Every picture tells a story. Two unrelated photographs published on this page a few months ago capture the precise reason why an India aspiring to greatness will never realise its ambitions, and South Asia as a region will forever be bogged down by wars, poverty and disease.
The first was of three small Chinese children, stretching their arms skywards in one of China’s thousands of provincial sports schools, training to become world champions in the sport of their choice. The other photograph was uncannily similar in that its subjects also had their arms stretched skyward, but they were sadhus in Jammu: greying beards, vermillion smeared across their foreheads, angry mouths wide open, protesting the revocation of the Amarnath land order.
While the world channels its energies into art, science and sport, we seem utterly content to let entropy do its work as long as we can continue being the most spiritual people on the planet. This obsession with religion is always something to be outwardly manifested. Not for us is quiet contemplation, but showy piety with a dangerous corollary: a one-upmanship in the ‘othering’ of other communities, intolerance, and the astonishing capacity to be periodically offended for some perceived insult to one's own community.
No other issue in this country is as pressing as Mandir-Masjid, or has its incendiary capacity as we have seen in Jammu and Kashmir these past few months. From the moment the protests started in Kashmir in mid-June it appeared that it suited all politicians to up the ante. The canard of demographic change spread by both the PDP and the separatists in Kashmir meant that young men between the ages of 15 and 40 felt justified to be out on the streets, pelting stones, screaming slogans, indulging in arson and raising hell until the government fell and the new governor revoked the land order in the interest of peace. Not one Kashmiri leader had the courage to point out that no one, least of all Hindus from the plains could have built homes and businesses in an area snow-bound for eight months of the year.
But why fault the Kashmiris when mainstream Indian politicians are quick to do the same? The man who dreams of becoming the Prime Minister of India declares that the revocation of land is to become a “national issue”. In no time, the Sangh Parivar that has always upheld its own interests at the expense of national interest, girds its loins and jumps into the fray, mirroring the chaos that had ensued in the Valley. The irony of it all is that the land did not belong to the government to give to anyone in the first place. Of the 100 acres, only five belonged to the Forest Department and the rest to ordinary people. But in an election year who cares about facts?
What difference could it have possibly made to the people of Jammu if 100 acres of land was not given to the Shrine Board? Did it mean the end of the pilgrimage or the end of Hinduism? Did it mean the Kashmiris had somehow stolen a march on Jammu or been given political or material advantage over them? It meant nothing of the sort. And yet once political parties had accorded it sanctity and the media publicity, even ordinary women and men became willing actors in a sickening play.
The Government of India watched helplessly as mobs attacked and burnt down shelters belonging to Gujjar shepherds, blocked the Jammu-Srinagar highway for a whole week, attacking trucks, beating up Muslim truck drivers, and blockading truckloads of apples from the valley. By the time the army was called out to clear the highway, true to script, the Kashmiri apple- growers backed by the separatists had already announced their plan to cross the LoC to Muzaffarabad. Some one could have pointed out that the route via Leh and Manali, albeit three days longer, was still open. Someone else could have reminded the marchers of the fate that had awaited Amanullah Khan and the JKLF in 1992 when they had attempted to cross the LoC from the Muzaffarabad side and the Pakistani Rangers had reduced their numbers by seven.
Protests continue to rock both Jammu and Kashmir with no sign of abating. Comparing the treatment of the Jammu protestors with themselves, the Kashmiris have interpreted the firing on the march to the LoC as a Hindu State bent to crush Muslims. On Saturday over 100,000 Kashmiri youth marched to Pampore unimpeded by a government wary of being accused of using excessive force. There, a new generation of Kashmiris heard Jamaat Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani declaim, “Azadi for Islam” while cries of ‘Jivey Jivey Pakistan” rent the air.
In the 61st year of independence, notwithstanding our sole medal at Beijing, all of this is depressing news. We’ve been there, done that, a thousand times over and yet we never learn. In the meanwhile, at last count, China surges ahead with a medal total of 52 at the Olympics.
Sonia Jabbar is a freelance journalist who writes extensively on Jammu and Kashmir