Kolkata Citizens Rally in Protest Against Kashmir Civilian Killings
Close to five hundred people came out in a rally yesterday, 14th July, to protest the ongoing killings and mayhem in Kashmir by the Indian State. The overwhelming majority of participants were students, but they were joined in good numbers by feminists, queer-activists, trade union activists, writers, journalists, academics, human rights activists, dalit rights activists, cultural activists, with many among them not affiliated with any organisation. Student and youth activists carrying flags and placards of PDSF (Progressive Democratic Student Federation), USDF ( United Students Democratic Front), AISA (All India Students’ Association), Progressive Youth League (PYL) and many from other student-youth organisations were present in good numbers, so were human rights activists from APDR (Association for Protection of Democratic Rights) and those from Bastar Solidarity Network (BSN). Many carried with them their own banners and posters. Like the rally in Delhi, protesters carried with them hand-written, hand-painted and printed placards with the names of civilians recently killed in Kashmir inscribed on it, and through those posters a connection of shared pain and solidarity flowed from the streets of Kolkata to the turbulent and stormy blood-stained streets in Kashmir. Those posters were reaching out to the people of Kashmir with messages that they were not alone in their hour of sorrow, anguish and mourning. Some of the protesters had written verses by the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali on their posters. One of those many posters summed up the mood of the rally, ‘Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris’.
There was intimidation from certain ‘patriotic’ quarters during and before the rally. One of their online posters that was shared widely in social media, a day prior to the rally, called for a ‘Direct Action Day’. The irony was not lost to many, as the area around College Square, wherefrom the rally began, was worst affected by communal violence during the 1946 riots in Kolkata, all of which started from the then Muslim League calling for a ‘Direct Action Day’ to assert its demand for a separate homeland. Though the ‘patriotic’ brigade could not fulfil their warnings this time around, there was a motley crowd of around fifteen who came to disrupt but ended up watching from the side as they stood vastly outnumbered. However, though they failed make any dent, the Kolkata Police used their presence (and ‘Ulto Rath Yatra’) as an excuse to disrupt the previously decided route of the rally. After much dilly dallying, the Police allowed the participants to march from College Square to Sealdah station. The participation and the spirit, however was undeterred by all this, and it went ahead braving these minor irritants.
Protesters demanded repealing of the AFSPA and PSA, of continuing presence of Armed Forces in the valley, and called for demilitarisation through their slogans and signs. Many raised ‘Kashmir Mange Azadi’ (Kashmir demands Freedom) in their slogans. I and the press people covering the rally asked some of them, what they meant by Azadi. They came up with different interpretations of the same slogan. For some it meant freedom from draconian laws and militarisation, and from the continuing cycle of killings, maiming, torture and rapes in the valley. For some it meant self-determination and realising the unfulfilled promise of plebiscite. And for some it meant the Kashmiris’ inalienable right to freedom as defined by themselves. While listening to the young protestors speaking their minds I realised how pluralistic and frank they are regarding their understanding, and how different it was from the enforced hegemonic interpretation that some in the media deliberately make it out to be.
The rally had to end somewhere, and it did. But people coming out collectively in the streets in India sent out a message in solidarity with the Kashmiris in their hour of pain, mourning and rebellion. A message that would hopefully multiply in the days to come, that the Indian State can not claim to kill, terrorise and run a military occupation in our name is the only way to ensure that the mayhem in Kashmir stops.
End Note: This rally was not the only programme on Kashmir in the city in the past week. Five different programmes were held from 11th July to the 14th, in Kolkata, on remembering the Kunan Poshpora incident in the context of the situation in Kashmir. Two young Kashmiri authors, Natasha Rather and Ifrah Butt, who are co-authors in the recently published book “Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?” spoke in these programmes, which were planned much before the most recent mayhem started in Kashmir. (Here is a video of Natasha Rather speaking in Kolkata recently.)
Though the programmes were not directly protest programmes against the ongoing state-violence, but they did much to sensitise a wide section of people in Kolkata about the context and reality of the ongoing cycle of violence in the valley.