During China’s spring festival, lanterns and fireworks light up the night sky as revellers take to the streets to mark the beginning of a new year. On America’s Independence Day, parades, patriotic music and fireworks displays cap a 24 hour period of celebration. On the 26th of January, the streets of New Delhi are filled with flag wavers before famous acrobatic displays by daredevil motorcyclists ride past.
But in Kashmir, the festivities in New Delhi might as well be from another planet. For Kashmiris, 26 January is known as a Black Day, a day when all shops and businesses close and where all roads are empty, but for demonstrators who risk life and limb in order to stand up for Kashmiri dignity. While Indian soldiers are celebrated in New Delhi on the 26th of January, in Kashmir, Indian soldiers arrive not in a spirit of good will but with heavy arms ready to be deployed against indigenous demonstrators demanding justice.
Since 1947, the civilians of Indian Occupied Kashmir have been deprived of their UN mandated right to a plebiscite for self-determination. Although the right to freely vote in a plebiscite continues to be denied by Indian authorities, Kashmiris have found ways to vote with their feet.
The fact of the matter is, when a population refrains from celebrating a national holiday on its indigenous soil, it self-evidently means that such a population does not feel as though it is a part of the nation otherwise engaged in celebration. If Kashmiris felt as though India was a mother country rather than an occupier country, they would be waving flags and celebrating in the streets in the same way as is seen in the Indian capital and elsewhere in India. In truth however, the Indian identity is one that cannot be forced on those who are clearly a part of a different cultural and national mindset. But rather than exercise realism about Kashmir, India’s intransigence on the matter has only made matters worse.
Of course it is not that Indian policy makers realistically think that Kashmiris can become Indians through coercion, but instead the fact remains that Indian Occupied Kashmir is vital to the flow of fresh water into non-disputed parts of India. And yet, many neighbouring nations throughout the world have perfectly sound, stable and functioning agreements when it comes to sharing resources that exist on either side of a border. Because this is the case, India would be wise to remember that since the origin of post-imperial disputes with Pakistan have largely been a direct result of the Kashmir conflict, the best way that India could rapidly normalise relations with its western neighbour would be to grant Kashmiris the vote that the UN says they must have, accept the results and then work with Pakistan on a respectful basis to normalise all elements of the situation from a likely transfer of physical control, to a reasonable agreement on water and other resource rights.
India’s insistence on living in denial has cost Kashmiris not only their international right to self-determination, their ability to easily engage with the wider outside world, human dignity and human freedom, but it has caused Indian Occupied Kashmir to lose decades in terms of proper development. Instead, Kashmir is an international no man’s land, cut off from cultural links to the past, opportunities for the future and from the ability to easily communicate with an international community that must hear what Kashmiris have to say.
No occupation can go on forever and the proof of this can be easily ascertained by the fact that Kashmiris refuse to wave flags they consider to be foreign.
Therefore, when all other debates about UN Resolution 47 have been exhausted, when all human rights reports have been read, when all evidence of brutality has been recorded – one can conduct the flag test. If one happily waves the flag of a nation on territory that nation claims as its own, one can say that such a nation is united and harmonious. If the opposite is true and one resents the mere presence of such a flag in one’s homeland, it means that the flag is not a symbol of hope but one of provocation and occupation.
Every Republic Day, Kashmiris vote in a symbolic plebiscite which the world ought to acknowledge. Even against the backdrop of the Indian controlled media blackout, this simple truth is still easy to see.