Dilemmas of ‘Right of Nations to Military Occupation’: A Response to Rohini Hensman
Apologies for taking the liberty of writing a separate post to respond to yours. I am doing so as a separate post not only because this response is rather too long for the comments space, but also because I have been wanting to address the issues you have raised. The issues are not new; I have been hearing them ad nauseaum since 2008, when the Kashmiri demand for independence from India took on a renewed momentum. In your post you bring in various external contexts – such as Rosa Luxemburg and the Sinhala-Tamil conflict. I am grateful that you do so, because it is always useful to learn from history and not repeat history’s mistakes. However, there are other recent histories of conflict and conflict resolution you don’t talk about, but which many Kashmiris are aware of – Kosovo, East Timor, Northern Ireland. Some new countries are being formed as we speak!
Also, there is history and context in Kashmir too, which you don’t go into. Your post talks more about LTTE than about Kashmir. Here, I will try to stick to Kashmir in responding to you.
1) Identity, not oppression
My first problem with your post is that it presumes Kashmiris wants azadi because of Indian oppression. This is a chicken and egg problem, one that many Indian nationalists point out. They, the Indian nationalists, say that Indian oppression is a result of Kashmiris having picked up the gun. Indian human rights abuse is justified in this narrative because Kashmiris picked up the gun first. In the Kashmiri narrative they picked up the gun because Indian democracy failed them – India rigged a local election in 1987, and no Indian nationalist dares to deny that today. The head of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir-based United Jihad Council, which is a coalition of militant groups trying to liberate Kashmir from India, is Syed Salahuddin. Who is he? He was one of the leaders of the Muslim United Front that contested the 1989 elections under the Indian Constitution. Kashmiris will tell you that their history and memory of disenchantment with India did not begin in 1989; they will tell you about Maqbool Bhat and Sheikh Abdullah; that there was something of a movement always; that it goes back to not only 1947 but, as Mridu Rai’s book shows, to 1931. Some say it’s even older.
The root of the Kashmir conflict is not oppression but identity. Kashmiris don’t see themselves as Indian. Many Indians don’t understand this. We wonder what their problem is. We think of the historic ties. After all our first prime minister was a Kashmiri! This is not about Pandit and Muslim, because as Mridu Rai wrote in a comment on Kafila some time ago:
I would like to point out that it was Kashmiri Pandits of the Sanatan Dharma Sabha who first raised the slogan “Kashmir for Kashmiris” in the second decade of the twentieth century and guess who this was raised against? Against Punjabi Hindus and other Pandits resident outside the valley (but in India) who they felt were encroaching upon their primary right to employment in the Dogra-ruled state. (If you’d like a footnote: Letter from J. Manners dated 1 September 1917, Home Department (Political), Proceedings Sept 1917, no. 6, National Archives of India, New Delhi. For other footnotes on the Kashmiri Pandit-Punjabi Hindu “bickering” as one source described it, see, among many, Crown Representative’s Records, Political Department, R/1/1/1411 — although the original of these records are at the British library in London, I believe the National Archives in Delhi has them on microfilm).
In 1921, Shankar Lal Kaul writing under the pseudonym of Kashmiricus in the newspaper United India and Indian States had the following to say: “Kashmiris are treated as strangers in their own house. In their own country their status is nil. A post of rupees 40 falls vacant in some office…ninety to one an outsider is brought to fill it up … a good-for-nothing outsider almost illiterate–but whose qualification is a communal or geographical alliance with some powerful official in the state…” (Old English Records, Political Department, 1921, File no. 73/97-C, Jammu and Kashmir State Archives, Jammu repository). [Link]
And there’s more on those lines there to show that the Kashmiri Pandits were the first to assert ‘Kashmir for Kashmiris’. They seem to have changed their minds since then, opposing even Article 370 which grants Kashmir ‘special status’ in the Indian Constitution that prevents non-state subjects from buying land in J&K.
I’m going into these details to hint how important Kashmiri identity is, and you don’t take note of it at all. The only identity you are willing to take note of is that dirty word, Islamism.
2) If this is not colonisation, what is?
Once we have taken note that the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination is about identity, we must consider your statement:
When a country is under foreign occupation, all sections other than a very small number of collaborators want to be free of the occupiers, even if there are sharp differences between these sections. A striking example is RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) which, despite speaking for a section of the population which is sorely oppressed by the Taliban, and continuing to fight against it, nonetheless shares with the latter the goal of ending the occupation by US and NATO forces. In such situations, the right of an occupied nation to self-determination makes sense.
When you have already decided that India is not a occupying power in Kashmir, why do the other dillemas reagrding self-determination arise? If according to you Kashmir is not colonised by India, how does it matter if the Kashmiri vision for azadi is clear or unclear, secular or communal?
