There has been a slew of pro-Azadi, anti-India articles in the Indian mainstream press recently (two examples: Link, Link) with one of these fine specimens of mediahood proudly recounting how he became a stone-thrower for a day pointing out quite pointedly that the only thing that saved him was the “Hindustan” times card with the emphasis being on the sub-string Hindu. Of course of all these marvelous bits of journalism, with their objectivity and integrity misaals in their own right, my favorite piece is the one by one M.F. Hussein, extraordinary connoisseur of Bollywood derrieres (do see Gajagamini if you don’t believe me) , who tells us how he left India for its lack of freedom. Yes and presumably found it in Qatar, an Islamic theocracy where freedom of all religions sans Islam is severely restricted and where apostasy (leaving Islam) is a crime.
I like that the most because it reminds me of a World War II joke I read once in Reader’s Digest. An American and Russian were having a conversation. The American says “US is the freest country in the world. I can go to the White House, walk upto the table of the president, bang my hand there and tell Harry S Trueman exactly what I think about Harry S Trueman.” To which the Russian says “Hah we are as free. I can go to the Kremlin, walk upto the table of the General Secretary of the Party, bang my hand there and tell Stalin exactly what I think about….Harry S Trueman”. Yes Mr. Hussein you are absolutely free in Qatar to paint Hindu Goddesses in the nude but things will be different should you choose to paint a picture of …well you know who I am talking about. This is not to condone the acts of vandalism of your work, which was done by goons with no respect for the pluralistic traditions our country stands for, but to castigate India for being “not free” while being a voluntary citizen of Qatar is the height of hypocrisy.
Anyhow, this post isn’t about M F Hussein nor about the way forward in Kashmir nor whether trying to bribe the local population with money will work nor about the draconian AFSPA (which I believe needs to be repealed—the Armed forces have to be made accountable in civilian contexts like everyone else) nor about the recent violence per se.
It is about the Kashmiri “fighting for independence against the wicked Indian state” thing that we see repeated ad nauseum not just from Pakistan but in Indian mainstream media outlets.
My first beef is with the word “independence”. Historically independence struggles have been fought against foreign powers, those who have taken control over a piece of territory for the purpose of economic exploitation. It has also been fought between peoples of the same nation, like the Bangladesh independence struggle where a section of the population that has attained power (Punjabi Muslims) treats another ethnic or linguistic community (in this case Bangali Muslims) as second class citizens, systematically annihilating and depriving them of their most basic rights.
In the case of Kashmir, none of this is true. India does not “economically exploit” Kashmir. On the contrary it spends a massive amount on the state trying to buy the loyalty of the population. (NY Times, which last time I looked wasn’t a right wing newspaper, says: “The dirty little secret of Srinagar, the heart of the movement to secede from India, is that many of its residents live quite well on the Indian government’s money.” [Link])
At the very least, no one can accuse the Indian government of taking anything out of the state, if for nothing else but because there is not much to take out. It is of course true that a lot of the development money lands up in wrong hands (that happens everywhere in India) but there are far more deprived areas of India that have no “freedom struggles”. As to the rights of Kashmiri citizens, they have privileges over property ownership that very few Indian citizens outside Kashmir have, making them “super citizens” rather than inferior ones.
So none of the traditional characteristics of freedom struggles hold here. But it is true that Kashmiris are fighting. But not for independence. They are fighting to establish a theocratic Islamic Shariyat state, aligned with or as an intrinsic part of Pakistan, where “independence” is defined somewhat as it is defined in Qatar, with subjugated status for minorities, and where the establishment of “liberty, equality and fraternity” , the ideals of any freedom struggle, is farthest from the minds of the stone-throwers and those that support them.
But then one can say—“So? So they want to establish an Islamic state. That’s their decision. What right does the Indian government have to interfere?” This brings us to my second bone of contention. The word “Kashmiri”. Like “independence” this too, in this context, is a false word. A better more honest descriptor would be “Kashmiri Sunni Muslims”. There was a time when Kashmiris meant both Hindus and Muslims but then the Kashmiri Hindus were killed and driven out from the state by “Kashmiris”. Since these Hindus are not part of the “freedom struggle” it is not fair to use the word “Kashmiri” to refer to the agitators, who since they use Islam as their reason for wanting “independence” and identify themselves solely by their religious orientation, should also not object to being called what they actually are—Kashmiri Suni Muslims.
The question should now be framed as: “So what is wrong in letting Kashmiri Sunni Muslims, after they have driven out the large section of the minorities, from establishing an “Islam is the answer” “independent” non-democratic state? Their free will—they shall do as they like.”
Good. Sounds good. But let me as you these questions.
If tomorrow the majority in Jat-land start an armed struggle to establish an autonomous Khap-istan where honor killings and dowry and marriages of minors are legal and where inter-caste marriage implies death and retributive rape , would you call that an “independence” struggle and say that India should just let them have their way and not have the Army fight them? If day after tomorrow, India’s most-hated state Gujarat decides that it wants to throw out its Muslim minorities and establish a Hindu-theocratic Dhokla-land will the same Indians who post “Stop illegal military occupation of Kashmir by terrorist-state India” on their Facebook feeds also support the rights of Gujarati Hindus to choose how they wish to be governed because that’s what “Gujarati” majority wants?
I think I know the answer.
So please sirs and madams do protest against the Indian state and the Indian Army and sign petitions and protest outside the United Nations while drinking Starbucks and discussing EB2 Green card priority dates. Do whatever you want to do but please, for the sake of truth of labeling, do drop the “independence struggle” from the description and please qualify the word “Kashmiri” with what should come after it.
Of course if you do so, then the romance and the liberal “feel good” of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an independence movement is gone and hurling stones at the Indian Army would be seen not as an act of supreme passion and justified frustration but as an act of war against the Indian state, something I believe which there are laws against.
Which is why you won’t do it.