The dissent in JNU has flowed out of the university and rapidly engulfed the whole of India. This moment, which has to be an (ostensibly) undoing of the party in power, has ended up providing more space to the disputed issue of Kashmir than UN conferences or Indo-Pak bilateral talks. This is a blessing in disguise for the conflict-marred people of Kashmir who find themselves the root cause of what is transpiring throughout India now but for the Kashmiris studying in India who are being hounded right from the day the event was organised.
JNU as an event is multifaceted and has segregated the Indian community based on their perceptions towards Kashmir and the conflict. Sympathizers changed colours overnight. Those vouching for freedom, an ambivalent term in the present context, shut their mouth when the time to voice their opinions came. Those who spoke, tuned their views in such a manner as to avoid themselves being tagged as “anti-national”. They subdued ideologies to save their faces which they deemed to be of more significance than aligning with truth.
At this particular moment, JNU is in news worldwide. Universities all around the world have stood in support of the right to free debating conditions in a university, especially of JNU’s stature. Prominent thinkers and writers, from Chomsky to to Pamuk to Butler, condemned the high-handedness of Indian state in dealing with dissenters. Every other day a march is being organised in the capital, in a university or any other city in support of JNU fraternity. However none mentions the sordid tale of Kashmir University in Indian occupied Kashmir, where the only independent students union stands banned and teachers associations always sides with the “state” rather than students during times of distress.
The state clampdown on dissent demands condemnation that is not selective and biased. A country, that takes pride in preaching the slogan of largest democracy in the world, dealing in such a ruthless manner with those who dare disagree with the incumbent government is certainly obnoxious. When teachers and journalists are being assaulted inside courtrooms, with assaulters featuring none other than the members of Legislative Assemblies, it clearly speaks nothing good about the political order of the country. More ironical is how police has been watching this whole drama and has been reduced to a state armour that acts at the behest of government of the day. No surprise that police and judiciary constitute the permanent power of a modern democratic state by virtue of whom a state perpetually exists.
Along with the astonishment over handling of the whole event, the other noteworthy point is how the whole debate has been hijacked in the name of free speech and right to dissent and traversed what the event actually was organised for. The event commemorated the “judicial killing” of Afzal Guru whose sham trial testifies the farcical state of India’s judicial system itself. A multitude of activists, writers, academics and the whole of Kashmir condoned his hanging in 2013. The event in same vein called for end to the military occupation of Kashmir which, again, is an undeniable fact. But the artistic conduction of matters post the event is what bewildered everyone. The event has been reduced to, and identified by, a few slogans whose sources are yet to be ascertained. Barring these slogans, the inability of India and it’s society to hear, listen, debate and accept Kashmir as an occupation has been denuded for the umpteenth time.
This brings us to an important point which is how should Kashmiris should react to this. The event was for Kashmir but now the talk has shifted somewhere else. Those seething with anger are demanding the restoration of debating spaces inside varsities while hiding their ignominious hypocrisy over Kashmir. They don’t resist their fascist government for curbing the right to speak for Kashmir. Kashmir remains a forbidden arena in mainland India. If someone doesn’t subscribe to the view, of Kashmir’s occupation by India, the best he can do is defend the right of others to hold on to their views. This is what Voltaire would have wanted. This is also what the Indian state doesn’t want.
Whom should Kashmiris thank now and stand for ? Should we stand for the Left who condemned the event as an “anti-national activity” initially and now are protesting over state’s irresponsible handling of the matter ? Should we stand for the ideologues who preach freedom from autocratic governments but don’t wish the inalienable right to freedom for Kashmir ? Should we stand for those, who till very recent spoke of Kashmir’s right to self determination, and now sing an entirely different tune to save themselves from persecution by their state ? Should we stand for hypocrites for whom Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest superimposes the real issue of dense militarisation in Kashmir ? Or should we stand for those who manipulate the connotations of Azaadi itself to suit their personal interests ?
The exposition of some harsh realities from this whole hullabaloo serves us much better than others. We now get to rationally decide who are our well-wishers and who appease us in the name of solidarity. We now get to understand that it is us who have to courageously brave the Indian state, alone. But the silence of friends is not a forgettable thing. It will be remembered eternally more than the words of enemies.
The entire debate has foregrounded two persons — Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid. The former expressed himself very well at the first instant itself. The meaning of Azaadi, in his own words, is freedom from saffronisation, casteism, poverty, communalism, state hegemony and clamping down on dissent. Kanhaiya reiterated the official and rhetorical Indian narrative and mighy well be acquitted soon. The state machinations have failed to protect Kanhaiya Kumar’s integrity and provide him ample security from attacks by goons disguised as lawyers. What Kanhaiya is facing is the implication of the constitution and judiciary that he placed firm belief on.
Having been a vocal supporter of Kashmir’s freedom struggle, Umar faces the worst form of persecution by the state, intelligence and media, together the three of whom devilishly conspired to paint him as an alleged terrorist sympathiser. His family lives in abject fear with continuous threats. His father is being compelled to ask for forgiveness for his son’s “seditious” actions. Umar and his colleague Anirban surrendered to the police few days ago. They are now facing a nation that is hell-bent upon eliminating them just for displaying solidarity with oppressed Kashmiris. A heavy price to pay for a highly contentious issue in a shameless democracy.
A TRP-hungry media industry, a right-winged despotic government, a “collective conscience” satisfying judiciary and a police department that has branded him “guilty till proven innocent” are desperate to lay their hands upon this young man who refused to cure his broken tooth because it was less important in contrast to people dying of poverty in rural India. Nonetheless, good to hear was how both of them stuck to their ideologies on Kashmir, Anirban in particular, who invoked Ambedkar in legitimising the demand of plebiscite for oppressed Kashmiris.
Amidst all this, Professor SAR Geelani has been arrested on sedition charges. The charges labelled on him are courtesy attending a meeting at the Press Club that condemned the “judicial killing” of Afzal Guru. Geelani is an automatic suspect. He bears a Muslim name, is a Kashmiri, has been a firm proponent of Kashmir’s freedom struggle and faced imprisonment along with Afzal Guru in the infamous Parliament case, only to be acquitted later. The above-mentioned attributes are perfect hallmarks for a person to be tagged a “terrorist” in India. While the attention seems to focus on Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban, SAR Geelani has been brushed aside as if he is already a convicted criminal. Again, a case of selective solidarity and biased outrage.
Those who choose to maintain silence and occupy a hypocritical position on Kashmir while demanding the privilege of free speech and expression in universities across India are more calamitous to justice, humanity and human rights than fringe elements. Martin Neimöller might be of use here with a slightly varied interpretation. Indian intellectuals, in name, might face a similar crisis as Martin thought Germans had in Nazi era.
“First they came for Kashmiris, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Kashmiri.
Then they came for Dalits, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Dalit.
Then they came for Maoists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Maoist.
Then they came for me —
And there was no one left to speak for me.”
First and foremost, being a Kashmiri, I am with Kashmir. I am with free speech. I am with Azaadi. Not from WTO. But from India.