Is Kashmir not under foreign occupation? What are seven lakh troops there, on streets and in bazaars, outside homes and on private land occupied illegally and in the houses of the Pandits who left – what are these troops doing if not occupying territory? Are seven lakh troops in civilian areas fighting the 500 militants India says are still active in the Valley? For a Kashmir perspective on colonisation, see Sameer Bhat’s article on the beginning of occupation. Look carefully at his style of telling the story of 27 October 1947. 27 October every year in Kashmir, like the Indian national independence day of 15 August, is a general strike. The two days are commemrated as ‘black’ days. In your narrative, however, you see the problem of militarisation as only one of human rights abuse, not as occupation. I am guessing you have never been to Kashmir. On my visits I regularly hear things like, “Yeh saala CRPF wala Rajasthan se aata hain aur hamsay kehta hain ID card dikhao. (This bloody CRPF trooper has come here from Rajasthan and asks me to show my identity card).” Travelling in Kashmir, you have to close your eyes to believe that the forces stationed there are to prevent violence rather than enforce the idea in every local mind: this is Indian territory.
If you still think it is not colonisation, what will convince you?
The example you cite of Afghanistan can be found aplenty in Kashmir. There is no dearth of groups who disagree with each other, who claim oppression from each other, and yet they are all committed to azadi. Why do you think there are so many factions of the azadi leadership? Contrary to popular lies, the Valley’s Shias want azadi too, but would prefer India to Pakistan. When a militant group issues a diktat that women have to wear burqa, everyone will use that to say ‘Islamism’ (as though that de-legtimises azadi, but I’ll come to that later). Nobody will tell you that when groups of women write to this militant group, addressing them as brothers, saying that burqa is not their culture. Of course there has been growing Islamism – but it is not as if the crowds from the Sufi shrines have disappeared. In fact, local Sufism strengthens Kashmiri identity, making the people feel they are a different people, nay, a nation. There is bigoted Islamism too – the cinema halls and alcohol shops shut down under the threat of the militant’s gun have not reopened. But I point these strains and differences out to you to answer your analogy of women in Afghanistan.
3) What does Azadi mean?
However, having pointed out these differences, I know you can use them to say, look, they don’t know what azadi means, as you do in your post:
Indeed, even the meaning of ‘azadi’ is far from clear. For one of the keynote speakers at the meeting, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, it means that Kashmir would be an Islamic state and would be part of Pakistan. For many others – probably the majority – it means that Kashmir would be independent of both India and Pakistan, and for some of these that it would be a secular state.
Till the last day it was not clear what India would be like when the British would leave. Indians weren’t clear – Gandhi wanted Ram Rajya, Ambedkar wanted communal electorate for Dalits, Nehru wanted a secular state, Jinnah wanted a separate nation, Hindu Mahasabha had its own ideas. However, India, which you hail as “at least constitutionally” secular and democratic, got independence despite these internal differences. These arguments were used against Indian independence, but finally India got it. There were princely states who had the option to not join India, and where, like Hyderabad, they wanted to exercise such an option India sent in the army that committed genocide. So even the map of independent India came about after independence.
The idea of India is even today a transient one. As we know, Indian secularism is under attack from all sides, from Nandy to Advani. Even today, there are Dalits who want a separate nation – this at-least-constitutionally democratic India has blocked a website called Dalitstan? Within India many would say this is healthy democratic debate. However, such clear and present debate in Kashmir is, for you, evidence that the idea of azadi is an inchoate one, and thus not worthy of being taken seriously.
Partition was done, and the new Republic of India had a Constituent Assembly that put the task of nation building on the back-burner to debate and discuss for four years – four years! – the idea of India and come to a consensus called the Constitution of India. I don’t see why you should deny the people of Jammu and Kashmir this opportunity? Perhaps there may be Partition – parts of Jammu who want to be with India and are contiguous with India can remain with India. Perhaps they may choose to be with an independent J&K. To say that Kashmiris don’t know what azadi means and that India in contrast is ‘at least constitutionally democratic and secular’ is so ironic, if not dishonest, because you haven’t yet given the Kashmiris a chance at constitution-making, and presumed that they may not do so, not be able to do so, or that if they do they will reject democracy and secularism. I don’t know what these presumptions are based on.
I don’t agree with you, therefore, that the idea of azadi is ‘far from clear’. Too much Kashmiri blood has flowed down the Jhelum for the Kashmiris to accept the joke that the rest of us don’t know that azadi is an Urdu word which means freedom.
