Guest post by HILAL MIR
There are various divisions of pain the different classes of people feel in Jammu and Kashmir. Like those bank credit cards which classify customers according to precious metals—Platinum, Gold, Silver—pain is a class thing. For example, when PDP veteran Muzaffar Hussain Baig, after making a long convoluted speech in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, said Omar Abdullah’s name figured in the list of the people who used their authority to sexually exploit girls, the junior Abdullah was transformed into a character from a Greek tragedy.
Omar nearly swooned, sulked in the chair, head tilted backward, focusing his anguished gaze toward the roof, where I guess he might have seen those specks of light a person experiences when hit by a speeding car. That was platinum pain. The reaction was commensurate to the privileged hurt: immediate resignation, walk out, a quick flight to the moral ivory tower atop which he announced “unless I am proven innocent I won’t resume.” He resumed a few days later. His father Dr Farooq Abdullah, who normally sheds tears at opportune, politically-rewarding times, cried in the studio of an Indian news channel over the first jolt delivered to his dear son. Platinum pain again.
National Conference legislators frantically went to the press and reminded Baig that since he was salacious man who had been in a live-in relationship with a very young law graduate, also his relative, he must be ashamed of making such comments. Baig seemed to be above pain or hurt, or shame. Deep down he might have taken the remarks as a compliment, though he bared a fang or two before media. Why was Omar so deeply hurt? Because this was something that targeted the core of his being. No harm done if he has done things in his youth. A majority of us do. Besides, that is a profoundly private matter. Nevertheless, he was shaken when he was accused of something he thought he had nothing to do with. So were thousands of people when a police officer named Yusuf Bandh snatched the headscarf of a woman during a protest. The photograph was published in every local newspaper and it is there on the facebook, a testimony to the stripped dignity of Kashmiri women. But not a word from the man who resigned in a jiffy when accused of exploitation of women. Why?
This why seems to be rhetorical because every Kashmiri knows why. They know that Omar Abdullah is too little of a Kashmiri to know what snatching the headscarf from a woman means. He lacks cultural, religious and political sensitivities to realize what that police officer’s act meant, because he is too much of India. When the “world’s leading men’s magazine” GQ had him on its cover in December 2009, he told the interviewer that as a young boy his mother had told him to always dress well because as a member of Kashmir’s first political family “you will always be noticed.” Given her English upbringing, I don’t think she would have advised him to dress well on the occasion he appeared dressed casually in a T-shirt before media to talk about deaths of dozens of boys. That insensitivity comes not from a privileged rearing but an alienation from the roots. After all he is nothing but a hotel management graduate lucky to have been born as the grandson of legendary Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. He only has Sheikh Abdullah’s genes, not necessarily his ability to empathise with his own people. (I am no apologist for Sheikh Abdullah who is responsible for much of what Kashmir is going through, but we can’t take it from him that he did care about the people at some level)
Again, when a shoe was thrown at him while saluting Indian flag in an empty stadium guarded by thousands of troops, the thrower was immediately arrested, thrashed sumptuously, and 17 police officials were suspended for dereliction of duty. Platinum embarrassment. Platinum hurt. Omar’s magnanimity was broadcast live on TV when he talked to the shoe thrower and forgave him, quite like the two parties at a truth and reconciliation commission. By the way, he talked a lot about the need for a truth and reconciliation commission before coming to power. He demonstrated a narcissistic glimpse of what it might look like.
Recently, when sobered Czar Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s salt-and-pepper bearded Rasputin, Naeem Akhtar, and journalist-turned legislator, Nizamuddin Bhat, publicly accused Omar of receiving kickbacks from some project, a defamation suit was filed against them quicker than you can say case. Why? I know why. Because it was the platinum boy whose skin had been touched, not the nine-year-old son of a fruit vendor who had been trampled to death by Indian forces, half-chewed toffee still in his mouth. You can put a price on fruit vendor’s pain. It is half a million Indian rupees. Don’t you dare to even think of measuring GQ boy’s honour in terms of money.
When he was awarded the Leader of The Year Award at GQ’s inaugural men of the year awards in October last year, Omar told drooling reporters, “I’m much more comfortable standing in a crowd of people asking for votes than I am facing the camera.” How true. Comfortable asking for votes, but heartless enough to rub salt on the wounds of a crowd that is grieving deaths of people mowed down like flies.