When I got up in the morning of 12 July hoping that the killings in Kashmir have stopped somehow while fearing that the number may have risen from 33 that I was aware of when I slept last night, the first thing I did, as I usually do every morning, was to check facebook on my iphone. I was asked for my password even though I have the app on all the time. I had a sinking feeling that this was not usual business and had some connection to my posts highlighting Indian atrocities in Kashmir because only yesterday I had a friend query me if I feared my fb account will be blocked the way it has happened to disturbingly growing number of Kashmiri and proKashmiri activists and scholars. I had laughed off saying that given my profile has my full identity, including my own smiling picture with mother and the Dalai Lama’s portrait, professional status as a professor at a University in the UK, and I post only verified information including links from reputable newspapers and sources, I would be fine. I have been an avid facebooker for more than eight years now and 10000 plus friends and followers from different parts of the world illustrate that I have something relevant to share with all. How wrong I was.
As soon as I entered the password, I got a notification saying that one post that had been shared by more than 600 people yesterday was removed for violating “community standards” of facebook and I was temporarily blocked from posting for a day to start with. It came as a shock because there is no appeal against this unfair censorship and it is clearly political because it cannot be coincidental that first the pro-Kurdish and now pro-Kashmiri individuals are being restricted or blocked even while all forms of majoritarian bigots can keep posting things, threatening dissenters, abusing minorities and wishing death to collectives. One day without facebook for me where I can see posts, comments and tags but cannot react at all was distressing – I felt as if a part of my own life was being crushed and unfairly. I felt suffocated.
If something as small as this can make us feel so strongly, can we imagine how it would feel to lose eye sight or a leg or be fired at, or have hundreds of pellets immersed in our body? I am not even asking us to imagine how it would feel to be killed or raped or tortured or forcibly disappeared. How unfair it would feel where we cannot express our political aspirations, we cannot represent our own history, we cannot be ourselves, we are constantly humiliated, we are always told “you do not matter, you belong to us”? How suffocating it would feel to be oppressed and colonised.
Yet, this is how Kashmiris experiences their everyday life. When those they consider heroes are killed, they are told to shut up because the heroes were terrorists for India. When they protest, they get killed. When they protest against killings, they are killed more. When they escape being killed and get injured and blinded because of indiscriminate firing, they are prevented from going to hospitals or monitored in hospital too. All this in a country seen as the world’s largest democracy.
I have researched for 18 years about Tibet, occupied by China, and have written about vicious forms of colonial control there. When China brutalises and kills Tibetans and there is a strong support by Han chauvinists for their government, we are not surprised because we expect this from an authoritarian regime and a public that is so tightly controlled and brainwashed. However, whenever there are protests and killings in Indian controlled Kashmir, we find chauvinist Indians behaving no differently to how chauvinist Chinese behave even though Indians pride themselves for being world’s largest democracy. The similarity of behaviour of India and China toward Kashmiris and Tibetans despite the regimes in both countries being rather different reflects a harsh truth – that despite their claims of being product of anti-colonial nationalism, they are practicing colonisation over territories and people that refuse to see themselves as integral to the country.
Rightwing Hindu Indian nationalists are cheering the killing of not only Burhan Wani, a young man who took up arms against Indian occupation while assuring his struggle is not communal but simply against terrorism of military rule, but also of unarmed civilians. Social media is witnessing an orgy of celebratory and vicious comments and posts blaming Kashmiris for being killed, blinded and injured and attacking every one who dissents from the collective verbal lynching of Kashmiri body politic. Mainstream media, especially TV news programmes, are not very different as Kashmiri voices are largely marginalised or bullied. The palpable rightward shift of public discourse in India under Narendra Modi’s rule is visible in every sphere in life and therefore the vicious rightwing discourse against Kashmiris should not be surprising.
What is more disturbing is the almost complete silence on the part of progressive Indians including parliamentary left, socialists, feminists and others who would often say how they acknowledge that human rights violations have indeed taken place but it is still possible for Kashmiri aspirations to be accommodated within India. Progressives say they are committed for Kashmiri freedom within India and not freedom from India. Even if we ignore the deeply paternalistic assumptions in such an approach that continue to deny the basic right to self-determination of a collective and forgets that in the end it is for the people to decide what political future they should have, surely we would expect progressives to be outraged with what is happening in Kashmir right now? More than 37 unarmed civilians killed, more than 90 kids and youth lost eyesight fully or partly due to pellets, more than 1500 injured, hospitals and ambulances attacked by police and paramilitary in less than a week and yet there is no sign of outrage, no sign of solidarity. What moral compass governs progressives if they cannot even condemn such level of sadistic violence by the state on unarmed protestors as well as non-protestors? If they are really sincere about supporting freedom for Kashmiris within India, shouldn’t they be at the forefront of marches, protests and questioning of government and the rightwing forces making it clear that no democracy can allow this level of violence with impunity? Preaching Kashmiris to be restrained and not protest is easier than holding armed forces responsible and yet this is all that most progressives do.
Denial of freedom, justice and dignity to Kashmiris while claiming Kashmir as an integral part of India is an indictment of democracy and there is no way in which Indian democracy can redeem itself other than letting Kashmiris be free and let all people of Jammu and Kashmir (both Indian and Pakistani controlled) decide as a collective whether they want to be part of India, Pakistan or independent.
Kashmir is presented as an integral part of India, a part without which India is not complete, India cannot not India. In secular imagination, Jammu and Kashmir is a crown of the post-colonial state, an illustration of triumphalism of nationalism against erstwhile colonialism. In the anthropomorphic Hindu nationalist imagination of India as mother India, J&K is represented as the head of the mother and any talk of self-determination for inhabitants of J&K presented as sacrilege, as asking for chopping off the head. Between 15 August 1947 when India was declared to be independent and 27 October 1947 when through contested and dubious process the princely ruler of J&K (with a promise of plebiscite to ascertain wishes of the people – a promise not fulfilled until today) signed the Instrument of Accession to India, this crown, this head was not part of post-colonial India. If Kashmir is indeed integral to the idea of India, if it is a crown, if it is the head of mother India, are Indian/Hindu nationalists willing to admit that at its inception, India was incomplete, that secular India was without its crown, that mother India was without her head? Or can they at least acknowledge that nations are constructed, national bodies are imagined and thus India (like all other nation-states) is manufactured through processes of politics. This acknowledgement would then offer hope for a resolution in the future because there would be a recognition that to be complete, to be secular, to imagine a national body, India does not really need to occupy and oppress a people unwilling.
I have this to say to those super patriots who keep bringing up the bogey of “jihadis”, “radical Islamists” or “Pakistani proxy” while justifying all atrocities against Kashmiri Muslims.
It is this post that facebook in its wisdom removed saying it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards and censored me. I was left wordless; on facebook at least.