There is a contradiction in your post where, having suggested that azadi should not be granted because we don’t know what it means, you write: “As we saw, ‘azadi’ is compatible with authoritarianism, ethnic cleansing and the murder of political rivals: hardly a radical departure from the present.” The contradiction betrays that you have made up your mind about what azadi looks like, and it’s ugly.
4) Azadi for Everyone
You speak of Rosa Luxemburg:
Who embodies or represents the ‘nation’, given that it consists of groups that are often at loggerheads with one another? ‘The “nation” should have the “right” to self-determination. But who is that “nation” and who has the authority and the “right” to speak for the “nation” and express its will? How can we find out what the “nation” actually wants?’ she asks (Luxemburg 1909). This is surely a valid question where the territory claimed by those who speak for the nation-to-be is shared by others (who may be a minority or even the majority) who do not want to be part of that vision.
The argument is regularly made, albeit without invoking Luxemburg. In short this means that Kashmir cannot have azadi just because Kashmiri Muslims want it. You say as much through Yoginder Sikand:
‘In Geelani’s writings anti-Indian Sunni Muslims come to be seen as standing in for all the people of the state, while the sizeable remaining population of Jammu and Kashmir (Hindus, dalits, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, many Shia Muslims and non-Kashmiri Pahari Muslims, as well as not a negligible number of Kashmiri Muslims) who are definitely pro-India are completely ignored and silenced as if they are not part of “the people of Jammu and Kashmir”.
There is the issue of Geelani’s leadership here, but I shall address that later. Let us just tackle this idea.
Firstly, ‘Azadi for everyone,’ if taken to its logical conclusion, would mean a world without nation-states. I am all for such a world. But we currently don’t live in such a world. We don’t have ‘Azadi for everyone’ in India – not for Kashmiris, Dalits, tribals, many north-eastern ethnicities. Yet we enjoy having been de-colonised. And if the lack of azadi for everyone in India didn’t mean continuation of British occupation of India, why should the lack of azadi for everyone mean continuation of Indian occupation in Kashmir?
The phrase “Poona Pact” echoes violently in my ear when I go to any Dalit discussion. I heard the very word ‘azadi’ in an event in Delhi on 1 November where former manual scavengers, Dalits, from across India came to demand rehabilitation and an end to manual scavenging. Why can India be touted as the world’s largest democracy with so many millions of its citizens unhappy with the current idea of India, but Kashmir must be denied azadi because, well, what about those who don’t want it?
Secondly, denying Azadi to Kashmir because there are (‘sizeable’ number of) people there who don’t want azadi means that we are preventing majoritarian rule, right? But what we are doing instead is minority rule – the minorities there, theoritically, are enjoying a political situation they want. If we cannot keep everyone happy, perhaps we should have a vote and let the majority decide – for isn’t that the principle of democracy, and isn’t that the spirit behind letting people vote to determine their nation?
Secondly, of the ethnicities listed, assumptions are being made. The tone in which the ethncities are listed gives the impression that it’s a contest between one (Kashmiri Sunni Muslims) and 8 (“Hindus, dalits, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, many Shia Muslims and non-Kashmiri Pahari Muslims, as well as not a negligible number of Kashmiri Muslims”). Is it a 1:8 contest? Clearly not. Then what are the numbers like? We could know through a referendum, but that would mean the right to self-determination, and that you are not willing to grant.
If the right to self-determination was granted, what would the picture look like? There have been a few surveys, most notably one by Chatham House in 2007. You can download here the survey result. You can read a discussion of the survey by Mohamad Junaid and this one by me. The survey says that in different districts of Kashmir, the support for azadi ranges from 74 to 95 per cent. Even if you include Jammu and Ladakh, the extrapolating from the survey numbers, azadi would get a total vote of 43%, for India 21% and Pakistan 15%. 14% want the LoC to be made a permanant border. See Junai’d discussion for more on these numbers before jumping to conclusions.
Lastly, the issue of those who do not want azadi (and who want to be with India or Pakistan) and the rights of such people, and the rights of minorities, can be tackled in several imaginative ways. I am no confliction resolution expert, but a quick glance at the Wikipedia entry on the right to self-determination shows we are not the first people to think about these dilemmas and that solutions can be found – open borders, dual sovereignty, dual citizenship, etc. The question is: do we want to find solutions?
5) Good Victims, Bad Victims
You speak of the violence of the oppressed, theoretically suggesting the Kashmiri Muslims are what I call ‘bad victims’. It would be easier for me to engage with this discussion of yours if it was more about Kashmir rather than South Africa, Sri Lanka, Arundhati Roy and SAS Geelani.
