10 Must-Read Essays on Kashmir by Gautam Navlakha — curated by Majid Maqbool

Apr 17, 2020

Majid Maqbool curates a list of 10 must-read essays on Kashmir by Gautam Navlakha, taken from a larger body of work that spans decades of Gautam's engagement with Kashmir. The curated list includes a general introduction by Majid and a summary and preview for each of the pieces linking back to the original sources where these writings were published. Inverse Journal has also provided relevant links (at the end of this curated list) directly embedded from Indian and international organizations in view of recent events pertaining to Gautam Navlakha's detention at this vulnerable time during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Majid Maqbool curates a list of 10 must-read essays on Kashmir by Gautam Navlakha, taken from a larger body of work that spans decades of Gautam's engagement with Kashmir. The curated list includes a general introduction by Majid and a summary and preview for each of the pieces linking back to the original sources where these writings were published. Inverse Journal has also provided relevant links (at the end of this curated list) directly embedded from Indian and international organizations in view of recent events pertaining to Gautam Navlakha's detention at this vulnerable time during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Veteran civil rights activist and journalist Gautam Navlakha, who surrendered before National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in New Delhi on April 14 following a Supreme Court order on the Bhima-Koregaon case, has had a long and deep engagement with Kashmir.

As an activist and journalist, Navlakha has visited and worked in Kashmir for decades. Anyone who knows him in Kashmir knows how he's always spoken out, and written about, their political and human rights. He’s also produced a body of work documenting the changing political situation and rights violations in Kashmir over the years. He’s also written extensively on the impact of heavy militarization on the economy and on the lives of people in Kashmir. Navlakha has equally been a part of many ground-breaking, fact-finding delegations and reports on Jammu and Kashmir, some of which are not available online.

While his writings on Kashmir largely focus on state violence and militarization in the region, his writings on the Maoist insurgency focus on both the sociology and organization of insurgency itself.

About a decade ago, I remember Navlakha speaking in a civil society seminar in Srinagar. The pain in his voice showed a rare concern and deep empathy for the struggles of people in Kashmir.

He also spoke about how it’s probably the only movement where so many people have suffered so much and over many decades without achieving anything substantial in return.

“I can’t understand why Kashmir doesn’t get anything concrete despite all the sacrifices people have made here over decades,” he said, wanting the people to also think about protecting their lives while also resisting abusive power. “You ask any sacrifice and people have made it here. You deserve a better future now.”

I’m reminded of what Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, who was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, said in her moving Nobel Lecture which also sums up the sense of loss and pain in Kashmir.

“Suffering is our capital, our natural resource,” she said. “Not oil or gas – but suffering. It is the only thing we are able to produce consistently. I’m always looking for the answer: why doesn’t our suffering convert into freedom?”

Here’s a list of 10 essays by Gautam Navlakha on Kashmir, with short excerpts and online links to full essays, which were published in different publications, many of them in the reputed Economic and Political Weekly, dating back to the early 1990s.

10 Must-Read Essays on Kashmir by Gautam Navlakha

“Bharat's Kashmir War” by Gautam Navlakha (EPW, December 21, 1991)

This paper attempts to clarify the Kashmir imbroglio by investigating its genesis in the context of the Indian state's responses.

“In most Indian writings, however, the characterisation of the movement in Kashmir as communal and fundamentalist proceeds from the argument that the Kashmiri Pandits are being hounded out of Kashmir and since they do not share the desire for referendum the demand cannot be 'nationalist' since nationalism is a secular identity. The contrary is however true. Nationalism is not the opposite of religious identity. The point of commonality is not just the religious zeal.”

Bharat's Kashmir War

In the last two years a lot has been written on Kashmir. But arguments on all sides have been more in the nature of assertions rather than informed reasoning. J...

“Kashmir: At the Edge of the Possible” by Gautam Navlakha (Economic and Political Weekly, September 17, 1994)

“…since the Indian army cannot defeat militancy and because the government is not trying hard enough for a political solution, not even when political openings come its way, and with involvement of international agencies being increasingly perceived as the only way in which the Indian government can be dissuaded from persisting with its militaristic response to what has been and remains a political problem, the prospect of peace without the association of Hurriyet to work out the framework and modality of a referendum remains remote.”

Kashmir At the Edge of the Possible

Kashmir: At the Edge of the Possible Gautam Navlakha The emergence of the militant organisation Harkatul Ansar holds the prospect of mindless violence of a kind one sees in Afghanistan, but the blame for this must rest squarely on the government, on its total lack of foresight.

