Battles in the mind

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: June 1, 1999
Real battles are fought and won in the mind.  For both Pakistan and India, with equally rigid mind–sets, the current conflict along the LOC offers another fortuitous occasion to bombard their people with mutually hardened positions on the one issue that begs urgent resolution — the Kashmir dispute. The opening of a war front in Kargil could not have come at a more opportune time for the political leadership in both countries. 
 

For Pakistan, responsible for this provocation, the commitment to support Kashmiri ‘freedom fighters’ in their revolt against Indian repression, runs deep — it stems from the Pakistani establishment’s ideological resolve to complete the ‘unfinished agenda of Partition’ despite the fact that the very basis of the two–nation theory has been seriously challenged within Pakistan itself and what we have today is a thoroughly dismembered state. But Kashmir still manages to recapture much of this lost sentiment. 

TheQaid–e–Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s derision for the Kashmiri people (he had dubbed the Quit Kashmir movement of the Muslim–majority Kashmiris against Maharaja Hari Singh as a movement of goondas!) is conveniently forgotten. What is being pursued with single–minded devotion is not just a territorial proxy war but also an attempt to impose the highly regimental Wahabi Islam on a valley renowned for its Rishism (Sufism). Schools and madrasas run by the local Jamaat–e–Islami have been systematically used in a continuing attempt to transform the local struggle for Kashmiriyat to visions of life under Nizam–e–Mustafa (The Order of the Prophet).

For India, too, the discourse in the past week has cynically charted familiar territory. The emphatic assertions about the territorial sovereignty and integrity of the Indian nation resound with a hollow arrogance, echoing through the perceptible absence of any Kashmiri voice in the present discourse. The government’s, the mainstream print media’s and television channels’ black out of the voices of the young leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Yasin Mallik and senior Kashmiri leader, Shabbir Shah from available public spaces is predictable, given the surge of patriotic fervour that such conflicts engender. But also absent are the views of a Balraj Puri, a senior citizen of Jammu and an ardent advocate of sanity and dialogue, or a Saifuddin Soz, senior MP representing the National Conference. The absence of a wide spectrum of other local opinion from the region, and in that category I would include representatives of ousted Kashmiri Pandits, is a sorry comment on the dearth of democratic space available here.

Why would India be at all committed, morally or otherwise, to promises made to the Kashmiri people in 1947, 1950, 1953 and 1975 when it cannot trust the state with even the bare trappings of democratic governance? The only free and fair elections to that state were in 1977, results of which aroused a Valley–wide euphoria. This legally elected government was, yet again, cynically dismissed by the Centre. Going back even further, even the ‘Lion of Kashmir’, Sheikh Abdullah, was humiliated by his most trusted friend and India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Despite a personal commitment to the region, even Nehru could not overcome his suspicions about the Kashmiri Muslims’ allegiance to India.

How much of the suspicions that have only hardened over the last 50 years have to do with the fact that the avowedly secular Indian state, under both Congress and non–Congress governments, barely trusts the people of a sensitively located region basically because they are overwhelmingly Muslim?

A failure to confront this history has been reflected in the past and continuing conduct of both the government and our troops deployed in the Valley. What comes to mind is more than just the enormity of the human loss, tragedies that have gone un–mourned by the rest of India. The cynical disregard for both the local people and their beliefs can be particularly observed from the Indian state’s apparent equanimity despite the systematic destruction, since 1989, of over 16 revered local shrines dedicated to Rishis, symbolic of inherently Kashmiri, Sufi Islam.

The Amarnath yatra has become for all Indians — not just the pilgrims who dare to make it there — an annual test of our military control over the Valley. Television images of Hindu pilgrims braving the militants’ fire in defence of their faith are both soothing and reassuring. But when Charar–e–Sharif, a glorious, all–wood shrine en route to Yusmarg in the Valley was gutted, the Indian government did not even order an official enquiry. Folklore in the Valley, however, still revolves around the relationship between Sheikh Noor Adam and a Shaivite priestess, Rishi Laleshwari, though the bitterness against an unfeeling government simmers. 

Another 14th century shrine, Khanqah at Tral, 39 kilometers south of Srinagar, very dear to the local people apart from being a symbol of the Valley’s composite culture, was similarly gutted by a mysterious fire on December 18, 1997. The list of betrayals appears endless. There has been not even superficial effort at healing bitter wounds.
Whenever Pakistan’s foreign minister steps on Indian soil, the ‘dialogue’ will chart familiar territory. Both the Pakistanis and their Indian counterparts appear united in one resolve —  keeping the talks at a bilateral level, excluding any representative from the region, despite their lip–service to tripartite talks in the last two years. This will remain an in futility until the voices from the Valley as also Jammu and Ladhakh are heard over the gunfire.    

Archived from Communalism Combat, June 1999, Year 6  No. 54, Cover Story 4