30.9.19

Why should Kashmiris be Indian?

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Many Muslims follow the traditional 40-day grieving period, but Kashmir has been grieving for decades. Now, 46 days later, even the grief is helpless, and soon the voices of outside support will fade. Today, too, Indian sympathy for the state is a quid pro quo. “They are one of us,” say the hashtag supporters, completely ghosting the plot. There is barely any acknowledgement of their right to be independent of the country. “I stand with Kashmir” is the slogan, not “I stand with Kashmir to be free”.


Are there headlines referring to the state as Indian Occupied Kashmir?


When the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, in a most cowardly manner, got tourists and pilgrims out of the state before announcing that Article 370 granting Jammu and Kashmir special status was being revoked, when they put political leaders, activists, businessmen, civilians behind bars or under detention, when they shut down all internet and mobile services and put the state under curfew, when they took away the rights of 8 million people not only to have a flag and a say but to even conduct their daily lives with dignity, imprisoning them in their homes – no work, no schools, having to subsist on the food and medicines they could manage to procure, even then the liberals called it a mere “lockdown” and not the colonisation it was. When the National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval was shown sharing a meal with a group of Kashmiris, downed shutters in the background, the Indian media lapped it up as “confidence building”.


The saddest part of this shameless display of opportunism is that you don’t get to hear the voices of Kashmiris living in Kashmir. Those who try, suffer. The supposedly sympathetic section of the Indian media that projects itself as honorary Kashmiris retains a proprietorial tone replete with ridiculous equivalences. “If international headlines report the death of a 17-year-old, they should also tell us the story of the 5-year-old battling for her life after a militant attack.” A senior journalist cannot tell the difference between how terrorists and the state ought to behave.


***


Kashmiris will lose their identity, an identity they have held on to assiduously ever since the Partition of India left them with a piece of paper that would ensure a plebiscite to decide their own fate.


The nationalism narrative is not only politically fascist but also dehumanising. UK-based Kashmiri writer Mirza Waheed in this wrenching piece talks about wanting to hear his mother’s voice, to know if his ailing father is well, “You want to ask if they’ve got enough medicines, if they’ve been allowed to go for their weekly or fortnightly consult with the good doctor—if they’re alright, damn it. But you can’t pick up the phone and ask. You simply can’t call anyone. The world is made soundless when you can’t hear your beloveds.”


The NSA’s response after accepting the hardships caused was: “People were not born with Internet. For us, it is more important to protect the right of life of the people and keep them safe.”



Safe from whom? If protecting people against terrorist infiltration from Pakistan was the issue, why could the army not control it? Kashmir is the most militarised region, and yet the government felt it necessary to deploy 35,000 more forces for the safety of a people under curfew. An administration spokesperson reportedly said, “We decided to protect lives, some liberties may have to be compromised.”


The first casualty of this protection occurred on Day One of the incursion when a 17-year-old fell into a river trying to escape the police that cornered him. There have been many instances of pellets being fired to blind civilians and of torture after this ‘safety’ initiative. A young villager was one such victim: "Once they realised I was innocent, they wanted me to name a stone-pelter. I told them, I don't know anyone. So, they continued beating and electrocuting me. They wanted all of us to give the names of stone-pelters…They began pulling my beard and even tried to put it on fire. Then, someone hit me on the head and I fainted. It is then they, perhaps, realised that I might die. So, they asked my friend to take me home. I regained consciousness after two days and it's been 20 days and I still can't walk properly.”



***


What sort of assimilation is the government speaking about when it excludes the people?


“What integration? We Kashmiris have been working and living in other cities as have people from other states in Kashmir.” I met Bilal six years ago. He was hesitant to admit he was Kashmiri at first. “I am from the other side, far from the trouble,” he had said. He was happy in Mumbai and earned enough to be able to send his kids to English-medium schools back home. He visited every year.


He remained steadfastly against separatists, but whenever the news flashed incidents of brutalities and deaths, he’d say, with remorse rather than rage, “When young boys see their fathers and brothers suffer and die before their eyes, will they not want revenge?” Yet, within minutes he would wonder if there was any alternative, and go back to the room he shared with four others, a room with mattresses on the floor and a stove on a stool to cook their meals. A room where family was a WhatsApp video call away.


That stopped on August 5.


The inclusiveness that the government speaks about is a lie. This lie has been repeated over the years by successive governments. They dangle the development carrot without any attempt to assuage the disaffection of the people. Rahul Gandhi had some years ago taken big corporate magnates to recce the state; Modi will not need to – it is a given now. On October 31, the Centre will divide Jammu and Kashmir and officially claim the Valley as its prized catch.


