How Kashmir’s Postcolonial Siege Resonates With The Pathos Of Palestine
Kashmiris have always stood united to lend support for their faraway conflict cousins.
Just like Palestinians, the very survival of people in Kashmir is a form of resistance in an attempt to save future generations from bearing the marks of occupation.
Inputs from Nikita Jain
“The city from which no news can come
is now so visible in its curfewed night
that the worst is precise.
From Zero Bridge
a shadow chased by searchlights is running
away to find its body…”
—Agha Shahid Ali
Many say blood flows through Jhelum now. It mirrors the horrors of broken promises, atrocious carnage, rape, assault, mass murders, and tens and thousands of corpses being desecrated and secretly buried in unmarked, forlorn graves.
Unimaginable as it is, there are no words to describe the feeling of being a stranger in your own land and that nothing of it feels like yours anymore. With military checkpoints dotting the Valley, every alley tells tales of fear, humiliation, and oppression.
India’s iron-first rule over Kashmir meddles with every aspect of daily lives as it continues to affect whether Kashmiris can travel or go to school, work, go abroad, and most importantly, attend a protest or show solidarity for a cause.
Just like Palestinians, the very survival of people in Kashmir is a form of resistance in an attempt to save future generations from bearing the marks of occupation. While the Indian government talks of normalcy in the region, the authors of the article know many with permanent scars left by pellets on their bodies, exposing the brutal face of suppression.
We don’t need a battlefield for revolutions as they are fought in the heart
Since India’s revocation of Article 370, more than 3,000 people have been arrested and held under the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without any charge or trial.
But that has not stopped the people of Kashmir from living, resisting, confronting, or defying when needed, for the world to recognize their right to be free.
After the Al-Aqsa attack on the occasion of Eid, Kashmiris stood united to lend their support for their faraway conflict cousins. Several reports of solidarity protests came from Kashmir, and according to locals, anti-Israel slogans were raised in the Padshahi Bagh area of Srinagar. They gave a clarion call to boycott Israeli products.
“We don’t need a battlefield for revolutions as they are fought in the heart,” a local from Kashmir, who wished to remain anonymous, told Core Middle East.
Jammu & Kashmir police arrested 21 people for “disturbing public order” by participating in pro-Palestinian demonstrations and holding protests against the Israeli siege in Gaza.
One of them was Mudasir Gul (32), an artist.
A few meters away from his home in Padshahi Bagh, he had painted graffiti reading “We are Palestine”, with a face of a sobbing woman wearing the Palestinian flag as a headscarf, on a bridge in Srinagar. Even the shadow banning and fake news peddling could not stop the virtual support from pouring in.
“This was my first graffiti, I normally draw mural paintings on a commission basis. I drew the graffiti just to show solidarity and express my feelings through the art. I did not expect the police to arrest me. I also believe that it does not fall under any controversial activities or has any anti-social element in it that might breed violence,” Gul said.
The protesters disappeared when the police came. “I also ran towards a safe place, but a few minutes later, they asked me to come to the police station first. When I asked them what my fault was, they told me to come to the bridge where I drew the graffiti. The Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) asked me to deface the portrait of the Palestinian woman that I painted after Friday prayers. After that was done, they picked me up, which was unexpected,” the artist told Core Middle East.
Meanwhile, J&K police in a statement said: “We are a professional force and are sensitive to public anguish. But J&K police has a legal responsibility to ensure law and order as well. It, however, wouldn’t allow cynical encashment of the public anger to trigger violence, lawlessness, and disorder on Kashmir streets.”
Gul was taken to Saddar police station in Srinagar. The artist expected the police to harass him but that did not happen.
“They put me in a room and at around 12:30 am, a policeman came to my room and put me in a lockup. I remember the foul stench there. They arrested seven more two hours later. I was extremely disturbed as this was my first experience with the police. I stayed there for three days and later we were released,” he added.
“Mudasir’s detention was ordered by higher officials; the order came from the Governor’s house,” a source in the police told Core Middle East on condition of anonymity.
Mudasir Gul was released with a warning. “He was asked not to engage in such kind of activities again as these create buzz on social media and the situations here are tense anyway. These kinds of activities only disturb the peace in Kashmir,” the police source informed.
His work wasn’t even related to India and that’s why he was later released, the source added.
Though news reports said he was charged under PSA, Gul said that nobody mentioned such charges against him. Even when his mother, sister, and aunt paid him a visit, they did not mention anything about the charges against him.
“I am very sensitive in that way. If I had known about the charges against me, I would have gone into severe depression and mental breakdown,” the artist informed.
However, according to the police source, some families of detainees did say that the law enforcement officials told them that they were arrested for violating Covid-19 protocols.
The painting is gone now. There is nothing but black paint all over it, which in a way symbolizes present-day Kashmir.
Thousands of youths and children as young as 12 years old have been booked under PSA without any serious charges against them. Some of them come from weaker sections of society and cannot rely on the judicial system as they have no money to even hire a lawyer for themselves.
“We see a lot of such cases on a daily basis. If this continues, we will witness a new Palestine here,” the source said.
As a human being, it doesn’t feel right to arrest an artist who just wants to show his support for Palestine and break the cycle of violence and impunity for human rights abuses against Palestinians. But as police officers, we just have to follow orders of our superiors and do our job, the source added.
