By Sagarika Ghose/www.southasianmonitor.com
Kashmir: the jewel in the crown of India’s secularism. In 1947 when the Muslim-majority state acceded to India, it joined a brave homeland for all. India was not going to be a mirror image of Pakistan, a land created for a single religion. Instead pluralism was to be India’s creed, and a secular India laid claim to Kashmir by promising justice for all faiths. But today if secular India is replaced by a de facto Hindu Rashtra does the very premise of Kashmir’s accession begin to look flawed?
Kashmir is ours, but Kashmiris are jihadis, thunder internet nationalists signalling that they prefer the real estate over the inhabitants. Today Kashmir is a cantonment, patrolled by lakhs of security forces, its residents policed 24×7, many of its youth blinded by pellet guns, stone-pelters poised in bloody conflict with India’s army. India’s secular project has failed in Kashmir and Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s Two-Nation Theory (of Hindus and Muslims being two nations who simply cannot live together) looks triumphant.
The image of a Kashmiri strapped to an army jeep is already viral, a textbook symbol of individual powerlessness against a military machine, comparable in its starkness to the lone figure confronting a tank in Tiananmen Square. Both army and protesters are tragically brutalised: exhausted troops have been pushed to the brink by wave upon wave of furiously protesting youth brought up on a daily regimen of death, imprisonment and perceptions of injustice.
In fact, the crisis in Kashmir shows India’s inability to accept real diversity. Muslims are only acceptable when they’re in small numbers, not when they exist in large numbers as in UP or form the majority as in Kashmir. Azaadi’s not a political sentiment anymore but an Islamic identity-centred ideological war against the perceived Hindu Rashtra. Is the ghost of Jinnah having a secret laugh even as Nehru’s project is buried?
For Pakistan, Kashmir remains Partition’s unfinished agenda, their hatred of ‘Hindu rule’ has spawned a terror machine. Yet the Indian state too has never been able to fully accept the citizenship of the Kashmiri Muslim. Jat protests became violent, the Hardik Patel-led protest led to the torching of homes. Were pellet guns used in either Haryana or Gujarat? No, because unlike Jats or Gujaratis, every Kashmiri protester is seen as a closet jihadist or an agent of Pakistan. But can Pakistan’s ‘proxy war’ be countered only by pouring in more Indian troops and guns? Instead, shouldn’t Kashmiri Muslims be treated as the Indian citizens they are? Yet Kashmir is a prisoner of India’s ‘national security’ mindset, trapped in bureaucratic suspicion and prejudice, a ‘law and order’ mentality that sees any kind of citizens’ protest as a sinister separatist insurrection. When did Kashmiri youth cease to be human beings? When did they become only ‘modules’ or ‘sleeper cells’ or ‘operatives’? Spook-speak dominates India’s narrative on Kashmir.
Political Islam attempts to unite the faithful into a single dogma by wiping out diversities represented by Sufis or Ahmadiyas. Similarly Hindutva nationalism seeks to subsume caste and regional identities into an overarching Hindu fold. The beef eater, the rationalist, the slogan-shouting student are unacceptable to this nationalism. So is the Kashmiri Muslim.
Yet PM Modi and CM Mehbooba Mufti were on the cusp of a historic opportunity. The BJP-PDP alliance could have been a breakthrough. It has failed because the chasm between Hindu Jammu and the Muslim valley is too deep to be bridged by a political artifice that doesn’t seek to change hearts and minds. Where Vajpayee spoke of insaniyat and was even willing to speak to separatists, Modi became trapped in the “terror vs tourism” binary. The risk-taker of demonetisation became risk averse in Kashmir.
Dominant Hindutva in the rest of India and a political vacuum in Kashmir led to a crisis of confidence. With Burhan Wani’s killing last year the Valley erupted and the pellet gun became a symbol of ‘Indian occupation’. So far 14% of pellet-gun victims are below the age of 15; 14-year-old Insha Malik from Shopian still lies in bed, blinded in both eyes.
Kashmiri students face daily discrimination in universities in the rest of India. The shocking case of Mohammad Rafiq Shah wrongly imprisoned for 12 years is only another example of how the Indian state looks on the Kashmiri Muslim: guilty even after being proved innocent. Delivering governance and justice on the ground in Kashmir has always been the ultimate litmus test for India’s credentials as a secular society. It’s a test that India has failed.
Today gau rakshaks who reflect Hindu rage on the one side and stone-pelters who reflect Muslim grievance reveal a brutal divide. The Kashmir crisis is a comprehensive collapse of India’s secular project as a whole. Perhaps Jinnah was right all along. Perhaps the Mahatma dreamed an impossible dream. Perhaps Nehru’s idea of India was only a utopia.
(The featured picture shows Indian para military forces battle stone throwing mob of Kashmiri youth)