Terms of Endearment – Kashmir and the Possessive Cartography of the Indian Nation-State: Jhuma Sen

Guest Post by JHUMA SEN

Kashmir – the average Facebook trotting, Twitter wielding, middle-class Indian will assert – is an inalienable, inseparable part of Bharat Mata, the anthropomorphic representation of cartographic territorial sovereignty of India. Atoot Ang or inseparable organ. Yeh Fevicol ka majboot jod hai, tutega nahin.

The adhesive in this case is a deadly cocktail of an occupying power periodically using the spectacle of a ritualistic and performative violence to discipline and punish the colony, brutalizing every peaceful protest, responding to stone pelters with bullets, and prisoners with execution, to satiate some imagined collective conscience that sleeps like a baby when a three-year old is shot with his father, a ‘former terrorist’. But Kashmir belongs to India, in the same way Kiran belongs to Rahul in the famed Bollywood film of 1998, Darr: A Violent Love Story, the Wikipedia page of which describe it as a ‘romantic psychological thriller’. [i] The film traces the ‘romantic’ obsession of Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) with Kiran (Juhi Chawla)—the serenading Rahul, the stalker Rahul, the fragile male ego Rahul, the violent Rahul, the abductor Rahul, the killer Rahul and a traumatized Kiran simply wanting to be left alone and desiring freedom from the wretchedness of Rahul’s ‘love’–Tu Haan Kar Ya Na Kar, Tu Hai Meri Kiran (Whether you agree to it or not, Kiran, you are mine’). The relationship between Rahul and Kiran (or for that matter any violent and delusional relationship) mirrors the relationship between the Indian State and Kashmir—the desire to control and the desire to be free.

Freedom means many things to many people. In Kashmir, freedom means freedom from India, Bharat mein azadi nahi, Bharat se azadi chahiye.

Azadi is that word which when dropped, makes everyone in India, including the right wing Mother India loving nationalists and many progressive Free Palestine loving liberals come together in a bizarre show of solidarity with New Delhi’s ‘Kashmir Problem’, oscillating between assertions that Kashmir is an integral part of India to be held by force if necessary to the framing of Kashmir as an India-Pakistan ‘issue’ and steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that Kashmiris are the primary stakeholders of articulating that ‘problem’; New Delhi has been the self appointed arbitrator in determining Kashmiri aspirations and claims to freedom. The policy of denying Kashmiris the right to articulate what they want has been successfully carried forward by Indian media, where a prime time debate on Kashmir (or the future of Kashmir) after every periodic unrest in the valley usually includes everyone but a Kashmiri as the news anchor continues to thunder– ‘but what do they want?’ while remaining deaf to chants of Hum Kya Chahte? Azadi! probably making rounds in the valley that very moment. Ask a Kashmiri and she will probably say that India may or may not have a Kashmir problem, but Kashmir certainly has an India problem.

Between 1989 and 2011 there have been 8000 documented disappearances and 70,000 deaths of Kashmiris resulting from the Indian occupation with 7,000,00 members of military in the state.  In 2011, the State Human Rights Commission of Jammu and Kashmir released a report documenting more than 2000 unidentified bodies in 30-40 odd graveyards and essentially verified other similar reports from local organizations, most notably the International People’s Tribunal of Human Rights and Justice in Indian Administered Kashmir. DNA testing confirmed these bodies belonged to Kashmiris.

None of the ‘inclusive dialogues’ or peace talks that the Indian state has crafted with Kashmir, included a moratorium on extra judicial killings, interrogation/torture, enforced disappearances. India’s diplomacy with Kashmir includes terms of reference that routinely excludes discussions on self determination or heightened autonomy. Article 370, the cavil of the average Indian, is a political promise and a constitutional fraud. The Indian amnesia settles in to preserve the idea of India as a unitary whole, a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic assuring unity and integrity of the Nation. The idea of India as the world’s largest democracy, an aspiring global power sells itself and refuses to part with Kashmir.  Kashmir’s claim to freedom is based on a history that predates even the 1948 UN Resolution, Nehru’s promise of plebiscite assuring Kashmiris that the decision (to remain in India) will be made ‘in the hearts and minds of the men and women of Kashmir; neither in this Parliament, nor in the United Nations nor by anybody else’; and Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

An independent sovereign Kashmir was imagined as early as the 15th century by Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin Bud Shah, and the sentiment was reflected in assertions made by Kashmiri leaders like Abad Ullah, President of Kashmir Kisan Conference who made it amply clear that Kashmiris wont support demands for ‘Akhand Hindustan’ or Pakistan. Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz, a former colleague of Sheikh Abdullah, who later became a follower of M.N. Roy in the History of Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir traces the roots of Kashmiri Independence. Needless to say, even hypothetically, if independence of Kashmir was not rooted in a centuries old history, and was only a twenty-seven year old demand, that right to self determination would still be legitimate. Antiquity of self determination claims and movements do not necessarily add to the weight of their legitimacy. There is no dearth of readings on Kashmir and what Kashmiris want, or what Azadi means, written by Kashmiris and any non-Kashmiri, especially any Indian who wants to know about Kashmir may make herself familiar to the Kashmiri version of events. The recycled motifs of the ‘brainwashed Kashmiri youth’, the ‘misguided Kashmiri youth’, the ‘terrorist Kashmiri’ seem dubious when over three lakh Kashmiris defy bullets and curfew to pay respect to a slain ‘terrorist’. Instead of asking, why mourn the death of a member of a militant group, we need to ask ourselves, what did Burhan Wani represent, that in spite of belonging to a militant group, thousands are mourning him today and the valley is under siege? Let us ask what is it that makes so called mainstream and peaceful non retaliatory politics impossible in Kashmir instead of asking what is the mainstream politics of Kashmir or why is Kashmiri politics always controlled by militants? If Afzal Guru was a terrorist, why did his hometown Sopore boycott election in 2014? Before asking why do Kashmiris mourn when they can more effectively mobilize by other means, let us remember how mourning and remembering have emerged as active practices of dissent in the post Holocaust era and (re)assess the (im)possibility of mobilization in an occupation.

Before insinuating that Kashmir is all about (or mostly about) religious nationalism, let us try to understand how religion became so inextricably enmeshed in defining and expressing the protest of Kashmir’s Muslims against Hindu Rule then, to the culturally defined languages of resistance. If Palestinian nationalism, avowedly secular did not turn ‘Islamic’ with the rise of Hamas in Palestine, why is Kashmiri nationalism, under a leadership of Geelani perceived as Islamist? The historical fusion of Catholicism and Irish nationalism is also a case in point. Before painting Kashmiri resistance as a radical Islamic movement, let us acknowledge that no movement takes place in a sanitized homogenized space—there are and there will be multiple strands of any resistance and it is necessary to know the difference between the politics of resistance and resistance as politics.

If we are to stand in solidarity with the latter, we should stop advising them about the former. We need to stop asking what Kashmir wants and instead need to re-evaluate our politics of complicity and silence, especially when the two are indistinguishable from each other.

[i] This brilliant and apt humorous connection between the two was made by Sucheta De day before yesterday and shared by some friends on Facebook.

3 thoughts on “Terms of Endearment – Kashmir and the Possessive Cartography of the Indian Nation-State: Jhuma Sen”

  1. Simply put, the “Question of Kashmir” is not related to Islamic fanaticism.Unsurprisingly, this spin has been given by Hindu fanatics in power[and on other platforms].


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