Brutality in Kashmir

November 01, 1993

India seems not to have learned the lessons its own founding fathers taught their British rulers nearly 75 years ago. In brutally repressing the nationalist movement in Kashmir -- 34 peaceful demonstrators were killed a week ago by paramilitary police -- the Indian government is feeding the flames it wants to quench.

It is reminiscent of the Amritsar massacre in 1919, when British troops fired on peaceful Indian demonstrators trapped in a garden with the only exit blocked by soldiers. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, wrote movingly about the effect of the massacre on his father. The elder Nehru, a prominent British-trained lawyer, initially was uncomfortable with Mohandas Gandhi's civil disobedience. The massacre, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote, shook his father's Western concept of justice so deeply he joined Gandhi's movement. So did thousands of other moderates.

The recent incident was not nearly as brutal as the 1919 massacre. But eyewitnesses describe a comparable situation, in which peaceful demonstrators were trapped by troops firing from two directions. India is being drawn more and more deeply in Kashmir into the kind of repression that eventually cost Britain the Indian jewel in its empire. The predominantly Muslim population of Kashmir has longed for a larger measure of self-rule since Hindu-majority India achieved freedom in 1947. Moderate compromises might have been made 20 or 30 years ago. Now militants have the upper hand in the nationalist movement, and New Delhi's policies play right into those hands.

Doubtless senior Indian officials in Srinagar and New Delhi are sincerely horrified at the latest incident. Paramilitary police, less disciplined than regular troops, were to blame and were promptly replaced by the army. But there has been an escalating pattern of violence, reminiscent of the '20s and '30s, which is the unavoidable consequence of India's refusal to grant some form of self-determination for Kashmiris.

The Kashmir dispute is exceptionally complicated and intractable. There is ample fault on both sides. Pakistan persists in fomenting violence in the state it also covets. Where once a little more autonomy might have sufficed, India is now faced with a choice between more extreme solutions. Turning Kashmir over to Pakistan is politically unthinkable, nor would it likely improve Kashmiris' everyday lives. Independence would be economic suicide. However distasteful it might be in New Delhi, greater autonomy within the Indian union seems the only alternative to more brutality.

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