I have always wanted to hear the voices of educated, young rational “Kashmiri”s desirous of “independence”. (Readers will note the quotes around Kashmiri and independence because as I have argued before, that what is going on in Kashmir is hardly an independence struggle, but more an expression of aggressive Islamic (mostly Sunni) revivalism.)
Sabbah is a Kashmiri woman who does some very worthwhile work in the sphere of education, and comes across as an erudite young person with a sense of humor. Which is why I read her op-ed in Hindustan Times with much interest, hoping for a even-handed, though passionate, articulation of her stance on the issue, which I knew from reading her blogs, would be “pro-independence”. The piece is worth analyzing because it is a fairly accurate representation of the moderate face of the Kashmiri “independence” struggle and because it , being considered important enough to be published in a newspaper of national importance, has been widely read.
On the first reading, what of course stood out was this part.
And the Kashmiri Pandit exodus — what a shameful tragedy. India and Pakistan played a huge, unforgivable part in this horrific episode as did those Kashmiris (Muslims and Pandits) who supported communalising the movement, either actively or under threat or coercion.
Maybe I totally don’t get it. But what I think is being said is that that the Kashmiri Pandits somehow shared the blame for being murdered and raped and having their houses looted. That somehow leaving the state, leaving behind their life-savings and their establishments, escaping with only the shirts on their backs, was a conspiracy hatched en-masse by them to “communalize” the problem. Or perhaps something that Kashmiri Pandits had done before the ethnic cleansing was somehow “responsible” for the fate that befell them, in the same way that Hindu right-wingers justify the carnage of Muslims at Gujarat as having been “justified” by Godhra. In this case of course, there had never been anything even remotely close to Godhra in Kashmir. Instead what had happened had been purely a one-way traffic of violence.
There had been violence against Hindus before in Kashmir before the “Pandit exodus” including temple desecration, looting and murder most notably in 1986. But in 1989, the violence was made into an organized process, with mosques crying out the names of Hindu family members to be murdered and “freedom fighters” acting promptly. It was then that many Hindus left the Valley never to return. It is sad that many of our “liberal” friends and “freedom fighter sympathizers” still say “So many Hindus remain in Kashmir still. What was the problem of the Kashmiri Pandits who left?”. Of course, if the argument is turned around and recast as “So many Muslims live in Gujarat. So obviously nothing really bad happened in 2002” these same people would not hesitate to term the person who said that as “communal” and “Hindutva”. In the same vein,the fact that Hindus still live in Bangladesh and Pakistan does not change the fact that there is severe persecution that goes on of minorities there.
To illustrate my point further, let me quote from “Shadow War” written by Arif Jamal [Page 172], a visiting fellow at NYU. He is a Pakistani journalist and so I believe that this will not be dismissed as Indian/Hindu/Kashmiri Pandit propaganda.
Another significant early act was the murder of Keshav Nath Pandit, who was the first Hindu killed in the violence inaugurated after July 1988. A follower of the Jamat-i-Islami of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, Constable Mohammed Yousuf, was on duty guarding a temple in Vicharnag. After a dispute, he dragged Mahant Keshav Nath Pandit out of the temple on the morning of December 9, 1988 and asked him to convert to Islam. When he refused, Yousuf kileld him by beating him with the butt of his gun.
So the question is: what was Mahant Keshav Nath Pandit’s fault and how can one expect Mr. Pandit’s family to stay in the place after this? If they leave, how can they be party to the charge of having “communalized” the situation or be blamed for being afflicted by irrational “Islamophobia” ? I provide the above quotation for another reason, namely that it re-inforces my central thesis—-the so-called “freedom” struggle is not about political independence but simply an expression of the worst kind of religious bigotry; note Mohammed Yousuf did not kill Mahant Pandit for being supportive of India but for not converting to Islam. I emphasize this again and again just to show how flimsy the “secular” smokescreen is for the violence in Kashmir considering the violent Islamic rhetoric those on the ground have no problem in articulating. (If you need more proof look at pictures of the green flag of Islam being hoisted with not any “secular” Kashmiriyat-representative symbol being raised anywhere by the “freedom protesters”) At least I would say that is honest, rather than the attempt to spin the truth to make it appear more “exalted” than it actually is.
On a second reading, other parts of the article stood out.
No one respects India’s freedom movement more than Kashmiris. What irks us is that while your Bhagat Singh is a ‘shaheed’ (martyr), while Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is a fierce nationalist, Kashmiris are to be typecast as violent troublemakers and written off for the same ideals and aspiration.
The last time I read Indian history books, I do not remember Bhagat Singh or Subhash Chandra Bose raising the flag of any religion. (It’s perhaps ironic that the author took the names of two of the most secular freedom fighters India had). I do not remember them creating an analogue of Hizbul Mujahideen’s slogan during the Pandit ethnic cleansing “Azadi Ka Matlab Kya? La Iilaha Illalah” [Page 155, Shadow War] (which is, I believe, a rather appropriate definition of the Kashmiri concept of Azadi, provided by the freedom fighters themselves). In other words, Azaad Hind Fauj was not Azad Hindu Fauj. Neither did these great men nor those that followed them ever advocate physical violence against innocent Britishers (it never happened that British nuns in Kolkata were attacked during the height of anti-British passion) perhaps because they were genuinely engaged in a fight against an imperial power that was economically and politically exploiting their country, as opposed to a fight to establish a theological state where anyone who did not meet their definition of purity is not welcome.
