The uncertainty about the status of J&K state has loomed large since 1947. Is J&K a postcolonial state? The question that stares us straight in the face. Postcolonialism refers to a historical phase undergone by many countries after the decline of the European empires by the mid-twentieth century. Following the dismantling of the empires the people of many Asian, African and Caribbean states were left to assess the cultural, linguistic, legal and economic effects of colonial rule, and create new governments and national identities.
As a phenomenon, nationalism often arises in the time of conflict between nations or between colonizers and colonized and perhaps most commonly in postcolonial periods. Over the years tremendous political and social turmoil has been generated in the Jammu and Kashmir by the forces of religious fundamentalism and by an exclusionary nationalism that seeks to erode the cultural syncretism that is part of the ethos of Kashmir. These forces are responsible for the shutting down of dissenters who voice cultural critique, repression of women, political anarchy, economic deprivation, lack of infrastructure and mass displacements that have been occasioned by these events.
A visitor to Kashmir is required to take in the unpleasant reality of India and Pakistan which is full of scary paramilitary troops. The sight around is intimidating. Barbed wires, invasive searches, marginalization of the Kashmiri populace, dispossessed youths trained in Pakistani training camps, violence of all kinds, custodial killings in detention centers – the story is full of blood and gore. Distressed mothers waiting outside those gloomy detention centers to catch glimpses of their unfortunate sons (an exercise in futility). Such occurrences do not enable the visitor to have a glimpse of an autonomous Kashmir.
Since the inception of the insurgency in 1989, Kashmiris have been systematically alienated in their own home by the dominant political and military culture and by state sponsored agencies. It has become a pipe dream to lead a sovereign and dignified existence which is not invaded by the only presence of paramilitary troops and militant organizations. Not only have Kashmiris been deprived of their sovereignty in the purportedly democratic republic of India, but they are treated like nationless pariahs in other parts of the world as well. It is an ordeal for a Kashmiri to get her/his passport renewed in any part of the world. The regular procedure allows those Indian citizens to get the passports renewed of a consulate within a day, but the rules are different for the people of Kashmiri descent. A person of Kashmir descent is required to submit innumerable documents which are then sent to the government of Jammu and Kashmir for verification. This entire process takes a couple of months. An individual is required to remain without her/his most important travel document in a foreign country which is pervaded with Islamophobia. This raises a fundamental question about the very identity of someone called Kashmiri. Is this the identity of an original Kashmiri? Is nationhood a myth which fails to represent the diversity of the actual national community and does it only represent and consolidate the interests of the dominant power groups within the Indian polity? Till these questions are answered, Kashmir will continue to be under the shadow of a colonial rule.
(Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Thomas Hall 202, University of Nebraska Kearney, Kearney)