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What Those Agreeing with Manu Joseph Have To Say – An Analysis [Part 3 of ‘A Fresh Wave of Thinking in The Kashmir Valley’ Series]

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By Karmanye Thadani:

In the previous article in this series, I have mentioned that Sualeh Keen, a Kashmiri Muslim writer, has endorsed Manu Joseph’s stand. In an article titled The Unhappiness Factory of Kashmir, he has written-

“When Manu Joseph wrote these words in the Open Magazine article ‘Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy’, it was but expected that ‘they’ would get disgusted and outraged. ‘They’ are the intellectual writers and online activists that constitute the second generation of Kashmiri Muslim separatists, the first generation being the Pakistan-trained mujahideen who fought with AK-47s, grenades, rockets, and bombs against ‘Hindu India’ in search of Azadi (literally, ‘freedom’). While originally Azadi meant the valley’s accession to Pakistan, after the Pakistan-sponsored armed uprising in the early 90’s failed and with the onset of internal turmoil in Pakistan, the meaning of Azadi has shifted from accession to Pakistan to independence from both India and Pakistan. This demand is largely confined to the Kashmiri Muslim community of the Kashmir valley, while finding little or no support in the Jammu and Ladakh regions of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State. Even in the valley, opinions are divided in favour of independence, accession to Pakistan, greater autonomy or self-rule within the Indian union, and political status quo.

That the people of Kashmir have suffered in these two decades of militancy is an undeniable fact. Terrorism imposes a price on everyone including the non-combatants. In Kashmir, even a failed grenade attack can make life a nightmare for the people living or working in a locality–through crackdowns, identification parades, frisking, beatings, interrogation, torture–making the people resent this abnormal intrusion of fear, hurt, and death into their lives. Their resentment turns to hostility, which takes the shape of resistance to the State, and to military and paramilitary personnel, because that is all that they can react to. It is difficult to open a front against shadowy enemies (terrorists) who don’t wear uniforms that would identify them and who can take anyone down anywhere with no accountability whatsoever. This threat of random violence is what makes terrorism so successful. And when the State responds forcefully with counter-terrorism measures, again, the special powers accorded to the armed forces pave the way for the abuse of those powers. So, not just the costs of terrorism, the subsequent costs of counter-terrorism are also borne by ordinary people caught in the crossfire. Ironically, the violent Azadi movement and the misery it unleashed in society provided the raw material for the new generation of largely non-violent separatists to justify their demand for Azadi. Towards this effect, the separatists base their political narrative entirely on the ‘oppression and human rights violations by the armed forces of India’. While seeking justice for the fake encounters, custodial murders, etc. committed by the men in uniform (armed forces), the separatists are silent about the murders, rapes, abductions and extortions committed by the so-called mujahideen. In other words, there is an attempt to distort or redefine truth in a way that the effect becomes the cause.”

The analysis is undoubtedly brilliant. However, there are two observations I would like to make. One is that before the militancy erupted in the valley, there was a wave of peaceful protests in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which the Indian state suppressed rather undemocratically (the massacre of peaceful protesters on Gawakadal bridge by CRPF personnel in 1990 is significant in this context), but this undemocratic behavior has also been exhibited more recently with peasants in Bhatta-Parsaul or Ramdev’s followers in Ramlila Maidan or a few years back with students in Mumbai agitating against a proposed OBC quota, and has not been exclusive to Kashmir; but the point is that those whom Keen has described as the first and second generation of Kashmiri freedom fighters would, in my opinion, be the second and third respectively. Also, when any army is stationed in civilian areas in a conflict zone, human rights violations have always taken place, as Keen alludes to in his article, but I wish he would have cited examples like those of the armies of Pakistan and Sudan and the brutalities exhibited by them in East Pakistan (or Balochistan, the story of which is somewhat similar to that of Kashmir) and Darfur respectively, since citing examples of armies of countries which don’t have Muslim-majority populations, like the United States of America (remember the Abu Gharib atrocities?) or the United Kingdom  (human rights violations have been committed in Northern Ireland as well), will not appeal to many Kashmiri Muslims, though I am certainly not labeling all of them as prejudiced, and some of them who I know personally, while desiring azadi, are liberal by outlook. But yes, the gist remains that the carrying out of human rights violations by security personnel is a byproduct of any insurgency, and cannot be a justification for a secessionist movement, though by saying so, I am, in no way, condoning human rights violations by Indian security personnel, nor, I am sure, is Keen, a Kashmiri Muslim himself.

