A response to a recent piece on Raiot StandwithJNU and/or StandwithKashmir
We are a group of liberal, secular Kashmiris whose voices mostly go unnoticed and unheard by the mainstream Indian media and in Kashmir. We feel deeply concerned and personally affected by the continuing turmoil and renewed militancy in the valley. But today, we wish to make a rejoinder to a statement recently published by a group of anonymous women faculty that claims to be connected to Kashmir through their work. The anonymous writers are somewhat like the students in JNU who abused the goodwill, trust and naïveté of their Indian nationalist communist friends, made hate speeches, threatened war and then ran away, leaving their friends to suffer the consequences of what they did. We are not they. We are not anonymous; we believe in standing up for the ideas of liberty and human rights and take it on our chin instead of hiding behind someone’s back.
As we watch the students and the faculty of various Indian universities and institutions rough it out, in a democratic and peaceful manner, over every Indian’s essential right to freedom of expression and dissent that make us all proud of our democratic heritage; and yes, despite the scathing criticisms from mainstream media and repressive action from some sections of our society, we also look back with dismay and disquiet at how our democratic rights for the same freedoms in Kashmir valley were crushed under the heavy boots of suppression by the Islamized atmosphere in every sphere and institution of Kashmir, and not many spoke up for us.
The student protest in JNU and its inept handling has resulted in many unintended consequences. Instead of focusing on weeding out and prosecuting those who indulged in provocative sloganeering and threatened to destroy India, there was an over-zealousness to declare as seditious those who might not have been. But nothing beats the irony of some pro-separatist Kashmiri and other academics using it as an opportunity to open the doors of perception and invite us in to experience the paradox illusion of #StandWithJNU and/or #StandWithKashmir.
Through this public statement, we join issue with this group of ‘anonymous women faculty’ that has taken up the task of speaking on behalf of whole of Kashmir. We claim to speak for us and for every Kashmiri silenced by the Kalashnikov supporting separatist. Through this statement we invite all the voiceless, suppressed, secular and non-violent Kashmiris to join with us to reclaim our voice in Kashmir from forces of violence and suppression brought about by the ‘azadi’ movement.
Despite the grave suppressions imposed in Kashmir by the ‘azadi’ movement that these academics represent, and even as they claim to support the defense of free speech all across India, we wish to use this opportunity to suggest an open dialogue with the ‘azadi’ spokespersons about the Kashmir issue that these academics claim was triggered at JNU and then sidelined. Whatever transpired at JNU after that distasteful, unsavoury event must not stop us discussing some of the ‘fundamental’ concerns affecting every Kashmiri in and outside the valley. We can only hope that these ‘academics’ are willing to step into spaces for dialogue that are not the controlled environment that they are usually most comfortable in and cater to the propagation of only their viewpoints.
Now, let us take up some of the points of these academics:
Harassment: First of all we express our helplessness and anguish over the harassment and ‘othering’ of Kashmiri Muslim students by their co-students, landlords, neighborhood bullies, and sometimes even local police, in various Indian cities. In many ways, the humiliations that they are subjected to, remind some of us of the slurs and slights that we endured after our forced eviction from Kashmir in 1990 and during the refuge we took in several parts of the country. The only difference is that we were called “impotent” “cowards” and they are being called “anti-national” “terrorists”. This stereotyping and affrontation of people in India is just short of becoming a national culture. In the post-1990 Kashmir, it is the Bihari labourer at the receiving end in Bombay and Kashmir, UP walas earn the abuse in West Bengal, the Bangladeshi migrant in Delhi and the Africans or the students from Northeast India elsewhere. Following the JNU incident triggered by a few faceless, cowardly Kashmiris, we fear that many innocent Kashmiri Muslims living in several cities of India, may bear the brunt of the folly committed by a few. As common, secular and law abiding Kashmiris, we strongly appeal to our countrymen and women to show tolerance, compassion and kindness towards Kashmiri Muslims, who are equally citizens of India as any other.
Free Speech: While the JNU students and faculty are fighting for upholding of civil liberties, it is gravely ironic that the academia sympathetic to the cause of Kashmiri ‘azadi’ and self-determination, has never spoken against the gagging and killings of Kashmiri dissenters, minorities, Leftists, communists and moderate Kashmiris in the 1990s or 2000s or even now. When Vice Chancellor of Kashmir University, Mushir-ul-Haq was murdered in Srinagar in 1990, we did not read any ‘azadi’-sympathizing academic protesting in the letter to the editor columns of local and national newspapers. When poets like Sarwanand Koul Premi and Abdul Sattar Ranjoor (member of Communist Party of India) were killed by the champions of self-determination, we did not hear any of their academics protesting in the streets of Srinagar or Delhi or elsewhere. Nor did we hear any such academic whimpering over the murder of Director Doordarshan Lassa Koul, journalist Saidan Shafi, columnist PN Bhat, political activist Yousuf Halwai, and many more. We have seen how some of the self-determination intelligentsia now actively voicing their support for ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘right to dissent’ is also the same who actively championed the cancellation of ‘Harud literary festival’ in Srinagar. None of the ‘azadi’ backing academics uttered a word to support ‘Pragash’, a Kashmiri girls’ rock band. While we stand by Wendy Doniger and MF Hussain, and also by Salman Rushdie and Tasleema Nasreen, their kind still justify the continuing ban and ‘fatwas’ against the latter two. Do we need to remind them about the tactical silence over another such case, when, in September 2015, Kashmir University students, chanting slogans of ‘azadi’, disrupted a marathon (running) event organized on the university premises, vandalized the event setup, abused and physically harmed the participants and sexually harassed the female participants? It is also telling that the ‘azadi’ shouting women academics did not consider it important enough to raise their voice against the acid attacks on Kashmiri girls who refused to wear burqas (veils) and defied the militant dress code diktats in Kashmir in the 90s. As against such academicians who show selective outrage, we have always stood by the victims of human rights violations committed by the Indian state. Whether it is rape victims of Kunan Poshpora or innocent boys who were killed in a fake encounter in Pathribal, we demand justice for all.
