The Indian Left cannot meaningfully engage with “azadi-parast” Kashmir by infantilising the movement or lecturing them on freedom, writes Arif Ayaz Parrey.
Same old storyAs I write this, almost two months have passed since the events of 9–10 February, when Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri women and men, mostly students, incensed the polluted Delhi air with the most fragrant slogans of azadi. The events were organised to celebrate the martyrdom of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat. The slogans were for Kashmir’s unalienable right to self-determination and against the Indian occupation of Kashmir.
Events like these, organised by Indians but with substantial Kashmiri participation, have been taking place in Delhi for almost a decade, helping widen the understanding on Kashmir. However, for the first time, the Indian state apparatus—the government, media and civil society—is making a concerted effort to curb the mushrooming of knowledge on Kashmir in Delhi. In doing so, it is as if the icy northern breeze has lifted the corner of the curtain just a little to demonstrate to the Delhi public, and the larger audience tied to the happenings in the Empire’s capital, what India has been up to in Kashmir. The hounding, the arrests, the media trials, the humiliation of family and friends, the attempts to strike fear in the hearts of all those who refuse to accept what they are told, are all parts of the mildest form of “normalcy” in Kashmir. So much so, that the leadership of the pro-occupation parties like PDP and NC never tire of telling their acolytes that questioning such a state of affairs is useless and insane.
The Indian media has covered the twin events and their aftermath so well that the pun in Edward Said’s Covering Islam can be extended to their actions. The media, reporting extensively, has tried to bury the basic issue under tomes of misleading words. The attitude of Vicco Vajradanti leftists—made from a mishran of 18 laabh-dayak jadi-bootiyan—has not helped either. The fabric Kashmiris have embroidered with the news of their blood and the needle of courage is being undone and yarns are being spun out of it. There are loose threads everywhere. It will be neither feasible nor fruitful to deal with all of them here. The distinction between Kashmiris and India’s Hindu Right remains clear. So does the distinction between Kashmiris and India’s Hindu Centre, Congress et al. So the attempt will be to clear the confusion on the relation between Kashmiris and India’s Left.
Nafi AsbaatFor example (and this is an example I want to respond to at length because it is symptomatic of so much that is wrong with India’s Left politics on Kashmir), take the arguments made by Shuddhabrata Sengupta in his piece on Kafila, where he calls for a conversation between me and Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNUSU president.
There can be no such conversation between me (as an “azadi-parast” Kashmiri) and Kanhaiya (as a symptom of India’s parliamentary Left) on freedom. Conversations require the existence of at least two parties and the acknowledgment of that existence by all parties concerned. Hamlet talking to the ghost is a monologue, not a conversation. A blind man talking to himself in the presence of another person is also a monologue, not a conversation. I’m a Kashmiri. I’m not an Indian. This is the core of my existence. Anybody who does not recognise this does not recognise my existence. How can I converse with Kanhaiya when he does not recognise my existence?
When Kanhaiya says he is Indian, he is not taking away any of my rights, so I respect his right to say so. When I say I’m not Indian, I’m not taking away any of his rights. His refusal to acknowledge my existence is therefore purely an act of violence, an act of zulm.
There can be no such conversation between me (as an “azadi-parast” Kashmiri) and Kanhaiya (as a symptom of India’s parliamentary Left) on freedom. Conversations require the existence of at least two parties and the acknowledgment of that existence by all parties concerned.
“Is anyone a slave in India? No,” said Kanhaiya Kumar in one of his first interviews after the event. I am that “no”.
Learning CurveTwo, conversations require an exchange. A mathematician talking to a horse about fractal theorems while the horse nods is not having a conversation. Somebody talking over the phone long-distance to a deaf person who is making signs with her hands is not having a conversation. An Indian solider waterboarding a Kashmiri detainee whose will finally breaks and he reveals information about his comrades is still a conversation; although forced, there is an exchange of information, of ideas, of knowledge. Conversations must always be a mutual teaching experience.
