As free as a bird – the metaphorical yet intrinsically human yearning to scale heights, to roam at will and glide through life free of encumbrances, has long animated humankind’s imagination. Individuals toil daily, each in her or his own myriad of ways to guard their liberties, freedom and autonomy. Across the continents and cultures, straddling the binaries of gender, race and religions, this quest for space in which to exercise our freedom, our autonomy, continues to flicker and lighten our individual’s souls. Not every person is there yet. Fate is not kind to all. Some have more freedom than others. Tales of individuals unjustly denied their freedom elicit expressions of support, sympathy and solidarity from those better placed as well as those not so fortunate to have their own freedom yet.
It is clear that the wrongful denial of freedom to an individual is problematic as it runs counter to the core of our humanness. When such denial is extended to a group of people, a community, a nation, the travesty and injustice is only exponentially exacerbated.
How many times have we heard the word ‘Kashmir’? Probably, many times, more than we can keep a decent count of. What impressions, images, thoughts, and feelings does the name conjure in our mind? May be for some of us the daily grind of our lives, and our immersion in the mundane preoccupations is too demanding to let us even pause for a moment and reflect what ‘Kashmir’ evokes and stands for.
We may have some vague idea about a ‘dispute’, the occasional military conflict and conflagration, the quotidian slew of violent acts so common and regular to be relegated to the backburner of our consciousness, the fabled beauty of the land where this name ‘Kashmir’ springs from and the seemingly interminable avowals for the resolution of this conflict. We may also have, at least some of us may have, heard propagandist claims that this land belongs to India, that it is India’s integral part, that there is no issue except misguided mischief mongers, supported from across the border, to wage a futile campaign doomed to fail and that but, for such support for mischief, the issue would have long been resolved.
Few have time to slice through this haze of deliberately distorted facts about what Kashmir is, what it connotes, what it personifies, what it stands for and against.
Kashmiris, in the territories illegally occupied by Indian armed forces, have been waging a valiant struggle, daily, for the last three quarters of a century. Their demand is simple – to let them decide their future as had been promised to them, by the world, the United Nations, and Indian leadership at the highest level itself. Like other princely states at the time of independence of India and Pakistan from British colonial rule in 1947, Kashmiris also were entitled to their right to decide whether they wanted to join India or Pakistan. That choice was never allowed to the people of Kashmir. Notwithstanding, all subterfuge and false claims by India, the people of Kashmir continue to demand this basic right to choose their future. The Kashmiris are, therefore, guilty of challenging the claims of their occupiers and for demanding their right to self-determination!
Hum Kya Chahte – Azadi!! (We want Freedom!!), thunders the illegally occupied Kashmir with these electrifying staccato calls of sanguine Kashmiris which sends shivers down the illegal occupiers. Despite the state of siege, curfew and virtual martial law, Kashmiris manage to come together in small groups, rallies, protests, gatherings and funerals of those brutally slain by the occupying Indian armed forces in sham encounters to reaffirm their call for freedom. Generations of Kashmiris have come of age amidst the resonance of the freedom slogan. Years of occupation, propaganda, oppression, suppression, draconian laws, kangaroo courts, humiliation, collective punishments, inducements, bluster and bribe – nothing has been able to scrape away the indomitable yearning for freedom from the hearts and minds of Kashmiris.
While Kashmiris await the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions since 1948 calling for a UN mandated plebiscite so that Kashmiris can exercise their right to self-determination, they have to face the reality of India’s illegal occupation and its daily indignity.
The imprisonment of entire population of Kashmir of more than 8 million, under India’s illegal occupation, subjection of Kashmiris to all forms of torture, denial and abuse of their rights, extrajudicial killings, and rapes, which the UN Human Rights Council also documented in its reports in 2018 and 2019, is a poignant reminder of the seriousness of the humanitarian situation. The longer this dispute is allowed to fester, the more it would imperil regional peace and security.
Annoyed by the irrepressible spirit of Kashmiris, their refusal to submit to illegal occupation, and the resilience of their struggle, India’s occupation forces have turned the Heaven on Earth, as Kashmir used to be called, into a large concentration camp and the most militarized place on earth with the highest ratio of security personnel to the local inhabitants.
The Indian occupation authorities have now embarked on another sinister plan, to alter the demographic landscape of Kashmir, to turn the only Muslim majority (now former) state under India’s illegal occupation and control into Muslim minority, by bringing in outsiders and settling them by issuing them domicile certificate. August 5, 2019, marks the day when India, already exposed as an illegal occupation power, shredded whatever pretense of civility it falsely claimed and embarked on a diabolic design to further suppress, and oppress the Kashmiris. The new settler policy, aimed to change the demography of Kashmir, to convert the majority into a minority in their own homeland, is designed to prolong and perpetuate India’s illegal occupation of Kashmir. It is also aimed to deny to Kashmiris their inalienable right to self-determination.
We mark this day as a sad reminder in the long and heroic struggle of Kashmiris to be recognized as equal human beings. They are struggling against the totalitarianism of foreign occupation which masks racial and religious discrimination and apartheid of different forms including shutting out voices of Kashmiris clamouring for their inalienable rights.
Today, Kashmiri leaders are incarcerated, punished, tortured and even killed, Kashmiri youth forced into choosing a life of indignity or resistance, Kashmiris in general penalized collectively through denial of their basic rights — all in a vain hope by the Indian illegal occupation forces that by dint of military might, state terrorism and torture and use of coercive tools of state oppression and suppression, the occupying power would convince Kashmiris of the futility of their struggle and would extinguish eventually their quest for freedom. India’s occupation forces would be right… only if the history of humanity were wrong!
The spirit of freedom, our human desire for equality, the recognition of our equal and indivisible humanity has proven to be impervious to coercion, threats and abuse of power. Kashmir under India’s illegal occupation would continue to remain a blot on its so-called escutcheon of secularism and democracy. The Jammu and Kashmir dispute remains on the UN docket as one of the longest outstanding conflicts.
We, as the world, the fortunate ones, have a choice. We can prefer our trade, commerce and business deals, and the pie in the Indian market. We can turn a blind eye to the miseries of Kashmiris. We can shut our ears to the cries for justice, equality and freedom, we can look the other way. We can feign ignorance. Or we can recall the misery the Kashmiris have to endure – appreciate their predicament, commit not to abandon the Kashmiris, hold steadfast and call out the Indian perpetrators, raise our voice in support of the valiant struggle of Kashmiris, and not be taken in by the promises of economic gains at the cost of the Kashmiris’ lives and our own souls.
Pakistan has opted for the latter course. No Indian-inspired propaganda, calumnies, denigration and misconstruction of our moral, political and diplomatic support for Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, their freedom and humanity can unhinge our principled position.As time dissolves into days, months and years, Kashmir, bruised and battered, shrouded in a veil of injustice, pain and suffering, the peace and poise of its brooks and valleys shattered by the boom of guns and the wails of tortured souls, clutches on to the hope of a better tomorrow, a brighter future. From the shadows of verdurous valleys of Kashmir rises the crescendo of an unmistakable chorus and resonates loud and clear —
Hum Kya Chahte – Azadi!! We want Freedom!!
Would we let our conscience hear this cry?