There has been a slew of pro-Azaadi, anti-India articles in the Indian mainstream press recently. One fine specimen of mediahood proudly recounted how he became a stone-thrower for a day, pointing out quite pointedly that the only thing that saved him was the Hindustan Times staff card, with the emphasis being on the sub-string Hindu. Of all these marvelous bits of journalism, with their objectivity and integrity misaals in their own right, my favorite piece is by one M F Husain, who tells us how he left India for its lack of freedom. Yes, and presumably found it in Qatar, an Islamic theocracy where freedom of all religions other than Islam is severely restricted and where apostasy (leaving Islam) is technically punishable by death.
To castigate India for being “not free” while being a voluntary citizen of Qatar is the height of hypocrisy.
Anyhow, this article is not about M F Husain. Nor is it about the way forward in Kashmir nor whether trying to bribe the local population with money will work. Nor about the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which I believe needs to be repealed, for the armed forces have to be made accountable in civilian contexts like everyone else. Nor indeed about the recent violence per se.
It is about the Kashmiri ‘fighting for independence against the wicked Indian state’ thing that we see repeated ad nauseum not just from Pakistan but also in the Indian mainstream media.
My first beef is with the word ‘independence’. Historically independence struggles have been fought against foreign powers, those who have taken control over a piece of territory for the purpose of economic exploitation. It has also been fought between peoples of the same nation, like the Bangladesh independence struggle where a section of the population that has attained power (Punjabi Muslims) treats another ethnic or linguistic community (in this case Bangali Muslims) as second class citizens, systematically annihilating and depriving them of their most basic rights.
In the case of India’s Jammu & Kashmir state, none of this is true. India does not economically exploit Kashmir. On the contrary it spends a massive amount on the state trying to buy the loyalty of the population. Even the New York Times, which last time I looked wasn’t a right wing newspaper, says: “The dirty little secret of Srinagar, the heart of the movement to secede from India, is that many of its residents live quite well on the Indian government’s money.”
At the very least, no one can accuse the Indian government of taking anything out of the state. It is, of course, true that a lot of the development money lands up in wrong hands (that happens everywhere in India) but there are far more deprived areas of India that have no ‘freedom struggles’. As to the rights of Kashmiri people, they have privileges over property ownership that very few Indian citizens outside Kashmir have, making them super-citizens rather than inferior ones.
So none of the traditional characteristics of freedom struggles hold here. However, it is true that Kashmiris are fighting. But for independence. They are fighting to establish a theocratic Islamic shariyat state, aligned with or as an intrinsic part of Pakistan, where “independence” is defined somewhat as it is defined in Qatar, with subjugated status for minorities, and where the establishment of liberty, equality and fraternity—the ideals of any freedom struggle—is farthest from the minds of the stone-throwers and those that support them.
Sure, one can say “So what? If they want to establish an Islamic state, that’s their decision. What right does the Indian government have to interfere?” This brings us to my second bone of contention—the word “Kashmiri”. Like “independence” this too, in this context, is a false word. A better more honest descriptor would be “Kashmiri Sunni Muslims”. There was a time when Kashmiris meant both Hindus and Muslims, but then the Kashmiri Hindus were killed and driven out of the state by ‘Kashmiris’. Since these Hindus (as well as people in Jammu and Ladakh) are not part of the ‘freedom struggle’ it is not fair to use the word Kashmiri to refer to the agitators, who, since they use Islam as their reason for wanting independence and identify themselves solely by their religious orientation, should also not object to being called what they actually are—Kashmiri Sunni Muslims.
The question should now be framed as: “So what is wrong in letting Kashmiri Sunni Muslims, after they have driven out the large section of the minorities, from establishing an “Islam is the answer”, “independent”, non-democratic state? Their free will—they shall do as they like.”
If tomorrow the majority in Jat-land start an armed struggle to establish an autonomous Khap-istan where castist lynchings, dowry and child marriage are legal, and where inter-caste marriage implies death and retributive rape , would you call that an “independence” struggle and say that India should just let them have their way and not have the army fight them? If the day after tomorrow, if Gujarat decides that it wants to throw out its Muslim minorities and establish a Hindu theocratic Dhokla-land will the same Indians who post “Stop illegal military occupation of Kashmir by terrorist-state India” on Facebook also support the rights of Gujarati Hindus to choose how they wish to be governed because that’s what the ‘Gujarati’ majority wants?
I think I know the answer.
So please sirs and madams, do protest against the Indian state and the Indian Army and sign petitions and protest outside the United Nations while drinking Starbucks and discussing EB2 Green Card priority dates. Do whatever you want to do but please, for the sake of truth of labelling, please drop the “independence struggle” from the description, and qualify the word “Kashmiri” with what should come after it.
Of course, if you do so, then the romance and the liberal “feel good” of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an independence movement will be gone. Hurling stones at the Indian Army would be seen not as an act of supreme passion and justified frustration but as an act of war against the Indian state, something I believe which there are laws against.
Which is why you won’t do it.