PM Modi visited Kashmir – inaugurating various projects in events which were conspicuously empty of people. He mouthed hollow phrases about Ramzan, about development, Kashmiriyat, and jamhuriyat (democracy) and weirdly, asked Kashmiris to “join the mainstream”, because it was their “family”, their “mother and father”.
Meanwhile, Kashmir is witness to the almost daily killings of its youth by the Indian police and military forces. Indian TV channels demonise the civilian stone-pelters and do all they can to justify the torture and massacre of civilians.
Every day, the parallels between Kashmir and Palestine appear starker than ever. The Israeli Defence Minister said in April, ‘There are no innocents in Gaza.’ This dictum is what drives the Indian State’s policy towards Kashmir now, where no distinction is made between civilians and armed militants, children and adults. We all recall Farooq Ahmed Dar, the weaver who, after he had cast his vote, was tied to a jeep and paraded for five hours as a ‘stone pelter’ by the Indian Army. Indian Government leaders openly defended this act of custodial torture. The message that Kashmiris received, no doubt, was that one may as well take up stones (or guns) and offer resistance in some shape or form since all Kashmiris are anyway bound to receive the same treatment.
More recently, a chilling video emerged of a Kashmiri teenager Adil Ahmed, who was pelting stones at a CRPF vehicle, being deliberately mowed down and killed by a police truck. The truck can be seen veering left to crush Adil before moving on without even bothering to stop. The inevitable parallel in one’s mind are the images of the American woman Rachel Corrie being mowed down by an Israeli tank as she defended Palestinian homes in Rafah, or those of the Paletinian double-amputee wielding a catapult against Israeli sniper fire that eventually killed him.
In a powerful piece in Wire.in (19 May 2018), Niya Shahdad wrote that Adil’s murder “may even be the loudest and clearest of rejections, in recent times, of the official narrative that aims to illegitimise ‘stone-pelters’ by rendering them as radical and harmful, and simultaneously legitimise the state’s own gross use of force against them as an act of defence. In Adil, we witness the stone-pelter killed, not by another defenceless man, not even by an armed man, but instead by the might of a machine as it mows him down, from behind. The disparity in the capacity to hurt and the ability to defend could not be wider.”
She points out that the violence to which Dar (who was a weaver and a voter not a stone-pelter) and Adil the stone pelter were subjected, “is most relevant to understanding why thousands of boys and men throw stones in Kashmir every week” and also “to explaining why the distance between the choice of picking up a stone or a gun is shrinking rapidly.” Writing about 32 year-old Mohammad Rafi Bhat, an assistant professor at the Department of Sociology in Kashmir University who became a militant and was killed soon after, she observes that “the one thread that runs through this cycle – common to the pacifist, the stone-pelter, the militant and the bereaved – is something far more potent than any form of external influence: an evaporation of fear.”
In the US, and in Israel too, there is a growing body of Jewish people (including a large number of young women and men who risk jail by declaring themselves conscientious objectors and refusing to serve in the Israeli military) vocal in their solidarity with Palestine and against the Israeli regime and its atrocities. In India, such solidarity with Kashmir is rare, with many even on the Left and the ‘secular’ camp toeing the State’s line. The challenge for us today is to build meaningful solidarity for Kashmiri resistance, battling the vicious propaganda that brands Kashmiris as less-than-human, and brands any Indian solidarity with Kashmiri resistance and right to self-determination as equivalent to terrorism. We need to do this for India’s democratic spirit as much as for Kashmir: an Indian civil society that is numb to Kashmiri suffering, and that is able to wear T-shirts celebrating Dar’s torture and cheer Adil’s murder, is one that is ripe for Hindutva fascism.