So NO, Netaji and Bhagat Singh did not have “the same ideals and aspirations” as the Hijbul Mujahideen, Jamaat-i-Islami, Al-Badr, Allah Tigers, Tehreek-i-Jihad and the rest, each of whose commitment to secularism and “liberty for all” is quite evident from the names they have assumed for themselves and the actions they have engaged in through the decades.
Then there was this.
No one in Kashmir drills their children with ‘Azaadi’ mantras and anti-establishment behavior. Somewhere between infancy and childhood, I had picked up unwittingly on what most of my family and people felt. Just like that it was part of me.
Not that the author meant it like that, but this sentence above reveals all that is disappointing with the Kashmiri independence struggle.The people who are throwing stones and calling Indians dogs are not doing it because they thought over the issues considered, read history books and came to a considered decision as to why they consider Indians to be outsiders. In contrast to say Bhagat Singh whose resistance to the British came after years spent reading and understanding (and no, it was not as depicted in “Rang De Basanti” a “let’s take revenge” decision). As the author says, her “desire for independence” and “feeling of being an outsider” was imbibed through the environment. This explains why small kids, not even ten years old and too young to understand anything about who is right and who is wrong, are in the front lines throwing stones. Given this, there is really nothing an Indian can do to mend bridges (not that India does not have an obligation to curb Army excesses—-that it definitely has to) since the suspicion is programmed-in and thus felt too viscerally to be discussed or negotiated upon. I mention this because people frequently say “If only India had done this” or if “India had done that”, things would have been different. But how? If children “unwittingly” pick up what their family feels and it becomes a part of them and they use that very fact to justify the unquestioned existence of the negativity, what effect can any action of anyone ever have?
Let it be understood that Kashmir’s anti-India stance is not an automatic alignment with Pakistan. Please don’t broadside the Kashmiri movement by throwing the accusation, “Pakistani!” in our faces. We do not accept it. A few might, but a few don’t matter. And majority wins. This is where a referendum comes in. Give us our plebiscite, the one we were promised under the ruling of the United Nations. It’s got something to do with the idea of ‘democracy’, an idea Indians are very proud of. Self-determination is what we want. Then let the chips fall where they may.
First the day the Kashmiris threw out their minorities and changed their “voting distribution” the objective assumptions under which a plebiscite was promised has been changed irrevocably. Now the principle of self-determination. If Kashmiris be allowed to vote on which country they want to belong to, then Gujaratis should also be given the right and so should Bengalis. And why should the rights be given only to states? Why not let religions also decide which country they want to be part of? And why stay limited to states or religions? Why not let families decide which country they want to go to? The deal is simple. If on principle, you give one citizen, just one, the right to “self-determine” you must give it to all.
This is of course where Article 370 is such a mistake because it is a tacit nod to the super-citizen status of Kashmiris, a constitutional guarantee originally made to appease Kashmiris in the hope that this will help them assimilate, has since become an albatross around the nation’s neck.
In these years I also saw the havoc wreaked by violent militants, mostly non-Kashmiris, whose scare tactics terrified naïve villagers (already bullied by troops) across the region. My house was burned down, relatives killed by these bearded mercenaries desecrating Islam and undermining the Kashmiri struggle in one blow.
Finally, there remains the larger point of the author’s article. That namely the Kashmiri struggle for independence is secular and that atrocities are committed not by Kashmiris but by “non-Kashmiris”, who presumably materialize using Transporter machines, commit their acts and are beamed up to ISI Enterprise. Of course this ignores small facts like Mohammed Yousuf was not a non-Kashmiri and neither was Bitta Karate. True Pakistan provided the logistics, the training and yes even armed personnel but many of the atrocities were committed by native “Kashmiris”.
Unlike the previous generation which took to guns, which fell for the easiest trick in the book — religious divide — this generation is different. We are educated, we have seen more, read more and certainly learnt from the blunders of the past.
Whether the new generation is more “educated” and have “read more” is a matter of debate (looking at Rediff comment threads and the hatred towards different religions and states expressed there in the most matter-of-fact manner I seriously doubt it) but the more important point is whether the “Kashmiri” “independence” can ever become a non-revivalist movement based on inclusion? Well the original idea of Kashmiri nationalism, as articulated by Sheikh Abdullah, was secular and inclusive . However the backbone of Kashmiri struggle has always been strongly Islamic and soon he had to play the religion card to get support, though as a person there were few as secular as Sheikh Abdullah. But then again there were few people as personally secular, to the point of being irreligious, as Mohammed Ali Jinnah and we know what his legacy is. However the forces of Islamic fundamentalism proved too strong and the movement over the decades has irrevocably become a Jamaati endeavor. So much so, that should Kashmir manage to secede, whether it stays independent or merges with Pakistan would become a point of academic interest, since both the states having been founded on identical philosophies would be, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from each other (except that Pakistan would most probably have the better cricket team).
If further proof as to how derailed everything is, a crazy nutjob threatens to burn the Koran in the US and Kashmiris, presumably many of them belonging to the new “well-read” generation, march threateningly towards a church (reported by Hindustan Times) in Kashmir. Which makes me ask, where in all this is independence, or the “non-lovable face of India” even an issue?
Sad. Very sad.
[Strong comment moderation will be in force. Yes I am a liberal nutjob who does not want to anger the media because I write books and hence toe their pseudo-secular line for my selfish ends. Yes I am also a Hindutva/Internet Hindu. (I am always amused when the same post gets both kinds of comments). Yes I also like Hindi C-grade movies. Please feel free to choose whichever insult you want. Just do not make inflammatory comments against any religion.]