March 23, 2022


Filed under: Uncategorized — nkaul @ 9:31 pm

Kashmir – a longer version of my article published in Foreign Policy in 2019

If to most people in the world, Kashmir is still a Led Zeppelin song, then to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kashmir is a film set and a kind of exclusive shawl. In his public speech — made a few days after his government brought in tens of thousands of troops, put the region under lockdown and telecommunications blockade, arrested hundreds of prominent Kashmiris, and without any consultation with the people, unilaterally revoked the constitutional provision guaranteeing autonomy to Indian administered Kashmir, bifurcated the state into two, and downgraded it from being a state to a federally administered union territory — he blamed the autonomy and family run politics in Kashmir for all the ills, promised development, and foresaw a future where not just Bollywood, but international films would be shot in Kashmir, and the famed Kashmiri crafts including of shawl-making would thrive.

The recent constitutional coup in Kashmir by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is part of the toxic nationalism that operates with an often violently and coercively enforced Hindu supremacism along with hypocritical doubletalk on gender (usual discourse of liberating women and fantasies of possessing women as property). The aim is to realise the dream of a Hindu nation for the supporters and to deliver economic exploitation by way of resource grabs for its crony backers (in this case by treating Kashmir as real estate, and unpeopled).

A few facts can easily complicate Modi’s narrative on Kashmir. First, the politics of Kashmir that he condemns as family-based is precisely what allowed the BJP to gain a foothold there in its coalition with the Mufti family-led People’s Democratic Party (PDP). BJP used the most pro-Indian Kashmiri leaders to divide sentiments there, and then unilaterally withdrew from the coalition, imposing Centre’s direct rule.

Second, Modi claimed to liberate all Kashmiris but all the policies in place are keeping the Kashmiri people under siege, detaining and arresting many of them. The very idea that he could as he said, at some point in the future, reinstate the region back to being a state again, makes crystal clear the dictatorial style of functioning of his government. Why bother with the democratic niceties, when the strongman leader can upgrade and downgrade the status of states in an arbitrary and tyrannical way, making a mockery of the Constitution as he goes along?

Third, Modi is not unique in his understanding of Kashmir as a film set where the Kashmiris have walk-on parts as extras, while Indian fantasies are projected onto its exotic otherness of ‘fair women’, ‘beautiful mountains’, ‘walnuts and apples’. From films to literature, Kashmir has always been India’s ‘Oriental other’, loaded with fantasies of beauty and cruelty, provoking discourses of gendered possession in line with every colonial venture. In this framework, Indians must develop Kashmir the way it wants, Indians must liberate Kashmiri women and minorities, and Kashmiri consent matters little. Indeed, in the last few days, Bollywood filmmakers have rushed to register titles of films like ‘Dhara (article) 370’ and ‘Kashmir Hamara hai’ (Kashmir is ours), and several BJP narratives have fantasised about ‘marrying fair Kashmiri women’.

What kind of development happens with assumed moral superiority and economic rationality, under the cover of the night in the shadow of the gun in the most militarised zone with already existing legal vacuum of decades long emergency powers and little accountability, with no consent or consultation of any Kashmiris themselves in a major alteration of their constitutional, political, legal status, and impending changes to the

demography and the economy of the region? This is plain and simple colonialism. That India claims to be a post-colonial democracy does not change this fact for no colonial venture in history has dared name itself as such. Simply put, Kashmiris are claimed in the name of democracy and further colonised in the name of development.

If we zoom out – progressively and chronologically back in time – from the present developments, we will see double digit polling booths with a total of zero votes cast in Kashmir (2019), repeated cycles of brutal suppression of Kashmiri aspirations, the use of Kashmiri civilians as human shields and the blinding of Kashmiri protesters using pellet guns (2016 and 2017), Kashmiris being presented with a bill for flood rescue (2014), indigenous uprisings in Kashmir being seen solely through the lens of Pakistan-backed terrorism (2010), a lack of will to resolve the conflict through peace talks (early 2000s), a decade of heightened torture, violence including mass rapes and mass graves, enforced disappearances (1990s), communalisation of a political dispute by dividing the Kashmiris along religious lines (late 1980s and early 1990s) into Pandits, Muslims and Sikhs, erosion of de jure autonomy, electoral interference and arbitrary removal of elected Kashmiri leaders (1950s to 1980s), and denial of promised plebiscite (1947). Of course, it is also possible to see the continuity of Indian colonial with British colonial policy by going back to the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar through which the British sold the territory along with its inhabitants to unrepresentative and repressive Dogra rulers. As I have said before in my work, almost every narrative on Kashmir is landmined with vested interests, and the political history of Kashmir is selectively told from different starting points by different political voices.