***


In the latest bit of news, 81-year-old former chief minister and leader of the National Conference Farooq Abdullah has been detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), ironically the handiwork of his father Sheikh Abdullah. All the rooms in his house have been sealed, his staff fired, and he is confined to one room with an attached bath and toilet for 12 days. Tragic as it is, under the PSA that allows for arrest without trial and detention for upto two years, Kashmiris, including children, have been languishing in prison for years.


Local leaders and former chief ministers like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have aligned with the BJP, despite the party carrying its Hindu Rashtra dream and ambition to infiltrate Kashmir on its sleeve, only so that they could save their seats. Worse, they did not emphatically raise their voices over the disappearances and random killings of civilians in the state for all these years.


What happened on August 5 has to an extent been facilitated by such vacillation. Mehbooba Mufti’s first tweet on that day was, “Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy. Decision of J&K leadership to reject 2 nation theory in 1947 & align with India has backfired.”



It raises the moot point: Are Kashmiris Indian? Do these leaders represent their struggle?


Kashmiris are taunted that they are not grateful to the army that helped them during the floods. They are taunted about living and earning “from us”.


They live in India because their home has been converted into a disputed territory that they have to reclaim. They have lives to live, families to feed. They take up jobs available to them and to all those in the much-touted ‘globalised’ India. Even if Kashmir were free, they could still work in India but as citizens of an independent state and not as residents of an occupied state they are ideologically fighting.


Kashmir has always been in a state of insurgency, but unlike in the Middle East the protests did not lead to overthrowing any regime, simply because there wasn’t any leader to overthrow. The anger on the streets, the “Go back, Indian dogs” graffiti on walls, the stone pelting were reactions to the daily harassment    being stopped in the streets and made to identify themselves, the disappearance of many, unmarked graves of “unidentified militants”, and war crimes like mass rape and third-degree torture.

These were crimes by the authorities, not terrorists. The authorities target the young because that is one way to wipe out a people and not just their protests. Each day is a struggle to hope, to live. But, as Mirza Waheed put it, the children “must grow, and try not to die”.

*****

Published in CounterPunch


26.5.19

And this is how liberals will speak out in a Modi-fied India...


Following the victory of the Bhartiya Janata Party and another term for a Narendra Modi government, social media was awash with liberals promising to fight, to dissent and projecting themselves as allies of Muslims. 

Elite Muslims were quick to feel indebted for the kindness, quite forgetting that their supporters have not done anything that would qualify as real opposition to the Hindutva ideology. 

So, how exactly will they fight this government?

  • They will post memes.
  • They will unsubscribe to certain newspapers/TV channels that have posted/aired a bigoted report. (Two days later they’ll quote from the same papers/channels they unsubscribed from.)
  • They will praise Ravish Kumar for his emotion-laden speech against a black backdrop.
  • Those in the media will, pathetically, even on primetime shows they anchor, announce that they do not believe in shouting like some other channels, as though that is enough to make them better than Arnab Goswami.
  • They will wait eagerly for The Telegraph to read its front page headline. After which they announce that journalism isn’t dead. Clearly, all it takes is smart wordplay to be alive.
  • They will have shows on the hijab where primacy will be given to their version of the good Muslim, the one not wearing the scarf, while the ones wearing it, who are the subject, are given short shrift, if not shirked.
  • Some will write books on why they are liberal and some on why they are Hindu. They like such balancing acts...it’s just a way of life thing.
  • Following any unfortunate act of terror anywhere in the world, they will be quick to declare that not all Muslims are terrorists. After the lynchings against Muslims, they never feel the need to say that not all Hindus are like that because that is supposed to be a given.
  • They will post videos of lynchings. Within minutes they’ll be posting screenshots of the hateful responses they get from Sanghi trolls. Soon enough, their victimisation becomes more important than the person being lynched.
  • They will take out a caravan to the homes of the victims. But...karwaan guzar gaya, ghubaar dekhte rahe...
  • They will protest against a horrible incident at some elite location. Those who cannot make it will ask them to be safe. 
  • They will pull up the Congress party to show they don’t have political affiliations, but will happily project Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee and even newbie Kanhaiya Kumar as messiahs.
  • They will talk about the moderate faces of the BJP, each time one of their leaders criticises it, forgetting that they have been a part of it during the worst moments in its history.
  • They tell you they are allies of Muslims because they eat biryani, quote Faiz (whatta rebel, also atheist, no?), go to Nizamuddin Dargah on Thursday nights for qawwali, and think Sufism rocks.
  • They will call themselves dissenters because they stand with a Kunal Kamra or a Swara Bhasker.


***

There should’ve been memes after this, but liberal selective amnesia is quite a thing. They lecture others on the need to take an ideological position, but seem quite comfortable with the idea of Swara Bhasker campaigning for six candidates from different parties. 