Referring to Arundhati Roy, you write:
To acknowledge the tragedy of the expulsion of the Kashmiri Pandits while sharing a platform with a man whose politics would make them (at best) second-class citizens without political rights certainly seems inconsistent. Fighting on two fronts – against the state on one side and a self-styled liberation group on the other…
Although I hold no brief for Arundhati Roy, and she can defend herself more powerfully than anyone else can, I must say I don’t see how ‘sharing a platform’ with someone makes you endorse their politics. Just as sharing this platform, Kafila, does not automatically mean that Kafila’s authors and guest writers are in agreement with each others’ politics. We should surely judge Arundhati Roy by what she said there, and elsewhere on Kashmir, and not by the mere fact that she was speaking in the same seminar on the same subject as Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Arundhati Roy’s speech even criticised the Azadi movement. She asked if there would be justice for all in post-independence Kashmir, and in his speech Geelani responded to that. I shall discuss Geelani’s response later.
You speak about Arundhati Roy’s analogy about South Africa. I don’t know enough about the South African context to enter that debate, and nor do I think it serves any purpose. If the expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits is what you are talking about, and using it to suggest that the Kashmiri azadi movement does not have political legitimacy because they kicked the Pandits out, it would have been more germane to the issue if you had quoted Arundhati Roy on Kashmiri Pandits from the same interview:
I think that the story of the Pandits is one that still remains to be told in all its complexity. Everyone was at fault, the militancy, the Islamist upsurge in the Valley, and the Indian government, which encouraged (even helped) the Pandits to flee when it should have done everything it could to protect them. Apart from losing everything they had and the only home they really knew, the poorest Pandits are still living in camps in Jammu in the worst conditions, and have had their voices hijacked by some well-heeled and noisy charlatans who feed off the destitution of their own people to get a lot of cheap political mileage. They have a vested interest in keeping them poor, so they can show them off, like animals in a zoo. Do you think that if the government really cared it could not have helped those poor people to better their lot? In all my visits to Kashmir I have sensed that ordinary Kashmiri Muslims feel a terrible sense of loss at the departure of the Pandits. If that is true, it is the duty of the leaders of Kashmir’s present struggle to get the Pandits to return. That needs more than rhetoric. Apart from it being the right thing to do, it would give them enormous moral capital. It would also help shape their vision of what kind of Kashmir they are fighting for. Let’s also not forget that there are a few thousand Pandits who have lived in the Valley through these troubled years, and unharmed. [Emphasis mine.]
The issue of Pandits is a complex one, and most Kashmiri Muslims believe that the Pandit exodus was an Indian conspiracy. This is not a joke – they will tell you long stories about what Jagmohan did. They will tell you that the Pandits who were killed were killed not because they were Pandits but because they were Indian agents, and the militants killed many Kashmiri Muslims for the same. They will show you Sikhs walking around in Baramulla and ask you that if they killed and expelled Pandits, why did they let the Sikhs leave? Incidentally, the Indian state has often tried to drive a wedge between the Kashmiri Muslims and Sikhs to paint the Muslims communal.
While conflict resolution in Kashmir is not possible without resolving the Pandit issue, it points to the larger need of a truth and reconciliation commission in Kashmir, which India is most afraid of, because there would be a can of worms. Pandit groups point out they haven’t got justice for the killings – isn’t that strange considering the law of the land there is run by India?
I don’t see how the expulsion of the Pandits – horrible as it is – denies the Kashmiri people their right to self-determination. Just as the Partition violence does not delegitimise the Pakistani nation-state today, or the genocide in Hyderabad with which India got it to become part of the Indian Union does not come in the way of India being a free country.
You are effectively saying that the Indian people should continue to rule over the Kashmiri people because the Kashmiri people killed and expelled Kashmiri Pandits who regarded themselves as Indian. I don’t see how the violence of the oppressed here is greater the violence of the oppressor.
The truth about the Pandits who left Kashmir is that they don’t want to return to Kashmir, for reasons not entirely political. So while the Pandits get rehabiliatated in India, their children get reservations in colleges and go abroad for jobs, what happened to them in 1989 and 1990 will continue to be used forever to deny the people who live in Kashmir the right to self-determination? Is that fair?
