Kashmiri Leadership & Paths to Resistance
Nel Noddings, eminent American educationalist wrote in Peace Education: How We Come to Love and Hate War that “Gandhi, convinced of the power of Satyagraha, suggested that it be used by the Jews against the Nazis. In response, Martin Buber – who had earlier (1930) written that much could be learned from Gandhi – said that this method could not be used against the Nazis. It is one thing to use nonviolent methods against those who would deprive you of some material benefit, but if their basic aim is to deprive you of life itself, how can you resist nonviolently?”
Occupiers are not all alike, of course. After all, Britishers were very sensitive to human rights and felt that bloodshed and killing of innocent lives is not an option and they withdrew from British India.
What does this mean in the context of the Kashmir dispute? We have a different problem with India. Constant and consistent non-violent protests in Kashmir obviously has had little visible effect in moving the discussion toward the hope of Kashmiris, which is self-determination. The fundamental issues involved in the conflict remain just as they were 70 years ago. To whom does Kashmir belong? Who has a right to rule Kashmir? Why has India become a colonist just as the British were more than 70 years ago? And why is Indian army so brutal with Kashmiris in their repression?
It has become rather clear that India has little regard for the lives of Kashmiris. In Kashmir, India has legalized methods of torture and killing to give total immunity to its occupational forces. When those who protest are simply shot down or maimed for life, this is a clear message that Kashmir is to India a land occupied not by its own, or those for whom it has affection and wishes to include in its family, but rather by a hostile people who perhaps do not or should not belong there. To India, Kashmiri are simply terrorists, the whole lot of them. Kashmir is to India, an integral part of it, it is often stated. Those who do not see themselves as Indians need to go somewhere else or they will be killed. Such is the overall effect that such a policy has. The failure to include “the people” of Kashmir in the meaning of “Kashmir” runs completely counter to the need to achieve peace and sends a very clear message that India’s presence is meant to crush, subdue, and tame, if not obliterate any opposition. It is apparent that they are greedy for the land, for the status of possessing this ‘Jewel of the Himalayas,’ ‘Paradise on Earth’ ‘Switzerland of Asia’ and have no concern for its people. Here is an apparent example of the height of abhorrence of Indian leadership towards the people of Kashmir. When a 26-year old Kashmiri youth, Farooq Ahmed Dar was tied (April 15, 2017) in front of the army jeep to use as a human shield, Ram Madhav, Secretary General of BJP (the ruling party of India) did not hesitate to justify it by saying, “In war and love, everything is fair.”
“If man were infinitely malleable,” Eric Fromm, German Psychologist wrote, “there would have been no revolutions; there would have been no change because a culture would have succeeded in making man submit to its patterns without resistance. But man, being only relatively malleable, has always reacted with protest against conditions which made the disequilibrium between the social order and his human needs too drastic or unbearable. The attempt to reduce this disequilibrium and the need to establish a more acceptable and desirable solution is at the very core of the dynamism of the evolution of man in history. Man’s protest arose not only because of material suffering; specifically human needs…are an equally strong motivation for revolution and the dynamics of change.”
Obviously, when the people want to seek freedom from an occupation, they have to resist. Resistance takes different forms and shapes according to the circumstances. Some do resist openly while others prefer tacit support of the resistance movement though their ultimate objective is the same.
Certainly peaceful resistance, wherever possible and whenever viewed as effective, has always been preferred. Other methods of resistance have succeeded in various countries. Gandhi’s Satyagraha against the British, civil resistance in Tunisia, non-violent mass street protests in Egypt, the Green revolution of Georgia, etc., have all led to historic and revolutionary changes in the politics of their time and place.
Resistance to conditions viewed as unacceptable by a group or segment of a population is no doubt as old as man himself. Stone pelting (Kani Jang), a practice in Kashmir that might be considered an amalgamation or cross between armed resistance and peaceful protest, can certainly be traced back to the time when David slew Goliath with a stone. Alexander the Great was injured seriously and suffered blindness by a stone while laying siege to Cyropolis in 329 BC. Kashmiris have used stone pelting at various times since Dogra rule. I personally do not subscribe to it, nor do I advocate this phenomenon. The message of stone pelting is clear, however, that those who throw stones are unhappy with present conditions and the rule of an occupying force of armed men. The point of this type of resistance, as with many other forms, is often not to propose specific changes but to simply point out that the current occupation by India is unacceptable. The slogans raised by these stone pelters are shared by majority of the population, “We want freedom” and “Go India. Go back.”
