By Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander
I am a child of conflict. I was born in the midst of violence; my childhood lullabies were sounds of bullets, grenades, and landmine explosions. My early childhood was mired in the experiences of encounters between insurgents and the Indian army. My school days were exemplified with extra judicial killings, rapes, and arson. My teenage experience was one of growing up in the shadow of guns in the highest militarized zone of the planet earth. The adolescent years were full of intifadas, starting from year 2008, that still continues. I grew up in an era when every sphere of my life was over politicized. Politics, conflict, violence are the daily staples on which my soul has nourished. There is no escape from the flames of violence that rage all around me. I sought to understand the conflict at a deeper level, to analyze its different contours, thus opting to specialize in political science as my academic pursuit. The world of books opened up new vistas and horizons, making me understand and analyze facts deeply at the intersection of pragmatism and idealism.
The current uprising of 2016 in Kashmir valley has again put me on a crossroad, where there is a tussle between my nationalistic and universal self. Since its accession to the Indian state, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has remained a disputed territory and this view has been upheld by various scholars, who have studied these documents of accession. Despite this contention, pragmatically we are presently divided between India and Pakistan. I was born, grew up, and am still surviving on the Indian side, though I am not sure for how long. I hope a bullet, pellet, state torture or unknown gunmen would spare me to articulate my jolted thoughts..
J&K is a contested piece of land with millions of inhabitants, whose political fate is yet to be decided. Since 1947, both India and Pakistan have retrograded over their promises with Kashmiris, that they will be given an opportunity to decide their political future and status, by implementing right of self determination, as conceived through various United Nations resolutions. This denial of right to self-determination has rendered Kashmiris vulnerable and victims of violence. The epitome of brutal violence has been the state and its institutions that have failed to break the will of people, who desire to be free. The Indian state that brags and boasts about its secular and democratic credentials has a Nazi face for Kashmiris. We have been surviving in an environment where we can be liquidated at the mere whim of a gun-toting trooper, who enjoys impunity from being persecuted in court through a draconian law known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). We are surviving in an environment in which freedom of speech, assembly, and thinking have been curbed, just like the medieval times that we read in history. People were killed, prosecuted, tortured, and incarcerated for having a dissenting view other than the official narrative of the king. We still are experiencing the same rule by feudal lords, who always demand a total submission, not only of our bodies but souls. The Indian state administers Kashmir through these feudal lords, whose primary task is to maintain the status quo by suppressing and persecuting the masses in order to maintaining their fiefdoms. India changes these feudal lords when they believe that they have outlived their tenure, grow unpopular; it then introduces a new feudal lord. The feudal lord implements every tactic under the sun to keep the Indian master happy, along with his coteries. But despite the long tenure of feudalism over seven decades, the feudal lords have failed to raise an obedient slave generation of Kashmiris. Instead, both the feudal lords and the master have become so unpopular that time and again they are faced with uprisings and intifadas. Instead of taking lessons from the people’s movements, feudal lords and the master buy time by opting for Iron fist policy, faking a dialogue, giving economic packages, while ultimately trying to avoid the genuine demands of people.
The daily killings, injuries, maiming, molestation, torture, illegal detentions, and incarcerations have rendered people turning more adamant, rigid, and resilient about their resolve for Azadi (freedom) from India. Being an unfinished agenda of British partition of the Indian subcontinent, Kashmir is a festering wound in the body politic of the Indian state. The partition agenda has further been reinforced by the feudal experience that Kashmiri masses have been going through since past seven decades. To further bestow legitimacy to the partition plan and secessionism to Kashmiris, the state terrorism and atrocities have played a decisive role. Now few marginal voices, who run their shops, owe their existence, and enjoy monetary benefits, speak for the Indian state in Kashmir. Otherwise the writing on the wall is clear – Kashmiris always want India out from its territory. There is no one ready to think of Kashmir’s future with India, which is the biggest working democracy, though its quality is at its lowest ebb, as millions of Muslims live in India as a marginalized community. The partitions have not solved any issues like poverty, violence, gender discrimination, caste, and inequitable distribution of wealth. The ideals of social justice, human rights, democracy, secularism, freedom of speech, gender justice have yet to be achieved, though post-colonial countries do exist as independent nation states.
