‘We hate peace!’, a young Kashmiri dissident exclaimed during my fieldwork in the summer of 2008. He was referring to what anthropologist Cynthia Mahmood observes to be a tendency for repressive authorities in Kashmir and elsewhere to practice ‘pacification’ as part of their state security agenda. In line with both the informants in my fieldwork, and Mahmood, I favor the language of rights and justice, rather than that of peace and security. The UN General Assembly, on the other hand, presents today’s ‘International Day of Peace’, or ‘Peace Day’, as an opportunity to mark ‘our personal and planetary progress toward peace’. Yet, the relevance of ‘Peace Day’ – and indeed the concept of ‘peace’ itself – to the inhabitants of the Valley of Kashmir is doubtful, as the Government of India perpetuates its policy of ‘pacification’.
The Indian authorities have stationed nearly 700 thousand ‘security’ forces in the region, making it the most heavily militarized zone in the world. The significance of ‘Peace Day’ is the more questionable in the context of the present cycle of killings – supposedly meant to restore ‘law and order’ – protests, more killings, and more protests that have been ongoing for more than four months. In other words, no ‘Peace Day’ in what Kashmiris are calling ‘The Year of Killing Youth’. So, whose ‘peace’ are we talking about? And, whose concept is it anyway?
Let us briefly look at the origins of the conflict in Kashmir, which go back to the partition of former British India in 1947. In the wake of mass sectarian violence across the new border, massacres of Muslims in Jammu, to the South, took place at the hands of both civilians, and security forces. A subsequent attempt by combatants coming from the nascent State of Pakistan to ‘liberate’ the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was halted by Indian troops. In return for this intervention, Indian authorities demanded the Maharaja of J&K to sign the ‘Instrument of Accession’ to India. India’s pledge – at the insistence of the United Nations – to hold a referendum for citizens to decide whether to support Indian accession, or to reverse it, was never fulfilled.
Three generations of Kashmiris have sought different ways to demand such a referendum, and hence the right to self-determination, which would lead them toward azaadi – ‘freedom’. The first generation of post-accession youth largely supported mainstream politics, despite recurrent election frauds. The second became disillusioned with this system, and widely contributed to the launch of an armed insurgency in 1989. Today’s third generation has come of age in the context of state violence, which has seen the death of 80,000 to 100,000, and the ‘disappearance’ of 8,000 to 10,000 people. Theirs is a ‘second revolution’ – a massive, predominantly nonviolent people’s movement that took off in the summer of 2008.
While dozens of, in particular, young men were killed during each of the previous two summers – when protests peaked – the present season emerges even more as one of loss and longing. The Indian authorities have discredited young protesters as ‘misguided youth’, as naive adolescents who are susceptible to manipulation by ‘anti-social [read, Pakistani] elements’, or by ‘Islamist militants’ – who, according to official figures, number no more than 500. The burden of acting ‘responsibly’, or indeed ‘peacefully’, is hence skillfully shifted to the demonstrators. Such denial of accountability on the part of the state has recently permitted censorship, curfews, arbitrary detentions, and, most disturbingly, a death toll of more than a hundred – and counting – protesters and other civilians, several of whom have been targeted at point-blank range.
To conclude, ‘Peace Day’ exemplifies the celebration of the concept of ‘peace’ – and ‘pacification’ – by (inter)national institutions. The notion seems to be irrelevant, and indeed inappropriate in the context of human rights crises, such as that in Kashmir. Instead, it is time for us to listen to the narratives of affected citizens themselves – to their desperate pleas for rights, justice and dignity.
Note that we chose not to publish any pictures of protesters, as this would jeopardize their safety.
Thomas van der Molen holds a Master in Social and Cultural Anthropology from VU University Amsterdam. He carried out fieldwork among young dissidents in Srinagar, Indian Administered Kashmir, from June until October 2008. He wrote earlier about the commemoration of Gandhi (in Dutch) on this weblog.
Dilnaz Boga is an Indian (photo)journalist, who currently reports from Srinagar.