I do not think ordinary Indians support the brutality of army occupation in Kashmir. Despite what the Indian state says, and despite what the Indian army and CRPF are doing, I honestly do not believe that any ordinary Indian supports the torture of young men, the blinding of people attending a funeral, the rape of women, the killings and maiming and abuse and humiliation that are now a routinized fact of daily life in the Kashmir valley. To believe that ordinary Indians enjoy watching this spectacle of violence, that ordinary Indians take pleasure in the torture of children, would be to think India is now a country comprised of sadistic psychopaths. I honestly do not think ordinary Indians are psychopaths. I do think, however, that ordinary Indians, and I count myself amongst them, have somehow managed, till now, to keep some distance between what is happening in Kashmir and the idea of India as a whole. After all, India is a large and complex country, a huge and diverse society. Everything that happens in Kashmir, the brutality of the army and the security forces, cannot signify the whole truth of India we tell ourselves. It seems somehow unfair to us ordinary Indians that what happens in Kashmir reflects on us all.
But the time has come now to squarely face some hard truths about ourselves, and the dissimulations, psychological and social, by which we continue to live in this country and call ourselves ‘Indians’.
If what the government tells us is true, that there is no ‘India’ without ‘Kashmir’, it is only stating a bald historical truth. The day India came into existence as an independent postcolonial country was the day ‘Kashmir’ came into being as an occupied territory. India became postcolonial and colonizer in the same instant. There is no historical contradiction here: this is the the zombie afterlife, as a friend describes it, of British colonialism. We know this history, we know its consequences, we are seeing it unfold every day in the Kashmir valley. But we still behave as though we can continue to think this is an abstract question or old history.
But we must stop lying to ourselves. We must find the courage to accept the truth that every killing in Kashmir by Indian security forces, every rape, every murder, every child brutalized, is a referendum on India. Not on Kashmir. It is a referendum on the existence of India as a political project.
If India can only remain India, as we are told by the government, by insisting Kashmir is an integral part of India against any wishes of the Kashmiri people. If India’s identify as India depends on the occupation of Kashmir then logically we must accept that India remains democratic not despite these horrors, but that the existence of India depends on this horror. It depends on the rape of women in Kunanposhpora. It depends on, feeds on, the brutal torture and disappearance of 6000 people in the Kashmir valley.
A CRPF soldier pushed a needle into the eye of a 5 year old child. A 5 year-old child. People attending a funeral have been blinded by pellets. This is what is being done in Kashmir today. This is what is happening in our name as Indians. Do we truly, as Indians, absorb the full weight of this fact? Do we truly, as Indians, understand what this means? There is absolutely nowhere for us to hide now. At all.
So what are we going to do as Indians? I am talking with my fellow citizens, to my fellow Indians: We need to free ourselves, as Indians, from Kashmir. We must free ourselves if we wish to call ourselves Indians without irony, in a non-pathological way. We must free ourselves from Kashmir for the mental and moral health of our country. If we do not have the courage to do this, then every time we cast our vote, every time we exercise our rights as citizens of an electorally democratic country we do so not despite, but because of India’s occupation of Kashmir. India is not a democratic country despite this occupation. India is a democratic country because of this occupation. Let us accept this as a historical and existential fact. Those of us who call ourselves Indians of any stripe – left, right and everything in between – should begin to inhabit the subject position of colonizer, not that of erstwhile colonized persons. As colonizers. Our personal and political solidarities may lie with the Palestinian people; but our actual identifications must now be with liberal Israelis. Our own locations are akin to those Israelis who may hate what is being done in their name, but nonetheless cannot escape the truth that their existence materially depends on the continuing colonization of Palestine.
The historical birth-story of India explains the terror that grips ordinary Indians when the question of Kashmir arises. This fear, fed and played on by the official position of the Indian state, says: If even once it were admitted that Kashmir is actually not an integral part of India, has never been a part of India, what will happen to the idea of India? If once it is admitted, even once, that the fantasy of territorial integrity and India’s credentials as a secular country can be undone by speaking of Kashmir, what will happen to India? What sense will it make to speak then of India as a country? This is a real terror for ordinary Indians but we must find the resources to reject this official position. We must unmask it for the lies it is peddling. If we want India to be India then Kashmir has to be resolved.
Let us become an actually postcolonial country. To become an actually postcolonial country means that we have to move beyond the legacy bequeathed to us by the colonizer. Let the Kashmiris decide their own fate. Let the people of Jammu and Ladakh decide. Let there be a political program and will for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley.
Kashmir is the great moral question of our time as Indians, most especially for those who call themselves Indian nationalists. Indians must be able to talk about the self-determination of Kashmir because the alternative is that to be an Indian is to be an occupier. This is the true moment of Indian independence. Now, at this moment. This is the moment at which India must achieve its independence from the colonial legacy that has transformed us into the image of our colonizer. In order to be something else India must commit to ascertaining the wishes of the Kashmiri people. The only way to make the identity ‘Indian’ a politically and morally defensible one is to let the people of Kashmir decide their own fate. All of us, whether we are nationalists or not, whatever ideological and political position we may occupy, whatever may be our investment in Indian politics leave alone Kashmiri politics, still call ourselves ‘Indians’. In this matter we do not have any choice: we are born into Indian citizenship. If we wish to live with this identity with some modicum of non-pathological sanity, then every Indian has to think about what is happening in Kashmir as a conflict that inhabits ourselves. This is not about the Kashmiris, it is about Indians and how we wish to live in India.
We, Indians, should be demanding our azadi. Azadi from the killing and blindings and rapes and torture that apparently enable our freedom as Indians. Azadi from occupying this horrifying role in which we find ourselves. We should refuse to accept this role: we must have the courage to say our existence as Indians cannot be determined any longer by the continuing oppression of the Kashmiri people. If this is the condition of India’s existence, then we do not want it. We want Azadi from this position in which we have all been placed.
Hum kya chahte? Azadi.