You later write,
Similarly in Kashmir, it is not only the Pandits who have suffered as a result of the Islamist vision of azadi. ‘Between 1989 and 1991 tens of thousands of Kashmiri youths crossed over the Line of Control and went to a land of their dreams – Pakistan, which many of them thought was a place where there was justice, peace and tranquility; but most were terribly disillusioned by the experience, and ended up feeling bitter at the deception that had trapped them ‘between a rock and a hard place’. (Choudhry 2010)
While I do not know the politics of the author, I think it is generally very unfair to use the Kashmiri disenchatment with Pakistan to say that the people suffered in the azadi movement and therefore azadi must not be given. On the contrary, in that article you quote from, the author also writes:
Most of the Muslim Kashmiris living under the Indian rule were, no doubt, staunch supporters of Pakistan, it was Pakistani policies and attitude of Pakistani agencies which transformed them to Kashmiri nationalists. They had seen the Indian rule and obviously they rejected that; and after experiencing the Pakistani policy and their rule in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan and their attitude to Kashmiris and concept of azadi (independence) they became ardent supporters of an independent Kashmir. [Link]
The Kashmiri Muslims took to arms in 1989 to liberate Kashmir. They were using guerilla warfare to do so. That phase ended in 2006. What we have been seeing since then is a non-violent civil disobedience movement. Now that they have given up violence, they are being killed by Indian forces so that they don’t come to the street and demand azadi. And yet we continue to say that they cannot have azadi because they once used a military strategy to get azadi!
There is a realisation amongst Kashmiri Muslims today that militancy as a political strategy failed to achieve azadi, but that at the time it seemed the right thing to do. Amongst the reasons militancy failed was not only the disillusionment with Pakistan but also a post-9/11 world. However, most people in Kashmir are proud of what the militants did. They remember their martyrs in their protest songs, they march to the martyrs’ graveyard to protest, and they certainly don’t share your vision of the militants’ disillusionment with Pakistan as a reason why they should reject what you describe “Islamist vision of azadi” (again, I thought you said the vision was ‘far from clear’). You are making this argument in the name of people whose resolve for azadi (as opposed to merger with Pakistan) has been strengthened even more after the militancy experience. The suffering you speak of is suffering they are proud of – go ask any former militant in the Valley and any man on the street. I have done that.
6) Who is Syed Ali Shah Geelani?
You speak extensively about Syed Ali Shah Geelani, his views and his idea of Kashmir. One cannot escape the impression that you are judging the Kashmiri case for azadi on the basis of Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s personality and views. I don’t see why you should do that. Geelani’s views are his own and can be taken as representing the views of all Kashmiris only if he was a democratically elected leader of Kashmir, or Jammu and Kashmir, or whatever form independent Kashmir takes. Even then, his views, or the views of whoever the leader is, would be subject to a house of the people. Such a transition can be made under the supervision of the United Nations.
That is not to deny that Syed Ali Shah Geelani is today the tallest, most respected leader of the Kashmiri independence struggle. To deny that would be dishonest. While Geelani’s stated position is merger with Pakistan, that is not what the people necessarily want. As you yourself note, “For many others – probably the majority – it means that Kashmir would be independent of both India and Pakistan, and for some of these that it would be a secular state.” What explains this contradiction? I will answer that, but before doing so let me say the answer does not matter. Let a Constituent assembly decide what the people want! Why deny the people the right to self-determination on the basis of what just one of them, Syed Ali Shah Geelani wants?
Anyway, to answer the contradiction about a pro-Pakistan Geelani being the favourite leader of a pro-independence public. The main answer to this is that the people see Geelani as the only leader whose integrity they can trust. He is the only leader they see as not being corrupt, and the only leader who is consistent with his position, and who refuses to budge under Indian pressure. Even his popularity was at its lowest in 2008 when protests erupted. Hurriyat leaders had to cancel their Dubai flights. Young protestors on the street told me how their leaders, all of them, had failed them, that the movement yet needed leaders, that they had dragged their leaders out for this renewed struggle. On young man told me that if the current leadership fails them again they will appoint a new leader. Everyone wonder, ‘After Geelani who?’ and we got the answer in 2010 – Masarat Alam, Islamist but not pro-Pakistan.
Similar issues were being discussed on a mailing list back in 2008, the Sarai Reader-List, when fellow Kafilaite Shuddhabrata Sengupta wrote (and this is a very long quote):
Why is it necessary for us to be ‘vocal’ about Geelani at all? As far as I am concerned, he is just another politician, perhaps respected by some people in the valley because he is seen (by some again, not all) as not having ever been on the payroll of the Indian state. (Many others in the so called ‘separatist’ leadership have at one time or another been seen as
(rightly or wrongly) or have been believed to be compromised by their tacit acceptance of covert ‘favours’ by the Indian state. But to me, this question of ‘is Geelani corrupt or not ?’ is actually irrelevant. Sometimes the most dangerous politics is exercised by those who adorn themselves with the charisma of incorruptability and the glow of an inability to be flexible. So this alone is not a criterion by which I judge what SAS Geelani represents in Kashmir.
