By Omar Kanjwal
The past week in the Kashmir Valley has been anything but uneventful. Record low turnout rates for local elections. Rioting across the region calling for an end to the Indian occupation. Nine Kashmiri youth shot and killed by Indian soldiers, and because of this nine mourning families who have all lost a child. Above all else, a sign for the Indian government; that the people of Kashmir will wholeheartedly reject the electoral process so long as they remain under Indian control.
Disaffection for the Indian democratic process in Kashmir did not occur overnight. It has been the culmination of decades of political missteps and failed policies that violate both basic democratic principles and international law. From election-rigging in 1987 to mass rapes and killings conducted by Army officials, this has been a gradual process that has steadily pushed Kashmiris to the limits of what they can bear. The events of last summer and now this past week indicate that Kashmiris have hit their tipping point. With the death of resistance fighter Burhan Wani, a figure cherished by all throughout the Valley, Kashmiris are now beginning to indicate that enough is enough. If the massive protests over the past summer mourning the death of one considered to be a ‘terrorist’ by the Indian people was not clear enough, perhaps a 2 percent turnout in Srinagar district is.
Kashmiris have historically voted in Indian elections for issues of basic governance such as road upkeep, employment, and welfare. The poor turnout for local elections this cycle suggests that Kashmiris are now willing to sacrifice these essential goods for the sake of their freedom. Further, it is clear that Kashmiris have given up on pro-India political parties like the PDP and National Conference. Mehbooba Mufti’s tenure as Chief Minister of the state has been a complete and utter disaster from the moment it began. Omar Abdullah likewise has little political saliency in the region after his similarly disastrous time in office before her. Now that electoral participation has become an afterthought, puppets of the state like Mufti and Abdullah will not be able to reverse these trends.
The question for India now is this; is there any way to turn things around? Perhaps at one point the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or a return to semi-autonomy would have been able to quell independence sentiments temporarily. Instead of making attempts to bridge the gap between the people of Kashmir and the Indian state, however, India has instead signaled that they plan on doing the exact opposite. The rise to power of Yogi Adityanath, controversial BJP leader who at one point stated “if they take one Hindu girl, we will take 100 Muslim girls” is evidence of this. Kashmiris are concerned about the growing wave of anti-Muslim activity in India, as every-other-day news spreads of another Muslim man beaten to death by angry Hindu mobs for eating beef.
As Hindutva politics dominate Indian political discourse, Kashmiris will only become more adamant in their calls for freedom. Why would they want to remain in the union when seemingly half the nation supports genocidal violence against their Indian Muslim brothers and sisters?
Summer has always been the major season for unrest and protest in the Valley. As Kashmir begins to thaw from the cold winter, India should expect an even stronger wave of protests than last year. Unlike the unrest of past summers, this season brings with it a new sense of urgency that had not existed before. Burhan Wani’s death along with the death of these nine Kashmiri youth will be at the forefront of the mind of the Kashmiri people. In short, the problem is going nowhere anytime soon.
Few options remain for the Indian government in Kashmir. Kashmiris will continue to resist Indian occupation in the Valley regardless of whatever “good-faith-efforts” the government attempts.
Liberal Indians must now ask themselves, is it still in the nation’s best interest to grip onto the Valley for dear life? Each passing summer adds dead Kashmiri men and women to the nation’s collective moral conscience.
Time is running out for India to make amends for these crimes. So long as India continues to allow communalism and militarism to dominate the discourse on the Kashmir issue, Kashmiris will continue to listen. India will not like their response.
(The views expressed by the author do not expressly represent the views of The Indian Economist and The GU India Ink Staff.)
Omar Kanjwal is a Kashmiri-American and a 4th-year student studying Politics at Georgetown University. His family hails from Srinagar.
This article has been republished in collaboration with The India Ink – which is run by the students of Georgetown University with a keen focus on India and South Asia. It is a one-stop blog on India, its politics, and it’s ties with the world. They bring you experts from India and Washington D.C. to create a unique mix of regional and international focus on all things India. From the hilltop in D.C., they interact with the leading India and South Asia analysts, diplomats, politicians, and visiting dignitaries to bring you the most comprehensive and informed perspectives.
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