Ever since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi headed, BJP-dominated, NDA government has assumed power at the Centre, the sangh parivar which had nothing whatsoever to do with India’s freedom movement has been posturing as the only true patriots and nationalists.
Recall the neat division of citizens between ‘Ramzaadas’ and ‘haraamzadas’ by Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti a minister in Modi’s government. Recall the, ‘If you want to eat beef, go to Pakistan’ declaration of another NDA minister, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. Recall the ‘Crackers will be burst in Pakistan if BJP loses the Bihar elections ‘warning’ of BJP president, Amit Shah. Recall the ‘all those opposed to Modi should go to Pakistan’ cry of senior BJP leader from Bihar, Giriraj Singh.
Any talk of growing intolerance in the country was damaging India’s image overseas and those doing so were also, what else, ‘anti-national’. In short, you are either with us (sangh parivar) or you are ‘anti-national’.
In the last two months or so the campaign against ‘anti-nationals’ the sangh parivar has deployed its student wing, the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) target non-conforming student bodies across the country (Hyderabad Central University, Jawaharlal Nehru University…) with full support of the Modi regime.
It’s no longer a question of growing intolerance. The ‘anti-national’ mantra is now being chanted, with enthusiastic support from some of the TV news channels to whip up hatred and mass frenzy, incite violence.
Meanwhile, with the crackdown at JNU the Modi government, the BJP and the rest of the sangh parivar have latched on to the ultimate test of nationalism: Afzal Guru and the Kashmir question. And on this, opinion is sharply divided even within the Left.
SabrangIndia is starting a debate on the subject.
Remember your humanity and rebel! - Slogan on the walls of Paris, May 1968
Indignation is a bad counselor – Leo Strauss, 1953
What you run away from runs after you – Rumanian proverb
This comment engages with the issues raised in the current debate about justice and nationalism. The agitation was sparked off by an event in JNU highlighting the plight of the Kashmiri people. I will begin with two names and a question which (to my mind) are as significant as the grievances of Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris about the Indian justice system. The two names are Mohammad Maqbool Sherwani (aged 19, died 1947); and Ravindra Mhatre (aged 48, died 1984).
The question concerns the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from their homes in the Valley. Why are they not a part of left-wing concerns about Kashmir? Sympathizers of Maoist revolutionary politics may consider four names - Francis Induwar (died 2009), Kenduka Arjun, (died 2010), Lucas Tete (died 2010) and Niyamat Ansari (died 2011). What happened to them and why did they die? These names and the question signify an experience of injustice. For that reason alone, they deserve the attention of the defenders of democracy. Now let us take a look at what is happening in Delhi
Police protection, Delhi version
The most striking image of the times we inhabit is the photograph of a young accused person being brutally assaulted in the premises of a prominent court in New Delhi. He was in the custody of the police, hence under the indirect protection of the court. His assailants were lawyers, who have bragged about their deeds, and are known for their proximity to senior leaders of the BJP. Most of them have not been charged for what is a clear offence under the IPC Sec 325.
Spokespersons of the ruling party routinely deploy the platitude that the law will take its course. Typical of its behaviour in matters such as the murder of Professor Kalburgi, they make a perfunctory disapproval of hooliganism, and then produce belligerent justifications for their violence. None of them show the slightest remorse or compunction for what even a village constable would recognise as a criminal offence.
We are being intimidated in broad daylight by persons who do not care a whit for reasoned speech – let alone the law. All we hear these days is a reminder of the heavy price we shall pay for opposing Modi, the Sangh and their ‘development agenda’. The Delhi police operate under the Union government, and was responsible for the raids on the JNU campus as well as the acts in the court premises. Some of its decisions have now been shown to have been taken on doctored evidence. The National Human Rights Commission has declared the assault on Kanhaiya to have been planned. The home minister’s utterances were akin to those of a con artist, so we need not be surprised by those of his followers. We may also assume that these acts have the approval of the Union Cabinet, and that we are now under the grip of a government that has no respect for the rule of law.
The situation will worsen, because the private army that controls the government is bent upon revising the foundational statutes of the Indian Republic. It also adheres to an ideology that justifies violence in the name of patriotism. Violent attacks, disruptions and dire threats by Hindutva-oriented vigilantes and legislators are occurring on a daily basis across India.
The situation will worsen, because the private army that controls the government is bent upon revising the foundational statutes of the Indian Republic. It also adheres to an ideology that justifies violence in the name of patriotism. Violent attacks, disruptions and dire threats by Hindutva-oriented vigilantes and legislators are occurring on a daily basis across India. The ruling party has shown itself to be no different from the Maoists whom it routinely condemns. But whereas the Maoists have proven incapable of capturing state power, the Hindutva ideologues believe they have done so. Let us see if the Indian public will endorse this belief.
