For Normalcy’s Sake
By Basharat Ali
That self-determination is more than just an event followed by various processes is something clear to the people of Kashmir now. At least, that is what the debates that Kashmiri writers, intellectuals, journalists, among others, are involved in on the movement for self-determination indicate. It has taken some time for the Kashmiri society to reach a position where people can disagree and yet not let these disagreements result into major fissures in the resistance movement, like in the past. Consider, for example, the age-old debate between those who hold a pro-Pakistan position and those who see Kashmir as an Independent entity at the end of India’s occupation. For its benefits, the Indian State and its Kashmir experts have for long tried to play up the fissures in the pro-freedom camp (which has come to mean both pro-Pakistan and pro-Independence groups, who both uphold a strong ‘anti-India’ sentiment) and project marginal pro-India groups as true representatives. However, Kashmiri writers and intellectuals, who have taken proactive roles in this debate, have engaged with these positions critically and are striving to arrive at a common ground. There are disagreements, of course, but at the end of 2016, a positive picture is emerging.
In a recent piece, a Kashmiri academic and someone who holds a pro-Independence position argued that a pro-Pakistan position in Kashmir is morally as indefensible as a pro-India position is. While the writer faced criticism, mostly through healthy arguments based on historical facts, and to some extent through rhetoric, accusing him of speaking from an ivory tower – something that needs to be done away with immediately – nevertheless it did not become a cause of diversion in the debate. The pro-Pakistan argument derives its legitimacy mainly from a certain reading of history that followed the partition of British India. Over the years, this position has come to dominate the pro-freedom politics mostly due to the continuing support that Pakistan offers to the people of Kashmir in their struggle for self-determination. There is an argument that the struggle in Kashmir is purely a religious one, which sometimes is intertwined with the pro-Pakistan position but also does feature independently, locating the freedom movement in the paradigm of an Islamic State.
These debates, however, are not taking place without any connection with the developments on the ground. Things are changing at a much faster rate in Kashmir than India and Pakistan can imagine. For a long time, India did capitalise on the divisions in the pro-freedom camp, solidified in the absence of any healthy debate between the proponents of the two positions and also managed the scene on the streets. With pro-freedom camp almost inflicting a self-decay, not ignoring the oppression unleashed on them by the military architecture of the Indian State, the silence on the streets was being translated as “return of normalcy” and celebrated as India’s victory. The intellectual fatigue, if one may dare say, has come to an end. And perhaps that’s what led Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to “recognise” the contribution that writers and intellectuals are making in the struggle in his address to the nation at the peak of the uprising in September last year. The fatigue, which the Indian strategic think-tanks think would tire Kashmiris into submission or surrender, has not given way to hopelessness on the streets. On January 16, a month after the so-called “normalcy” returned, people in thousands, amid heavy snowfall, clashed with Indian forces to help militants escape from an encounter site. Earlier last month, a young Kashmiri posed this question on Facebook: “What did we achieve from the 2016 uprising?” A first-year law student responded: “A brick in the wall.” “Never before have we been so close to freedom with such clarity as we are now,” said Geelani in his address. From his perspective, the brick wall is getting bigger and firmer.
This consonance, which became discernable during and after the uprising of 2008, has not escaped the eye of Indian State and its spin-doctors employed to function as eyes and ears of the military occupation. When the strategic think-tanks could no more exploit the divisions in the pro-freedom camp, they began a search for new props within Kashmiri society to cause fresh fissures in the resistance movement. If one can make a rough conjecture, in the aftermath of 2008 and the uprisings thereafter, this thought dominated the Indian think-tanks and their Kashmir experts. In 2010, Shah Feasal, IAS topper, became the first prop for the Indian State to manage the show. The impact of his “success” cannot be underestimated and ignoring it will be callousness or plain ignorance. In the following years, an increasing number of Kashmiri students could be seen scattered in different parts of India preparing their black skins for white masks. Then the debate of change-within-the-system-versus change-of-the-system, meaning the end of India’s rule, ensued. The debates still appear in newspapers every time the props are brought to fore to play their role for the Indian State.
