By Sajid Yousuf Shah
30 Jan 2021
AZADI, from Persian, meaning liberty or freedom has resonated over the past three decades in the Kashmir Valley in slogans such as “Humko Chahiye Azadi” (We want freedom!). However, the question relevant in the context of current times that every individual, be it from Kashmir or rest of India or the international diaspora, must ask is – What means does Azadi serve? Azadi cannot be the end; it has to be a means to an end with the ultimate aim of bettering the living standards of the people of Kashmir. The peddlers of the dream of Azadi, over the past decade, have sown and watered the seed of Azadi in the minds of people Kashmir – The dream of Azadi from the tyrannical occupation of India. Nevertheless, no one speaks of what follows after achieving the said goal. If the ideology of the separatists and the terrorists are to be believed the Kashmir as we know today would be an Islamic State with the sole aim of cleansing the world, or more specifically India, of infidels – Kashmir would be under the Sharia Law and combined with the persecution of minorities including Shias, Kashmir would be hurled into the decadence of the Middle Ages. Is this the ultimate aim and aspiration of the people of Kashmir? The aim of the separatists and the terrorists in Kashmir Valley has been to keep the populace of Kashmir disenfranchised by instigating them against the Government of India. However, the false narrative of purported tyrannical occupation of Kashmir is beginning to lose traction amongst the masses. The recently conducted DDC and Panchayat by-poll Elections in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir had seen a genuine interest from the people of Kashmir Valley to be a part of the electoral process, and the same is reflected in the unprecedented rise in the polling percentages as compared to the past years. As the populace of Kashmir slowly emerges from the cocoon weaved by Pakistan sponsored agencies it would not take much time for the populace of the valley to be disillusioned from the myth of Azadi. The existing terrorist outfits in Kashmir have seen a decline due to their undeniable connections to Pakistan. The handlers are making desperate attempts from across the border to revive the sentiments of Azadi amongst the local populace of Kashmir by rebranding these existing terrorist outfits to give them a garb of legitimacy as a people’s movement locally initiated by the Kashmiris. A movement of the people, for the people and by the people. However, with Kashmir making headways into a new era of development, it is yet to be seen if these tactics, to incite the people, gain traction. People of Kashmir need to realize that the basic concept that the term Azadi embodies is already being fulfilled by India’s Constitution in the form of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed to every citizen of India, unlike their counterparts in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Today’s Kashmir is at par and even better than many Indian states in terms of the various developmental indices. The opportunities for people of Kashmir are the same as being provided to every other Indian residing in any state. The agricultural cash crop produce and handicrafts of Kashmir are renowned throughout the world, and new inroads are being made to improve the Union Territory’s industrial infrastructure. With the support of people of Kashmir, this would be the harbinger of a new era of peace and prosperity in the region. It is high time for Kashmir to turn the tables on the enemy by giving a new meaning to the term Azadi. Over the ages, Pakistan has stifled the pro-India voices in the areas of Jammu and Kashmir under their illegal occupation. Stifling dissent and disenfranchising the so-called Azad Kashmir’s population has been the modus operandi adopted by the neighbouring state. A June 2018 report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) notes with concern the restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and association in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, particularly concerning the cause of Kashmiri independence or the populace’s right to self-determination, tight control over the press, and an outsized role of the military and intelligence agencies in local governance. The people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir have long suffered under the illegal occupation by Pakistan, and it is high time that the people of Kashmir raise a voice in favour of the fellow Kashmiris.