Dalits: The concern shown by “the women academicians” about the abominable Brahminical persecution of Dalits, appears as nothing more than a political game of ‘holier than thou upmanship’, a strategic ploy really, to shame Indians about the structural flaws and imbalances in Indian society and institutions in order to paint the Kashmiri society in benign light. Their concern for India’s Dalits, would go a long way in the overall fight against casteism in India if only they also highlighted the institutionalized casteist, sectarian, ethnic and religious prejudices and gender discrimination that Kashmiri society continues to perpetuate against Ahmadis, non-Peers, non-Sayeeds, non-Aghas, Hanjis, other so called low castes, Pandits, Sikhs, Christians, Tibetan Muslims, Gujjars, Paharis, Biharis and LGBT community. Even today, the former scavenger community in Kashmir, continues to be considered the lowest of the low by many so called upper caste Kashmiris. Their school and college going children need as much support from the larger community in Kashmir just as students like Rohit Vemula and Kanhaiya have drawn from the separatist Kashmiri academia.
Self-determination: A simple glance at the map of J&K would show that Kashmir Valley is just one part of the whole state and not the complete state. (It is in fact a very small part of the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir). Thus it’d be a misrepresentation to consider the whole state of J&K as being only Kashmir. Geographically Ladakh and Jammu divisions together form the majority of the land mass of the state. They have not seen any demand to separate from India. Jammu natives have been demanding a separate state within India and Leh Buddhists have been demanding a Union Territory within India, so that they could completely divorce themselves from the complications of sharing resources with the rest of the state and avoid being dragged into the problem that Kashmir is. Second, demographically the population of J&K is not just composed of Kashmiris but of various tribes, ethnic and linguistic groups like Gujjars, Dogras, Ladakhis, Kargilis, Gilgitis, Baltis, and no group other than Kashmiris have either voiced such demand or showed their alignment with it. Many secessionists, most prominently Syed Ali Shah Geelani, reject the whole idea of secular democracy and yet feel that they should be granted the right to communal self-determination. Third, among Kashmiris too, not every Kashmiri Muslim subscribes to the demand of separation from India. The Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) population was terrorized, massacred and forced into migration from the Valley on communal grounds and on account of not aligning with the demands of Kashmir’s separation from India. Thus it’s a great misnomer and criminal to present and propagate this so called “azadi” as a demand of the whole state and its residents.
These are however, only the tip of the iceberg issues that have bedeviled Kashmir over much of its troubled past. We definitely do need to discuss and debate them but that discussion needs to start in Kashmir.
If some people in Kashmir see the debates about freedom of expression and the ongoing celebration of JNU’s culture of dissent as an opportunity to ask the ‘foundational questions’ about Kashmir’s disputed political status, we think that is being opportunistic. We are the people of Kashmir who disagree with the dominant narrative of Kashmir’s ‘azadi tehreek’ and its spokespersons. We have always wanted to discuss all these issues and much more, not because of what recently happened at JNU but because these issues have needed to be discussed openly, honestly and in an atmosphere of freedom from even before the first innocent person in Kashmir was killed for azadi.
It is not only ironic but sheer opportunism, that while these anonymous ‘women faculty members’ seek to ‘find a common vocabulary with the JNU students and left-liberal faculty, to establish a firm platform for solidarity with Kashmiri voices and ask some important questions’, yet they conveniently ignore that the same ‘such democratic venues of dissent and debate’ have been destroyed by the very people they speak for. Yes, nationalism, freedom of expression, the everyday brutalities of living in Kashmir, and even the ‘easy binaries between violence and nonviolence’ can and should be discussed. But it is first of all for the people of Kashmir to discuss amongst themselves. This can be possible only after the public and intellectual spaces all over Kashmir have been reclaimed from the Kalashnikov advocating public and their intellectual supporters.
We see dialogue, debate and raising questions as crucial to resolution of Kashmir. If you do really care for ideals and freedoms like ‘right to free expression’ and right to dissent’ than we invite you to join us in asking for the same freedoms in Kashmir. We ask you to use your influence with the people you claim to speak for, to renounce violence and fight with us for the same rights and freedoms that you praise the students and faculty of Indian academic institutions for. The spirit of freedom of speech that you welcome in JNU is also what we seek in Kashmir.
- Aalok Aima, artist and business executive
- Aarti Tikoo Singh, journalist
- Ajay Raina, filmmaker
- Arshia Malik, teacher
- Arif Maghribi Khan, psychiatrist
- Bhawna Kak, learning consultant
- Chetna Kaul, filmmaker
- Ieshan Vinay Misri, social worker
- Khalid Baig, entrepreneur
- Mushtaq Dar, salesman
- Nihansh Bhat, finance professional
- Niyati Bhat, writer, visual arts & cinema student
- Preeti Bakaya, policy & communications professional
- Rajesh Razdan, product manager
- Randhir Bhan, architect
- Rayan, student (full name cannot be disclosed)
- Shantiveer Kaul, writer and columnist
- Sualeh Keen, cultural critic
- Sushant Taing, Freelance writer
- Shahid, procurement professional (full name cannot be disclosed)
- Vinayak Razdan, writer & startup co-founder