“India Turns Clock Back” Back by Gautam Navlakha (EPW, May 22, 1993)

“It needs reiteration that chauvinism and anti-Muslim prejudice all over India found sustenance in lies about destruction of temples in Kashmir or in ignorance of the facts of Kashmiri Pandit migration from the valley which actually accelerated after Jagmohan took over in January 1990. This should act as a reminder that if the policy of attrition is not controlled back, the consequences point in the direction of a xenophobic build-up which will pave the way eventually for 'demo-graphic Indianisation'.”

KASHMIR- India Turns Clock Back

The decision to impose army rule in Kashmir, in effect if not formally, represents a tragic turn of policy, as much for India as for the people of Kashmir. Step by step the government has been moving in precisely the direction which the BJP and the Hindu chauvinists have been urging it to take.

“Chrar-e-Sharief: Victory for Hardliners on Both Sides” by Gautam Navlakha (EPW, May 20, 1995)

“On May 9, the day before the destruction of Chrar-e-Sharief, the right and left in parliament unitedly condemned the government for 'kneeling' before the militants. Not a word was said about the Kashmiri people's alienation and the violence perpetrated against them. Indeed there was not even the usual vacuous talk of the political process.”

Chrar-e-Sharief-Victory for Hardliners on Both Sides

The government's version of the hunting of Chrar-e-Sharief and the events leading up to it are full of holes, but more important is it that the destruction of the shrine has dealt a blow to the efforts of Kashmiri leaders such as Shabir Shah and Yasin Malik who Have been working courageously to bring the gun under control in Kashmir.

“It’s Never Too Late to Do the Right Thing” by Gautam Navlakha (EPW, July 29, 2000) 

“History teaches that people are not mere spectators who cannot influence the course of events. When successive governments failed the citizens by dividing the people, then it would be a mistake to leave every-thing to the discretion of the government. It is for us to fight for a just and honourable peace. Irrespective of what the government or militant leadership do in J&K, actions of solidarity can also stem the tide of communal polarisation. But before everything else we must welcome and lend unqualified support to the Kashmiris because it is the inalienable right of all of us to revolt against oppression to defend our dignity and freedom. It is only then our concerns will acquire meaning, and be taken seriously. To the extent people make their own histories the choice is ours.”

Kashmir : It's Never Too Late to Do the Right Thing

An obsession with territorial integrity has undermined the singular importance of the politics of solidarity, preventing an appreciation of the ground realities in Kashmir. The government's current offer to hold unconditional talks with the militant leadership, while commendable, cannot succeed unless there is a recognition of the urgent need to begin the long process of gaining the confidence of the Kashmiris.

State of Jammu and Kashmir’s Economy” by Gautam Navlakha (EPW, October 6, 2007)  

“The Economic Survey for J&K does show how despite the disruptions and privations caused by war, economic performance has improved. Quite apart from sweeping statements about employment in horticulture and the importance of tourism, it does, however, skirt the fact that without addressing the issue of occupation of land by troops and restrictions placed on the use of water resources, both intricately linked to a political solution, problems will remain in the path of realising the full economic potential of the state.”

State of Jammu and Kashmir's Economy

The 2006-07 Economic Survey for Jammu and Kashmir reveals that despite the privations of conflict, the performance of the economy has improved in recent years. However, unless the two political issues of occupation of land and restrictions on the use of the state's water resources are removed, the full economic potential of the state will not be realised.

“Doctrine for Sub-conventional Operations: A Critique" (Economic and Political Weekly, April 13, 2007)

In late 2006, the Indian army released its first ever doctrine on sub-conventional operations, i e, internal operations. This article critiques the document.

“It is worth nothing what the Army Chief told the students of Sainik School in Thiruvananthapuram on February 17, 2007. According to him, the army’s fight is against the “divisive forces” and “our cause is just” and “we fight to win”. Win in this context means to suppress people.”

Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations: A Critique on JSTOR

In late 2006, the Indian army released its first ever doctrine on sub-conventional operations, i e, internal operations. This article critiques the document.

“Kashmir: State Cultivation of the Amarnath Yatra” by Gautam Navlakha (Monthly Review, Aug 08, 2008)

“Arguably, when the yatra was halted between 1991 and 1996 due to the threat by a section of the militants it played into the hands of the extreme right wing elements in Indian society who have since then played an integral role in mobilising large numbers of pilgrims. However, it is equally important to note that earlier, schoolchildren and college youth used to act as volunteers and provide assistance to the yatris. Even when this was discontinued after 1996, the main indigenous militant organisation the Hizbul Mujahideen and Muslim Janbaz Force always supported the yatra and consistently demonstrated its opposition towards those who tried to disrupt it. And even today there is no section of people who opposes the yatra. What they resent is the horrendously jingoistic turn that it has taken under the SASB.”