Whispers in the Valley: There is a panic-like situation among the people of Jammu & Kashmir, over the past few days, after the additional deployment of security forces in the Valley. At every corner, rumors regarding the bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir into two separate parts are being discussed.
“We are hearing that Jammu will be given the statehood along with some part of south Kashmir and Kashmir will remain a union territory,” a resident of Srinagar, on the condition of anonymity, said. He added that the Israeli model is “finally being implemented in the Valley”.
With fear gripping the people, stocking of grains and other essentials has already started.
Palestine has a special place in the hearts of Kashmiris. They have always felt a close connection given the motif of ‘suffering’ that has made the tragedy of Kashmir resonate with the pathos of Palestinians and overlap with its own resistance movement.
Speaking to Core Middle East, Jammu & Kashmir-based journalist Anuradha Bhasin, who has been targeted by the Indian government for writing on Kashmir, said: “In not just the last 30 years, but before that as well, Palestine held particular interest for Kashmiris because of the conflict. It is because they draw parallel with the people who have been robbed and are feeling injustice. For many years, there has been this fear at the back of people’s minds that there would be attempts to change the demography of Kashmir. This is why Palestine is resonated with, not just the issue, but their resistance as well, which is very similar to Kashmir.”
Post-2019, with Article 370 and 35A being removed, the fear has been enhanced, particularly after the landlord rules were changed in October, which actually made it easier for the Indian government to dispose of Kashmiris. There is a design not just to dispose of them, but to bring in a large population from outside and the fear is that it may be faster than what happened in Palestine, she added.
Article 370 is a constitutional provision that affords special status or limited autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir. Similarly, Article 35A covers permanent residents and their special privileges, thereby safeguarding the ethnographic identity of the region. The status was revoked in 2019, an action that was met with numerous protests and a communication blackout, with no cellular services available in J&K for several months.
Before the abrogation, Kashmir had its own constitution, a separate flag, and freedom to make laws. Foreign affairs, defense, and communications remained the preserve of the Indian government.
As a result, Jammu & Kashmir could make its own rules relating to permanent residency, ownership of property, and fundamental rights. It could also bar Indians from outside the state from purchasing property or settling there.
For Kashmiris, the removal of the Article means outsiders occupying their lands. “We will be considered outsiders in our own homes,” a young artist in Kashmir said.
A Kashmir-based artist, Khytul Abyad, while drawing parallels between Kashmir and Palestine, said that the two are quite similar to each other.
“It only started after Article 370 was revoked, when I started feeling some sort of relatability. Lately, following the activists and witnessing the real-time events taking place, the feeling of association has increased. It kind of feels like time travel. As much as I hope that Kashmir does not end up in that state, we cannot deny the fact that it is a settler-colonial project that has been set in motion in both of these places.” she said.
In Kashmir, it only started one year ago and is showing its effects, but in Palestine, it has been happening for decades.
“I understand that the genesis of the problem of these two places is different and so are the intensities of the violence. But going by what state-inflicted violence does to the people and the culture, I don’t really see a difference, especially now after watching the videos of police brutality, about living in fear — it all seems to me like a lived experience,” she said.
Abyad also said the global attention that Palestine got recently brought “some kind of attention” to Kashmir as well because she feels as much as the states want them to believe that there is a difference in politics, globally people have always put Kashmiris and Palestinians next to each other in dialogues and discussions.
“People of Kashmir will respond to the atrocities committed in Palestine and they always will and that is irrespective of whether the world understands us or our problems,” she added.
Bhasin, however, feels that the outpouring of global outrage over what is happening in Palestine is not enough.
“There is complete intolerance. There is excessive fear right now. The same formula that has been applied in Kashmir is being replicated in various parts of India. There is no space for democratic dissent and that has not happened overnight. This happened very fast post-2019; even before that. Even before the BJP took over. Post-2010 there was certain intolerance towards peaceful protests, people’s means of articulation. People were being targeted, media was being targeted, but it has now started happening at a much more enhanced scale. It is much more brazen today,” Bhasin added.
On August 8, 2019, when UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was asked to clarify the position of the UN on Kashmir, soon after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A by the government of India, he said that “the position of the United Nations on this region is governed by the Charter of the United Nations and applicable Security Council resolutions.”
The recent attacks and detention of prominent activists and journalists show that just like Israeli forces, the Indian government fears nothing more than a pen stroke detailing its crimes.
“People in Kashmir get jailed for showing support for the Palestinian cause because I think solidarity brings power to the narrative and the state obviously does not want that. If you look at the history, you will see that Kashmir is being deliberately secluded and isolated — by calling the Kashmir issue different or internal, or complicated. The Kashmiri Muslims identify with the situation in Palestine because the holiest of Muslim sites are under attack and there is a history of our community being suppressed,” Abyad said.
If the world recognizes that, then it makes the issue of Kashmir much wider than just a geopolitical problem between two countries. “Through social media, we were able to follow the unfiltered news. No one was controlling the narrative there. I personally believe that the developments in Palestine will bring enormous attention to the Kashmir issue, which I think is the most we need at the moment,” she said.
(Nikita Jain is a Delhi-based journalist who has covered various issues, including the Kashmir conflict, anti-CAA movement, and farmers’ protests in India)