Examining The Narratives On All Sides [Part 3 of #UnderstandingKashmir]

Posted on March 22, 2012 in Kashmir, Specials

By Karmanye Thadani:

To the jingoistic Indian nationalist asserting Kashmir to be an integral part of India, Raja Hari Singh’s accession makes it integral to India without further question. Despite the Kashmir issue being in the limelight in the media for the last few years, most people are blissfully ignorant of the promise of a plebiscite. This attitude also overlooks that the government of India did not go by the views of the rulers when it came to Hyderabad and Junagadh. Then, there are others who argue that there has been considerable expenditure by the Indian government, still others pointing out economic development, in the valley and Kashmiri separatists are ungrateful.

However, while economic development can certainly help win over Kashmiris to our side and it actually has to some extent, that in no way legally takes away the Kashmiri people’s right of self-determination which the UN has accepted in numerous resolutions. To give an analogy, if I were to walk into someone’s house with lots of goodies and with a gun in my hand and stay there, and if he were to ask me to get out, would my saying that I have given him so many goodies take away his right to throw me out? And as regards expenditure to meet basic needs, it is a responsibility of our government if we claim Kashmiris as fellow citizens. Then, another piece of false propaganda in the Indian narrative is the Kashmiri turnout in panchayat and state elections to be an indicator of their acceptance of India as their country, though the fact is that the separatist political leaders cannot contest elections under the Indian constitution and while there is a large turnout in elections in the valley in spite of boycott calls by separatists, that is because of regular issues like water supply and electricity and not out of conformity to Indian rule.

Then, there are some Hindu rightists who view Muslims and Christians in general to be, by and large, unpatriotic Indians and therefore, view the secessionist struggles in Muslim-majority Kashmir and the Christian-majority Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya in that light only. The brutality of the rogue elements in the military and paramilitary forces is overlooked, denied, condoned or even justified by them and in the context of the north-east, so is the economic backwardness, cultural alienation and even subtle (though subconscious) racial discrimination. And their contention that only areas with Muslims and Christians in majority have secessionist tendencies is falsified by the examples of Assam and Punjab. Then, there are others who tend to stigmatize all the Kashmiri Muslims for the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus that took place a few decades ago and they contend that all the Kashmiri Muslims are terrorists who have no rights, which is, of course, most inappropriate.

However, there are more reasonable contentions advanced by the Indian side too. To begin with, the plebiscite mandated by the UN was to be conducted in the whole of the erstwhile princely state after Pakistan returned POK to India, which it hasn’t done so far and has no intentions of doing so. Also, even on the Indian side, with a large number of Kashmiri Hindus and pro-India Kashmiri Muslims being killed off in the militancy, would a plebiscite even be fair? However, it cannot be ruled out that the militancy came into being after decades of the non-fulfillment of the plebiscite promise and India made no effort to work with Pakistan for a plebiscite. Then, the Indian narrative points out that Jammu and Kashmir comprises Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh as well, which are pro-India regions, and even the sizable Muslim minority in these regions has not shown any anti-India resentment, so, as a starting point, the trifurcation of the state may be a good idea, though it is unacceptable to the separatists. Then, they point to the fear of an independent J&K being unsafe for the non-Sunni religious minorities, particularly considering the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Hindus. It is true that Kashmiri Sikhs and Shias have generally not been targeted, except if they have not been outspoken in favour of India (I know a Kashmiri Sikh who had been outspoken in favour of India and had to leave the valley because of the threat to his life), but an independent J&K may make all non-Sunnis vulnerable. The history of the Kashmir issue is rooted in the religion-based partition of India and however much the liberal Kashmiri Muslim secessionists may claim that Islamism (as discussed earlier, Islamism is the Muslim equivalent of Hindutva and of course, neither of these totalitarian ideologies can be equated with the religions Islam or Hinduism in their true form) in Kashmir is just a bogey and is virtually non-existent now, the Islamist fervour is still very much there among many Muslims in the valley and such people even condone, if not justify, the killings of Kashmiri Hindus. In the given context, can we trust an independent J&K to not mete out injustice to those Kashmiri Hindus who have returned to their homeland after decades on assurances of safety from the Indian government? Will an independent Kashmir with a sizable Wahabi population do justice to the Shias and Ahmedis who also regard Islam as their faith when we have seen mass murders of people of these sects in Pakistan? In fact, it is this very skepticism that makes the Kashmiri Shias and Ahmedis, with some exceptions that we cannot overlook, not support the separatist movement. The Indian narrative stresses India as a secular democracy with a booming economy, which it indeed is.

The Pakistani narrative is that since J&K is a Muslim-majority region, they have a more valid claim over it than India. They hail the separatists on the Indian side and despite militants sponsored by their government also being responsible for mass murders and atrocities, they demonize the Indian armed forces and on that basis, label India as an “enemy of Islam”, though their own security forces don’t have a great human rights record either, when it comes to East Pakistan or even today in Balochistan, where the people still yearn for independence, and the victims of these human rights violations too mostly do happen to be Muslims; besides, even if we were to consider the record of the Indian security forces, they have also committed human rights violations in Hindu-majority Assam, Sikh-majority Punjab and Christian-majority areas in the north-east; so, would that make India as a whole also an enemy of Sikhism, Christianity and even Hinduism?! If their claim is based on the Muslim-majority angle, which it is, then the trifurcation of J&K into Hindu-majority Jammu, Buddhist-majority Ladakh and Muslim-majority Kashmir should be acceptable to them (after all, the provinces of Bengal and Punjab were divided and only the Muslim-majority areas went to Pakistan), and they should give up their claims over Jammu and Ladakh, but they have not adopted such a position. They want India to conduct a plebiscite and they keep raising this issue time and again, but have never conducted a plebiscite on their side of Kashmir, which has its own separatist movement, and recently, in the 2011 cricket World Cup semi-final in Mohali, two separatist leaders in POK were arrested for cheering for India against Pakistan!

