By Faisal Rather
In the 21st century the term “liberal” is turning from being a source of pride to one of embarrassment. Let’s analyze the liberalism of Indian liberals in reference to Kashmir issue for its importance as a perfect litmus test of liberalism of Indian journalists, academia and common masses in general. The reaction of Indian liberals to their country’s atrocities in Kashmir is always insincere and hypocritical. Most of Indians liberals support and defend their government and military crimes in the valley, be it rapes, killings, enforced disappearances or pallets rained on protesters. The liberals are most often complicit in the occupation of Kashmir.
The reaction of Indian liberals to the Kashmir issue can be summarized largely under these headings.
Horrible silence to crimes committed by Indian Forces in Kashmir
Let’s begin with the example of a sober star TV anchor, who is vocal and relentless in criticizing the right-wing government. He is also referred to as the “voice of the voiceless” – Ravish Kumar of NDTV. Whenever asked about Kashmir, he says, “Kashmir is a very complicated issue. I don’t understand it, it is very tough to understand.” Once he refused to entertain a Kashmiri scholar on his primetime show; the scholar had just referred to the Kunan Poshpora mass rapes. Kumar refused to accept it by saying that there was no military expert to defend the military on the show, even though Kunan Poshpora remains an internationalized issue on which books have been written. Kumar is reluctant to become the voice of the voiceless only in this specific case. He deliberately tries to hide his pro-military and pro-government stance behind self-imposed ignorance.
Another example of this class is an “intellectual” of “emerging India”, Shashi Tharoor. Although his liberal mask has fallen off on other issues such as the ‘Sabarimala case’, where he argued that the entry of women into temple is unnecessary, on Kashmir issue he sounds much like his fascist opponents. He never utters a word against the brutalities faced by Kashmiris every day; rather, he always defends or justifies the occupation. When asked by a reputed international journalist that Kashmir may also ask India to say sorry in future after their independence (it was in reference to Tharoor asking Britain for an apology for its colonial rule.), Tharoor replied with arrogance and ignorance, “The contribution of rest of India to the state of Jammu and Kashmir economically vastly outstrips anything else.” He even went a step further and argued that many human rights abuse cases against the Indian forces in Kashmir are baseless and some of which are genuine are been looked into, despite the fact that not a single Indian soldier has been on trial in any civilian court ever. Hearing all this from the “Liberal Intellectual” one can only be thankful that he didn’t become the general secretary of the UN in 2006.
It is pertinent to mention here that the young, dynamic and energetic YouTuber Druv Rathee, who always criticizes the fascist policies of Modi government on his channel, has always remained tight-lipped on the Kashmir issue and the crimes of the Indian forces in Kashmir. However, in a recent piece on the abrogation of Article 370, he wrote, “I support this decision, ideally it should bring peace, economic progress and make Kashmiri lives better…” One does not know what level of rationality allows him to support a decision which literally cages a whole population. Lately Druv even released a video on his YouTube channel on ‘Separatism’, in which he argued how we should not be supporting separatism, as it worsens the position of people after they are separated from parent-county. However, what is funny is that he is urging people to support Hong Kong protestors, as China is a dictatorship. As if India has been less so in Kashmir.
Maligning the legitimate struggle for Right to self-determination by cherry-picking cases of violence
Consider the case of liberal icon of journalism, Barkha Dutt. To begin with, Dutt is always sent to Kashmir whenever there is a political uprising and she always attempts to normalize by minimizing the atrocities. For instance, when the Indian state this year imposed a two day (Per week) Nazi-type ban on using highways for local people in order to give a clear passage to Indian Forces and their occupational mechanism, she immediately rushed to Kashmir and tweeted a 14-second video and wrote, “We travel on highway between Srinagar and Jammu to get a first hand sense of the much debated ‘highway ban’ (order closes highway twice a week with exemptions). Wednesday, today is a ‘closed’ day but we saw civilian traffic, including us, allowed on after multiple checks & stops.” It was a vague attempt to normalize or minimize the fascist ban. Another example is her tweet after the Indian state locked down whole Kashmir (after 370 removal) in which she wrote, “Long been arguing that while almost everything else is understandable and defensible for reasons of Law and Order, the incarceration of those who have stood for and with India, makes zero sense.”