For me, the opinions of this octegenarian politician (and sometime member of the Legislative Assembly of Jammu & Kashmir – which proves that even S.A.S Geelani has been different things at different times) is of less consequence than the logic of what impels the people of Kashmir to reject the Indian state. Today, more than ever before in Kashmir, the people are ahead of their leaders. The initiative is really in their hands, and the Indian state is terribly confused because there is little that it can achieve even by playing games of intrigue within and between the factions of the Hurriyat Conference, because frankly, neither the Hurriyet Leadership, nor the Militants, nor the ISI, nor the mainstream political parties, are running the show. The show is running, despite, not because of them.
…my standing by the movement against the Indian occupation has more to do with standing by these people rather than anything to do with the ephemerality of a so called ‘leadership’. Let us not forget, that S.A.S Geelani’s claim to ‘leadership’ is far from being uncontested. He had to leave his own party, the Jamaat e Islam, because no one took him seriously, and the ‘Tehreek -e-Hurriyat’ which has been his refuge in recent days is a far more heterodox and complex formation than he is actually comfortable with. S.A,S Geelani routinely listens only to those who say yes to him, and the fact that the crowd that did not take his ‘claim to leadership’ at the rally after which he had to apologize is a pointer of the fact that in front of constituencies other than his own, his authority is not that high, even though there may be a grudging respect for his moral standing.
At the same time, in the maelstorm that is Kashmir, there must be several, brutalized, humiliated, scorned, who would think – “Why should I not turn to a man who speaks a clear and forthright anger against these violences. Why would I not take his idiom seriously. Why, when I have nothing left to cling to, should I not reach out and hold on to the surety of an iron clad faith that he holds out to me.” And that perhaps explains S.A.S Geelani’s desparate constituency. His appeal, however much of it exists, and it exists, not for a single reason, or even in a simple way, (I know for instance, that people weep for him and curse him at the same time). It is an index of how far the people of Kashmir have been pushed to the wall.
I understand this, and yet I think that this is a profound tragedy. S.A.S Geelani, once a minor, unpopular politician in the Jamaat e Islami, a sometime MLA for a party with two seats that were scrounged and won in fraudulent elections, a party that no one really cared for in Kashmir, is what he is today, thanks to the Indian state.
Through the fifties, sixities, seventies, eighties India suffocated every other form of opposition. It engineered the imprisonment of every dissident voice, toppled governments at will, and capriciously arranged for the rise and fall of this or that figure and then arranged for the execution of Maqbool Butt, the exile of Amanullah Khan, the targetted assasinations of figures like Dr. Guru, Hriday Nath Wanchoo, the elder Mirwaiz, Abdul Ghani Lone and many others who were of much greater stature than S.A.S Geelani in the eyes of the people of Kashmir and who could have, at times like this, provided some of the ethical and intellectual anchors, even some of the personal succor that the movement needs today.
Who was left? Who was transformed from a virtual non-entity to the man in shining incorruptible armour – S.A.S. Geelani. He suited the Indian state best. He could be demonized, he could be portrayed as a bigot, which he is. He held out for a corrupt military dictatorship in Pakistan. His malignant ideas about what kind of Kashmir he wants can be ridiculed, and so, by extension, the movement as a whole could be tarred by having him identified as the leader, as the qaid.
Something similar happenned in Iran. The Shah of Iran completely destroyed every form of opposition, other than the clerics of Qom. A surprised Khomeini, who could at least go into exile in Iraq and France, while the non-Islamist or moderate Muslim opposition found itself shot with bullets in the back of the neck, found the moral leadership of the Iranian revolution gifted to him by the fleeing Shah of Iran. The Indian state, by using money, guns and intrigue, has left Geelani (the apparently incorruptible, honest and straightforward, but reactionary, proto-fascist Geelani) holding himself out as the pretender to the throne of the leadership of the movement for Azadi in Kashmir. It is not the people of Kashmir as much as Iovernment of India that has crowned Geelani by demonizing him. The people of Kashmir, in their bitteness, have sometimes looked up to the man that the Government of India loathes most of all. This may not be as accurate an index of their esteem for that man as it is a mark of their hatred for that government. It is for the same reason that Bose became wildly popular (even in areas where he had no base) in the bitter forties of the last century in India, when the British Raj was on its last and in some ways most desperate legs in India.
Ask the successive home ministers, prime ministers and intelligence officers of India why they brought Kashmir to this state that Geelani can appear sometimes as if he could be a saviour to the same people that he also infuriates with his obstinacy, his retrograde statements and reactionary outlook on life. [Emphasis mine; August 2008]
If you read the full post on that link, you will find some very strongly worded criticism of Geelani’s Islamist politics. Yet, anarchist-atheist Sengupta was one of the speakers sharing the stage with Geelani in the seminar, ‘Azadi, the only way’.
