Now that the current phase of the mass movement in Kashmir is in its eleventh week and has already consumed so many innocent lives and maimed so many more, all manner of motives are being invented by various sections of the society to discredit this phase of the mass uprising as one being inspired by factors which have nothing to do with Kashmiris or their 'perceived' sense of victimhood, as is being made out by the new age 'vigilantes of national interest'. The plea that the unrest in the valley is typically and exclusively Pakistan-inspired has now become a cliché of sorts which has become too trite to even merit reference in a serious discourse on Kashmir. On the other hand, there are those who without an iota of understanding of Kashmir and its chequered history at least since 1947 pin it down to lack of 'development' in the J&K state which has become yet another catch phrase in the national political lexicon, a magic wand of sorts that would 'do the trick'.
An interesting insight into how certain sections of the political Establishment and of the civil society in the rest of India tend to look at the current phase of unrest in the valley is provided by how they wish to 'invent' something which is not there in the first place even as they stubbornly refuse to see something which is very much there, live and kicking, like a prodigious elephant in the room. The reference is obviously to the mass uprising for freedom having assumed 'elephantine' proportions which they cannot behold on the one hand and to how they wish to somehow see it as being rooted in a collective zeal to foist a theocratic order in the valley, on the other. Hence their contention that Azadi for Kashmiris is synonymous with the desire for an Islamic state, to be governed by Islamic law and shariat which, according to them, would have no use for those espousing a different religious worldview. A reference by them to slogans like "Azadi ka matlab kya, Lailaha Illallah" often alleged to be raised during pro-azadi processions in Kashmir is presented as proof of their contention which, however, is plainly tendentious.
For one thing, part of the reason for recourse to tactics by the protestors which may appear to have religious overtones has to do with the typically local nature of religiosity and religious practices in Kashmir. These practices, one knows too well, have certain aspects in common with the local Hindu tradition but hardly anything worthwhile with the way Islamic traditions are followed and practiced in the rest of the country, or even elsewhere. How else would one explain the loud invocation of religious hymns in mosques across the valley even when the typical ambience inside a mosque elsewhere in the world is one of hushed silence devoid of high decibel incantations. The raising of such slogans or the hoisting of Pakistani flags for that matter are not, after all, such a common sight in Kashmir as is made out to be the case by some hyperventilating news anchors on certain TV channels. These acts could perhaps be understood in the light of a casual effort by the sloganeers to 'tease' or 'tickle' the political Establishment rather than to herald the impending arrival of a world order in the state where Islamic law and Shariat would rule the roost. That one may not read too much into such gestures by the protesting mobs is also because it is part of human nature to invoke God, godliness or stuff like that in situations when chips are down and not all is seen to be going as one would wish. That is often the case even with those who are otherwise known to be ungodly in their outlook having no use for God in their scheme of things. To wit, I routinely hear some of my Marxist friends glibly utter expressions (gobble-de-gook, according to them) like "Hey Ram", "Hey Bhagwan" or "Ya Allah" when they find themselves down in the dumps or when the going is seen to be getting tough, say in their personal or professional lives. If anything, such invocations may simply be put down as light-hearted, 'cost-effective' ways if you like, of letting off your steam and nothing more!
Let me, however, add a word of caution. In recent years, we have learnt – and learnt it the hard way – that across regions and countries around the world, recourse to a radicalised outlook presents itself as the most viable option particularly in situations marked by an institutionalised denial of the fundamental right of an individual or of a group of individuals to a life of peace, honour and dignity. For one thing, it is often the case that when an outlet of emotion through other channels is stifled, it is invariably the religious/communitarian identity, which may have otherwise remained dormant, that rears its head to provide an opening for the pent up emotion and anger. However, that should by no stretch of imagination be construed as a ruse to justify recourse to a radicalised outlook of life. All the same, one can't help but feel cheesed off by the selective outrage of these champions of 'nationalism' at the sight of 'radical thought' having occupied space in the consciousness of a common Kashmiri, even when the fact remains that large segments of the populace spread across the rest of India have not remained immune to the menace of radicalism, something they conveniently choose to ignore. How else would one account for innumerable cases of violence by trident-wielding hordes of radical bigots resorting to abominable acts involving lynching – the Akhlaq style – or of beating to pulp the likes of Kanaihya Kumar who had the 'gall' to talk about the underbelly of his motherland that these vigilantes of nationalism wouldn't have the stomach to brook being said about a macho, resurgent (?) India. The crux of the matter is that radical extremism in any form does not arise in vacuum; it thrives and feeds itself on how it is allowed to play itself out in its manifold and monstrous manifestations across regions, communities and ethnicities.
Be that as it may, notwithstanding the isolated cases of ecumenical fervour which may indeed be seen to define the political worldview of certain sections of the Kashmiri society, the fact is that their numbers are too few to matter in the long run. The bottomline is that by their nature, disposition and culture, Kashmiris are not only tolerant but even accommodating of other religious faiths, regardless of their love, commitment or allegiance to a particular religion or a certain faith in their private lives. If the camaraderie and the absence of violence witnessed during the Amarnath Yatra or Khir Bhawani festival over the years, including during the peak period of insurgency in Kashmir are any indication to go by, that should serve to put to rest any misgivings regarding their truly secular credentials which are deeply ingrained in the consciousness of Kashmiri Muslims.
Let me hasten to clarify that this genre of 'secularism' which is typically Kashmiri in essence espouses a worldview that is quintessentially inclusive and that holds all faiths, religions and ideological persuasions in equal respect. This is the antithesis of its 'modern' variant as it prevails in some other parts of the country where it is made to play itself out as a weapon to achieve just the opposite by privileging certain sects, communities and religious denominations over others. On their part, those protesting on the streets of Kashmir would do themselves a world of good by keeping at bay the forces which are seeking to inject religious extremism into what is essentially a mass political movement for the realization of their genuine political aspirations. That would entail restricting the ongoing struggle to the political goal of seeking a resolution of the Kashmir problem rather than allowing it to be hijacked by those elements who wish to give the movement a religious/sectarian colour. As a result, it would be possible to put paid to the nefarious designs of those who are working overtime to give a bad name to the ongoing struggle by presenting it as part of a jihad to foist a fundamentalist evangelical Islamic order in the society, hence fit to be thwarted at all costs.
Prof. M. A. Sofi teaches at Department of Mathematics, Kashmir University, Srinagar