Jammu and Kashmir:
Urgent Need to Discard the Distorting Lens of Chauvinism
- Kavita Krishnan
A Kashmiri student recently attended a popular TV debate show on Jammu and Kashmir, where the majority of the panellists were chauvinistic ‘hawks’ and there was a lone Kashmiri leader on the panel. During a brief break, one military gentleman on the panel came up to the anchor and said, casually and openly, that she should ‘Let an Indian (not the only Kashmiri panellist), conclude the show’! The very same people, who raise the war cry that Kashmir is an ‘indivisible’ part of the Indian body politic, routinely treat Kashmiris as a foreign and subject people.
In independent India, for all mainstream political forces, Kashmir has always been a convenient political touchstone for chauvinism. It was always viewed through a prism of passions and prejudices that always excluded the history, rights, and aspirations of the Kashmiris. Right from the time of accession itself, the veneer of civil “democratic” rule has been enforced through military jackboots spawning more than fifty years now; killing, maiming, “disappearing” thousands of Kashmiris.
Mutual Game of Congress Repression and BJP Communalism
The Congress has had a long record of treachery, broken promises, and authoritarian and repressive approach to Kashmir. On the other hand, the communal fascist BJP has periodically used their points men in various positions, including the seat of the Governor (if it was Jagmohan earlier, it was S.K. Sinha more recently), for whipping up communal frenzy in Kashmir and also in the rest of the country and used Kashmir as permanent fodder for communal mobilisation in the rest of the country. It is not a coincidence that militancy heightened during Jagmohan’s tenure as Kashmir Governor during the late 80s. Today Kashmir and Jammu are suffering the fallout of the last Governor S K Sinha’s dubious role.
The hypocrisy of the Prime Minister’s rhetoric of ‘peace’ (on 15 August) is evident from the reverberating shots fired by police and paramilitary – fired indiscriminately on streets and even on ambulances and in hospitals, claiming many lives including many popular leaders of Kashmir.
The recent flare up across the state owes its genesis to the transfer of forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and the subsequent reversal of the same. This bears an uncanny resemblance to another horrific communally motivated campaign which engulfed the sub-continent in recent times. One cannot but miss how in the Babri Masjid episode, the idols of Rama were illegally installed in 1949 in the Babri Masjid. The local Collector, an RSS sympathizer, stalled the removal of the idols, sowing the seeds of the problem which finally led to demolition of Babri mosque, giving flesh, blood and political power to the BJP over a period of time.
Politics Of The Amarnath Issue
In the last ten years or so, successive governments in J&K have intervened deliberately to change the secular character of the Amarnath shrine to suit their communal and jingoistic agenda in Kashmir. Since 1996, the relatively less publicized and peaceful Amarnath Yatra began to be promoted as a ‘Hindu’ ‘patriotic’ counter to the ‘Muslim’ insurgency in Kashmir. In 2003, S K Sinha (who happens to be an ex-Army man) became Governor – and as Chairman of the SASB began aggressively promoting the Shrine and the pilgrimage as a form of ‘cultural nationalist’ answer to the Kashmiri sentiment. The very same S K Sinha recently recommended changes in the demography and “culture” of the region as a “solution” to the Kashmir “problem”, and this was like a spark to the pent-up resentment in the Valley. One cannot forget that the racist fascist Israel Foreign minister Shimon Perez advised L.K. Advani for changing the demographic profile of the valley!
As a result of government aggressive promotion, the number of pilgrims to the Amarnath yatra increased from 12,000 in 1989 to over 400,000 in 2007 and the period of the yatra from fifteen days to two and half months. It is illuminating that the first fortnight is meant for families of service personnel! Over the years, the Indian government has also projected the yatra as a nationalist project. The official news portal of Indian government, Press Information Bureau, reads: “yearning for moksha (salvation) can move the devotees to the challenging heights of Kashmir and will be a fitting gesture of solidarity with our valiant soldiers who have been fighting the enemy to defend our borders”. Thus, what is otherwise a religious pilgrimage of the Shaivite Hindus has been elevated to represent a patriotic enterprise – against the ‘enemy’ (tacitly read as Muslim Kashmiris and Islam).
In this sensitive and politically volatile region, where Kashmiris as it is experience alienation and fear of an eclipse of their identity, the effects of the Indian Government promoting a Hindu pilgrimage as a patriotic duty are deeply divisive and disastrous. The agenda behind the aggressive promotion of the yatra is made all the more clear by the fact that communal fascist parties like the BJP have limited the numbers of pilgrims to Gangotri and Goumukh to 150 persons per day on environmental grounds, while pushing for a continuous increase in the period and the number of pilgrims at the Amarnath yatra: an obvious case of double standards.
The recent flare-up, which is a direct result of the carefully crafted communalisation of the Amarnath yatra, has continued for several weeks.
Stereotyping Jammu and Kashmir
If Kashmir is being portrayed as the hub of ‘anti-national’ elements, Jammu has also been given a communal stereotype albeit of the “nationalist” Hindu colour. The emigration of Kashmir pundits from the valley has been grossly misrepresented and communalized and used by the Sangh Parivar to the hilt to create a communal atmosphere. The deep-seated sense of neglect in Jammu, and repression and alienation in Kashmir has not been addressed by successive Governments and political forces. Instead communal polarization is being sharpened by the mainstream political parties who are trying to project the grievances of the Jammu residents as having a Hindu and therefore ‘nationalist’ character (protests being organized with the tricolour in hand) while the alienation of the people of Kashmir is being portrayed as ‘Muslim’, ‘anti-national’ and specifically, ‘Pakistani’. The BJP’s all-out communal build-up has received fodder from the opportunisms of the Congress and PDP. So much so, that Ghulam Nabi Azad recently claimed that “protests against the land transfer in the Kashmir valley had been funded by Islamic countries”.
The National Conference, despite Omar Abdullah’s brave declarations of secularism in Parliament, has done its share to promote the BJP’s communal agenda in the State. All in all, the mainstream political parties in the State seem all set to push the situation dangerously towards the trifurcation of the State on communal lines – an agenda openly avowed by the BJP in the past and proposed by various think-tanks of the United States of America like the Kashmir Study Group.
With the opportunist creation and handling of the Amarnath controversy and the firing on Kashmiri protestors, the Valley once again reverberates with slogans of azaadi, while Jammu wants to break free from the perceived “domination” of the valley. The Congress and the UPA government appear completely clueless while the BJP sees the unrest in Jammu as a promising passport to a political revival of the Hindutva brigade in the region as well as in the larger national arena. True to its tradition and character, the Congress has gifted the BJP a communally potent agenda on a platter, in the process doing far-reaching harm to the sensitive region of Jammu and Kashmir.
It is high time that we speak out against such unmitigated communally motivated state terror and economic strangulation against the people of Kashmir with the devious ploy to quell their democratic aspirations, rights, lives and livelihoods!