Of ‘Azaadi’, ‘Kashmiri’ and other false words

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 Nor about the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which I believe needs to be repealed, for the armed forces have to be made accountable in civilian contexts like everyone else.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.

5 Replies to “Of ‘Azaadi’, ‘Kashmiri’ and other false words”

  1. jo3287

    Hi Arnab, your article made for an interesting reading but the issue of Kashmir cannot be really simplified. In India, there is a myth largely perpetrated by conformist sections of media, that the army and CRPF protect Kashmiris. No Kashmiri feels protected by the army or the CRPF. In the past 2 months, 55 unarmed cicilians have been killed in Kashmir by our Indian police and CRPF firing. Most of them have been boys who were either throwing stones or were playing in their neighbourhoods. Kashmir is too long, too tragic and too bloody a story to be called a law-and-order problem. if only the boys orphaned by the armed forces were to pick up stones, you would have 60,000 stone pelters on the streets. if those widowed by the armed forces joined, there would be 30,000 women stoning every bunker, every camp, every soldier. when a boy in Kashmir walks towards an armed soldier with a stone in his hand, he is aware of the difference in power. His best shot could give the soldier a bump or a few stitches, but the soldier with his gun or teargas shell can leave him dead. the very act of choosing a stone as his weapon, the boy believes, puts him on higher moral ground. his aim is not to kill the soldier, but to make a point that something is seriously wrong.women have been silent sufferers in this conflict. rapes and molestations have been under-reported that are a part of military psychological operations. women know it, and so do the ”Médicins Sans Frontières” counsellors and psychiatrists. for them, the act of pelting stones is cathartic. with every stone they throw, they lessen the weight of the mountain that their hearts have become. The govt of India always makes its people see Kashmir from a Pakistani prism, they are definitely sending gins and amunitions, but the stone-pelters are the disgruntled youth who are dismayed at their own leadership and that of India. we have to accept the bitter fact that the people of Kashmir dont see themselves as Indians or as part of the mainstream. Its not a territorial issue that india and Pakistan can discuss between themselves and have bilateral agreements, we have to talk to the people of Kashmir through the mandate of dialogue. Status quo is not acceptable, we have to move beyond status quo. its a gradual process with its complexities. on a gradual level, start with demilitarisation, start with repeal of black laws. start with the removal of bunkers. let there be a referendum. if people choose to be with either India or Pakistan, let them be heard. India had muddled its approach to the problem. first it tries to dictate the dialogue. second it tries to buy loyalty in Kashmir through economic packages. Srinagar, a city of rolled down shutters, empty roads, dusty walls and barred doors – there’s more to it than meets the eye…

  2. nannikapoor

    I wonder if the armed forces would be able to deliver in the absence of AFSPA..in a years time you will find cognitive difference in perception management and we will lose what ground we have gained. Not all that the armed forces do can be right there will be aberrations but to repeal the law would be to strengthen the hands of anti national elements. Demoralisation of the armed forces to fight against our own under such conditions will demoralise the armed forces.

    The HR record of America in Afghanistan and Iraq is way too radical as compared to ours.

    The choice is ours ..repeal and suffer or continue with a renewed political process…that is the hobson’s choice

  3. iamharish

    Very true. Every time I read an editorial about Kashmir, I always used to wonder why such facts weren’t highlighted if not completely left out. So called ‘Kashmiri’ struggle is a purely religious quest of people of few square kilometers in and around Srinagar. Kashmiri Sunni Muslims should look at the large ratios of varying, still amicable, religious population of entire India, and understand the the ample religious tolerance present. Sporadic incidents of religious outbursts doesn’t picture realities.

  4. sujit

    Arnab has shown in his script an implicit picture of the cruel intention of some fanatic Islamist within and around the valley. I am afraid the way the Kashmir issue is being depicted by both the electronic and printing media, in the so-called humanitarian ground, will definitely destroy our national integrity. I can clearly foresee that with a weak government at the centre and over simplistic explanation by the media, the Indian people are going to be misguided a lot in this matter and finally will bend down to find a pseudo peace.

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