Article 370: What Reactions On Social Media Tell Us About Indian Society

As soon as the security was made stringent in the valley, an insidious wind started blowing onto the internet and other social media platforms. This insidious wind also carried the news that Amit Shah, who has earned himself a rather roguish image, will be visiting Kashmir. The news of Kashmiri leaders being under house arrest intensified everything to generate an unprecedented emotional outburst in anticipation of a possible genocide and grave injustice.

I have written this article to illuminate how we can make sense of what is out there on the internet (various perspectives, humour, and opinions etc.), and how they tell us about serious issues in Indian Society, perhaps, far grave and enduring than the fate of Jammu & Kashmir itself. I have nothing to offer on the implications of this decision and its future, on which I have mixed feelings just like the entire nation.

How Caste Came Into Play

The relevance of caste in Indian society continues to bear its imprint upon almost everything. The most fundamental caste critique of BJP has been its inherent Brahmanism and politics of Hindutva, a form of Hindutva where Dalits and other lower castes are merely respected for vote banks politics and otherwise subjected to all kinds of miseries. The upholders of this view seem to claim that BJP’s elimination of Article 370, highlights how the Brahmins/upper-castes of the country have come together, despite belonging to different parties and views to consolidate their cherished dream of setting up a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation).
Delhi’s Chief Minister, Mr Arvind Kejriwal, who has been anti-Modi and was seeking statehood for Delhi, is being criticised for his hypocrisy and upper-caste character. Similarly, popular Youtuber, Dhruv Rathee, who has been prominently exposing BJP and politics of Hindutva, has taken a radical turn in favour of BJP’s decision and is getting rebuked as well. Interesting, however, is the role of BSP and Mayawati’s support to BJP. As the leader of the lower castes, Mayawati’s decision shouldn’t shock us because her recent political actions are heavily suspected from within the Dalit intelligentsia, especially after the selection of her kin to the party forefront. So those who are upholding this caste framework, have declared Mayawati as a demagogue incapable of raising the voice of the lower castes.
Image via Twitter
Another interesting factor is the image of Sardar Patel, which the BJP is making full use of and in some memes, Amit Shah was even likened to Sardar Patel. Now how this relates to caste is very interesting and calls for the mention of recently-made-popular young politician “Hardik Patel” from Gujarat.

Hardik shares the same caste as Sardar Patel and made use of his caste to mobilise masses in an unprecedented way. Hardik’s caste politics was gaining momentum when he reached an alliance with the Gurjars—because Gurjars believe that Patel is an offshoot of their caste. There were, in fact, positive talks between him and Colonel Kirori Singh Baisla, who is seen as the prime leader of the Gurjar community, apart from Sachin pilot.

The silencing of Hardik Patel and the comparison of Sardar Patel with Amit Shah is a clear representation of how BJP’s Hindutva politics functions, by appropriating and silencing potential community-based leaders who could have influenced democratic politics in radical manners by building strong caste alliance. An alliance between Gurjars and Patels would have yielded some influence.

Jokes About Kashmiri Women

As soon as the Kashmir row started on the internet, a variety of memes/’jokes’ specifically around gender started floating abundantly. Few among them said, “We should have asked Amit Shah Ji, if we can now start sending friend requests to Kasmiri girls”; “mere kunware dosto karo tyari 15  August ke baad, Kashmir me ho sakti hai Sasural tumhari” etc. I think it suffices to highlight how women often get embroiled as victims in the process of nation-building. It is painfully sad not only because it reminds us of how terribly women suffered during India’s partition, but also the fact that we haven’t been able to gender- sensitise our generations.

I can’t even include memes on leaders like Mehbooba Mufti, for their vulgarity is outright abysmal. Now some people with poor comprehension skills may argue that I am exaggerating mild jokes to look like rape threats. To such people, the very idea of gender sensitivity is an alien concept.   I am not speaking here of threats to Kashmiri women, but an attitude towards women in general.

Dreaming Of The Paradise

The third interesting section of opinions and memes is about the repealing of a provision that would now allow buying property in Kashmir. Now, this strategy is not new when it comes to extending the rule to new territories; in fact, the history of state-building abounds in examples of such geopolitical tactics. In Latin America, the Spanish rulers brought white immigrants from Europe so they could create a white majority in Latin America. Same politics of dilution is expected to follow through this action.

But I am more interested in the opinions expressed through memes as they highlight millions of people ready to buy land in Kashmir now. Kashmir has a beautiful landscape, literal heaven as we say, and the poorly urbanised and often congested urban cities and towns are a literal opposite of it in terms of leisure and life quality. This anticipated migration to Kashmir tells us how unhappy people are in their own homes and neighbourhoods because of poor sanitation, lack of proper leisure spaces, roads etc. If one were to ask how many people are happy with their surroundings, I am afraid, a majority will deny. And there seems to be no immediate relief from this.

Hence, there is also an irony in these escapist memes about migration to Kashmir, because it will eventually turn Kashmir into another urban city like Delhi or Noida.

The Political Binary

A section terms this act as a threat to democracy and the constitution. These people, various as they are, ideologically subscribe to a potential opposition present in the public sphere. In other words, they reflect the opinions of those who have a strong chance to compete with BJP through electoral politics. But Indian populism has a nuanced multi-class and multi-caste character, unlike other countries, where political binaries could compete.

What we have here is a well-consolidated government and a wholly fissured opposition trying to find the solutions to its problems through the hopes provided by the supreme leader of the ruling party. Hence, there is hardly any consolidated opposition on the ground. What all this proves is that the process of nation-building continues as an unfinished project for India.

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