Kashmiris have been busy unravelling the meanings and possibilities of freedom for many decades, if not centuries. There has been a robust engagement with the concepts, theories and practices of freedom in the context of the government, the individual, society, the collective, women, minorities, law, administration, justice, culture, progress and so on. I do not want to convey that we are special. This entanglement with freedom is a universal phenomenon. I’m stating it only because a large section of India’s liberal class, infantilising Kashmir, does not recognise this. That is why the calls to learn from Kanhaiya.
Since, at present, the constitution of Kashmir is the imagination in Kashmir, our engagement with freedom is limitless. People like Kanhaiya can teach us nothing because their notion of freedom is limited by India’s constitution.
Since, at present, the constitution of Kashmir is the imagination in Kashmir, our engagement with freedom is limitless. People like Kanhaiya can teach us nothing because their notion of freedom is limited by India’s constitution. What lessons on freedom can limits teach limitlessness, except inadequacy?
What can an azadi-parast Kashmiri learn from Indian feminists who tirelessly express horror and disgust and ridicule the khap panchayats of Haryana when these panchayats order a woman to marry her rapist? Yet, when the same feminists discover how the Indian state uses sexual violence as a war strategy in Kashmir, to break the will of both women and men and display the might of the Indian state (including its legal writ when the police force in its employ destroys or tampers with the evidence and the legislature protects its soldiers with laws like AFSPA) they merely consider it a human rights violation and ask Kashmiris to seek “judicial intervention” through the courts of the same country which used the war strategy to begin with. What conversation can one have with a feminist who advocates marriage of an occupied land with its rapist state?
What can an azadi-parast Kashmiri learn from India’s left-liberal class advocating “debates” between an Indian Kanhaiya and a Kashmiri Arif, and forgetting that every truthful word Arif utters during such a debate is illegal under Indian law, the same law within the ambits of which Kanhaiya wants to have the conversation. In an occupation that amuses itself by reducing people to numbers, do I need to repeat the number of people India has imprisoned, killed and tortured merely for espousing the cause of freedom in Kashmir? To top it all, any refusal on our part to have a conversation under such a rigged system is termed cowardice.
What conversation can one have with a feminist who advocates marriage of an occupied land with its rapist state?
What can an azadi-parast Kashmiri learn from people who term the presence of a handful of militants as a threat to a culture of debate, but conveniently ignore India’s military-bureaucratic-financial-political apparatus, perhaps believing that the cold metal of the guns of hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers in Kashmir is a catalyst for open debate?
What can an azadi-parast Kashmiri learn from people about who one can predict the following: Kashmir’s garland of slogans goes something like this: a) Naarai takbeer, Allah-u-Akbar; b) Hum kya chahte? Azadi; c) Azadi ka matlab kya? La-ilaha-il-Allah. India’s left-liberals are now echoing our slogans of “Hum kya chahte? Azadi”. That is ok. But since they use it with an Indian flag in the background, when Kashmiris distinguish their protests by emphasizing on the a) and c), or inventing a few new slogans, the same Left in India will brand this an Islamisation of the azadi movement because Kashmiris have shifted the focus of the slogans, while India’s Right (and indifferent public) will have forgotten there is an a) and c) to the slogans and will call it radicalisation under the influence of Pakistan. Situations like this would be comical if it was not Kashmiris who had to finally pay the price, in blood, of such nonsense.
India’s colonial game in Kashmir is a war of attrition. The liberal leftists of India never tire of telling us that they believe in statelessness while continuing to live peaceably in the Indian state. How are we to ascertain whether they really do believe in statelessness, or it is a ruse to keep us busy while their state sinks its fangs deeper into the Kashmiri skin? What steps are they taking for “Bharat ki barbaadi”, the annihilation of the Indian state, as true anarchists and Marxists must?
India’s colonial game in Kashmir is a war of attrition. The liberal leftists of India never tire of telling us that they believe in statelessness while continuing to live peaceably in the Indian state. How are we to ascertain whether they really do believe in statelessness?
