Let’s first unlearn each other and then learn afresh
STATECRAFT BY HAPPYMON JACOB
First, a caveat: I do not speak for all Indians, of course, as I cannot, and I do not intend to be judgmental but merely self-reflective. It is personally difficult for me to unravel Kashmir’s complex mythology; it requires stepping out of my political comfort zone and asking some very confronting questions. Because if we Indians created the Kashmir-myths then I created them too; I am, after all, an Indian.
We, in the ‘rest of India’, have our own views and assumptions about Kashmir: right, wrong, misconceived, moderate, extreme and so on. We have held them for what seems like an eternity and do not often reflect over them. Most of these views are misconceived and yet they show no signs of erosion. Indeed, these views have a perverse tendency to reproduce and perpetuate themselves, to pass on from generation to generation and gather additional mythological content as they do. The bad news is that these views, to a large extent, form the collective Indian perception of Kashmir and Kashmiris, which is too frequently negative and oft dismissive. The good news, however, is that mythological and constructed that these perceptions are, they can be washed from our collective memory. Our Kashmir paradigm may be well-entrenched but not forever ingrained. Kashmir, in our imagination, lies far away, physically as well as psychologically, but to change our perceptions all we need to do is bring ourselves closer to Kashmir. We need to learn it.
To our detriment, we do not overly concern ourselves with historical nuances. Our political and social lives are rife with generalities and simplicities that feed into our perceptions. The Kashmirirs are a thankless people who have forgotten all that India has done for them - they survive on ‘our’ resources and manpower. The Kashmiri economy is kept alive on our toil. In a sense, therefore, Kashmir is a liability to the ‘rest of India’. Paradoxically though we also believe that Kashmir is an 'atoot ang' of the Indian nation. We are certain that Kashmiris aid and abet `terrorists’ sent from Pakistan to destabilize India. Pakistan, for one, has capitalized on our regional missteps and its more disreputable actors continue to take advantage of our dearth of knowledge. To our great disadvantage, many of us do not understand that the turmoil of the 1980s was a direct result of India’s imprudent meddling in J&K’s political process. That is why we were surprised when then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee said in 2002 that the forthcoming elections in J&K would be free and fair. We naively did not realize that the preceding ones were not.
We have very sophisticated double-standards. Any anti-establishment movement in Kashmir is considered an act of terrorism though our civil society and media praises those who stand up to the irresponsible and anti-people policies of the establishment in other parts of the country. We have strikes, shut-downs and darnas all over India on a daily basis; they are considered to be an essential part of our democratic life. But when Kashmiris protest against the heavy-handed excesses of the security forces or the administration, we cry foul. The Aarushi Talwar murder case is mourned by our civil society leaders but they failed to notice the Shopian rapes, or so it would seem. Azadi is blasphemous even as we do not bother to understand what it means (I am someone who always believed that azadi has many meanings). Kashmiris are hypocritical, we think, when they say that they want Indian forces gone from Kashmir: aren’t the forces there for their own safety? Some of us think that India has spoiled J&K with the enormous economic largesse it perpetually funnels into the state. “Stop giving them money and they will learn a lesson,” we declare, conveniently forgetting the thriving tourist industry that existed prior to the 1980s. Planeloads of visitors from all over the world arrived in Srinagar every day of the tourist season eager to experience India’s very own paradise. But such vital economic activity is the first causality in a trouble-torn state, and paradise was lost.
We are not keen to appreciate J&K’s political complexity and we hurry to paint Kashmiris with one brush: all anti-Indian colours. We celebrate political plurality in rest of India but not in J&K. When our Dalit leaders talk about self-respect for the downtrodden, when our women talk about equal participation in governance, when New Delhi’s politicians talk about the need to keep the military out of civilian life, when far flung regions of the country speak out against discrimination, and whenever the state is accused of being anti-people, we call it the resilience and vibrancy of our democracy. But when the Kashmiri complains of atrocities at the hands of the security forces we call it thankless. When they ask for the removal of the army from their schools and orchards we call it secessionist tendencies, and when they throw stones at security forces firing directly at them we call it an anti-national attitude. What we do not understand, and why we are utterly surprised at the Kashmiri’s uneasiness about having to live surrounded by security personnel, is that our only experience of the Indian army or paramilitary forces comes from Bollywood movies that show only sanitized scenes of the ideal Indian Jawan.
Why do we think this way? Our Kashmir paradigm has been carefully constructed from a multitudinous variety of historical, ideational, psychological and emotional building blocks. Many popular myths have been inculcated by us about Kashmir and continue to feed our collective understanding. These myths, as discussed above, gain sustenance from sources as diverse as our great power aspirations (“Kashmir is a hindrance in our onward journey towards great power status”), our arguments on secularism (“Kashmir means a lot to the secular fabric of our polity” – as if India’s secular polity is so feeble), our national pride (“whenever the Kashmiris create problems in the Valley it negatively affects Brand India”), and our sense of righteousness (“we are a great nation that has a culture of tolerance and sympathy going back thousands of years and so we cant really go wrong in Kashmir. We therefore simply must be doing the right thing there”).
Many of us make some appallingly jingoistic arguments: we cannot talk to separatists while our soldiers give up their lives in Kashmir; any concession to Kashmiris would lead to an undesirable domino effect; after all these small aberrations happen in the process of nation building. We hate anyone else talking about Kashmir. We know how to resolve our internal issues and do not need any advice whatsoever, thank you very much. There are also other tactical reasons such as the strategic importance of J&K to Indian security, the need to have victory in the ongoing zero-sum game against Pakistan, and the unwillingness of our intelligence agencies to let their political bosses grant concessions on Kashmir.
Finally, another caveat: there are many Indian opinions on Kashmir and rarely are they expressed in the somewhat exaggerated manner (exaggeration has its uses too) that I have used. I realize that not all opinions held by Kashmiris about the 'rest of India' and Indians are spectacularly progressive in nature, and that there may be many demonized India-myths circulating there. In the end, we need first to unlearn each other and then learn all over again, for a better tomorrow.
(Happymon Jacob is Assistant Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi).
Lastupdate on : Mon, 7 Sep 2009 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 7 Sep 2009 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 8 Sep 2009 00:00:00 IST
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