A Personal Rant: This world is in deep trouble, from top to bottom…
[The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Collective.]
“We shall meet again, in Srinagar,
by the gates of the villa of peace,
our hands blossoming into fists
till the soldiers return the keys
– Agha Shahid Ali
While I am writing this, this aspiration expressed by the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali seems like a distant dream as the valley is burning again after the extra-judicial killing of 22 year old Burhan Wani. Burhan was a commander of the pro-Pakistan militant organisation, Hizbul Mujahideen. Burhan was very active on social media and posted various propaganda videos in regular interval. In his last videos he had warned of attacks on Indian security forces. But at the same time he welcomed back the Kashmiri Pandits (but denied to accept any ‘Israel like settlement’) and assured the Amarnath pilgrims. After his death thousands of Kashmiris came to the streets in protest. Memorial meetings were conducted in different places. Indian security forces opened fire on the protesters which killed 33 people in four days. Use of pellet guns by the armed forces also caused blindness to many. Hospitals and ambulances have also been attacked by the security forces. A medical emergence has been declared in the valley.
Much has been already written by the reporters, scholars, political activists and political analysts in the last few days. Then why am I writing this again? Can I deliver anything new on the dispute or the current situation that has not already been delivered by the aforementioned? The answer is NO. I am writing this because I am angry and sad. Those thirty three people have been killed in my name, in our name. Our hands are marked with the blood of those thirty three, and thousand others who have been murdered, disappeared, mutilated in the last 20 years in the name of national security. I need to express my anger and grief and there is no other way than writing. So, here is what I need to say.
For the past few years, whenever the valley goes through crises like the present one, the popular discourses in media and elsewhere circle around a single word; azadi. Though azadi seems like a simple enough word, its implication in the real world is not so. In the last few months, we have seen heated public debates on the meaning of azadi after three Jawaharlal Nehru University students were arrested on the charge of sedition following an event on Kashmir in the university campus on 9th of February. One of them, Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the JNU student union, gave a speech after his release on bail, which was shared and viewed by millions on social media. In his speech he claimed that by azadi, he does not mean azadi ‘from’ India but azadi ‘in’ India; from poverty, casteism, capitalism, feudalism, and patriarchy. Following this speech, many scholars and activists, raised their objections saying that in Kashmir, azadi ‘in’ India cannot be differentiated from azadi ‘from’ India.
If the word azadi in the capital of India can send three young students in New Delhi to jail, its effect is much more complicated in Kashmir itself. Every time Kashmiris come in the streets with slogans of azadi ‘from’ India, the national media and the right-wing political groups start crying foul. It is being portrayed that the radical Islamist organisations in the valley, with the help of the Pakistani state, are trying to destroy the national integrity of India. The right-wing section of media and political groups celebrate the arm forces and claim that it’s the separatist groups that are responsible for the deaths of the people. Many a times, even the murders of the people of the valley are celebrated by the right-wingers. The deaths of the unarmed people, protesting the killing of Burhan Wani, were likewise celebrated.
The parliamentary leftists do not celebrate the deaths and casualties of common people, at least not openly. But they, who are very much vocal against the US imperialism and occupation of Palestine by Israel, do not support the call for azadi and claim that Kashmir is an integral part of India. The non-parliamentary leftists of course call this the ‘revisionist’ tendency of the parliamentary ones and support Kashmir’s right to self determination. Umar Khalid, one of the three students, arrested after the 9th February incident in JNU, posted a passionate message on Facebook following Burhan’s death, where he went on to the extent of comparing the late commander of the Islamist organisation with Che Guevara.
In the common perception of the not-so-political Indian middle class from the mainland, Kashmir is a great place for holidays. Most of them see the Kashmiris demanding for azadi as traitors (Muslims are always potential traitors in India, right?), funded and helped by the evil Pakistan. Most of them have a great regard for security forces and believe that they cannot do any wrong. Whenever the reports of atrocities by the security forces come, they claim those as the mischievous acts by a few bad army men and go on to say that the army as a whole should not be blamed for such acts.
Is Kashmir really an integral part of India? What does an integral part mean? Do we mean that the lands, water, mountains, lakes are integral to the geographical map of India? Do we include the people living in Kashmir as ‘integral part’ of our nation? This is an answer I am desperately trying to find out. If we include the people of Kashmir, as the integral part of the nation, then who are the ones that have been killed and wounded and blinded in the last few days? Even a five year old girl was hit by pellet guns in her eyes. Do we expect that little girl to grow up loving our beloved nation? Hospitals and ambulances have been attacked by the armed forces. If Kashmiris are an integral part of our nation, are we fighting a battle against our own people? What about Parveena Ahangar? Parveena is the founder and chair person of the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons, an organisation that struggles to put up pressure on the Indian Government to investigate 8,000-10,000 cases of involuntary and enforced disappearances in Kashmir. Parveena’s son was also abducted by Indian armed forces and he never returned. Is she a terrorist? What about the other parents or ‘half-widows’ whose children or husbands have just ‘disappeared’? Are they the integral part of this nation? If they are, why doesn’t our nation investigate and deliver justice to them? What about the women of Kunan Poshpora who were allegedly mass raped by security personnel?
