The Lonely Valley

  • Omair Ahmad
  • Publish Date: Dec 19 2016 9:41PM
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  • Updated Date: Dec 19 2016 9:41PM
The Lonely ValleyIllustration

As the protests grind on in the Valley, more people are killed and even more injured, it is sad to see that there are very few responses – within India, or internationally – to this latest crisis. There are scattered communities in countries like the United States, Britain and Australia that have rallied, but there numbers are few. Similarly a few journalists and writers have made their mark in Indian and global journalism. Their reporting is sensitive, knowledgeable. It is also marginal. Of course, there is Pakistan, where Nawaz Sharif spoke out about the violence. But Pakistan is not really an ally to trust on this issue, and when Pakistan speaks on your behalf, most of the world turns away.

Much of this will not matter to the people protesting. Their rage is red hot and directed against the emblems of the Indian government. They are not concerned with winning allies or shaping opinion. They are out on the streets flinging stones, confronting the police and the paramilitary, and shouting for azadi. But we all know that this round of violence will end much like the many rounds of violence that have gone before. There will be more dead, more wounded, more people in jail. There is unlikely to be more justice or more freedom. And there is a near certainty that there will be another round of protests.

The harsh truth is that today, not many people care for Kashmir or what is happening there. It plays out as one of the many crises affecting the world. Inasmuch as Pakistan shows any support, it tends to discredit the movement even further, as Pakistan is seen as a state that harboured Osama bin Laden, and supports the Afghan Taliban, even as the Pakistani Taliban increasingly kill more and more Pakistanis. India, on the other hand, is becoming too big to criticise. Just as China’s continuing abuses against the Tibetan and Uighur communities are routinely ignored by almost all governments, and most populations, India is given a free pass by many states – and their media organisations – whether it is caste based violence, or of geographic insurgencies, such as in Kashmir, the Northeast, or Naxal areas in Chattisgarh.

To the extent that criticism arises of Indian practices, these are a reflection of Indian economic weakness, not that of any higher morality by the international media. In the future, as India becomes economically more and more relevant – and even if the GDP growth figures are fudged, India is still a growing economy – the criticism will become less and less relevant. As for the Organisation of Islamic Countries, those not split along the lines of Saudi versus Iran, are too caught up with their own undemocratic practices, not to mention the long-running wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Anyway, the less said about support coming from a group of murderous military dictators and kleptocratic kings, the better.

Where does this leave the people of Kashmir? It is unlikely that protests will cease simply because support from out of Kashmir, whether from the Indian mainland or overseas, withers away. It is an history of abuses and a lack of justice that drives them, and until this is addressed, people will continue to protest, sometimes silently and sullenly, and sometimes violently. But the less that this is understood in the wider world, the less there is any chance of these problems being addressed.

For those that want this cycle of violence to come to an end, the first and greatest question must be how to win allies, how to convince people that what you are struggling for is a just cause. To many in Kashmir this is obvious. The daily curfew, the violence in the streets, the children wounded by pellets, or killed by bullets, seem like an obvious injustice. Except that nothing is obvious to outsiders. For many people, this will only be seen as one more set of violent Muslim people on a rampage. If the Kashmiri populace wishes to have help, it must communicate clearly why what is happening is such an injustice.

The community that should interest Kashmiris is the larger international alliance of people speaking about human rights and justice, who are interested in issues as diverse as Dalit rights and Black Lives Matter. These are large movements that are slowly changing the shape of the world today. Anybody seriously interested in looking towards making Kashmir a better place has to ask why Kashmir is no longer an issue of relevance to these set of actors. One of the answers is that movements of change are often driven by the young, and for many young people, Kashmir is an old story. They are simply not interested. Another answer is that the supporters of Kashmir’s movement for justice and dignity have not bothered to make an argument. How will you convince the world, when all you have is a slogan, “Azadi”, and nothing else?

Despite the power and rise of China, it fears an eighty year old man in robes who we call the Dalai Lama. They fear him not because he has any great power, or because he has access to money and wealth, but simply because he has a question – why cannot Tibetans live their lives the way they want, with dignity? It has taken him decades to put this question before the world, but it is such a powerful question, that despite the costs, many millions of people still rise to this call. At the same time, when Kashmir burns, it burns alone. Is it too much to ask, that those willing to fight and die for it, come up with a question, a question that troubles the world?