Answering Arundhati Roy’s question about justice in post-independence Kashmir, Geelani said at the Delhi seminar that independent Kashmir would allow non-Muslims to drink. Come to think of it, it is more democratic than Gandhi, who wanted total prohibition, which continues in his home state of Gujarat! Geelani went to the extent of saying that if a Muslim breaks the bottle of a non-Muslim, he shall be levied a fine. A lot of us were amused and my friend Gowhar Fazili, a Kashmiri Muslim sitting next me said he was relieved that he would be able to drink, as he was an atheist!
This is not a joke. He’s trying to say that look, I am Islamist but the rights of minorities will be protected to the extent of not only allowing non-Muslims to do things Islam does not permit, but also fining Muslims if they come in the way. In other words, non-Muslims will not be second class citizens. They will have equal rights. Isn’t that better than India, I ask you Rohini, where cow-slaughter is banned in many states because it comes in the way of the majority community?
But for you what Geelani said in Delhi cannot be taken seriously, since he was speaking to “an Indian human rights audience”. The hall actually had mostly Kashmiris, Pandits and Muslims, and many Muslims. But this is strange – you hold him to account because he was the keynote speaker in a seminar in Delhi; yet you don’t care what he said in that seminar and want to judge the Kashmiri struggle going by what he has earlier said and written. As for me, to repeat, it doesn’t matter what he said. I will wait for the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Kashmir.
But what if the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Kashmir chooses not to have a secular state? What if they endorse Geelani’s vision? What if they decide to have an Islamic Republic of Kashmir?
Firstly, it is inconceivable to me that such a constituent assembly will give up democracy and hand over the reign to a Geelani or somebody else. I’m reasonably assured that there will be democracy if there is proper, comprehensive conflict resolution. You write that India is ‘at least constitutionally’ a secular democracy, but that means nothing for Kashmiris. For them, Indian democracy ends in Lakhanpur. I would say that the Kashmiri right to self-determination would give them real and constitutional democracy. Not giving them the right to self-determination is the opposite of democracy. What they have right now, with AFSPA, is military rule.
But what about secularism? What if the people choose to have a theocratic state, though one that protects the rights of minorities? I would prefer that to India’s constitutional secularism where Muslims and SIkhs are massacred by the thousands and there is no justice. What good
What if they choose to have a constitutional democracy that does not protect the rights of minorities? I doubt if they will do that: even the ‘hardliner’ Geelani says they can drink all they want. Even so, to presume that this will happen is like the British saying the rights of minorities won’t be protected in India if they leave. When we in India are unable to take care of secularism, do we have the moral right to deny Kashmir the right to self-determination on the presumption that an independent Kashmir will be at least constitutionally theocratic?
Secularism in the context of Kashmir is a funny thing also because the rise of Hindutva in India, the events of Ayodhya 1992 and Gujarat 2002 reverberated in Kashmir too. The rise of Hindu nationalism in India made the Kashmiri Muslims deeply insecure about being with India and bolstered the azadi movement. The number of innocent Muslims, Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris, who have been falsely arrested, charged and/or summarily executed on charges of ‘Islamic terrorism’, the fact that Kashmir and Indian Muslims face housing and other discrimination in India – such failures of Indian secularism to deliver what it promised has only made the Kashmiri Muslim argument for separation from India stronger.
Also, India secularism sees ‘communalism’ rather than theocracy as its binary opposite, and I presume your implication (especially going by your assertion of Geelani’s Islamism, belief in two-nation theory etc.,) was that the Kashmiri struggle is a communal one, that is, motivated by the idea of superiority of one’s own religion. Is that the case? I want to draw your attention again to Mridu Rai’s comment that I linked to above, where she writes:
No, I do not believe that the demands of Kashmiris in the valley are communal. The demand in Kashmir is for long-denied rights. Not every reference to religion is communal — if it were so, then every believing/practising Indian and Pakistani is communal. The concept of “secular” against which “communal” is being defined seems poorly understood by those who are ascribing either label. In any case, what are the examples of secularism on which this poorly conceptualized notion is being valorized, other than some vague sense that it is everything that is NOT Pakistani or Kashmiri Muslim?
I certainly hope the usual exemplars of Nehru and the Congress will not be trotted out. Although I am not a huge fan of his, perhaps a quick read of Ashish Nandy’s “Secularism and the Tolerance of Religion” will at least show how the question is a little more complicated than certain people here seem/want to realize. I suggest also a reading of Gyanendra Pandey’s book, the Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India, for a historical survey of how precisely the term “communal” gained ground as a pejorative. For those assuming, it was always self-evidently so, you might be surprised.
