India & Kashmir: Breaking the silence

27 April 2013

In Kashmir, the scale of human rights violations—from collective punishment and assassinations, to custodial deaths and disappearances—is staggering. Yet little of what goes on in that Himalayan region reaches the outside. Those who resist Indian rule, the Indian government tells the world, are fundamentalist jihadis backed by Pakistan. But the reality is quite different. Kashmir is an unsettled issue, dating back to the disastrous 1947 British partition plan to divide the subcontinent in two: a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan. Today, Kashmir is one of the most volatile places on the planet.

Pankaj Mishra writes for the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, and the Guardian. He is the author of Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, An End to Suffering, Temptations of the West, and From the Ruins of Empire.

ISR regular contributor David Barsamian, host and founder of Alternative radio (www.alternativeradio.org), spoke with Mishra in Boulder, Colorado.


David Barsamian: In your introduction to a collection of essays Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, you wrote: “Once known for its extraordinary beauty, the Valley of Kashmir now hosts the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world. With more than 80,000 people dead in an anti-India insurgency backed by Pakistan, the killing fields of Kashmir dwarf those of Palestine and Tibet.

In addition to the everyday regime of arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids, and checkpoints enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers, the Valley’s 4 million Muslims are exposed to extrajudicial execution, rape and torture, with such barbaric variations as live electric wires inserted into penises.”

And then you proceed to ask the logical next question: “Why, then, does the immense human suffering of Kashmir occupy such an imperceptible place in our moral imagination?”

Pankaj Mishra: There are several reasons for this, particularly in the last decade or so, there has been this idea of India emerging as a great economic power and also as a strategic ally of the United States. There has been a lot of bad news coming out of India that’s not been reported internationally, certainly not in the Western press. I think the government also places very heavy restrictions on reporting out of Kashmir, even on foreign correspondents.

Many of them start their tenure by going to Kashmir and being shocked and appalled, because nothing has prepared them for what they see there, so they go and do these anguished reports about this horrific situation. Very soon the government cracks down on them, and they are told to stay within their limits. And for the next of their three or four years in India , they observe those limits, because the price is you might have to leave your job or it might become harder for your newspaper to maintain a bureau or an office there. So there isn’t really enough reporting happening of the kind that happens, for instance, in Tibet. Even though the Chinese government does not allow journalists to go there, still reports filter out all the time. And when there is a massive event there, like the riots in Lhasa back in 20 08 09, it’s on the front pages and in the headlines for days on end. Continue reading