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Toward a Pragmatic/Liberal Position on Kashmir for Outsiders

By Cheshta Arora and Debarun Sarkar 

‘Kashmir’ today draws two polarized reactions from outsiders ranging from that of a secessionist view supporting self-determination to the justification of sovereign power of the Indian state over its territory (a global liberal position privileging the United Nations is also suggested and tenable but we shall not discuss the concern at that scale for the moment as it would be a simple reiteration of the human rights discourse). Both these narratives have histories and empirics to back up their arguments. Our concern here is not to go back and look at the historiographical debates, but rather to think about current and future strategies.

Both the above-mentioned positions, we argue, are untenable for outsiders. The second case, that of privileging the Indian sovereign power, lacks any sense of ethical or moral reflexivity and it’s un-tenability is obvious. Arguing for the un-tenability of the first case, for self-determination, could seem provocative and needs few clarifications to begin with. To clarify, we do not oppose ‘Kashmiris’ fighting for their own right of self-determination and do not in any way deny the intensity of human rights violation at the hands of the Indian state. Our argument, therefore, does not directly advocate what the Kashmiris should do or should not do. We believe that ‘Kashmiris’, keeping in mind their self-interest, have all the right to fight against the Indian state and demand whatever they think is apt for their struggle.

Our argument is for the outsiders, who we define as individuals, groups and organizations, living or operating outside Kashmir, who have nothing to lose or gain materially in their immediate lives from the resolution of the fight between Indian state and Kashmiris. We believe that the two polar reactions elaborated above do not offer the outsiders any opportunity of direct, active engagement with the struggle. Thus, our aim here is to propose the third alternative that enables these outsiders to directly involve themselves with the ongoing struggle that goes beyond mere acts of either proclaiming solidarity with Kashmiris, or presenting rhetorical critiques of the Indian state.

Thus, despite acknowledging the principle of the struggle for self-determination, we maintain our distance from the struggle on the grounds that cases for self-determination fall in the same trap of statist logic, which it supposedly claims to usurp. ‘Azadi’ we argue, more and more with repetition, rings hollow, without any vision for how ‘Azad Kashmir’ would be any different than any other state. What makes one history more valid than the other when both are following the same logic, we believe, is a futile debate to indulge in.

In many ways, the first position of self-determination is much more tenable than the second position but the matter of concern here isn’t with the principle of self-determination but with the vision after that of self-determination and the intention of actors and ideologies demanding self-determination. Blind support for the Leninist line of self-determination is foolhardy to say the least.

Though this line of reasoning might appear almost colonial, the future envisioned by the self-determination movement needs to be taken into account before one starts supporting it. In principle, self-determination is noble and fulfills the utilitarian principle, but what if the movement demanding self-determination doesn’t fulfill the utilitarian principle? What if the movement has propensities of being ethno-nationalist, violent, non-egalitarian? Is it justified to support such a movement merely because of the principle of self-determination?

Thus, our contention is that the outsiders speaking for the self-determination of Kashmir are doing it on principle and not taking the particularity of the situation at hand, almost like how much of liberal population deals with political correctness. In the long run such politically correct positions prove disastrous, as they are mere reactions to the immediate crises and not well thought-out responses. For example, if tomorrow a largely upper caste population begins a movement for self-determination, like the white neo-Nazis of America mixing isolationist views with the secessionist, how would these same people be able to oppose such a movement unless they lose their fidelity to the principle itself?

Our contention with the second point is simple and like much of liberals we do not support unreasonable state violence. But we believe that after the recent killing of Burhan Wani the movement took turns, which for a lack of better words can simply be suggested, as shortsighted and non-reflexive.

The case in point is the matter of pellet guns. No logic can justify the indiscriminate use of pellet guns. But our contention is with the movement, led on much of social media, whose only goal was to stop the use of pellet guns. The utter logical stupidity of the movement was disheartening to say the least. The pellet guns no matter how ruthless, violence no matter how gruesome or gross violations of human rights exist in a legal gray zone till the day AFSPA exists. Logically, we cannot ask the state to not do violence when state itself has legalized state-violence. The point is to directly attack the laws and logic that allows the state to do so much violence.

As members of a nation state, our solidarity shouldn’t end by extending our mere support to the group seeking independence but should give us an opportunity to contemplate on our own complicated relation with the state and this leads us to a decision between two obvious choices present here—either an overthrow of/withdrawal from the state or to work from within the state. It is a matter of either/or and not both/and. The latter choice amounts to nothing but a hypocritical stance and doesn’t in any away benefit the struggle of those fighting for self-determination.

The fact that the recent movement could not translate itself into a movement demanding the removal of AFSPA is a sad state of affairs and displays the shortsighted political correctness of much of left-liberals on the social media. We believe this unintelligent political correctness results largely from the belief which is popular among university educated left liberals who think that those living outside of Kashmir and protected by the Indian state but also critical of it have a responsibility and ethical duty to stand in complete and blind solidarity with those who are at the direct and receiving end of state violence. Political correctness wrapped up in a discourse of sympathy (ethics?) for the other perpetuates itself by instilling guilt in the outsiders of being the ‘privileged’.

We believe that this phenomenon of political correctness results not in responsibility but in shunning away from responsibility. True responsibility lies not in protecting the rights and struggles of ‘others’ or the ‘have-nots’ by sidelining the interests of our ‘self’ like an ascetic, or instilling the ‘self’ with guilt but looking for ways that allow us to entangle our own ‘interests’ with that of ‘others’. To put it bluntly, we believe that we are all at the receiving end of the state violence and it’s only a question of degrees, intensity.

This is where we again come back to the two mainstream dominant positions brewing outside of Kashmir, on Kashmir. One speaks for self-determination, while at every moment apologizing that neither can they or anybody else speak for the ‘other’ but in its support for self-determination appoints itself as the sole advocate of the rights and struggles of the ‘other’. The ‘other’ that it itself has created for perpetuation of its own anti-state, apparently ‘radical’ self. On the other hand, the second group justifies the ruthless state power, arguing against their own self-interest, living in extreme oblivion of the fact that any day this state can revoke all sorts of civil liberties, as we know them.

Thus, the only logical, liberal or pragmatic position we suggest is that of a movement demanding the removal of AFSPA. We the authors demand the removal of AFSPA not because we feel or even pretend to feel for Kashmir or North East, but because being a citizen of this state, the very existence of an act such as AFSPA is something we do not want. This very existence of AFPSA is what binds the Kashmiris, the Assamese, the Manipuris, etc. and us—the supposedly privileged outsiders—and brings us down to one point of consensus. This is the only tangible pragmatic/liberal position for the outsiders with respect to Kashmir where we don’t end up speaking for the ‘other’ but each speaks for their own ‘self’, and in the process, for the interest ‘of-all’.

Cheshta Arora
is an MPhil student at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta; Debarun Sarkar is a writer based in Calcutta.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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