The white lady asked her two black maids, “Do you like Robert Mugabe?” This was in Harare, about 13 years ago when the Cricket World Cup was underway. I was staying in the sprawling home of an athletic couple. The lady of the house, minutes before she asked the maids the question, had told me that even the blacks hated Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe then as he is now. But, as an Indian I was confident that the poor would despise their elites more than their despot. The hostess found that hard to accept because she treated her maids very well; she gave them good clothes and paid them good salaries while Mugabe was destroying the nation apart from driving away white landlords. So she decided to ask the maids. “Don’t think I will be offended by your answer…just speak the truth. Do you like Robert Mugabe?” The maids giggled a lot, which was wise, but eventually they said they liked him. One of them delivered a devastating analysis, “He is for us.” Soon after creating serious domestic discord, I left.
Do Kashmir’s poor, too, hate their elite more than their despot, India? It would appear that they don’t. The Indian government may have ensured, through exceptional financial pampering, that the average Kashmiri is not as impoverished as the average Indian, but it does not have the racial qualities to delude him into believing that it is “for us”. As a result the elite and the rest of Kashmir have similar views about the Indian occupation of their home.
Anywhere in the world, the rich and the poor very rarely hold the same strong opinions, but sometimes they do. It is usually a consequence of one indoctrinating the other. Common gods, we know, are a triumph of elite evangelism. The gods of the losers were demoted as evil. Cricket, too, was a transmission. So were Modi, “Development” and Amitabh Bachchan. India’s freedom struggle began as an upper class grouse against their white Brahmins, which tried to enlist the poor through the ruse of nationalism, a notion that it is the duty of the poor to lend their bodies to their native historical oppressors to fight the new white oppressors. Naturally, it was never a convincing idea. Even today, a Dalit community celebrates the day when their ancestors fought under the British flag against the Peshwas.
Kashmir’s nationalism, too, was herded by local and Pakistani elites, but it really does not matter now because after a point indoctrination becomes ‘the way things are’. Even so, there is a strong but underrated resentment among the poor and the new educated lower middleclass youth towards the economic and cultural elite, especially the Kashmiris who live outside Kashmir — in affluent First World suburbs, Dubai, even Delhi; Kashmiris who do not require peace in valley to enjoy a good life; who are horrified at the words ‘peace returns to the valley’; in whose view violence keeps the revolution going while peace, brisk tourism and a healing economy that helps the majority of Kashmiris eke out a living are vulgar signs of defeat to despicable India.
“These are the upper caste, Peers, the Brahmans of Kashmir, fake intellectuals, biased journalists, street smarts,” a young Kashmiri wrote to me, “They dominate the narrative of Kashmir, any view opposing theirs is dealt with harshly. And you’re not a true Kashmiri if you oppose them.” It is a common opinion I get in my inbox from a class of Kashmiris, but most of them would not state this openly because they would be shamed by people who have powerful tools of shaming.
The non-resident Kashmiri patriot is identical to the non-resident Hindu patriot. Wallowing in a facile long-distance love they try to influence events whose consequence they do not have to face.
Shah Faesal, who had topped the civil services examination in 2009 and is a civil servant in Kashmir, recently posted on Facebook an amused portrait of “Kashmiris not living in Kashmir” and their patriotism. “Using worldwideweb for online nation-building is a carbon-neutral, non-bureaucratic method of doing things.” He invited them “to participate in offline nation-building by coming back and either work in remote hospitals and schools of Kashmir or join their brothers in jungle. But since it needs sacrifice and courage, it will never be convenient to them.” Then he arrives at the core of the issue. “Online nation building is a defective model because it allows the elite to hide behind digital windows and fake profiles while outsourcing actual fighting to emotionally-immature children of the poor and dispossessed.”
The upper class use of other bodies — same old story. In recent months they glorified a boy in his early twenties, Burhan Wani, as he used the social media to become a militant folkhero, which is a method of digging one’s own grave. Instead of beseeching him to choose life over death, they egged him on to die. And they celebrated his inevitable glorious death through trauma prose.
In a Marquez novel, mothers who have had enough of war go out into the streets and drag their militant sons back home by their ears. That was what those who cared about Wani should have done. But then the freedom movement has to be outsourced to suckers.
To the question what constitutes a nation, scholars often have very sophisticated cultural explanations. But, South Indians would tell you being an Indian is merely a habit. You are told from childhood to love an enclosed space and you love it forever. Kashmiris have not acquired that habit. But most of them have lost the habit of imagining they are a part of Pakistan. Most of them, it appears, now like the idea of a sovereign Islamic republic of Kashmir. In India’s view such a fantasy kingdom lodged between India, Pakistan and China would disintegrated when Kashmiris rise from the happy dream. So India continues its morally indefensible occupation and on good days tries to lure Kashmiris into seeing the truth — that they must ideally mistrust their elites more than their despot.