Basharat Peer’s 2010 memoir Curfewed Night: A Frontline Memoir of Life, Love and War in Kashmir won the Crossword Prize for nonfiction and was listed among the “Books of the Year” by The Economist and The New Yorker. As Kashmir faces its worst violence in years after the death of a young, “social-mediasavvy” separatist named Burhan Wani, with the toll reaching 47 and scores wounded, Basharat Peer talks to Vishwas Kulkarni about the “Kashmir issue”.
What is your take on the perception of Kashmir’s necessity to India’s security, that we need it to protect ourselves from two belligerent neighbours — China and Pakistan?
India’s main border with China is in the North-East and has nothing to do with Kashmir. India and Pakistan have some of the biggest militaries and massive arsenals of nuclear weapons. Even that does not make anyone fully secure. Real security can only exist when everyone in South Asia lives without fear and lives full, dignified lives. This will truly be possible only when India and Pakistan listen to Kashmiris and find a just, equitable resolution to the dispute over Kashmir — that will free Kashmiris of the oppression, indignity and horrors our multiple generations have now lived with. That will also free India and Pakistan from their militaristic obsessions. It would be wise to see the money being spent on buying more weapons in the name of security and controlling Kashmir being used to build better hospitals and schools in every corner of India and Pakistan. Kashmir can free us all.
After the recent protests and the government’s reaction to it, is India losing the international battle diplomatically for Kashmir? Are we now on the same level as Israel?
Diplomatic battles are cynical by nature. Countries don’t behave like human beings. Nation states have interests; they don’t have feelings of shame. So that doesn’t matter. Every time a soldier kills and blinds a young Kashmiri protester whose only weapon might be a stone, India faces a moral defeat. India has a massacre on its hands.
Is the national media’s coverage of the Kashmir issue reflective of the ground situation?
There are a few honourable exceptions, but overall, the overwhelming majority of the national media is a big sham. They are hiding from the people of India what is being done in your name. It is rather shameful.
If there is a plebiscite, what would Kashmiri’s vote for — India, Pakistan or Independence?
Most Kashmiris will vote for independence. I will vote for independence.
If it is indeed declared an independent nation, can Kashmir sustain itself?
Yes. It won’t be a powerful or rich country. It will be a small country but it will sustain. Nepal gets by. Bhutan gets by. Maldives gets by. The thing with independence is dignity, not soldiers from distant lands who shoot your children, humiliate you. It is not just about economics, but the absence of humiliation.
What do people in Kashmir think about people in India?
They have our solidarity and good wishes. JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar famously said in a speech after his release from prison, “We don’t want freedom from India, but freedom in India.” Because of Kashmir’s long brutal history with India, Kashmiris have no [more] hope of a just order within India and they are saying, “We want freedom from India.”
Even if independence does come to Kashmir, what will stop it from becoming a jihadist hotspot, or from balkanising into smaller units based on their allegiances to varying versions of “Islamism”?
The status quo in Kashmir is more dangerous and horrifying than any fears of it turning into a “jihadist hotspot”. And the greatest, most effective advertisement for recruitment for militant groups is the killing, blindings, the humiliation of young people in Kashmir. I feel the fears cited are highly exaggerated and used as a dubious argument to look away from the harsh reality of Kashmir today. What Kashmir has been living with is worse than any nightmarish scenario people outside Kashmir can come up with.
Are maps by themselves misleading? When you think Kashmir, you think Kashmiris. However J&K itself consists of Jammu (largely Hindu); it also consists of Leh and Ladakh, which are culturally closer to Tibet. Where do these play out in the political stalemate of the “Kashmir issue”?
Maps are constructs and artificial. But in the name of the maps, flags and borders, humanity has perpetrated its worst crimes. No cultural, ethnic or religious group should be disregarded in finding a just future for Kashmir. The arc of the moral universe is a long one, Martin Luther King Jr told us. And someday, some blessed day, it will have to bend towards justice in Kashmir.
This interview is adapted from a longer version first published in the Mumbai Mirror.