By Najeeb Mubarki
26 AUG, 2010
It was Bertolt Brecht who once suggested, in his sharp, almost genial way, while talking of a different uprising, in 1953 in East Germany, that the state could, as a solution, dissolve the people and elect another. That, perhaps, would for many be a consummation devoutly to be wished for when it comes to Kashmir.
For, faced with the kind of uprising, the narrative as exists in Kashmir these days, it seems the counter narrative can only attempt to subvert or subsume the facts. And if one were to employ a bit of hyperbole, beyond the propaganda seems to lie a desire to somehow do away with the present lot of Kashmiris, and elect, or invent, another. Paradoxically, this consists of either seeking to invent a people more to one’s liking or, inversely, creating an image of a people so prone to extremism that empathy is simply impossible.
There are broadly two main strands to the discourse on Kashmir which attempts that act of dissolving the reality. One would be the staid, stale assertion that the protests in the Valley, if not instigated from across the border, are managed by a mischief-prone minority, and are not really representative of the people’s feelings. In the third month of protests, and after 63 killings (thus far) by the state police and the CRPF, that ‘assertion’ seems to have died a natural death. Thus, the supposed silent majority, the potentially ‘likeable’ lot, the people who would have been hijacked by the minute number of protesters can’t really be brought to life.
It is the second strand, that of invoking charges of Islamic extremism, which the counter campaign in the Indian media now seems to have settled on. On the surface, this campaign is conducted purely at the level of deploying images. By playing up the pictures and statements of an Islamist or two (preferably a female for better effect) and attempting to conjure a link to wider Kashmiri society. It is a classic case of a biased media seeking, and using, the few scattered instances which can reinforce that pre-existing bias. Quite like highlighting ‘letters’, pasted on a few walls, addressed to a minority community, to whip up visions of some imminent pogrom.
At a wider, much more deeper and serious level, it is insinuated that some larger Islamist game plan is at work in Kashmir.
It doesn’t take a politically incisive mind to realise that, at a global level, these days it is far easier to label a movement, a group or just a section of people Islamists than it is do deal with the political aspects of what those movements or sections might be trying to articulate. That they may well be aspiring to something that is far from, or actually negates, religious extremism.
In India, that fact is aided by a wider failure to understand Kashmiris, or just a plain lack of awareness about their history and culture. Of course, the majority of people are Muslims in Kashmir. And of course, elements among those who raise the Islamist bogey in Kashmir are, inversely, people who simply dislike that fact of Kashmiris-as-Muslims. We could call it a border-world application of a certain brand of mainland communalism. And that attempt at displacing one’s own communalism onto Kashmiris neatly dovetails with the wider phenomenon of how Muslims are, post 9/11, subjects of suspicion in the West.
But then, is there any truth to the charge, actually? You don’t need to be a sociologist or ethnographer to learn that forms of faith, of religiosity, inflect many aspects of life within a community. Particularly in a community in crisis, under siege, facing a situation where it feels its very existence and identity to be under threat. Thus, for example, while the larger meaning of the slogan of “Azadi“ might be some form of secular Kashmiri nationalism, the slogan of “Allah o Akbar” (God is Great) also attends it. It is, in essence, while a slogan of defiance, also a culturally determined one.
Of course there are other slogans too. Or have been. Which would suggest a decidedly Islamist vision of what Kashmiri society should look like. But beyond even the empirically evident gap between slogans and immediately achievable political reality, quite often such slogans were echoed without any real political subscription.
But beyond the level of sloganeering in the streets, there is the fact of centuries of Kashmiri cultural history. One that is unique in the subcontinent. A history and lived life that tempers and inflects even those who would ordinarily be labelled hardliners. With crisis and violence, however, there is a certain hardening, perhaps even some acceptance of the logic of religious difference, identity and politics. (And the issue of the Kashmiri Pandits, while linked to this, is a topic that needs separate, detailed attention).
Take for instance, the rise of Hamas in Palestine. It hasn’t meant that Palestinian nationalism, avowedly secular, has turned Islamic. But that responding to the failure — internal, and also enforced by the total unacceptance of any real demands by the opposing side — of that secular leadership, the people voted a hardline faction into power, without necessarily sharing its religiously-driven objectives. Similarly, the fact of a Geelani becoming the de facto acknowledged leader of the ‘movement’ (as it is called) in Kashmir, is also due to the perception that he remained steadfast and incorruptible. His viewpoint may not be shared by all in some aspects, but he represents leadership for many.
The dominant form of Islam in Kashmir is Sufism. In its peculiar Kashmiri variety. The religiosity of the Muslims reflected in equal, if not more, measure in the countless Sufi shrines as in mosques. Real, hardcore, Taliban style-extremism, simply, is alien to, and untransplantable on, the Kashmiri DNA, as it were.
A section amongst Muslims does exist which disapproves of some rituals in Sufi shrines. But that, in Kashmir, doesn’t translate into a rejection of the Sufis themselves. Indeed, even the disapprovers hold the Sufis themselves in respect. In effect, then, the thought of the vast majority of Kashmiris ‘changing over’ to extremism is akin to asking someone to actually convert. An Islamic [Islamist? --SZ] view of things exists in Kashmir, but it is just one of the viewpoints.
The drive to seek, invoke, an Islamisation of Kashmir is insidiously linked to regurgitating, within Indian public opinion, the sub-continental history of partition and the creation of Pakistan. It is also an act of dissolving the Kashmiris and electing the ‘Muslim anti-national’. That done, Kashmir can be presented as reflecting the danger of that partition, again. Which then becomes a major roadblock in even attempting to articulate to the wider Indian public what Kashmir is really about, leave alone seeking a solution to the problem.
Source: The Economic Times