MR Online | Kashmir: State Cultivation of the Amarnath Yatra

The origins of the conflagration in June in Kashmir on forest land allocation for construction of facilities for the Amarnath yatra lie in open state promotion of the pilgrimage. The yatra has caused considerable damage to the economy and ecology of the area. The high-handed actions of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board only aggravated the situation.

“From the Killing Fields of Kashmir to the Finishing Line” by Gautam Navlakha (Sanhati, October 10, 2010)

“Truth and demand for justice are on the side of the Kashmiri people. It would be a sad day were these battles won after so much of sacrifice,  is allowed to be squandered for illusory gains at the behest of mealy-mouthed Indian ruling classes. There can be no replacement for right of self-determination. It is in Indian people’s interest, for our own democratic struggle, that we stand by this demand of the Kashmiri people. Defeat of oppressors in Kashmir, unlike the doomsayers, will strengthen our struggle.”

From the Killing Fields of Kashmir to the Finishing Line

By Gautam Navlakha Where armed conflicts have gone on for a long period (decades) and where negotiations have been used by the State to win time or tire out opponents, or talks are deadlocked or cannot ensure compliance with whatever solution is reached, then making a reference to the people is the most sensible way [...]

"The Kashmir Question: Nation-state, War, and Religion” by Gautam Navlakha (Indian Cultural Forum, Feb 2018)

“India’s working people cannot emancipate selves if they do not come out strongly against the persecution of the Kashmiri people at the hand of the same bourgeoisie nation-state which exploits and oppresses Indian people in general.

While the Indian public may not influence external developments vis a vis Pakistan or China, they certainly can affect domestic perceptions and transform the terms of debate. Therefore, it matters how India’s progressives steer their political course and whether they can provide an alternate perspective on Kashmir to counter the myopic official discourse. It needs no reiteration that it is “never too late to do the right thing.”

The Kashmir Question: Nation-State, War and Religion - Gautam Navlakha

Gautam Navlakha

Relevant Links

'My Hope Rests on a Speedy and Fair Trial': Gautam Navlakha Before His Surrender

The Supreme Court recently rejected the bail applications of scholar and activist Gautam Navlakha, who was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA for allegedly fomenting violence during during the Bhima Koregaon event. The top court gave him and scholar Anand Teltumbde one week to surrender.

India Covid-19: SC Decision To Send HRDs Gautam Navlakha And Anand Teltumbde To Jail Is Cruel And Disappointing - Amnesty International India

Amnesty International India Bangalore / New Delhi: 10 April 2020 12:39 pm Amid the spread of COVID-19, the Supreme Court of India's order directing the arrest and imprisonment of two human rights defenders, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha within a week, is disappointing.

Why is India targeting writers during the coronavirus pandemic? | Priyamvada Gopal and Salil Tripathi

As a lethal virus scorches its way across continents, the leftwing Indian rights campaigner Gautam Navlakha has been reminding us of the words of Leonard Cohen, urging people to speak up for the right things: "There is a crack/a crack in everything, that's how light gets in."

'New Low in India's Political History': PUDR Condemns Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha's Arrests

New Delhi: Condemning the arrest of social activists and intellectuals Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha on Tuesday, the People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) said that this "attempt to browbeat rights activists" marked a "deep and scathing new low in the political history of contemporary India".

India: Activists Detained for Peaceful Dissent

(New York) - Indian authorities on April 14, 2020 detained two rights activists who have been critics of government policies, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should immediately drop all charges under a counterterrorism law against Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha for allegedly inciting caste-based violence along with other activists during a demonstration in Maharashtra state in 2017.

Mounting international concern over detention of civil rights activists in India in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

Over 5,000 Individuals and 15 Organizations Sign Global Statement of Support for Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Mr. Gautam Navlakha On 16 March 2020, a Supreme Court bench comprising the judges Arun Mishra and Mukeshkumar Rasikbhai Shah rejected the anticipatory bail pleas of the civil-rights activist Gautam Navlakha and the writer Anand Teltumbde, in relation to the violence at Bhima Koregaon in January 2018.

Stand in Solidarity with Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha

Stand in Solidarity with Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha Statement by Activists, Academics and Concerned Citizens In August 2018, the Pune Police implicated Prof. Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha with other human right activists and lawyers in the now-infamous fabricated Elgar Parishad case.

Journalist Gautam Navlakha tells CPJ he fears imprisonment amid COVID-19 pandemic

New Delhi, April 9, 2020 -- Indian authorities should stop pursuing the arrest of journalist Gautam Navlakha, and should cease holding journalists in jail during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Clampdown On Dissent Continues During The Covid-19 Pandemic In India

The clampdown on dissent in India continues. Even during a pandemic, the Government of India is seeing to that targeting those critical of the government are being targeted. When hard-won rights to expression and peaceful protest are weakened, everyone stands to lose.