This is serious enough to bear repeating: the government of India is enabling, condoning and encouraging vigilante violence and hooliganism. Controlled mobs now operate under state protection.
‘Anti -nationalism’ etc
Most of the slogans heard on the JNU campus expressed unobjectionable left-wing and feminist demands. However there were some that spoke of a long war for the break-up of the country. There were other calls that could be confusing to anyone not familiar with the term “oppressed nationalities” which has been part of communist vocabulary since 1917. So the current political agitation marks the intersection of many controversial themes, ranging from definitions of the nation to constitutional and legal matters.
Some bare facts need recapitulation. Some students attracted to Maoism and including those who believe in ‘self-determination’ for Kashmir, and were agitated over the execution of Afzal Guru, held an event to commemorate the latter. Denied permission due to objections from one student group, they used the good offices of the union, whose president belongs to the AISF, student wing of the moderate wing of the communist movement, the CPI. This is the party of the late Satyapal Dang, one of India’s staunchest secularists and fighters against terrorism in Punjab in the 1980’s and 90’s. (I wonder if our Home Minister has heard of him).
As the event unfolded some began shouting belligerent slogans – let us leave aside the question of who started it. As often happens, when ideologues wish to hurt each other by methods short of physical assault, they say things designed to cause maximum emotional pain. Both sides - the ultra-nationalists and those rooting for ‘self-determination’ proceeded to do this. Some persons alleged to be outsiders also shouted the objectionable slogans referred to above.
The ultra-nationalists used their contacts in the central government to facilitate police intervention. Some of them now regret the consequences of what has ballooned into a nasty confrontation. I appreciate the fact that the three ABVP office-bearers who resigned from their posts disagreed with the habit of painting all left-wing students with the same brush. Similarly all people who object to slogans calling for the break-up of India also cannot be painted with the same brush. I too object to such a slogan – although I don’t think it calls for police action unless there is a direct incitement to violence. We know many people calling for and indulging in violence who seem to have no fear of police action.
Something similar took place at the Press Club, where persons who stand for Kashmiri self-determination used the good offices of a lecturer who booked the venue for them, but who does not share their political vision. He is now been targeted – along with three other retired teachers from DU – for collusion with so-called anti-national elements.
In both cases, persons of democratic persuasion were used to facilitate expressions of extreme beliefs. As far as I can tell, they had no idea of what was about to transpire, and their own statements at these gatherings were attempts at lowering the pitch and calming the atmosphere. A kind of verbal ‘guerilla action’ was undertaken by some radical activists who – it would appear – were unconcerned with the repercussions. They did not care that people who do not support their politics, but helped them because of their commitment to free expression, would be paying the price.
The slogan that Kashmiris have a right to self-determination implies that the identity of Kashmiris is self-evident. The moment the identity of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs, Ladakh’s Buddhists and Jammu’s Dogras, Gujars and Bakerwals, is brought into the argument, the presumptive nature of unilateral definitions becomes evident. Who is included in, and who is excluded from the ‘self’, and why? Is it all very clear to us, or does it deserve a discussion?
To use well-meaning people for your purposes via subterfuge can bear terrible consequences. It is unfair to those well-meaning people, and typifies the belief that the end justifies the means. Some of us are so consumed by anger that we feel justified in doing this, but it is not an ethical course of action, and brings your politics into disrepute. It is similar to what happened in Kandhamal in 2008, when the Maoist party murdered the VHP’s Swami Laxmanananda and left the common people to face the communal violence unleashed by the Sanghis, who blamed ‘the Christians’ for the murder.
In the spiral of violence unfolding in so-called insurgent districts, the state utilises the opportunity provided it by extremists to suppress opposition from all quarters. It targets all democratic protest for being anti-national, seditious, etc. This is what is happening now in India’s capital. Unscrupulous TV anchors are adding fuel to the fires of ‘patriotic’ indignation – some of them behaving as flag-bearers for a hysterical version of nationalism. As an SC bench said recently, ‘moderation is a forgotten word today in all spheres of life’.
Self-determination and violence
There is also the tangled issue of ‘self-determination’, a term many people use as if it were an axiom. It is not. The idea of democracy is linked to the concept of identity. ‘Demos’ is the term for ‘the people’ in ‘the rule of the people’. The slogan of ‘self-determination’ carries the implicit presupposition that we know who “the people” are before we speak of their right to ‘self-determination’.
