I described to Dave and Helen a video that had circulated online of a funeral procession on the streets of Srinagar. Police tried to disperse the mourners with guns and batons, but the father of the young man whose corpse lay on the stretcher shielded his son’s dead body with his own. In his late fifties this father stretched his arms over the corpse of his own child while soldiers and policeman tried to pull and beat him away from his dead son with batons.
Dave wanted to confirm that while people were mourning and protesting they were at the same time being killed. The escalation was cyclical. More killing more mourning, more mourning more resentment, more resentment more protest, more protest more killing; more killing more mourning more resentment more protest more killing. As people gathered to mourn the dead or protest, to shout slogans of freedom or to throw stones India responded with bullets, beating and mass arrests.
Helen wanted to know what was at the base of it all. We spoke about Partition and all that followed. I explained how India had come to help defend Kashmir from Pakistani tribal invaders who had crossed the border. I spoke of how India had promised to hold a referendum on Kashmir’s right to self-determination once peace was restored. But over time India’s assistance transformed into an occupation. Opportunities for a referendum were blocked. Democratic elections rigged, political dissidents imprisoned and since the rise of armed militancy in the 1990’s Kashmir has become the most densely militarised place in the world. Dave couldn’t believe the statistics of security forces to civilians; almost one for every five or six people.
Helen wanted to know why they wanted Kashmir. When Dave said it clearly wasn’t oil, I wondered if he was referring to the lack of US intervention or even interest in the issue. We spoke of Kashmir’s strategic location, of its natural resources and the hydroelectric power it generates for the rest of North India. We spoke about a nation’s ego and the Pakistan versus India rhetoric. And we spoke about Gandhi’s haunting remark, that as Kashmir was the only Muslim majority state in a Hindu majority country, the fate of this place would be the true test of India’s secularism.
Politics. Helen recalled an old quote that said something along the lines of power builds greed and greed builds corruption. Dave shook his head at the fact that none of this had been in the media. Maybe a small column on the inner pages of The Australian, or a 30 second time slot on SBS. A few months ago Kashmir had indeed been given time on SBS world news; but Kashmir is simply portrayed as an internal issue between India and Pakistan, marginalizing voices from and the historical context of Kashmir itself.
I told Dave and Helen about how the video that came to be known as India’s Abu Gharaib, depicting Indian security forces marching naked Kashmiri youths through a rice field, was removed from sites like Facebook and Youtube. Dave spoke about how India is being sanctioned by the West because they are playing the ‘game’, so to speak. He speculated that if India was a country of the Middle East the video would have gone ‘viral’. Prior to becoming President of the United States, Obama had stated that Kashmir was high on his list of priorities. When he visited India earlier this month, despite the Indian state’s recent killing of more than one hundred civilians in Kashmir, Obama was silent on the issue. Instead he sealed what has been reported as the sixth biggest arms deal in US history.