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A Kashmiri's Idea Of India Is Probably Nothing Like Yours

22/08/2016 7:17 PM IST | Updated 22/08/2016 7:35 PM IST
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Danish Ismail / Reuters

A passing glance over media reports and news coverage in the last few weeks generates a numbing feeling that as a nation we are no longer in control of events and developments in the Kashmir Valley. Leave aside being in control; it seems that we do not even seem to understand the angst of our citizens in Kashmir. This is indicative of a disturbing trend suggesting that governments are consciously abandoning the will to grasp meanings when such efforts are needed the most.

My Kashmiri students transport me and others like me to the proximate corridors of an ugly reality that behests the idea of India...

Moving still further, instead of discussing the potential and possible strategies of dealing with the bona fide upsurge of the anguish and unrest in the Valley, the strategy builders and policy makers unabashedly hide behind the ruse of national integrity and sovereignty.

Mistrust is writ large in the interactive patterns between the disobedient generation and the political establishment in the Valley. The underlying trust deficiency between the key players in the Valley is likely to damage the anticipated dialogue, which perpetually remains elusive in reality. If left unattended, this trust deficiency is likely to cast its ominous shadow on future generations of the Valley as well.

I have had students from Kashmir in almost every batch that I have taught at the University of Delhi, and apparently there have been no visible differences between the Kashmiri students and the others on the campus. However, a little demonstration of sensitivity to the locale and the context and subsequent interactions invariably bring forth the distinctive aspects of these students.

What makes my Kashmiri students disconnected from others on the campus are the experiences they invariably carry with them -- experiences of what constitutes the idea of India in the Valley; experiences of blatant subjugation and denial of opportunity to voice dissent; and experiences of failing to live the kind of life they were used to living in the Valley while being in Delhi.

Invariably, each one of them shares personal experiences of watching familiar faces from the neighbourhood being whisked away regularly, and of living with anxiety over who would be the next in line. They have not one or two, but millions of stories of how it feels to come across and pass by uniformed men in Kashmir. They share their ordeal of continuously raising their hand with an identity card held aloft, and repeating this exercise after every half-a-kilometre in the Valley. They shudder while recalling how each step that they take is imbued with panic and uncertainty about what the next moment might augur for them.

We have been so very comfortable about our own idea of India and so disdainful of theirs.

These students have harrowing narratives which open before us that disturbing face of the idea of India, which unfortunately we have been assiduously trained to reject, disbelieve and dismiss as the handiwork of anti-India propaganda. For more than six decades, we have preferred to believe in this utopian idea of India that has come to us through the ever inspiring national and communal unity slogans from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, and through the Bollywood masala films, which habitually juxtapose this innocent nation of ours with the enemy others, either within or outside. It has also come through the insidiously planned textbooks and oral histories made available to people of my generation in the supposedly mainland India.

My Kashmiri students transport me and others like me to the proximate corridors of an ugly reality that behests the idea of India, which is vastly unsettling. I am sure that a large number of friends and colleagues from the world of academia, media and civil society must have gone through more or less the same feeling while listening to and interacting with the Kashmiris, irrespective of class, gender and spatial location. Virtually each of the students whom I have heard has, since childhood, amassed stories that reveal the reality of a mistaken Indian chauvinism coursing through the lifelines of one of the most militarized zones in the world. Yet what is most unfortunate is the inherent difficulty that we face in believing and accepting this reality, for we have been so very comfortable about our own idea of India and so disdainful of theirs.

As the events since July unfold, the Valley is witnessing what seems to be a deliberate corrosion of spaces for dissent in democratic politics.

What also came through in my interactions were the grotesque images of hurt and betrayal received at the hands of people and institutions -- aka the nation and the state -- in the Valley. Yet again, as non-Kashmiris, we did not want to look into them because they could have contested our position on the very infallibility of India.

However, this carefully calibrated and purposeful denial seems to have summarily failed us when we witness the forceful resentment of ordinary citizens in the Valley since July 2016. To very many of us the images of protest in the Valley represent what Chesterton had said of patriotism, "'My country, right or wrong' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying 'my mother, drunk or sober'." And that also reminds me of a novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, wherein the author, fascinated with the notion of duality in human nature tries to incorporate an interface between the good and the evil in a story. It was undoubtedly a brilliant portrayal of a split personality, the possibility of both an apparently good and an evil coexisting with each other. In view of the Vietnams, the Palestines, the Afghanistans, the Balochistans and our own Kashmir, one is tempted to imagine that some nations, like human beings, are afflicted with a "split personality syndrome". This is evident in their incongruous positions on what is just and human, which they assume without even a miniscule consideration of the location and the people being talked about. It is just because we did not want this great nation of ours to be equalled with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that made us set all such instances aside. We continue to intentionally perceive all such images as merely a version of several other versions emanating out of the entangled wires in the Valley. And the fair weather liberals amongst us would at best look at them as an aberration; not expected from the largest democracy in the world. Either way, it is a blatant case of selective amnesia, meant to provide near-clinical support to dealing with the images of denial and discrimination perpetually emerging from the core of the Valley narratives.

We need to question how and why is it that democratic principles acquire a differential meaning as soon as they are unfolded in the Valley.

In the highly volatile and enmeshed political upheavals in the Valley in recent times, a rational and method-based endeavour to understand and uncover the complex layers of the protest has been one of the most notable casualties. As the events since July unfold, the Valley is witnessing what seems to be a deliberate corrosion of spaces for dissent in democratic politics. To compound it, the Valley and its constituents are also witness to the glaring absence of a healing touch, either from the state or from the central government.

Irrespective of the political affiliations and preferences that we may manifest as a nation and as concerned citizens, it is indeed high time that we ponder over certain integral questions, such as what constitutes justice or human rights? What meaning does democracy hold in the context of the Valley, not only today but in the historical frame? We need to also look at the very possibility of India and all that it can portend for its constituents. We need to ponder and rethink as to how the idea of India can survive, and even thrive, with all its innate conflicts and contradictions which are ironically set aside in the guise of safety or security or national interest. We need to question how and why is it that democratic principles acquire a differential meaning as soon as they are unfolded in the Valley. Why is it that some of the most important pages in the manuscript of the idea of India seem to be intentionally left blank when they open in the Valley?

Weeks of curfew, together with unmatched gag orders, have alarmingly repositioned the idea of freedom of speech and assembly, thereby making democracy appear as a caricature...

The status of Kashmir and the present spate of uprisings that it is experiencing cannot certainly be dealt with through a singularity of versions, notwithstanding the dominant perception about the same. Rival and competing claims regarding the origin and continuation of the contemporary protests and the crackdown by the security forces in the Valley is aiming to eliminate a location from where one could draw some inferences about people and their grievances amidst the deafening noises drawing binaries in and around the possibility of India. Amidst the chaos caused by weeks of unrest and an unprecedented security situation, the people in the Valley have almost lost faith in what has been given to them as their own "elected" government. Weeks of curfew, together with unmatched gag orders from the regime have alarmingly repositioned the idea of freedom of speech and assembly, thereby making democracy appear as a caricature of what it should have been... and of what it could have been. And all this is sadly and most certainly not a sound proposition for the possibility of India.

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