Whether you agree or disagree with the nuances of the above, you cannot deny that as of 14-15 August 1947 (independence days of Pakistan and India respectively), Kashmir belonged to neither of these two postcolonial entities. These states first occupied and divided the territory and have since then periodically and often with no concern for the Kashmiris themselves, fuelled their toxic nationalisms and denied the right to self- determination as well as human rights to the people.

What is important today in order to understand why this is a political dispute that will not go away by fiat or by force, is the basic fact that Kashmir is a problem of postcolonial instantiation of sovereignty where nations and states do not at all meaningfully overlap. By which I mean: What happens when the terms of political settlement, religion-based partition of territory and population transfer, of a people – the Kashmiris – are decided by a third party (formerly colonial, UK), but have to be honoured by the two newly sovereign political entities which are also democratic (India and Pakistan), for a fourth entity where the population (majority Muslim) and the ruler (Hindu) are divided in their allegiances? In such a situation, which norms and rules take precedence, and who enforces them? This origin of the modern dispute cannot be wished away.

The international community —- including at the supra and infra national levels — must understand the issue of Kashmir much better; in a subaltern geopolitical way, thinking up from the issues of the Kashmiris themselves, rather than thinking down from the vicious cycle of India-Pakistan rivalry. A peaceful and just resolution can only be possible by involving the Kashmiris themselves. This isn’t easy because ever more, the post-colonial diasporic right-wing Hindus can be vocal about minority rights in the West but are often majority supremacists back in their countries of origin.

In a few days, Pakistan and India will celebrate their Independence Days. Though with different emphases, neither of these is a de facto liberal democracy, both having

successfully used majoritarian nationalism for state transformation. The idea of India as a secular democracy with enshrined constitutional principles – a legacy of the Nehruvian era – is anathema to the Hindu nationalists whose ideological parents (early to mid 20th century RSS leaders) looked up to the Nazis for the inspiration of a pure nation. Many of their supporters are quite vocal about the fact that they will not let go of Kashmir, even if it means annihilating the Kashmiris themselves. They have successfully weaponised the Kashmiri Pandit (Kashmir’s Hindu minority) exodus as being not about communalism, religious division of Kashmiris, anti-minority violence, a state that failed different kinds of Kashmiris, but as being about Hindu persecution, existential Islamic barbarism, Pakistani machination. Instead of requesting judicial inquiries into various instances of violence, rapes, massacres and losses of both Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, or addressing the conflict in order to move towards a just peace that would enable Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes, and Kashmiri Muslims to find justice, their interest is in making Kashmir into another ‘Ram Mandir’; a long-standing and politically profitable issue for the BJP – that can help them in transforming India into a Hindu rashtra (Hindu nation).

This latest move does not serve Indians, Kashmiri Pandits for anyone other than the Modi led BJP backed by RSS and their supporters and crony industrialist backers. It makes Indians less secure, and makes the future of Pundits ever more uncertain and hostage to circumstances. It will result in further uprising, violence, deaths, hurt India’s international credibility, and put another nail in the coffin of the idea of India as a secular democracy.

The powers that be would have foreseen these consequences but decided to go ahead anyway so as to deny the political nature of the dispute and label all opposition to their actions as ‘antinational’. Their actions amount to a constitutional coup in Kashmir by the ruling Indian BJP and its ideological backers Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Through constitutional subversions, this project of violent and coercively enforced Hindu supremacism (which includes minority lynchings, antiminority violence, change of textbooks, replacing heads of institutions, compromising constitutional bodies, jailing dissenters and so on) moves India ever more towards a state reminiscent of Germany in the early interwar years; if you think that this is an exaggeration, please remember that what is happening in India is not the usual subversion of democracy through totalitarian means but an ideological project with mass support, backed by a powerful RSS that has millions of members throughout the country and branches in every organisation and profession. Further, one of their cherished dreams is the idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’, a greater India that includes its neighbouring countries. Like Cassandra’s prophecies, those of us speaking against it today, and especially myself as a non-Muslim Kashmiri woman writer and academic, can only keep drawing attention to what is unfolding, with India in Kashmir, in India, and it in the world.

The Koshur (the Kashmiri language) words — Zulm and Lanath of Hindustan’s Hukoomat — are most often heard when Kashmiris in Kashmir refer to India. They mean: the cruel and violent tyranny of Indian rule which is cursed for its open disgrace and moral foulness.


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