colonial masters. Governing Kashmir is about India’s coming of age as a power, its ability to disburse violence, to manipulate and dominate.  The possession of Kashmir by India renders an imaginary past real, emblematic of India’s triumphal unification as a nation-state.

Controlling Kashmir requires that Kashmiri demands for justice be depicted as threatening to India’s integrity. India’s contrived enemy in Kashmir is a plausible one — the Muslim ‘Other,’ India’s historically manufactured nemesis.

What do a majority of Kashmiris want? First, to secure a good-faith agreement with New Delhi and Islamabad regarding the right of Kashmiris to determine the course of their future, set a time frame, and define the interim conditions necessary to proceed.

Following this, civil society and political leaders would put in motion processes to educate, debate and consult with society, including minority groups, in sketching the terms of reference for a resolution, prior to negotiations with India and Pakistan.

Significantly, pro-freedom leader Syeed Ali Geelani’s statement of August 31 sought to shift the terms of engagement, not requiring the precondition of self-determination or the engagement of Pakistan. Unless New Delhi responds, the protests in Kashmir will continue. Geelani’s statement, supported by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, testifies to this. The mood in the streets testifies to this.

New Delhi’s current approach repudiates what Kashmiris want. The Government of India’s “inclusive dialogue” this summer does not recognize Kashmir as an international dispute. Nor does it include: an immediate halt to, and moratorium on, extrajudicial killings by the Indian military, paramilitary and police; an immediate halt to, and moratorium on, the use of torture, kidnapping, enforced disappearance and gendered violence by the Indian military, paramilitary, and police; a plan for the release of political prisoners, the return of those exiled, and contending with the issue of displacement; agreements on an immediate “soft border” policy between Kashmir, India and Pakistan, to enable the resurgence of Kashmir’s economy; agreements to non-interference in the exercise of civil liberties of Kashmiris, including the right to civil disobedience, and freedom of speech, assembly, religion, movement and travel.

New Delhi has refused to acknowledge the extent of human rights violations, and how they are integral to maintaining dominion. New Delhi has not explained why militarization in Kashmir has been disproportionately used to brutalize Kashmiris, when ostensibly the Indian forces are in Kashmir to secure the border zones.India’s “inclusive dialogue” does not include a plan for the proactive demilitarization and the immediate revocation of all authoritarian laws. Norm does it include: a plan for the transparent identification and dismantling of detention and torture centers, including in army camps; a plan for installing a Truth and Justice Commission for calculating loss and for political and psychosocial reparation; a plan for international and transparent investigations into unknown and mass graves constituting crimes against humanity committed by the Indian military, paramilitary and police. Such omissions are a travesty of any process promising “resolution.”

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