Here I want to express a personal experience. In 2014, as a student of one of the premier institutes of the country, I, along with a few other friends, tried to organise a seminar on Kashmir by Prof. Dibyesh Anand of Westminster University, London. Dibyesh is quite (in)famous for his pro-independence stance on Kashmir and Tibet. Though his stance doesn’t match with that of the Indian state, in a democracy that shouldn’t be a problem for holding an academic seminar. Moreover, a middle-aged professor holds no threat to the state, whatever be his opinions. But the permission of the seminar was cancelled at the last moment by the authorities. Though the official statement from the authorities stated that the seminar was denied permission because it had not been organised by a recognised student body, one senior member of the administration said: “We are answerable to the Government of the nation. What if the Government asks us about the motive to organise a seminar on Kashmir?” I was stunned. How can we claim to be a democracy and Kashmir to be an integral part of the nation when the authorities of a premier institute are scared of organising a seminar on Kashmir? (After much outcry from the students and faculties, the seminar was organised with help of a few faculty members in a small departmental seminar hall.)
I have been grown up in West Bengal listening to the stories of the freedom movement of Bangladesh. I have been reading stories and watching movies on the Bangladeshi freedom struggle since my childhood. After Partition, there was no state called ‘Bangladesh’. The present Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan and was called ‘East Pakistan’. The people of East Pakistan felt that their linguistic identity was suppressed under the Pakistani regime and they demanded freedom. From the point of view of Pakistan, the freedom struggle of the then East Pakistan was a separatist movement and they tried to suppress the aspirations of freedom of the people of East Pakistan by organising genocides, mass rapes and several other atrocities by the Pakistani army. India, under the leadership of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, supported and helped the people of East Pakistan by sending army and forming international opinion in favour of the struggle.
If we can support the right to self determination of the people of East Pakistan in 1971, then why should we not support the same for the Kashmiri people in 2016? I am not trying to say that the situations are completely same. Of course both have their own nuances but aren’t they quite similar? Wasn’t it interference on the part of India in Pakistan’s ‘internal affairs’? Here I must make it clear that I completely support and take pride in how India helped Bangladesh to gain freedom. But the question is why can’t India acknowledge the right to self determination of the people of Kashmir? What makes the demand for azadi of the people of then East Pakistan holier than that of the people of Kashmir? If we are truly a democracy and a progressive nation, we should support the demand for azadi of the people everywhere.
We, as a nation, cannot deny our responsibility in making Burhan Wani a ‘terrorist’. There can be no answer without first asking why the 15 year old picked up guns. Moreover, when some of my committed leftist friends, who support the right to self determination of the people of Kashmir, show their concern over the Islamisation in the valley, they should keep in mind that the Islamisation is there not only because of non-state actors but also because of the state as well. A recent example: at the break out of the crisis, the Home Minister Rajnath Singh met with the Imams from different parts of the country, most of whom have no relation with Kashmir, to discuss the issue. It’s nothing but reducing the Kashmiri people to their immediate religious identity, thus helping in the Islamisation of the people in the valley. Labelling everyone demanding azadi in Kashmir as Islamist is nothing but overlooking history. In Kashmir, there is a long tradition of tolerant, secular Islam preached by Sufi saints. The demand for azadi of Kashmir dates back to the Mughal era. According to Prof. Dibyesh Anand, “Kashmir has evolved and there has been a long struggle between those inviting outsiders to support them, outsiders ruling, and those resisting. There are plays and folk tales about 500 years of occupation and resistance.”
In 1944, Sheikh Abdullah prepared a draft named ‘Naya Kashmir – Future Constitution of The State of Jammu and Kashmir’. In the draft, freedom of speech, work, worship, belief, and thought were ensured. Maqbool Bhatt, the cofounder of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front who was hanged by the Indian state on February 11, 1984, also wrote “For us, Azadi (independence) means not just getting rid of foreign occupation of our beloved motherland but also to remove hunger, poverty, ignorance and disease and to overcome economic and social deprivation. One day, we shall achieve that Azadi.” Looking at Kashmir’s self determination movement through the glass of radical Islam is nothing but making people forget this history. We also need to keep in mind that, it is very easy to decide who is an Islamist organisation and who is not from our privileged position but it may not be that for the people who are living constantly with the threat of bullets, murder, and forced disappearance. When I look at the pictures and videos of people hurt by pelting guns and shiver with an unknown fear, I ask myself what would I have done if I had been one of them. I don’t know the answer. Perhaps I would have picked up a gun. It’s quite difficult to imagine ourselves with our privileges being stripped off.
“This world is in deep trouble, from top to bottom. / But it can be swiftly healed by the balm of love”- wrote Aamir Nazir, son of an artisan, on his Facebook page. Aamir was an M.Com student at Delhi University. He went back to his home during the summer vacation only to get killed in the recent crisis. Aamir will never come back to Delhi to complete his education. But Aamir dreamt of a better world filled with love, just as Agha Shahid Ali did. Whether their dreams will come true depend on us who are alive. We need to decide how we, as a nation, will address the grievances of the people of Kashmir. How will we respond to their demand for azadi, with bullets and pellet guns, or with love and compassion? After all, “To accuse those who support freedom of self-determination,” Lenin wrote in ‘The Right of Nation to Self Determination’, “ i.e., freedom to secede, of encouraging separatism, is as foolish and hypocritical as accusing those who advocate freedom of divorce of encouraging the destruction of family ties. Just as in bourgeois society the defenders of privilege and corruption, on which bourgeois marriage rests, oppose freedom of divorce, so, in the capitalist state, repudiation of the right to self-determination, i.e., the right of nations to secede, means nothing more than defence of the privileges of the dominant nation and police methods of administration, to the detriment of democratic methods.”
P.S.: As I finished writing this, the news of an anti-Pakistan, pro-azadi movement in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir came onto my Facebook newsfeed. I hope that in my lifetime, I will be able to see a united peaceful Kashmir, free from the hostility of India and Pakistan.