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Kashmir militancy is travesty of a freedom struggle

January 09, 2003

It is a matter of days before January 19 hits the calendar, a day that most Kashmiri refugees regard as the darkest in their history. This day more than 13 years ago marked the beginning of a massive terrorist campaign in their home state that shows no signs of ending even now.

Every so often one has to wonder why in the past 13 years no concrete path to alleviate the situation has been made. Pakistanis talk of a plebiscite while others talk of converting the Line of Control into an international border between India and Pakistan. One can bicker across the table forever, but in the long journey to find a common solution, it is imperative that one of the most absurd solutions to the Kashmir problem be eliminated -- that of independence.

Most democrats in the world draw a fine line between people who deserve independence and people who exploit democracy for their whims and personal benefit. As an American citizen, I will use the example of the United States circa 1776.

At that time the injustices suffered by the American colonists were insurmountable and independence was justified as a political and economic necessity. Politically, the colonists were an oppressed lot. They were subjected to the draconian stamp and molasses acts, were taxed heavily by King George III, and had no representation in Parliament. The mercantilist policies slapped upon the colonies brutally suppressed the economic potential of the New World, which was the crux of England's stepmotherly treatment of her territories.

Now, if one believes the stream of rhetoric emanating from [Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front chief] Yasin Malik, one could justify independence for Jammu and Kashmir on the grounds discussed vis-a-vis the American Revolution. But let us distinguish fact from fiction regarding the political and economic dilemmas of Kashmir.

First, Kashmiris are granted representation in both the Indian Parliament and the state assembly. If one is constitutionally a strict constructionist, one can even argue that Kashmiris are legally not obliged to pay income tax. Thus, Kashmiris are granted representation without taxation by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, a privilege that most upper-class families in America would love to enjoy, but cannot realise.

Another tenet of genuine freedom movements is the struggle to establish fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, press, and assembly. The fact in Jammu and Kashmir is that any civilian can walk in Zainakadal or Maisuma shouting azaadi with no major complaint from the security forces. If the reader does not find credibility in my words, I encourage him/her to book a flight to Srinagar and try the experiment.

Further, there is a plethora of anti-India newspapers that operate out of Srinagar with the Indian government doing nothing more than grumbling. These include Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Observer and Alsafa. On the contrary, most Kashmiri journalists agree that a large part of the pressure on their papers comes from the militants rather than the security forces.

Alas, there is the disturbing question of religion. Pakistanis have argued time and time again that Muslims are treated like second-class citizens in India. To those who argue such a line, I ask one pertinent question -- why didn't the Gujarat riots spread into every state and town in India? If Hindus were such communal and narrow-minded individuals, why would we elect Muslim MPs, allow Muslims to practice polygamy free from the law, have separate civil codes, or allow Muslims to ascend to the highest offices in the country such as that of the President or chief justice of India? Since when is a President or a Supreme Court justice a second-class citizen?

The fact remains that there are more Muslims in India than across the border, and Kashmiri Muslims can go to the mosque anytime they wish, perform namaaz with no bother from the security forces, and raise their children as Muslims in a Hindu-majority country. If conditions were such that they were prevented from practising Islam, that would be a different matter. But most democrats will agree that there is more freedom of religion in India than anywhere else in the subcontinent. Thus, where is the need to establish an independent state on the grounds of religion?

Seeing Yasin Malik or Shabir Shah thunder about "freedom" for the "oppressed" Kashmiri Muslims fails to move even a single nerve in my body. When Kashmiris are given a separate constitution and separate flag, when they enjoy the full benefit of the rights granted under the Indian Constitution, like freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly, when they enjoy relief from taxes and the sole right to own property in their state, I laugh at their meagre complaints of "oppression".

If anyone sympathises with the so-called freedom movement, I strongly urge them to visit the Mishriwala refugee camp in Jammu, whose residents have been deprived of freedom by the very persons who are demanding it. Real freedom fighters bear the names of Madison, Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Gandhi, Patel and Azad (Maulana Abul Kalam). Even trying to draw a parallel between these great leaders and the likes of Yasin Malik and his cohorts in the Hurriyat Conference is an insult to the principles of democracy and freedom.

Ramananda Sengupta


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