Mass street demonstrations have also been very popular in history. The people of Czechoslovakia used political mass demonstration as a weapon of resistance against Germany in early 1930’s. It is reported that there were 25 mass demonstrations in 1931 alone. In France, an agitation began on November 11, 1940 by staging a public protest wherein thousands of people, mostly students, participated. The following year, in May 1940, over 100,000 miners participated in the public protest. Other mass public protests were held in Albania against the Italian army in April 1939. Belgium witnessed tens of thousands of people participating in protests against Germany in May 1940. The recent Women’s March on January 21, 2017, protesting the policies of President Donald Trump in which millions participated reportedly involved 673 marches and took place worldwide on all seven continents, including 29 in Canada, 20 in Mexico and one in Antarctica. It was the largest ever in U.S. history.
And during the latest phase of the freedom struggle, virtually all the citizenry of Srinagar (Capital city of Kashmir) – men, women and children – came out multiple times on the streets to lodge a non-violent protest against the continuance of Indian occupation. At times more than a million people poured into the streets to express their anguish and dissatisfaction against occupation authority. Certainly, terrorists cannot compose the entire populations of the major towns of Kashmir. And one million people cannot be instigated and provoked by a remote control. One million people reflect the true nature of the peaceful Kashmiri resistance and not a movement of terrorism.
Hartal, or the practice of stopping all commercial activity as a means of protest, and similar to a labor strike is a centuries-old form of resistance. It was used during the colonial period as well as during the days of India’s fight for independence against Britishers. The practice was institutionalized by the founding father of India – Gandhi. It has perhaps become the preferred and primary form of resistance in Kashmir. During Hartal, every business, be it shops, colleges, schools, transport, or offices, shuts down. It is believed to be one of the best ways to force an occupier to accept the fact that there is a problem. It is also believed that it can help in raising awareness about suffering and force the occupier to negotiate a dispute.
Hartal can shake the conscience of the world powers if done wisely and properly. However, those countries that believe in democratic rights and universal values remain often times silent when the occupier has significant economic strength. India’s money and buying power invariably rules and corrupts values that support human rights. These large economies can become an instrument of investments of tens of billions of dollars. The silence of these Western countries effectively crushes the souls of those who are oppressed, voiceless and have no means to signs contracts for billions of dollars.
Hartal and other non-violent techniques will prove instrumental to achieve one’s objective only if the oppressive regime is moved by compassion. Stokely Carmichael, American civil rights leader, summed it up well, “In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.”
The strategy for various paths of resistance has to include long-term and short term planning. It is the responsibility of a leader to plan these tactics and techniques and make decisions which are important for the movement no matter how unpopular. The leader has to define every step of every kind of resistance. Ultimately, it is the support of the people that matters and will ultimately bring one closer to achieve one’s goal. President John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
Before announcing a plan (in Kashmir’s case, the Calendar for the week), a leader must have a clear vision and understanding of the plan and its possible consequences on the masses. The leader must involve all stakeholders in the planning, be it sit ins, mass demonstrations, Hartals, performing national songs, holding of seminars, meeting with foreign diplomats, including Indian intelligential, press briefings, etc. A leader must gain the confidence of the people and should be perceived by the people to be authentic before announcing a plan. As President Dwight Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible.”
A leader has to be always open to fresh ideas and new methodologies. George Washington Carver said, “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” Tactics, techniques and methodologies can change on a weekly or monthly basis. That is not only desirable but advisable as well. What cannot change is the ultimate objective, which is the right of self-determination of the people in Kashmir.
There is no doubt that the people are willing to make sacrifices when they see in their leader the qualities of persistence, insightfulness, optimism and accountability. A leader must always lead by his example. In other words, he cannot call people to go to Hartal in Lal Chowk or to the United Nations office while he himself sits behind to escape the hardships of such an activity.