News about the world of books and publishing from India
Thursday, August 12, 2010
A thought-provoking novel
Kashmir has been a hotspot ever since India and Pakistan declared independence from the British Empire—and each other—in 1947. An overwhelmingly Muslim province ruled by a Hindu raja installed by the British as part of Britain’s divide-and-conquer strategy, Kashmir was an anomoly; most Kashmiris expected to join Muslim-majority Pakistan. Nehru and the Indian army had other ideas, and the two countries have fought a protracted, low-level conflict in the disputed area ever since, twice exploding into full-scale war. UN resolutions demanding a plebiscite, to allow Kashmiris to decide which country they wish to be a part of, have been ignored by India since 1948.
For its part, Pakistan’s efforts to stir up unrest in the area are well documented, and its infiltration of militants into the province, with their attendant bloodshed, can hardly be shrugged off. Meanwhile, according to DefenseNews.com, India has some 350,000 troops and 200,000 paramilitaries occupying a piece of land the size of Ohio, which undermines the claim that Kashmiris are overwhelmingly loyal Indian citizens spoiled by a few malcontents and bad apples. On Siachen glacier, a slab of ice 80 miles long, Indian and Pakistani troops lob artillery at each other and occasionally into the villages on the other side.
What risks being overlooked in the tit-for-tat military reprisals is the wretchedly difficult existence of the Kashmiris themselves, who live with both the fear of militant infiltration and the army’s excessive paranoia. Books like Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Nighthave recently given voice to these concerns, telling horrific stories of torture and rape at the hands of the army and garnering much attention in India itself.