By Nikhil Kumar:
In this TOI column titled ‘Letter to Kashmiri Youth‘, Chetan Bhagat talks about why Kashmiris should ‘integrate’ with India. Conspicuously, his letter is addressed to only those Kashmiris “who don’t like India”.
Mr. Bhagat’s knowledge on the subject of Kashmir is unparalleled, in that it doesn’t parallel that of anyone who has knowledge of the subject. I don’t claim that I have any. In fact, he may be right in saying that I have even less knowledge about it than he does. What he does have indeed that I don’t is a column in The Times Of India, which gives him a vast audience. But hey, I still have a blog. With or without consequences, I’ll have to wait to find out.
He writes, “…there is little pro-India sentiment amongst locals in the Kashmir Valley…. I will not judge you. Despite being a patriotic Indian, I won’t hold it against you if you hate India.” I don’t know how he defines ‘pro-India sentiment’. Does he mean the superficial jingoism or the love for the people? He has left it to his readers (i.e. the ‘Kashmiris who don’t like India’).
He writes that he will ‘not judge’ his audience for having such views. But in the very next sentence, he proclaims his patriotism. Isn’t that implicitly a judgement, especially to his target audience? He repeats he won’t hold it against you if you hate India. I am not quite sure what he really means there. Does ‘not like’ equal ‘hate’?
He presents ‘not an emotional, political or historical argument’ but a ‘practical’ as well as ‘rational’ basis for Kashmiris to ‘integrate and assimilate’ within India to have a better future. What about the present? Does that even count? Because even the future will, at some point, be their present.
He acknowledges that the issue of Kashmir is ‘complicated’ but then goes on to the history of the region ‘in a nutshell’. It couldn’t be more ironic. The simplicity of his words in the two-three paragraphs profoundly confound the very complications that he so admirably acknowledges right before he simplifies it.
It is this very simplistic (which he himself states to not be the case) view of the history of a military policed region that is constantly fed through the media and the politicians that nurture a naïve misunderstanding. So ill-informed are his facts that he compares the terrorism in the region to the Islamic State. What he missed by a mile is that the ISIS doesn’t have any political goals. Theirs is a nihilistic ideology that doesn’t seek means to achieve an end, it seeks an end in and of itself. And therein lies the distinction with the terrorism in Kashmir. No doubt people are killed in both cases, but to say that the two are alike would be a very wide stretch of their minute similarity. It overshadows the complications to present a misunderstood simplicity.
When he tries to “indulge the argument that India is a terrible country” he is indeed doing just the opposite. This is the kind of ad hominem argument that charges up emotions without even attempting to reason. I don’t like many things Indian. I think they are terrible. Does that mean that I believe India is a terrible country? Does that mean I hate India or I am any less patriotic? You better believe that to not be the case.
He warns his audience of “a risk of [Kashmir] being taken over by fundamentalist Islamic forces”. He says women’s rights “would be curbed under both the independence
and Pakistan options” and their future will be doomed if they do so. That the rest of India is at a similar risk of being overtaken by Hindutva bigots, that the Government of India fails to criminalise ‘marital rape’ intriguingly don’t feature in his apocalyptic warnings.
I agree with him that “terrorism is no solution, nor revenge and retribution for Indian atrocities”. But then he loses me when he dismisses any ‘true’ responsibility on the part of India for the plight of Kashmir. What his letter fails to even acknowledge is the plight of those who suffer the wrath of the Indian armed forces (especially due to AFSPA).
Where he gets it absolutely right is the dilemma of Kashmiris who do not have a better option. The politicians across parties have failed them, the separatists are certainly bound to fail them. He is well within his rights to ask the Kashmiris to demand the dissolution of Article 370 but he would have been better justified in doing so if he hadn’t presumed that they ‘hate’ India.
Towards the end, he passionately urges them, “Don’t feel good when India fails. Because if India fails, you will fail too.” I ask him, haven’t we failed the Kashmiris enough already? How many times do we think about them without a mention of ‘terrorism’ or ‘national security’?
To ‘assimilate’ with India, Kashmiris shouldn’t have to be fearful of the apocalyptic circumstances that Mr. Bhagat so graphically depicts. They should do so out of their own willful desire and an accommodating environment conducive to such a process. If the former becomes their sole reason for integration, it wouldn’t paint a healthy picture of our post-Independence era.
‘Jai Hind. Jai Kashmir’ is what Mr. Bhagat has to offer after more than thousand words of pleading his audience to ‘integrate and assimilate’ with India. That, by itself, says it all.