Kashmir: Hate in a Heaven
by J. Sri Raman,
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Many Indians have said many things about Kashmir and the intractable problem it poses. Until the other day, however, none had said that the nation had to let go of the region as a liability. Within about a week, two prominent commentators have said it, drawing the same startling conclusion from very different premises.
That provides a measure of the change in the India-administered State of Jammu and Kashmir, especially over the past two months. It is a qualitative change illustrated by the massive protests churning the state, ever since the eruption of a conflict between its major communities.
Arundhati Roy, the articulate activist, was the first to say the unsayable. In a newspaper article August 22, titled "Land and hunger," she endorsed the call for "azadi (freedom)", that had been emanating from Kashmir militants for years. She declared, "India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as - if not more than - Kashmir needs azadi from India."
Now, Roy never enjoyed a high popularity rating with India's ultranationalists. They have considered her a traitor ever since she threatened figuratively to "secede" from India in protest at the country's nuclear-weapon tests in 1998. But she has got a better hearing from her countrymen who do not quite accept the nuclear hawks' definition of nationalism. It was, however, different this time.
Even some of her friends in the pro-peace camp found her formulation unacceptable. Earlier, they might have occasionally faulted her on some issues, but now she seemed to them to be going a bit too far. She, thus, had almost no defender as her long-time detractors mounted a fresh offensive, with the two major parties - the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - uniting more openly against her than on the US-India nuclear deal.
Even as she was getting a bad press, however, the top editor of a national daily got away with a similar prescription on the Kashmir problem. In an article captioned "Think the Unthinkable," Vir Singhvi did not advocate "azadi" directly. But he asked for a referendum in Kashmir, almost assuming that the Kashmiris would vote for leaving India. In that case, argued Singhvi, "surely we will be better off being rid of this constant, painful strain on our resources, our lives, and our honor as a nation?"
If he did not draw the flak Roy did, the reason lay in the apparently different routes they took to the same destination. Hers was an expression of exasperation at the turn the situation has taken the long-troubled state, at the brutalization of both sides, Muslim and Hindu. "The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all," she wrote. Singhvi's argument. on the other hands, can appeal to the ultranationalist as well, up to a point.
Talking of the extravagant largesse from New Delhi to the state, besides an extra degree of autonomy, Singhvi said: "As the current agitation demonstrates, far from gratitude, there is active hatred of India. Pakistan, a small, second-rate country that has been left far behind by India, suddenly acts as though it is on par with us, lecturing India in human rights and threatening to further internationalize the present crisis."
The difference between the lines of Roy and Singhvi is more apparent than real. Both are offering remedies of despair, and the despair stems from the same factor - a dangerously deepened religious-communal divide in the state. The unholy conflict began when a pro-BJP Governor of Jammu and Kashmir pushed through a governmental grant of 99 acres of land to a body managing an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave shrine at Amaranth in southern Kashmir.
The militants seized the opportunity presented on a platter and launched an agitation demanding withdrawal of the decision. They won the demand on July 2, but this was the cue that Hindu-chauvinist groups in Jammu were waiting for. Cries of communal war have resounded across the state ever since. The show of military force has not stopped the flames from spreading further.
People with long memories recall the subcontinent's Partition of 1947, a bloody parting gift of British colonialism, when Kashmir stood out as an oasis of intercommunal peace. The state, of course, was never to return to that past. The record was smudged with a forced mass exodus of Hindu Pandits from the Muslim-majority Valley in 1990. The reputation was shattered beyond repair, with the inevitable consequences of army occupation. The interminable series of cruel violations of human rights in the valley have not helped to counter the growth of religion-based communalism.
This does not mean that the paradise lost can be regained, merely if New Delhi appears to listen to the proposal of letting Kashmir go. The BJP and the "parivar" (the far-right "family") can be counted upon, in that case, to upscale their offensive - especially in view of the upcoming elections to some State Assemblies and, of course, to the parliamentary polls due in early 2009. The Kashmiri jihadis and the Pakistani jingoists can also be expected to contribute their mite to further vitiation of the communal situation in the Valley.
The most important argument against an abrupt announcement of "azadi," which Roy seems to have momentarily forgotten, is what it can do to Indian Muslims in the rest of the country. The "parivar" can be expected to preach from its many pulpits that they must leave the country, too, in pursuit of the Kashmir logic.
A referendum today is not the sure remedy that it may have once seemed. A situation charged with feverish communalism does not provide conditions for a free and fair referendum. It cannot be unlike the election held in Gujarat after the pogrom of 2002, over which Narendra Modi (who needs no introduction), presided before wading to the throne through blood.
"If there is heaven on this earth, it is here, it is here, it is here" - thus spoke Moghul emperor Jehangir (1605-1627) on seeing the verdant Kashmir Valley. Hate has turned Jammu and Kashmir into a hell today, by all accounts. Determined efforts to restore peace in the region are the need of the hour, if Kashmir is not to become again "the most dangerous place on earth," as former US President Bill Clinton described it in 2002 as nuclear-armed India and Pakistan massed a million troops along the state's international border.
The happenings in Kashmir have dealt a heavy blow to the much-hyped India-Pakistan peace process. But was it realistic to expect more enduring results from a process initiated by India's former prime minister and BJP leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and carried forward by former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf? The lesson of the Kashmir turbulence is also about the severe limits to the success of a peace process pushed by the far right on one side and a military dictatorship on the other.