Taking a long flight across the country last week, I stocked up by buying three news magazines at the airport. The first magazine I opened had an interview with the senior RSS ideologue Indresh Kumar. Asked about the current crisis in Kashmir, Kumar responded that the problem “needs to be tackled with humanity”. This was promising, but then Kumar went on: “To resolve the turmoil, we need to listen to the grievances of the Buddhists, the Dogras, the Sikhs, the Gujjars and all the others. Once we have heard the grievances of every section, including the youth, and redressed them, the turmoil will end. Security facilities should be taken away from those who follow Pakistan’s diktats. A small section of people are in favour of Pakistan; they can go and live there.”
Note the wording: the Buddhists, Dogras, Sikhs and Gujjars are all identified as distinct communities. However, the Muslims of the Valley, who are at the forefront of the current upsurge, are consigned by the RSS ideologue to the residual category, “all the others”. It is as if Mr Kumar cannot bring himself to acknowledge that Kashmiri Muslims too have real grievances; indeed, in this particular case, grievances that are so deep and so long-standing as to eclipse all the others. With this kind of wilful misunderstanding, how does the RSS-inspired BJP government in New Delhi even begin to try to bring peace to Kashmir?
Mr Kumar’s interview betrayed a certain disconnect from the ground situation in Kashmir. The second article I read was not guilty in this regard. It was written by the gifted young reporter Praveen Donthi, and based on his own extensive travels and conversations in Kashmir. Donthi’s essay powerfully brought home the extent to which the Indian state has lost its legitimacy among large sections in the Valley. He conveyed to his readers the sentiments of those participating in the present upsurge, and the anguish of those who had lost their children to the bullets of the police and paramilitary.
Donthi’s essay was well grounded, and a reality check to those who think our troubles in Kashmir are merely the result of Pakistani interference. However, it ended on a disappointing note, by presenting Syed Ali Shah Geelani as an apostle of democracy and freedom. Geelani may be popular among young Kashmiris, but his political orientation is utterly reactionary. He is committed to the construction of an Islamic State; as he puts it, “Muslims must follow the guidance of Islam in every action of theirs”. He believes that “if a true Muslim participates in any struggle, it is for the sake of Islam”.
The third magazine I read on the flight also had an article on Kashmir, this written by the respected and resolutely independent-minded Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy. Hoodbhoy wrote here of how the movement of azadi profoundly changed in the 1990s. As he pointed out: “Pakistan lost little time in hijacking what was then an indigenous uprising. The excesses committed by Indian security forces were soon eclipsed by those committed by Pakistan-based mujahideen. The massacres of Kashmiri Pandits, targeting of civilians accused of collaborating with India, killings of Kashmiri political leaders, destruction of cinema houses and liquor shops, forcing of women into the veil, and revival of Shia-Sunni disputes severely undermined the legitimacy of the Kashmiri freedom movement and deprived it of its most potent weapon — the moral high ground.”
Hoodbhoy is a scholar, not an ideologue. However, just as the RSS denies that Muslims can have any real grievances, Kashmiri ideologues deny that their movement has acquired a distinctly Islamist cast. This it undeniably has. In a Kashmir run by the likes of Geelani, women and minorities would enjoy distinctly second-class status.
One should compare Geelani’s vision of an independent Kashmir with that outlined in the Naya Kashmir manifesto of 1944, which was deeply committed to gender equality, and which refused to give a religious colouring to social and political questions. Indeed, in a social and ethical sense, the Kashmiri freedom struggle has distinctly gone backwards under the leadership of Geelani and groups such as the Jaish and the Hizbul.
However, the facts of religious polarisation and the ethnic cleansing of the Pandits have now been eclipsed by the new and renewed excesses of the Indian security forces. Through July and August, as the protests intensified and the pellet guns used to suppress them exacted a horrific human cost, there was some attention paid, by both the media and the political class, to the unfolding tragedy in Kashmir. But then the terror attack happened in Uri, and the attention of the political class and media was distracted away from the Valley, and towards Pakistan.
It is for Kashmiri militants to account for their own awful acts, such as the expulsion of the Pandits and the imposition of a dress code on women. But Indians who are not Kashmiris must equally account for the repression committed in their name by successive governments of India in the Valley, a repression that has a long history, and which in recent months has arguably been more savage than ever before.
While elsewhere in the country, Virat Kohli scores double hundreds, and R Ashwin claims his 200th wicket, records of another sort are being broken in Kashmir. Here the curfew has reached its century of days, the death toll is close to a century too, while bullet injuries and blindings now number in the thousands rather than hundreds. The records set by Kohli, Ashwin and company bring credit to Indian cricket. The records being set in Kashmir bring shame to India and Indian democracy.
Ramachandra Guha’s most recent book is Gandhi Before India.
The author tweets as @Ram_Guha. The views expressed are personal