Background of Kashmir: [Part 1 of ‘A Fresh Wave of Thinking in the Kashmir Valley’ Series]

Posted on June 2, 2012 in Specials

By Karmanye Thadani:

The word ‘Kashmir’ first reminded people of natural beauty, then it came to epitomize terrorism and now, it has come to mean controversy with the mainstream narrative of the problems in the valley revolving around the misuse of special anti-terror legislations and more importantly, the question of the legitimacy of Indian rule.

I am neither a jingoistic Indian nationalist wanting to close my eyes to the wrongs subjected to the Kashmiris nor a supporter of the separatist movement. I have a midway position on this issue, one which believes in mutual engagement and understanding recognizing the compulsions of both sides, and one that seeks to be pragmatic and look at the long term consequences. My views on the subject have been articulated in some detail in the five-part series of articles called ‘Understanding Kashmir’, which was published on this very online portal, Youth Ki Awaaz (the five articles in that series can be accessed here - and I have no desire to explore the subject at great length in this piece, though I would recommend readers not well versed with the background of the conflict to read that series or any other impartial material before reading this article or any other article dealing with specific aspects of the contemporary situation in the valley. However, this piece is about some of the latest developments pertaining to the conflict over the narrative in the valley, which took place in May 2012, juxtaposed with my own personal experience of interacting with some Kashmiri Muslims with strong separatist convictions and their narrative about us, Indians, particularly Indian Hindus (though I hate to talk in terms of religion as a basis of social identity and would prefer linguistic clusters and that too in the context of diversity and not divisiveness, such people compel me to adopt this parlance) in the same month.

So, what are the developments on the narrative I am referring to? One is the article Sorry, Kashmir is Happy by a leading Indian journalist, Manu Joseph, in the magazine Open, edited by him, followed by other articles on different forums, either endorsing or repudiating his stand, with those endorsing his stand including Kashmiri Muslims (such as Sualeh Keen) and those repudiating it including Indians who are not Kashmiri Muslims (such as Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal). In this article, Manu Joseph has argued that while the average Kashmiri Muslim wants to move on with his life in spite of bearing his anti-India resentment, and is glad about the boost to the Kashmiri economy by way of an influx of more and more tourists (they numbered more than a million in 2011), there’s this segment of the populace that finds it blasphemous to utter a word in favour of retaining the political status quo and which looks for the slightest provocation to initiate a conflagration in the valley, making peace fragile.

Another major development has been that Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, a prominent moderate Hurriyat leader, has described the UN resolutions affirming the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination as “not practically applicable in the present” and suggested choosing the ballot as the appropriate way ahead, with a similar stand being taken by Kashmiri Muslim writers like Naeem Akhtar. Bhat’s comment has evoked sharp response from the hardliners, including of course, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who, on one hand, invokes modern principles like self-determination and talks of United Nations resolutions, and on the other hand, shouts from his rooftop ideas that go against the very grain of any understanding of modern human rights conceptions that underlie the United Nations system, such as democracy or separating religion from the affairs of the State or even nationalism transcending religious barriers being antithetical to Islam and offering prayers for the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden, calling him a martyr to the cause of fighting US neo-imperialism, and calling the United States an enemy of Islam! Geelani, as usual, continued his lamentation about Kashmiris participating in elections reinforcing the Indian constitutional setup, which they must overthrow, and pointed to that and statements like those of Bhat’s as Kashmiris unwittingly working against themselves.

The following articles shall examine each of these two major developments one by one, extensively quoting from Manu Joseph’s piece and those who agree or disagree with him, as well as from Naeem Akhtar’s piece. The first provides a basic understanding of a different outlook shaping up in the valley; the second gives a concrete solution to the problem. Of course, I am not here to delude anyone into believing that there has been a complete transformation in the valley and Kashmiri Muslims, by and large, have become very patriotic Indians, even though our Bollywood producers and some of our journalists would have liked to paint that picture even when the anti-India resentment in the valley had reached its zenith.