Here we must ask some genuine questions: Will an independent Kashmir face similar problems of structural injustices, poverty, gender parity, economic inequality, and rule of elites and feudal lords? Will the Indian trooper be replaced by a Kashmiri one with similar powers to kill and maim with impunity? Will we suppress the political aspirations of our own people in a similar manner as India is doing now? Will our modus operandi of dealing with public protests be similar to that of the Indian state? These are the genuine concerns that none dares to ask, as it will invite a barrage of invectives, earning the tag of being agent of the state.
But as a student of post-colonial history, I know that the statecraft in most newly created indigenously administered states has been one of violence and suppression against its own people. The army supposed to fight external enemies at borders in most cases has been deployed against its own people in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Further, the arsenal repositories have been used against their own citizens. The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) is in millions. Capitalism, globalization, and a market driven economy have further created a deep wedge between poor and rich. In all these countries, few oligarchic families rule in the name of democracy and camouflage their feudal rule under a smokescreen of periodic elections. The sovereignty of these nations is on mortgage with International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The religious exclusivism, violence, and terrorism are common problems that all these nations face. The common man inhabiting all these countries faces the similar day to day problems that its leaders have failed to resolve, despite entering the nuclear race with each other while slaughtering the aspirations of common man at the altar of selfish patriotism and egoistic nationalism that needs poor, deprived, intellectually bankrupt people to be rendered into cannon fodder.
How will J&K be different as an Independent nation, given the experience of its predecessors? To avoid such an experience, demand of political rights needs to be coupled with movement for social, economic, and gender justice. Also the modern state is brutal in its manifestations. Thus, evolving it towards a pacifist nature or blunting its fangs of violence needs holistic efforts.
Being rooted in Islamic tradition, my religious moorings do not let me be trapped in a charade of exclusivist nationalism, where my country, my people are the only torch-bearers of everything ideal. The Indian subcontinent has a rich Islamic history that partitions have tried to divide. I feel the same historical charisma in Jamia Masjid, Srinagar and Delhi. I have the similar mystical experience at the shrine of Sheikh ul Alam Nooruddin Noorani, Kashmir and at Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi. I find myself at ease both in the waters of Haji Ali Dargah and the mountain of Kohe Marana that has the mausoleum of Shiekh Hamzah Makhdoom. Similarly if I were visit Pakistan or Bangladesh, I am sure I would have similar experiences at Faisal Mosque, Islamabad or Jamia Masjid, Chittagong or at the shrine of Datta Ali Hajweri. I enjoy the poetry of Ghalib, Faiz, Habib Jalib, Iqbal, Kazi Nazrul Islam and also Sheikh ul Alam, Lal Ded or Habba Khatoon.
My friends are spread across the subcontinent, so are my teachers and mentors. Mahatma Gandhi inspires me; so does Mohammad Ali Jinnah. I love writings of both Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Mawlana Abul ala Mawdudi. I resist being bogged down or compartmentalized in narrow vicissitudes of nationalism because I enjoy good literature in a similar fashion, be it that of Amitav Ghosh or Mohammad Hanif or Kamila Shamsie. The subcontinent is so interdependent that even if one hundred nations are created, they will still be influenced by each other.
J&K certainly can and should exist as an independent, sovereign country, but negative nationalism and problems of our predecessors should be avoided.
M.H.A.Sikander is writer-activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Unmasking the Conflict: Making sense of the recent uprisings in Kashmir’, edited by Idrees Kanth, Leiden University, The Netherlands and Muhammad Tahir, Dublin City University, Ireland.