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Vol. 74/No. 33      August 30, 2010

Protests in Kashmir defy
Indian gov’t repression
(feature article)
August 16—Protests of hundreds of thousands have shaken the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, a Himalayan region, since the June killing of a Muslim Kashmiri youth by security forces there. As of today 57 civilians have been killed, many shot by Indian soldiers.

The demonstrations have demanded an end to army and police violence and that the 700,000 Indian occupation troops—one for every 14 residents of Indian-controlled Kashmir—get out.

The upheaval highlights the volatility of the South Asian subcontinent as Washington escalates its imperialist war in Afghanistan, accelerating class divisions and conflicts throughout the region.

The Kashmiris, Muslims in their majority, are an oppressed nationality. Two-thirds of their territory is dominated by the Indian government and one-third by the Pakistani government. New Delhi and Islamabad have gone to war over Kashmir three times, beginning in 1947.

Prior to 1947 Kashmir and today’s India and Pakistan were part of the British colony called India. Coming out of World War II a movement of millions in India fought for independence, part of the colonial revolution that swept Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The struggle in India, increasingly led by a young working class, began to forge unity among working people of the many different nationalities and religions on the Indian subcontinent. Deciding to cut their losses before that struggle grew into one where workers seized state power, the British capitalist rulers granted nominal independence to India in 1947.

To help maintain its economic and political influence, London maneuvered for the partition of India along religious lines. It succeeded in pressing both Hindu and Muslim bourgeois forces to accept a majority-Muslim Pakistan and a majority-Hindu India that would keep the working class divided and unable to deepen its struggle.

Kashmir was one of some 600 princely states in colonial India. The British left it up to the monarch of each princely state to choose which country to join. The monarch of Kashmir, a Hindu, chose India, enraging many of his Muslim subjects. Sharp fighting broke out. The United Nations negotiated a cease-fire that placed two-thirds of Kashmir in Indian hands, today known as Jammu and Kashmir, and most of the remainder in Pakistani hands, now called Azad Kashmir. A referendum of the Kashmiris to decide for themselves their status was promised but never carried out.  
Fight for self-determination
Kashmiris have fought for self-determination ever since. The Indian government has consistently opposed holding a referendum on the region’s status and ruthlessly repressed anyone fighting for self-determination or independence. Islamabad, feigning sympathy for Kashmiris under Indian domination, has sought to exploit the situation to further its own gains. It sponsored the group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which calls for establishing an Islamic state under Sharia law, and other groups fighting in Kashmir against Indian rule.

When Washington invaded Afghanistan in 2001 it sought to reduce these tensions so that Islamabad would focus on fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban forces instead of India. It has encouraged both nations to negotiate a resolution of the Kashmir conflict.

The current battles for self-determination have a broad, popular character. Media accounts have stressed the youthfulness of the demonstrators. The Nation, a Pakistani paper, noted the role of women. “The women emerged on the streets, beating on their utensils, throwing stones at the Indian forces and chanting slogans for freedom… . Many women who do not directly take part in rallies carry drinking water to the protesters and also direct youths down escape routes as they flee baton charges, tear gas and gunfire.”

On June 30 a curfew was extended over most of Jammu and Kashmir, schools and government buildings closed, and the railroad shut down. In defiance, crowds poured into the streets in demonstrations almost daily.

The protests have engulfed both cities and small villages. In the town of Trehgam troops fired into a crowd of Muslims attempting to enter a mosque for Friday prayers August 13, in violation of the curfew. A teenager was killed, prompting Kashmiris from nearby villages to join the demonstration by the thousands, Associated Press reported.  
‘We want freedom!’
In Srinagar, the capital, authorities decided to lift a ban on Friday mosque services that had been in place for six weeks. Tens of thousands turned out to attend prayers chanting, “Go, India! Go back!” and “We want freedom!”

Initially Indian government spokesmen charged Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the upheaval, but they have been unable to maintain that stance. Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh gave a speech in New Delhi August 10. “I can feel the pain and understand the anger and frustration that is bringing young people out onto the streets of Kashmir,” he claimed. He called for an end to the demonstrations, promising to take steps to give local Kashmiri police more responsibility for enforcing the law and to launch a program for jobs and economic development.

On August 15 Singh gave another speech, pledging to open talks to resolve Kashmiri grievances. He made it clear, however, that self-determination was not an option. “Kashmir is an integral part of India,” he declared, adding that “within this framework, we are ready to move forward in any talks.”

Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi urged the government of India “to exercise restraint.” Islamabad has consistently opposed the demand for Kashmiri independence

Mark Toner, a deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said, “We regret the loss of life in this incident. It is an internal Indian matter.” Suggesting that protesters were themselves to blame for the deaths, Toner said, “We would just urge everyone to refrain from violence and conduct protest in a free and peaceful manner.”
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