Human Rights Defender Gautam Navlakha's Letter Before His Arrest

As I prepare to Ieave to surrender before the NIA headquarters in Delhi I am glad that Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Indira Banerjee gave me another week of freedom when they passed the order on April 8, 2020. A week of freedom means a lot in my condition, even in the age of lockdown.

Global Solidarity Staement for Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha - Jamhoor

This is a time sensitive petition for the immediate release of Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha, two of India's foremost civil rights activists and public intellectuals. Please read and sign this petition here: Global Solidarity Statement for Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha .

Human rights groups denounce Indian activists' arrest as crackdown on dissent - La Prensa Latina Media

New Delhi, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- Human rights nonprofits on Wednesday came down hard against the Indian government a day after the arrest of scholar Anand Teltumbde and rights activist Gautam Navlakha under an anti-terrorism law for allegedly inciting violence during a protest in 2018, calling it a clampdown on dissent.

96c03acb00 - United States Department of State

India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government.

Under UAPA, Process Itself Becomes Punishment, Writes Activist Gautam Navlakha Before Surrendering | NewsClick

As the country remembers Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar on the occasion of his birth anniversary, civil rights activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde, who were booked under the draconian UAPA in relation to the Bhima Koregaon violence in 2018, are set to surrender to the police.

Indian columnist arrested on trumped-up "Maoism" charge | Reporters without borders

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Gautam Navlakha, a well-known columnist and human rights defender who, despite serious humanitarian concerns, has been jailed on a flimsy charge brought by India's counter-terrorism police, the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Persecution of rights activists and voices of dissent in India

Recently, in a series of synchronized raids carried throughout India, various human rights activists and vocal critics of the ruling government were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), an anti-terror law. These arrests have been widely criticized for being politically motivated as they are aimed at curbing the right of free speech and dissent or criticism towards the government.

Dalit leaders condemn Anand Teltumbde's arrest on 14 April-Ambedkar Jayanti

On 16 March 2020, a Supreme Court bench comprising the judges Arun Mishra and Mukeshkumar Rasikbhai Shah rejected the anticipatory bail pleas of the civil-rights activist Gautam Navlakha and the writer Teltumbde, in relation to the violence at Bhima Koregaon in January 2018.

UK Rights Organisations condemn arrest of Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha

UK Rights Organisations condemn the imminent arrest of Prof Dr Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha Demand prompt release of all political and democratic rights activists in Indian jails 08 April 2020 The police in the State of Maharashtra, India, acting at the behest of the central BJP Hindutva government, is forcing the arrest of Professor [...]

Statement by Hindus for Human Rights and Global Indian Progressive Alliance Protesting the Arrest of Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha - Hindus For Human Rights

Dr. Anand Teltumbde is a highly respected and revered scholar and human rights defender. Along with his comrade in justice work, Gautam Navlakha, Dr. Teltumbde will be arrested today on demonstrably fabricated charges related to the Bhima Koregaon case.

Dalit Leaders, Political Representatives Condemn Dr Teltumbde's Imminent Arrest on Ambedkar Jayanti | NewsClick

Ahead of the Anand Teltumbde's surrender on April 14 [also the ocaasion of B R Ambedkar's birth anniversary] in accordance with the Supreme Court order, Dalit, Adivasi, OBC and minority leaders have demanded that he be allowed "to live and write, to be a free spirit that enlivens our democratic selves".

MASS condemn arrest of Gautam Navalakha and Anand Teltumbe

Guwahati: The Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS) is disturbed and dismayed by the Supreme Court of India's decision to allow for the detention of civil rights activist Gautam Navalakha and Anand Teltumbe after August 14,2020. Both had been implicated in Bhima Korgoan case of 2018, where many Dalit activists were hurt in rioting by mobs supported by powerful local politicians.

In Solidarity with and Appeal to Acquit Prof. Anand Teltumbde

In Solidarity with and Appeal to Acquit Prof. Anand Teltumbde Statement by IIMA faculty, students and alumni Over 280 students, faculty members and alumni of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA), have signed a statement in solidarity with their illustrious alumnus, Anand Teltumbde who apart from being a corporate leader and teacher has done so much to the society.

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About the Contributor

Majid Maqbool is a writer, editor and journalist based in Kashmir. His work has appeared in The Wire, Huffington Post, Kindle Magazine, Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera America, Warscapes, Caravan Magazine, Griffith Review, NYT India Ink, Warscapes Magazine, TRT World, New Internationalist and several Indian, Pakistani and international publications. In 2013, Majid received a United Nations Population Fund-supported award for his "investigative reporting on the status of women in the conflict region of Jammu and Kashmir."