This is a plea to every Kashmiri from a Tamilian. In this turning point in the annals of history, I write with desperation and hope that my Kashmiri friends would understand this!
Most Indians know only so much about Kashmir as the current Home Minister and Prime minister do – which is to say – very little. The majority of Indians, cloaked in a national identity highjacked by the ‘right’, are celebrating on the streets, what is perhaps the epitome of their ignorance and their leaders’ indifference. The sheer agony of what the valley has been through since 1931 is beyond the comprehension of this majority.
That being said, as a fellow citizen, I beg my Kashmiri friends to practise restraint in their call to arms.
The current Union government has left you with no choice: Either let go of your history and open your arms, inviting the people of the Union, or bear arms and fight till the valley is obliterated.
Yes, the government of India has betrayed you (and every Indian). Yes, the information blackout and the deafening silence are horrendous. Yes, the oppression is excruciating and the attitude of those in power (regardless of who is in power) is eviscerating. Yes, they are holding guns to your heads and they are unlikely to leave anytime soon. Yes, the middle ground has shattered from under your feet.
However, it must not be forgotten that India is more than Modi, Shah, Doval, the Tricolour Flag, and the Indian military. Though it might be hard to believe and these are the only symbols of India most Kashmiris ever see – symbols that stand for oppression – they are not representative of the Indian Union. Nobody in this country, barring the fringe right, is ‘okay’ with the military occupation and the deliberate propagation of misinformation that this government is undertaking. The corrosion of Indian democracy, the abhorring human rights violations, and the betrayal of Kashmir’s trust are painfully real. To some, this may be uncomfortable and to others, this is terrifying – but the country and the world will #StandWithKashmir. Despite this silence, be affirmed that we are with you!
Do not be mislead to believe that my solidarity is an embracement of separatism. It is conditional on the possibility that integrating Kashmir in the Union will benefit the valley. Again, this is not about the land. It is not about politics, economics, development, movies or any of the hundred other ‘benefits’ that the Prime Minister listed out. It is about the redemption of our collective failure, and a path to peace and dignified life for a people who have only known dignified death (martyrdom).
To my Kashmiri friends who have lost all hope, as a Tamilian I have this to say: We are better off with the Union.
To be fair, drawing a J&K – Tamil Nadu parallel is irrational at best, but that does not take away from the history of separatism in the two regions. ‘Tamil Nadu‘ literally means ‘Tamil Nation.’ In the then Madras Presidency, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was the face of the Anti-Hindi/Anti-Aryan movement. In the 60s and 70s, when the leading political party in the state was harbouring separatist sentiments, the Indira Gandhi-led government (much-unlike the Modi-led theocracy) cracked down on them with the sedition law, and a threat to bar them from contesting elections. There was the emergence of multiple armed rebel groups, both in the Tamil speaking regions of India and in the Eelam (Tamil speaking regions in Sri Lanka). However, in the late 60s DMK pivoted from demanding succession, to advocating for a secular Tamil nation within the Indian Union. They quickly distanced themselves from the separatist militant groups which eventually failed to flourish as the people took to the streets after DMK’s call for democratic protests.
I will say that staying in the union has by no means diminished Tamil identity or sovereignty, and when the center does attempt to infringe on the state’s rights, the Tamil people and the leaders are not afraid to stand up. While the centre mandates 50% reservation for the oppressed communities – Tamil Nadu, thanks to its demographic realities, continues to provide 69% reservation, though the legal fraternity considers this ‘unconstitutional’. When the Supreme court ordered an end to Jallikattu, a symbol of Tamil culture with pre-historic roots, thousands of young people took to the streets, in what was widely commended as the evidence of the power of active citizenship. While the rest of the country re-elected the BJP in 2019 with a bigger majority than before, Tamil Nadu decimated the NDA alliance in the polls.
Tamil Nadu is not the only exception for that matter – Property laws in Himachal Pradesh, the Karnataka’s flag, among others, in the Union can give you more reasons to believe in the diversity that makes India what it is.
Now, just imagine if the DMK had embraced armed conflict and in fact, Tamil Nadu had become independent from India.
Tamil Nadu would have been a sovereign secular country united by ‘one’ national identity – linguistic. The Tamil people would have had a country of their own. The very sound of it reverberates in our hearts. While the idea of an independent Tamil Nation is still romanticised in popular media, the hard facts are far too conspicuous to be ignored.
The DMK was, and is, I feel, a radical populist party. Other parties in the state are no different. Corruption, nepotism, curtailing freedom of expression, feudal-‘mafiadom‘, and stoking inter-caste tensions are all at the very DNA of the Tamil political leadership. I wonder if the political or religious leadership of J&K is any different…
Moreover, Tamil Nadu is facing a fatal water crisis. The very thought of the fight over Kaveri river water being a full-fledged war between two countries is reason enough to believe Tamil Nadu has been better off under the Union than without.
Democracy is not dead. Not yet. When this blackout ends and when this curfew is lifted, as a fellow citizen, I urge you to stand up and save democracy.
Don’t get me wrong: my plea to every Kashmiri is not to accept oppression as the norm, and learn to live with it. It is not to abide by India’s occupation of Kashmir through AFSPA in return for protection from Pakistan’s occupation of Kashmir. My plea is for you to pull yourself out of a transactional relationship with the lesser of the two evils. Find your way to active citizenship – to peace and progress – within the Indian Union, while continuing to grow your unique identity with no compromises! I strongly feel that Section 370 is not the only tool for protecting one’s land, livelihood, and life. I feel Tamil Nadu is witness to that!
My plea Kashmiris, is to try and embrace the true soul of the Indian union – non-violence and diversity. I beg you to not fall for the snare that the political-militant-media complex has set forth. Please do not give up on your resilience. I urge my fellow citizens to not let go of non-violence, for that would be the true death of democracy, the death of that very ‘right to self-determination’ that Kashmir deserves!
And to all my Tamil Friends, #StandWithKashmir. For God knows, if J&K falls, Tamil Nadu is next.”