There is nothing to learn from these feminists, radicals, anarchists, parliamentary Marxists and suchlike, who believe in “the ambit of the Indian constitution”. They are at what one may call the PDP-stage of development in terms of ethics and a sense of justice. If a Kashmiri azadi-parast is curious about the trajectory such groups and individuals are taking, she can watch the PDP’s theatrics any day. The only thing these sundry Indian groups can teach us is duplicity and Brahmanism, but, once again, we have our own PDP for that.
In Search of a Unified Field TheoryOne can only begin to engage with and learn from people who recognise our right to self-determination and are at war with the Indian state. There are many such people in India today and the number is growing. A majority of these people belong to the radical Left. They are working on a general theory of relativity of justice, trying to evolve universal principles and extending solidarities centrifugally. Small nationalities like Kashmir are working on the quantum mechanics of justice, trying to break hegemonies at the micro level. These two groups respect each other because they know that they are basically seeking the same thing. That is why there is much a Kashmiri can learn from an Umar Khalid and an Anirban Bhattacharya, but even more from the Maoists and tribals of the belt between Ganga and Krishna, the radical Dalit-Bahujan and feminist movements. The search for a unified field theory on justice continues.
People who recognise themselves as Indian but are still at war with the Indian state underline a very important point of Kashmir’s struggle for azadi as well. Our struggle is not against the people of India, not even against the soldiers of India. Our struggle is against India’s constitution that makes it possible for India to occupy us. Our struggle is against the idea of India, which cannot accommodate rejection. The day people of India change the nizaam (order) in India making it impossible for nations to be imprisoned; our fight against the Indian state will end.
One can only begin to engage with and learn from people who recognise our right to self-determination and are at war with the Indian state. There are many such people in India today and the number is growing. A majority of these people belong to the radical Left.
Which brings us to the last point I want to make here: Once Kashmir is free, it does not necessarily mean there are no solidarities to offer to or common fights to fight with the people of India. Numerous forms of injustice cut across borders and must be fought together.
But India’s left-liberals have been offering their distressed solidarity, and nothing more, to us for what their government and their soldiers are doing in Kashmir in their name. What can be more humiliating than your oppressors sharing your pain while continuing to inflict more pain? Reminds one of a couplet from a Jagjit Singh ghazal, a lament Kashmiris can make to azadi, “Nahi milte ho mujhse tum toh sab hamdard hein mere/zamana mujh se jal jaayea agar tum milne aa jao” (When you do not meet me, everybody is my well-wisher/Please come and let the world burn in envy). The azadi we want is also azadi from the pity of our occupiers.
If this was not enough, they also expect us to be grateful for that solidarity and return the favour. Demanding solidarity is always tricky. There might be some exceptions but surely masters cannot demand solidarity from their slaves. If a master needs the solidarity of a slave, manumission should first take place and only then the freed slave can decide whether to offer solidarity or not. Unless Kashmir is free, there is no way to tell Kashmiris are genuinely interested in this “freedom from” and “freedom in” debate of India or it is being forced on them. After Kashmir’s independence, we might decide to be still interested in Indian issues, or we might renew our historical ties with Lahore, Kabul, Samarkand, Isfahan and Bukhara, or we might decide to turn to China, to Italy and Spain, whatever. Shuddhabrata cannot set a condition that only if I keep talking to him will he set me free.
If this was not enough, they also expect us to be grateful for that solidarity and return the favour. Demanding solidarity is always tricky. There might be some exceptions but surely masters cannot demand solidarity from their slaves.
In writing this, I am aware of the irony that even though I keep repeating that azadi-parast Kashmiris can have no conversation with constitutionally-limited Indians, I’m nevertheless indulging in such a conversation. But only because India has deployed seven hundred thousand soldiers in Kashmir. The conversation Shuddhabrata summons Kanhaiya and me for is facilitated by India’s military occupation of Kashmir. The azadi we want is also azadi from forced conversations like this.
The “mainstream” Left in India never tires of calling the Hindu Right (at present in power) fascist. Yet the Hindu Right, believing in a mythological geography, has always made it clear that they want only the territory of Kashmir. The mainstream Left wants even the people of Kashmir and our very souls. This is the heart of fascism.