Again only a fascist can be justifying fascism. Barkha always (during political uprisings) rushes to Kashmir and interviews local collaborators who always argue that the political situation is not so bad and everything is under control. Her recent interview with Shadid Choudhary after the compete lockdown of Kashmir by Indian government serves as a fine example. Interviewing the collaborators is not a problem per se but not asking the genuine question instead allowing them to blatantly lie can only be termed as propaganda.
Another charge against her on Kashmir coverage is her blatant maligning of the genuine and legitimate struggle for right to self-determination by willy-nilly taking and propagating self-serving examples of violence. Consider the (in)famous peice she wrote for Washington Post. She used the killings of Indian pilgrims caught between firing of Rebels and Indian forces and murder of a police officer to malign the whole freedom struggle and asked people of Kashmir to “rise up” and say, “Not in our name”. However, what she needs to understand is that even the violence unleashed on pro-Indians is also only part and parcel and an offshoot of the ugly OCCUPATION, which she again never accepts and acknowledges and will never speak a word against.
Another problem with her is appropriating Kashmir issue. She posts images with Kashmiri women and poses to be the only well-wisher of Kashmiri people. However, she maintains silence about the atrocities committed by Indian Army day in and day out. A shameful and very deafening silence. I would have to find a uniquely extravagant yardstick of bigotry to measure the comprehensiveness of Dutt’s coverage of Kashmir issue. While I discussed her coverage of Kashmir with a Kashmiri scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia, he simply referred to her as “a masked mouthpiece of Fascism.” Rightfully, so.
Another editor and journalist Shekhar Gupta writes articles to debunk the arguments of (few) genuine left liberals in support of Kashmir issue. However, lately he has tuned into a complete pro-government mouthpiece, by justifying the removal of Article 370. He argued how Modi has “Clean bowled” Imran khan with “Kashmir Yorker”. This blatant objectification of Kashmir is not just offensive, but downright dangerous.
Although this interesting class of Liberals in India acknowledge the sufferings and betrayals of Kashmiris, they are always found patronizing in their approach. In our elementary classes we were taught that the idea of liberalism rests on rationality and equal moral worth of all individuals. So ideally the liberals should have full faith in the rationality of Kashmiri masses and should stop lecturing Kashmir on how to approach or what to ask for. An appropriate example of this case is Yogendra Yadav, who otherwise is a sober, respected and highly acclaimed anti-fascist voice in India. Consider the article he wrote for The Print immediately after Kashmiris were snatched of their identity, “Kashmiris must know that their battle is not against India but RSS-BJP ideology”. The very title smells of patronization. As Malcolm X rightfully puts it, “I just don’t believe that when people are being unjustly oppressed that they should let someone else set rules for them by which they can come out from under that oppression.” It is a subtle slap in the face of the nationalists and apple-cheeked liberals who consolidate the illusions of justice as they watch the savagery on the street unfold from their safe houses. As they indulge themselves with the pleasures of soft talk, feebler voices are crushed and destroyed, lives looted, and bodies vandalized.
Exceptions to this class in India are only few such as Arundhati Roy who says, “I am nobody to say what should happen to Kashmir; my position is that Kashmiris should be given a chance to express their opinion fearlessly, what they want.” What makes Roy different from most Indian Liberals is this honest and non-patronizing attitude. While most of them “support” Kashmir with a silly patronizing tune, she is unique in her unconditional and unapologetic support.
Anti-Kashmir bigotry and pro-military and government propaganda have been normalized in liberal and democratic circles. Meanwhile, anti-Kashmir rhetoric has been weaponized by the right-wing eager to smear a pure, legitimate and legal struggle for Right to self-determination. What makes the current scenario even more despondent is that Indian journalists, instead of calling for peace and holding the government accountable, are busy piling up arms. Far from fostering a culture of democracy, they are erecting the skyscrapers of rhetoric and hysteria. This only pleads further for a much needed revival and ruthless introspection of stance taken by Indian liberals on the Kashmir issue.
Faisal Rather studies M.Sc. Physics at the University of Madras, Chennai, India.
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