In the part of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan, people have their own complaints about insufficient autonomy, not being given control over their own resources and being seen with suspicion by the Pakistani establishment. Some of them have even become pro-India, but the majority even there favours a Kashmir independent from both the countries.

Next, we may examine the narrative of the separatists on the Indian side. They talk of the promise of a plebiscite not being kept (indeed, no effort was even made to cooperate with Pakistan to have it conducted in the whole of the erstwhile princely state with both countries content with keeping parts of it and respectively claiming the whole of it as their ‘integral’ part) and the horrors of the brutality of the armed forces, besides the fact that they fail to get justice most of the times, with atrocities by military personnel seldom being investigated, as also the draconian laws. They also talk of the psychological impact of the ubiquitous military presence, which they call a military occupation. They also try to contend that Kashmiri culture has nothing to do with Indian culture, and historically, Kashmiri history has been divorced from Indian history, but this is a blatant lie. Kashmiris have more in common with Indians than with Arabs or Central Asians culturally, be it with respect to language, cuisine, attire or festivals and Kashmir was a part of India under the Mauryas, Mughals and even indirectly the British. They also say that Kashmir hasn’t seen as much development as the rest of India, overlooking, perhaps deliberately, that that is in good measure because of their secessionist struggle and because outsiders are not allowed to invest in or buy property in their state, and the secessionist Kashmiris, by and large, don’t want to lose out on these ‘privileges’ which are actually handicaps.

Then, in order to further their agenda, they are out to attack India’s credentials as a secular democracy and cite the attacks on religious minorities, some of which were carried out with political involvement, as examples of the same. But their case is weakened by the fact that the militancy was completely based on Islamic radicalism that even targeted innocent Kashmiri Hindu civilians and even the street protests today carry Islamic slogans (of course, raising slogans of a faith doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a religious fanatic, but it shows that this struggle still has a lot to do with religious identity and is not secular in the sense of having nothing to do with religion); so, on what basis can an independent J&K be expected to be very secular? True, there are very progressive, liberal-minded Kashmiri Muslim secessionists, but how can we be sure that an independent J&K doesn’t become a breeding ground for radical Islamic ideas? If Bangladesh, officially a secular state which owes its very existence to seceding from Pakistan with Indian support, can have a strong pro-Pakistan Islamist wing (true, there is also a very strong predominantly Muslim pro-India secular wing in that country) or even Pakistan, despite Jinnah wanting religion to have no role to play in state affairs, became a radical Islamic state since the days of Zia-ul-Haq, what reason does India have to not be suspicious that an independent J&K, which will define its identity as a region which gained freedom from ‘Indian colonialism’ may end up meeting the same fate one day? And anti-India Islamism is not merely about Kashmir; groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba have actually declared establishing a Taliban-like Islamic caliphate in the subcontinent as their objective; so, allowing Kashmir to secede is no guarantee for the end of Islamist terrorism in India. As the noted intellectual Swapan Dasgupta has pointed out, many believe that “Kashmiriyat is inherently at odds with the doctrinaire Islamism that will darken the Kashmir Valley if the India link is snapped.” The noted social scientist Ramachandra Guha, who is not in the least prejudiced against Muslims, and has, in fact, been vocal against Hindu communalism, has plainly stated his opinion in the following words – “an independent Kashmir will most likely become a receptacle for Al Qaeda”.

Kashmiri secessionists and their supporters describe such apprehensions as symptoms of Islamophobia. However, while that may be the case for many people, for many others (including me), it’s not about believing in a generalized sense that Muslims do not exhibit any tolerance to people of other religions if they (Muslims) are in majority in any country or that a country with a Muslim-majority population is necessarily an ultra-theocratic regime with laws that don’t give equal rights to women and non-Muslims. Indeed, Indonesia, Turkey and Tunisia are not really very theocratic (Turkey, in fact, is officially a secular state), a country like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) welcomes immigrants from across the globe and allows them to practise their faith openly, and the laws there are very liberal, and Iran and Egypt have had a good track record of dealing with their sizable Jewish and Coptic minorities respectively even after Islamicization (it’s another thing that the Christian-dominated Western media makes a mountain out of an anthill when it comes to the problems of Christian minorities anywhere). However, for a person like me, as also for an intellectual of the stature of Ramachandra Guha, the apprehension about radicalization in Kashmir is owing to the history of the Hindu-Muslim divide in South Asia in the modern era which manifested itself in the partition of India, the Islamism already existing in Kashmir and how an independent Kashmir too will have Islam as an integral factor to its identity and in some sense at least, in an independent Kashmir, the Kashmiri historical memory of India would be as an “enemy of Islam”, which is, of course, most inappropriate. In fact, off late, Christians in Kashmir too are facing threats of violence from Muslim extremists in the valley.

In the next article in this series, we will examine whether India is in a position to let go of Kashmir.