Kashmir and civil war

Since the partition the situation in Kashmir has been problematic. The population is predominantly Muslim and during the Partition, which meant to create a Muslim and a Hindu state, Pakistan and Hindustan, the Himalayan regions were given the choice where they wanted to belong. The Kashmiri ruler, a Muslim who relied heavily on Hindu support wavered and finally decided to join India, even though the majority of Kashmiris were Muslim. He was counting on large-scale support from India, but when the Pakistani army began to move across the border, that support never materialized and he fled. Ever since then the border is heavily contested, opposing armies have been launching mortars at each other for thirty years and more. Sometimes there are heavy skirmishes. It has become a political point now, since neither country can safely concede anything without losing face. Of course losing face is a laughing matter for the people who really suffer and have suffered through two generations – the people and villagers of Kashmir. What is a matter of words and economics in Delhi and Karachi, is a matter of blood in Kashmir. The estimates about how many people have lost their lives in the conflict escalate into the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands.

In 1989 a large group of Muslim separatists began to revolt against New Delhi and Indian rule in the province. It seemed only natural to revolt against a country where Muslims are a minority that is hated by a large part of Hindus. Unwilling to lose the province, New Delhi began to send in soldiers. The army was now no longer just fighting Pakistani military, but separatists from their own country. The result is an ongoing conflict without answers and without much hope for resolution. The separatists demand a Muslim state, either independent or as part of Pakistan. India has traditionally taken a hardliner approach to such demands, reasoning that if you give in to one, others might follow. It is an old and unresolved fear about the cohesiveness of India, which despite assurances to the contrary is not a given. There have been many separatist movements, especially in the border region with Pakistan and the ongoing obsessions about the border and the border regions from both sides show the fear of instability.

For the people of Kashmir instability is not a fear as hasn’t been for a long time. It is a way of life. People can be abducted and killed for no reason at all, by Muslim separatists and their supporters or by the Indian army. They are caught between two powerful groups and their paranoia and fear of each other with almost no way out. Recent reports about unmarked mass graves found near villages confirm suspicions of massive, hushed-up war crimes.

In India Kashmir is often excluded from debate. To even bring it up makes you a pariah and a non-nationalist. Can you not look at the achievements instead?

Maybe it is a leftover of the British authorities that they drew the borders and left the Indians to sort out the problems – almost all the regions where massive problems are ongoing until this day show where the geographic and socio-political scalpel of the Partition and previous exploitation has cut deepest.

India is Anna. Anna is India.

India is Anna. Anna is India.

A large number of supporters rally behind this slogan. It spearheads the Anti-Corruption bill known as the Jan Lokpal Bill. Anna Hazare, the 74-year old activist leading the movement and the protests for the Jan Lokpal, has achieved support in unexpected and somewhat frightening numbers. Two hunger strikes, publicly and cleverly staged, one in June 2011 and another started last week, are his weapons. He threatens to fast himself to death unless the bill is passed.

The Jan Lokpal Bill proposes as its main thrust to create a super-policeman, an ombudsman, to supervise the government and to have powers of jurisdiction over them. It is an attempt to curb the corruption inherent in the Indian government and has sparked wide debates about both the bill and the nature of corruption in India.

Supporters cite the insufferable circumstances. The government literally doesn’t work without bribes and many aspects of the country are run by NGOs, semi-private enterprises, religious institutions or by organized crime syndicates, often with equal or surpassing efficiency. The Anti-Corruption Bill would, so they hope, make their lives easier and create advantages for them. It is a bill that seems custom-made for the burgeoning Indian middle class, the urban and well-off for whom the baksheesh system is an unfortunate by-product of backwards India they would like to shake off.

Some supporters state that it is an imperfect solution, but better than nothing and cite the unprecedented support as a sign that something needs to change, other seem to support it as a good cause, without giving much thought to the ripples such a change might effect.

Opponents of the bill range from the absolutely cynical to very valid, because realistic counter-arguments that an ombudsman or a small council with powers of an ombudsman would only create a second authority structure which has to be bribed in turn. Baksheesh for the government and baksheesh for the anti-corruption office.

More seriously it would create a very dangerous power structure whereby actual power would lie in the hands of very few, almost a step back from a republican system to a dictatorial system. India’s favourite step-child Arundhati Roy argues additionally that the Jan Lokpal Bill does not cover the media or large corporations and would serve as yet another step to divest the government of power in favour of those two quasi-demonic entities.

Meanwhile the Indian government is in a bit of a quandary. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, not known as a man of decisive actions, has asked Hazare to stop his fast in order to debate the bill anew. That Anna Hazare actually fasts to the death is very unlikely. That he is a savior for India seems equally unlikely. Yet he may effect some lasting change, for good or ill.