How can she even qualify as an intellectual asset when she says: 

“I knew that people were calling me because I am a heroine. As soon as I learnt that I would be campaigning, I went and bought 20 saris and got my wardrobe sorted. Maine blouse silva liye, jewellery leli and curated my look. I used to blow dry my hair in morning, put on my hair extensions and makeup, and wear my chunky earrings. I knew that the media would come for pictures and interviews, which in turn could be used as a platform to talk about issues that matter. For the public, it’s not a politician joh white kurta and jacket mein aa raha hai, they see a young person with colourful clothes.”

So much poppycock. She is far removed from reality, and yet gets so much traction when her destination is clear: “I am so tired after campaigning. I can’t wait to go back to Bollywood now.”

It amazes me that self-important people, those whose online profile is buffered by who hates them rather than what they stand for, are the heroes of liberals.


3.4.19

White Knights and ‘Muslimsplaining’


From Jacinda Ardern to Eggboy, the white saviours have taken over the Muslim story once again from the Muslims. To commemorate a week of the Christchurch terror attacks on two mosques there were a series of moves and events designed to make Muslims feel they belong.

New Zealand radio and television sounded the call for prayer at 1.30 pm, the time of the shootings. Policewomen and TV anchors wore the scarf; the latter began their telecast with a ‘salaam alaikum (peace be upon you), newspapers had Arabic scrawling on their front pages with an explanation of Muslim rituals, and Prime Minister Ardern quoted the Prophet. The distinction between state and religion was lost. Also, instead of an expression of solidarity, it appeared to be a catering to a homogenised people, if not a special needs people.

Entitled brown folks were, however, over the crescent moon. They were complicit in propping up such privilege with their gratefulness for a white headscarf wearer or a young man egg-splattering the head of a racist Australian senator.

A fundraiser for Eggboy Will Connolly raised a whole lot of money for his legal fees and for being “a good egg”. Using him as an example of how the West responds to hate speech ignores the immensity of the vile comments by Sen Fraser Anning blaming immigrants for the terror act.

Ardern visiting the bereaved with much empathy is no doubt a potent image of a caring leader, but would a Muslim leader reaching out to his people be greeted with as much enthusiasm?

These gestures have a limited shelf life, but by becoming totems they reduce the Muslim identity to a community that cannot manage without an Other’s heroism.

***

“I’d love to wear one, how do I tie it?” asked an enthusiastic white woman expressing her support for the March 22 Scarves in Solidarity Day.

To lift the spirits of New Zealanders, Christchurch youth worker Jay Geldard decided on Colour Your Day: Colour Your Day has come from asking how do 4.8 million people respond to an event like this? You get a sense that there's this desire, and it's like people who have been quite down don't know how to respond. So it's saying, let's just put on something bright. It could be socks, it could be scarves, it could just be mufti - you'll just see people in bright colours and you'll know you are all together.”

The problem with sentimental gestures is that they do not go deeper than the displayed symbolism. While wearing colourful socks could have worked as casual weekend dressing, it being a Friday – the day of prayer for Muslims, the day when the attacks took place while they were on their knees in obeisance – the sense of joyousness was a bit incongruous.



However, it was not as disingenuous as wearing a scarf in solidarity. As a Muslim woman who does not wear one, I often get praised for my assumed breaking of shackles by the rightwing and the liberals in India. The hijab has been a red rag for democratic regimes as well as feminists. Curiously, both these pro-choice proponents use it to indicate oppression and refuse to grant the wearer the dignity of having made a choice to assert an identity. They also seem to forget that women are shamed in the streets for wearing this identity.

That these liberals were ready to don a scarf in solidarity amounts to a denial of the rights of a people to stand up for themselves without being caricatured, howsoever benevolent the motive might be.

***

The notion behind speaking on behalf of a community is not inclusive but exclusive. It is a declaration that white is the mainstream, the standard gold. To belong, immigrants will have to look through this prism.

In an impassioned speech, Ms. Ardern said, “He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing – not even his name.”

This is most simplistic. He did not merely seek notoriety; he wanted to annihilate people. His manifesto clearly stated that. Terrorism by a white man cannot be explained away as an attention-seeking exercise. By making him invisible, his supremacism is being whitewashed.



Aiding in this process are the elite among the immigrants who rarely speak about such entrenched racism in their adopted homes and help in sidestepping the dangerous fact that such violent responses are not really an exception that commentators and Ms. Ardern herself makes it look like. They do the white thing by deifying a man who lost his wife in the attacks but forgave the killer because he represents the spirit of Islam. How different is it from the West creating binary stereotypes of the good Muslim and the bad Muslim?

Unless we have a Muslim, an Arab, an immigrant speak up against supremacists, and not just with eggs, and unless Muslim societies stop feeling beholden for tokens, the white killer will remain in whitened public perception merely a gunman seeking notoriety and not the terrorist that he is.

*****

Images: The Washington Post, New International

Published in CounterPunch