Besides, as Keen has mentioned, even the so-called mujahideen (Keen has been careful to use the phrase ‘so-called’, since the real Islamic concept of jihad is very different) resorted to human rights violations, not fighting as combatants are meant to under modern international humanitarian law, nor following the ten rules of warfare for Muslim warriors codified by Prophet Muhammad’s companion, Abu Bakr. They killed innocent Kashmiri Hindus and even pro-India Kashmiri Muslims (if it is self-determination by way of a plebiscite you believe in, then you ought to be tolerant of all opinions and let the plebiscite decide which opinion is that of the majority), which brings us to the point of the plurality of political opinions prevalent in the valley and in the rest of J&K (Jammu and Ladakh being pro-India regions with the fairly large Muslim minority in these regions, by and large, not having any problem with India) brought up by Keen. While these online propagandists would like us to believe that the fear among Kashmiri Hindus who migrated from the valley was grossly exaggerated or that there is hardly any Kashmiri Muslim who cares more for a calm and peaceful life than azadi, facts don’t change. A Kashmiri Shi’ite gentleman from Srinagar, who happens to be our family friend, told me that it is indeed a fact that an overwhelming majority (though certainly not the entire populace) of Kashmiri Shi’ites would like Kashmir to remain a part of India, fearing what the consequences of azadi would be, living with the Sunni majority. He pointed out that while Kashmiri Sunnis have mostly been very tolerant in matters of faith, ideas of puritan practice of Islam have been on a rise in the valley, and this is confirmed by studies carried out in the region and even a liberal Kashmiri Sunni gentleman with separatist convictions I happen to know (to speak of this, once when I was having a discussion with an Islamist Kashmiri separatist, he told me to not call Muslims by different names like ‘Shia’ and ‘Sunni’, to which I replied saying that I did not create these distinctions and I would have no problem if he mentions, in context, the different castes or sects among us, Hindus). If this is what most Shi’ites desire, it is a no-brainer that this sentiment is echoed by most Kashmiri Ahmedis, Sikhs, Christians and even most of the Hindus who have returned to the valley or didn’t leave and as for those who didn’t leave, an Al Jazeera report confirms that the majority want India, which is actually quite obvious. Besides, there are Kashmiri Sunnis too who have started to think differently, some because they believe that the method of mainstream politics coupled with judicial recourse can solve their problems, and still others who are seduced by India being a secular democracy with a booming economy, and one can see the annoyance of Kashmiri separatists at this in several pieces (take, for example, this Facebook note and the comments on it; it mainly criticizes those Kashmiri Muslims who cheer for the Indian cricket team and strangely states Gandhi to be a criminal in spite of his martyrdom for trying his best to protect Muslims during the partition riots, and one pro-Pakistan Islamist Kashmiri carrying a pseudonym of ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’, different from the majority of Kashmiris, liberal and Islamist, who want Kashmir free from both India and Pakistan, commented saying that India’s relative economic performance is making several Kashmiri Muslims support it, but a true Muslim should prefer living in an economically backward Muslim-majority country like Sudan or Somalia than even a developed country like USA, and though his comments are no longer there, presumably because he deleted his Facebook account, my replies to his comments are). Some like Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat and Naeem Akhtar are more vocal in favour of renouncing the mandate for azadi, while there are others who feel threatened by the brouhaha that will be generated by any remarks that they pass in favour of staying with India, especially by a section of the online ‘revolutionaries’ (both Manu Joseph and Keen have mentioned this), who have been discussed in this article and the previous articles in this series and will be discussed in even more depth in the next one.

However, it must be mentioned that Keen has pointed out a fallacy in Manu Joseph’s article, in spite of otherwise endorsing his stand. The fallacy he points out is Manu Joseph’s failure to take cognizance of the complexities of human behaviour, which Kashmiris too exhibit. Keen writes —

“Manu Joseph’s article is to be faulted for doing a superficial symptomatic diagnosis. It does not address why the same people who want normalcy now, were in the streets three years in a row, and, given a suitable stimulus, may well come out on the streets again in the future. The article does not offer solutions for ensuring that normalcy is not disturbed by the forces of unhappiness in future.”

However, a possible solution does exist, at least one worth trying, which has been discussed in the last article in this series.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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