Why are mass graves in Kashmir so passé?

The Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission says 2,730 bodies have been found in unmarked graves in Kashmir. This officially confirms earlier accusations by human rights groups. Security forces once claimed any such graves were those of unidentified militants killed in military encounters. But the commission says 574 bodies have already been identified as those of local villagers, and DNA tests will expose many more. This was mass murder.

Most countries would have treated this as major news, but our media barely noticed. Bored with unending tales of human rights violations in Kashmir, our media saw Anna Hazare’s fast and even Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s pregnancy as more newsworthy.

Two decades of insurrection in Kashmir have eroded our ability to feel horror, to be nauseated by mass murder. Yes it’s terrible, most people say with a shrug, but it’s all Pakistan’s fault and we can’t surrender to jihadis.

As a libertarian, i dislike ruling people by force, and am dismayed by the parallels between India’s independence struggle and the Kashmiri azaadi struggle. Basharat Peer’s “Curfewed Nights” and a new collection of writings from Kashmir “Until My Freedom Has Come”, highlight Kashmiri humiliation and anger against what they call Indian colonial oppression.

Actually, India has not colonized Kashmir. Rather, it has tried to integrate Kashmir with itself. Nation building is a difficult task that, across the world, has required a mixture of persuasion and firmness. Using this mixture, India succeeded in integrating some regions with secessionist movements — Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, Punjab. But 64 years of this approach have manifestly failed in Kashmir. Using ever more force begins to look like colonial oppression more than attempted integration.

Kashmiri alienation flows from Muslim revolts against the erstwhile Dogra ruler, rigged elections after 1947, and security forces guilty of torture, killing and rape in the name of national security. The Kashmiri insurrection has taken 70,000 lives of civilians, armed forces and militants. Some are due to terrorism, some to genuine defence against jihadis and armed infiltrators. But the mass graves bear testimony to horrors against innocent Kashmiris too.

Secular Indians feel outraged by 900 Muslim deaths in Gujarat’s 2002 riots. They are outraged by the killing of 3,000 people by Chilean dictator Pinochet. But they are mostly bored by 2,730 Kashmiri bodies in unmarked graves.

It’s all the fault of Pakistan and jihadi terrorists, say some. True, Pakistan trained many jihadis. But many of these were Kashmiri youngsters angered by Indian outrages. They were killed in droves by Indian security forces, and their flow to Pakistan greatly diminished. There was no Pakistani training or inspiration behind the thousands of youngsters who took to the streets during the Srinagar intifada last year. They did not seek union with Pakistan. They simply wanted Indian “killers” off their soil.

Many analysts emphasize the legalisms of Kashmiri accession to India. But hundreds of Indian princes had legal treaties with the British Raj, which our independence movement declared irrelevant after the rise of Indian nationalism. Liberal values cannot be based on legalisms alone.

Let us forget legalisms and hold a plebiscite, which we promised anyway in 1947. Probably the valley will vote for azaadi, with Jammu and Ladakh opting for India. We should see this not as a loss of territory but a gain of moral stature, and return to the liberal values that drove our independence movement.

Most Indians say a plebiscite will wreck Indian secularism and let loose another round of partition killings. Really? If India was so wedded to secularism, it should never have accepted partition along communal lines in 1947. Having agreed to communal partition, it was hypocritical to violate this norm in Kashmir.

In Junagadh in 1947, a Muslim Nawab ruling over a Hindu majority, acceded to Pakistan. India refused to accept this, ousted the Nawab forcibly, and justified this by holding a plebiscite that went overwhelmingly in India’s way. If this was a secular tactic, why call a similar plebiscite in Kashmir a danger to secularism?

Critics of a plebiscite claim that a vote for azaadi will trigger fresh partition riots, targeting Muslims throughout India. Really? Is supposedly secular India actually so communal that Hindus will slaughter Muslim innocents galore, with the state a helpless bystander? I have a better opinion of India than that.

Forget what Kashmiris demand. Let us allow self-determination in Kashmir to cleanse our own hands and hearts. This will not mean surrender to militants or Pakistan. It will mean returning to the liberal values of our independence movement, which are getting tainted beyond recognition by the mass graves in Kashmir. We need to regain our capacity to feel horror.

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