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A New Intifada in Kashmir? Arundhati Roy & Sanjay Kak on the World’s Most Densely Militarized Area

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We continue our conversation with acclaimed author Arundhati Roy by discussing the overlooked conflict in Kashmir, the center of a decades-long dispute between India and Pakistan. Roy joins us along with Sanjay Kak, a New Delhi-based documentary filmmaker whose most recent film is “Jashn-e-Azadi,” or “How We Celebrate Freedom,” and who is the author of the book, “Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir.” Discussing India’s military involvement in Kashmir, Roy says: “It’s such a morally reprehensible thing to be living in a country that is doing this to a people and everyone is keeping quiet about it. … What they are doing to people is terrible.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue our conversation with the author and activist Arundhati Roy, she is now joined in Chicago by Sanjay Kak, a New Delhi-based documentary filmmaker. His most recent film is Jashn-e-Azadi, or How We Celebrate Freedom. He’s the author of Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir.

We welcome you in joining Arundhati in this discussion. Can you talk about, Arundhati first, the lay of the land, why you have become so interested in this issue, and why you’re traveling to the United States to speak about it?

ARUNDHATI ROY: No, it is—well, I suppose if one were to explain the situation in the simplest possible terms, the struggle for self-determination in Kashmir began in 1947, at the time of India’s independence and the partition of India and Pakistan. And Kashmir, which used to be an independent kingdom, was more or less torn apart during partition, half occupied by Pakistan and the other half occupied by India. And it is a country with a—I mean, it’s a state with a predominantly Muslim population, but had a Hindu ruler, who was supposed to have acceded to India, though there was supposed to be a plebiscite after 1947, which never took place.

And today Kashmir is the most densely militarized zone in the world. India has something like 700,000 security forces there. And in the '90s, early ’90s, the fight became—turned into an armed struggle, and since then, something like 68,000 people have died, maybe 100,000 tortured, 10,000 disappeared, you know? I mean, we all talk a lot about Chile, Pinochet. These numbers are far greater. And this is just the crude end of it, you know? Can you imagine living in a place where there are so many soldiers, you can't—you go out of your door, you come out, come to a barrier. Every aspect of life, whether it’s joyous or otherwise, is sort of diverted through the military.

And it’s become a very ugly—an ugly stain on people who would like to be—have some self-respect. And I’m talking about Indians, you know, I’m talking about somebody like myself, that it makes me feel that it’s such a morally reprehensible thing to be living in a country that is doing this to a people and keeping—everyone is keeping quiet about it. There are very, very few people in India who would say anything about this. I mean, we hear about conscientious objectors in Iraq, in Vietnam, but in India there has never, ever been a conscientious objector in the army. And what they are doing to people is terrible.

AMY GOODMAN: Sanjay Kak, you have written Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. Why describe it in that way? And what do you feel an international audience needs to understand now about Kashmir?

SANJAY KAK: You know, since 1990, Kashmir has been sort of characterized as this place which is riven with armed conflict. And in a sense, that has been the dominating sort of aspect of what has been going on there. And it’s only from around 2008 that there was a kind of paradigm shift in terms of what was going on there. You could argue that the armed militancy had been broken or that that society decided that the armed struggle was not the only way in which it could proceed further, but we began to sense something happening in 2008, which is when, after decades, hundreds and thousands of people began coming out on the streets. And this happened in 2008. It happened in 2009. And 2010 was sort of almost cataclysmic in terms of the change that we saw on the streets. Of course, it meant that the security forces came out, and more than 120 young men were killed on the streets, armed with nothing more than rocks, but it was a moment which was also accompanied by a explosion in writing about Kashmir. And it was obvious to all of us that the sort of the stone throwing on the street, the intifada of the street, was accompanied by an intifada of the mind, you know, a sort of a churning, a release.

And this book, Until My Freedom Has Come, actually seeks to—not to commemorate, but to draw attention to the fact that something very, very significant has happened in Kashmir. And I think while you might be able to curb the young men on the street, you might be able to increase the number of soldiers from 600,000 to 800,000, but once people make that switch in their heads, you know, once the intifada of the mind is operational, then I think it’s a fantastic moment, because it’s a very liberatory moment. And the book seeks to mark that moment of liberation.

AMY GOODMAN: How does what happens in Kashmir affect what happens in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, Sanjay?

SANJAY KAK: It’s totally locked in. I mean, if you were to just see what impact what’s happening in Kashmir has on the body of the Indian republic, I think it’s extremely important, firstly because right from 1947, when India came into being, Kashmir has been the kind of symbolic heart, or the head, actually, the crown around which Indian self-identity is tied up—and, of course, the middle opposite in Pakistan. So if, for Indians, Kashmir represents the triumph of Indian secularism, where a Muslim-majority province becomes part of India, then, for Pakistan, the very same act becomes a failure, because here is a Muslim—a country built as a safe haven for Muslims, which cannot hold onto a Muslim-majority province. So there is a kind of semiotic, very heavy weight attached to Kashmir, but that’s not the only thing. I think that, you know, for the last 25 years, we’ve seen the most horrendous deployment of the army and the most retrogressive and undemocratic sets of laws—the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Public Safety Act. So, in a sense, it’s really—

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

SANJAY KAK: It’s the end of—if you want to look at Kashmir, you can see the end of democracy in what’s happening in Kashmir.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to do part two online at Sanjay Kak, filmmaker, author, Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. And the great writer, Arundhati Roy.

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