Finally, I would recommend Ayesha Jalal’s article “Exploding Communalism” for a persuasive argument, that it was the Indian National Congress who hammered the nail in the coffin for the term “communal” when it used it prolifically as a pejorative. She also points out, importantly, that it was used selectively to tar those who refused to speak from its pulpit, not on the basis of whether politicians referred to religion or not. Thus Maulana Azad was secular and nationalist when he allied himself firmly with the Congress (now his earlier calls in Al-Hilal for a state within India where the sharia would run its writ as the only way in which Muslims could be accommodated, were conveniently forgotten). And Mohammed Ali, always a self-avowed “communal patriot”, was celebrated when the Congress and pro-Khilafat movement made common cause in the first half of the 1920s –indeed he was deemed so nationalist and secular that he was even made Congress president–but was reviled when he broke with the Congress party. He broke not, mind you, with India or Indian nationalism, but with the Congress party and his stance on his dual religious and patriotic affiliations had changed not an iota either when he was acceptable to the Congress or later when he ceased to be so. I’m sure i don’t need to quote his assertion of belonging to two non-concentric circles both of which had equal claims on him.
What had changed dramatically was the definition of secular nationalism and the fact that the Indian National Congress arbitrarily arrogated to itself the right to do so (while continuing to contain within its ranks many Hindu provincial leaders who continued to be members also of the Hindu Mahasabha). So, let’s talk about “secular” and “communal” if you will but then let’s do so after getting our understandings of those concepts and their histories straight.
As for assuming that the goal of Kashmiri Muslims in 1989/90 was to establish a nizam-e-mustafa, if it was indeed such a burning desire, isn’t it relevant that 20-odd years later it still does not exist as a political dispensation in the valley even though it is, sadly, depopulated of much of any Hindu minority that would presumably oppose it?
For these and many other reasons, no, I don’t buy the label “communal” when describing universally the movement in Kashmir. [Link]
Your solution calls for “a process of discussion and negotiation between all the diverse peoples in the state”. There is little doubt that that would have to take place to resolve the conflict. But I don’t see why or how that can be a pre-condition to the right to self-determination. That can finally happen only after this inalienable right is granted.
You further write, “The only thing that can be said with certainty is that such a solution cannot be found while a military occupation by Indian forces continues torturing, raping and killing civilians with impunity.” You then conclude by discussing AFSPA and human rights violations. You are not even explicitly calling for withdrawal of troops! You are only saying remove AFSPA and other draconian laws. In other words, occupation will continue but no human rights violations please. You seem to be more concerned, in your ultimate conclusion, about “India’s moral legitimacy and its claim to be a democracy” than about what the people of Kashmir and north-east want. You want them to find solutions within the Indian framework, and in return India should stop torturing and raping them wantonly. I am not caricaturing your position; this is what I frankly read in your last three paragraphs.
This is naivete, for, as I have discussed above, oppression is not the root cause of conflict in these places. It is identity. The Indian Army and paramilitaries are doing what armies do. Merely removing AFSPA will not solve anything – some of the 111 killings this summer in Kashmir were by policemen who are not covered under the AFSPA. In the film Battle of Algiers, the French general holding on to Algeria is told to stop the human rights abuse. He frankly says that if you want to hold on to Algeria, the human rights abuse will continue. Otherwise, you have to give up Algeria. In the Srinagar seminar soon after the one in Delhi, Arundhati Roy advised the audience to watch the film.
The Indian forces in Kashmir and the north-east are holding on to these territories for India and not simply maintaing law and order. It is their job to suppress the people, it is their mandate. They cannot be expected to do so by being told that if they shoot a protestor demanding azadi they will be brought to book – for it is only after explicit orders that they shoot. We have to understand that the 111 killings in Kashmir this summer could not have happened without the consent / orders of Delhi. There is a freedom struggle at hand, and India is crushing it. The people will not stop demanding azadi if the rape and torture stops. In fact, human rights abuses have come down a lot because of the decline of militancy. Just that people have become emboldened again to shout azadi on the streets. This, after the experience of militancy which you suggest should be reason why people should stop asking for azadi.
I would like it if Kashmir was a part of India – but not against the will of most of its citizens. I have picked on your phrase ‘at least constitutionally’ but the truth is that I still have some hope in the Constitution of India. And it is for that reason that I support the Kashmiri azadi movement – because I think that keeping a whole people forcibly part of India does not come from the values of the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution. The occupation of Kashmir continues in the name of the people of India, and as one of them, I consider my hands to have some of that blood. For the reasons I have listed above, I think that the dillemas in Kashmir are not about the right of nations to self-determination but the right of nations to military occupation.
Apologies that this reply became so long – and thanks for initiating this debate.
(A lot of ideas in this response come from a lot of conversations with many Kashmiris and some non-Kashmiris. I am grateful to them all. The title of this post was suggested by a friend, to whom I am grateful.)