Recently, individual success of athletes has been appropriated to do some face-saving for the Indian State and its client regime in Kashmir. The case of Tajamul Islam, a promising young athlete from Bandepore, is a perfect example. The present government made a media spectacle of her and also ensured a photo-op for their chief minister, who was looking desperate for anything she could sell as “return to normalcy” after presiding over the killings of close to a hundred people and a mass blinding of children. Her individual success in a sport not recognised by the State Sports Council (though that is besides the point here) was set in contrast with the stone-pelting youth of Kashmir who, it is said by the government, pelt stones for five hundred bucks a day. For individuals coming from the ‘marginalised’ communities, success in sports has often been used to mark a change in the living conditions of the groups they represent. The history of sports in America can further explain this better. The athletic scene in America is dominated by the blacks. This has been made possible as a result of sustained efforts from the American establishment to promote a culture of sports only to appropriate the individual success of athletes to whitewash its inherent racism against the blacks.
A few weeks ago attempts were made to cause more fissures in the resistance movement in Kashmir when concerted efforts were made to project the pro-freedom groups, also individuals, as downright bigots, misogynists who deny freedom to women. Zaira Waseem, another promising young Kashmiri girl, who acted in a Bollywood blockbuster Dangal with Indian superstar Amir Khan, came in the line of fire from the “trolls”, who objected to her meeting with Mehbooba Mufti, another example of State trying to appropriate individual success for its own ends. In the debates that followed, Kashmir’s “Azaadiwallas”, the pro-freedom groups and individuals, were targeted and labelled as misogynists, who deny women freedom while fighting for their own? A simple question can be asked of them. Are Kashmiri women not part of the society? Are they not part of the freedom movement? Yes, like any human society, Kashmiris have a bunch of bigots, misogynists, trolls, and criminals, without whom we won’t be a human society but a collection of robots manufactured by some American company. Also, patriarchy does exist. But, when such debates are set against the movement for self-determination, they come to mean as tactics designed to create schisms in the society. Of course, a gender debate is needed. In fact, it should already be taking place but not set against the freedom movement but as part of it, so that when the end of Indian occupation arrives, it also comes with an end to various forms of domination in Kashmiri society.
The Indian media would, of course, start digging for old stories to highlight a pattern. Pragaash, an all-girl band, it is said, was “silenced” by the “Azaadiwallas”. The actual reasons are always brushed under the carpet. Nobody objected to their singing, like no one is objecting to Zaira’s acting, but it was their participation in a CRPF organised program for which they were criticised. But the Indian media, which works as part of the larger paraphernalia of the Indian State in Kashmir, will try to create new fault lines. Lately, they have observed they have not been picking up the appropriate stories to “highlight” the “plight of Kashmiris”. The number of killings doesn’t matter. They don’t evoke any response from the “international community”. A hundred killings in Kashmir or a thousand killings in Syria make no difference because they don’t have the power to cause global intervention and condemnation. Writing on violence, Slavoj Zizek makes a fitting case against Time Magazine’s 5 June 2006 cover, The Deadliest War in the World. The story was a detailed documentation of close to 4 million deaths in Congo. Nothing changed. Zizek writes, “To put it cynically, Time picked the wrong victim in the struggle for hegemony in suffering. It should have stuck to the list of usual suspects: Muslim women and their plight…” The Indian State, its media, a horde of Kashmir experts, in order to downplay the collective suffering of Kashmiri people, would keep looking for newer victims of the oppression of Kashmiri “Azaadiwallas”, until one day when they exhaust and succumb under the mounting counter from Kashmiri pro-freedom groups, intellectuals, writers, journalists, stone-pelters. Till then, for the sake of “normalcy”, Mehbooba Mufti can inaugurate a few more ATMs.
Basharat Ali is a Kashmiri writer and researcher, based in New Delhi.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.