By Karmanye Thadani:
Having classified the Kashmiri separatists into liberals and Islamists, the question that arises is – how do we convince Kashmiri Muslims of both varieties identify with the idea of India, a secular democracy that celebrates diversity and is founded on modern constitutional modes of governance? The approach would have to be one of understanding and engagement, not feeding them on jingoistic propaganda or by mocking their aspirations for self-determination, telling them about the unfeasibility of the country they wish to create (for then, they would point out how Nepal and Bhutan too sustain themselves) or being judgmental with them, labelling them as ungrateful for what the Indian government is doing for them when all that the separatists expect of the Indian government is only to quit their region (to give an analogy, I have a right to ask someone to leave my house even if he brings lots of goodies with him and even if he thinks that I am being ungrateful) and it is actually not a favour on the part of the Indian government but its responsibility to do what it can for a populace it counts as among its own!
As regards the liberal variety of the Kashmiri separatists, they must be made to understand that a Kashmiri Muslim is as different from an Oriya Hindu as a Malayali Christian is, but fundamentally, there is a common thread of certain shared cultural traits, the same Vedic roots that underlie this Indian civilization (no, I am not from the saffron brigade which I always criticize when I get an opportunity, even its more moderate elements since even they, if not anything else, tend to present quite a biased and distorted picture of Indian history; I guess that my not being a supporter of the saffron brigade became evident when I referred to Hindutva and Islamism as being similar earlier in this series of articles) which has been complemented by the influence of the advent of Islam not only as a faith in itself that influenced and incorporated itself into Indian philosophy but whatever else came with it in the spheres of language, literature, architecture, music, dance and painting, and it is this pluralism that we celebrate.
Kashmiris having distinct festivals and customs of their own is not unique to them as this is true for groups of people across different parts of India. By giving every linguistic cluster its political identity within the same country in the form of provinces, as many as 22 languages official status and every religious community on an equal footing (unlike Pakistan where the constitution bars the posts of the Prime Minister and President to non-Muslims or Urdu gets a higher status than other languages, or Israel where Muslims in the parliament have to swear allegiance to the country, which is absolutely fine, but acknowledging it to be a Jewish state), India presents a unique model of unity in diversity to the world at large, and Kashmir too can easily fit in, for its culture too is based on a healthy confluence of Hinduism and Islam (particularly heterodox Sufism), and staying with India also has economic advantages for the Kashmiris themselves.
And the liberals must be made to understand from the example of Egypt where those holding views similar to theirs were projected as the voice of that country during the Arab Spring by the international media but they could not make much headway electorally after the regime change, and a hypothetically independent Kashmir will also, in all probability, not be very different in this particular respect (I’ve delved into this in some depth in this article), and so, if they want a Kashmir that preserves its liberal values, then it’s not freedom they should seek, giving up their jingoism centred around Kashmiri Muslims epitomizing heterodoxy and tolerance when more hard line versions of Islam have been on a rise in the valley.
Bangladesh too started off by asserting a secular Bengali identity (that unfortunately refused to accommodate Bihari Muslims but happily accommodated the Bengali Hindus who had been residing in East Pakistan) breaking off from an artificially created Indo-Islamic (Pakistani) identity but is also seeing a spurt in Islamism, including its radical shades, and Pakistan was also much more moderate before the Zia-ul-Haq regime; so, looking at examples from South Asia itself, it’s not very difficult to infer that an independent Kashmir, with a historical memory of having been ‘liberated’ from ‘Hindu India’ may undergo the same metamorphosis. This is not to say that Muslim-majority countries can never be good at sustaining a climate of accommodating the religious minorities, Indonesia, Turkey or even many of the Central Asian republics standing out as prominent examples of those that have, but the reference here is with respect to regions with a history of religious radicalization and giving considerable space to religion in socio-political affairs.
The liberal Kashmiri separatists have seen the jingoistic nationalism of the saffron brigade as also that of many secular Indian nationalists who just shout from their rooftops that Kashmir is an integral part of India, oblivious to or overlooking the plebiscite promise made to the Kashmiris (though of course, as per the UN resolution, Pakistan was to cede the portion of Kashmir it had captured to India before the plebiscite), the rigging of elections and human rights violations by Indian military and paramilitary forces to understand that jingoism amounts to nothing more than self-pleasing and truth-evading based on a biased reading of facts.
The more broadminded Indian intelligentsia that acknowledges the right of self-determination of Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC but understands that allowing Kashmir to secede has very dangerous implications for India in terms of deepening the Hindu-Muslim divide that will inevitably manifest itself in violent forms on such an occasion and boosting secessionist forces in other parts of the country that don’t really have an intrinsic case in international law the way the Kashmiris do (and this broadminded Indian intelligentsia should also understand that especially given the current climate of peace and normalcy in the valley, it is relatively easier to make Kashmiris identify themselves as Indians accepting the status quo, which would also actually work in their interest, than make Indians understand that Kashmir, unlike any other region in India, was basically never an integral part of the country) should help liberal Kashmiri secessionists understand by making them look at their jingoistic Indian nationalist adversaries that jingoism by itself is totally meaningless and shouting slogans of the possibility of Kashmiri Muslims getting radicalized being zilch makes no sense when some Kashmiri Muslims did kill innocent Kashmiri Hindus and there are still quite a few Kashmiri Muslims who would not like the Kashmiri Hindus to return to the valley.
[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi. He has co-authored two short books, namely ‘Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World’.To read his other posts, click here.[/box]