Ideologically defined boundaries of the ‘self’ are presupposed in the practice of democracy. This issue is related to the birth of the nation-state and the notion of sovereignty. Let me add here that the multiplication of sovereignties is not a solution to the violation of human rights, nor should it be conflated unquestioningly with the concept of democracy. In some cases it might worsen the situation.
Identity is a matter of power, interest and definition. For example, the slogan that Kashmiris have a right to self-determination implies that the identity of Kashmiris is self-evident. The moment the identity of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs, Ladakh’s Buddhists and Jammu’s Dogras, Gujars and Bakerwals, is brought into the argument, the presumptive nature of unilateral definitions becomes evident. Who is included in, and who is excluded from the ‘self’, and why? Is it all very clear to us, or does it deserve a discussion?
Given that this agitation has highlighted the plight of the Kashmiri people, let us examine some facts that tend to get left of out leftist concerns. Some amongst us remain aggrieved by the execution of Maqbool Butt on February 11, 1984. They need to remember the kidnapping and murder of the Indian consular official Ravindra Mhatre, in Birmingham, on February 6 the same year. It does not behoove a state to make vengeful decisions, but it does not help matters if we forget significant facts. We may also mention in passing the names of BJP politician Tikka Lal Taploo, Judge NK Ganjoo (who had tried Maqbool Butt); and journalist, PN Bhat – all three murdered in late 1989 by warriors of Kashmiri self-determination.
I have often reiterated my belief that the question of violence is – or should be - the crux of political debate. Militarism has emerged as the ground shared by enemies. The militarist appropriation of martyrdom is a deeply patriarchal gesture. Violence is a never-ending spiral. The best metaphor for violence is a black hole – the place that swallows up everything in its vicinity.
Once again, therefore, I will remind all ardent supporters of political causes that violence feeds on itself. Apart from their other numerous ‘actions’, the Maoists murdered two policemen who were in their custody, both of them tribals – Francis Induwar (beheaded in 2009) and Lucas Tete (shot in 2010). Kenduka Arjun, secretary of the Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangh in Orissa, was murdered by Maoists in 2010. They also beat to death Niyamat Ansari, a NREGA activist, in front of his family in 2011. I will not go into the implications of the derailment of the Jnaneswari Express in 2010, which cost 148 lives.
On communal issues, let us remember Taslima Nasrin, the author who defended religious minorities in Bangladesh, and was hounded out of Kolkata in 2007 by fanatics who browbeat the Left Front government. Perpetually under threat, she finally had to leave India. On the price paid for dissent, let us remember TP Chandrashekharan, a dissident CPI (M) leader in Kerala murdered in 2012 for setting up an alternative left group. A week ago, on February 15, an RSS cadre named Sujith was murdered inside his house in front of his parents. The accused in both these cases belong to the CPI (M). There are many more examples, cutting across party lines. Whatever we might think of our political opponents, do not such actions undermine democracy? Do they not indicate that we live in a dangerously authoritarian culture?
As regards Afzal Guru, like many others, I too felt that the trial process and submission of evidence raised several disturbing questions; that life imprisonment would have been a fairer sentence, and that he should not have been executed. I was severely perturbed by the phrase ‘collective conscience of the nation’ appearing in a court judgment sentencing a man to death. I wrote about this well before the execution, and about the death sentence, which I oppose in principle, whether it is handed out by judges or revolutionaries, sanghis or jehadis. People have every right to criticise judgments without being accused of contempt – have not the ultra-nationalists also criticised judgments they did not like? Such criticism should be couched in temperate language, but we remain within our rights to make it.
The Pandit issue
Going on from this, doesn’t the plight of Kashmir’s Pandits also deserve consideration in a debate about Kashmir? At the time of their enforced exodus from the Valley, concerns were expressed by some human rights activists and leftists. On the whole however, the so-named ‘left and democratic’ bloc has remained silent about that enormity. I do not believe the ‘Jagmohan did it' theory on this although I am aware of Jagmohan’s role in Sanjay Gandhi’s slum-clearing activism during the Emergency. A great deal of evidence has been supplied by those who experienced the exodus – evidence that needs serious debate, not outright rejection.
All Kashmiri Muslims cannot be blamed for the plight of the Pandits, or for desiring their exodus. But neither are all Hindus supporters of Hindutva. Acknowledgement of injustice is the first and essential step towards reconciliation – this is as true for the Valley’s Pandit population as it is for its Muslims. Activists for human rights should also note the presence of a large number of migrant labourers in the Valley – numbers of whom have been victims of terrorist acts.
I will remind all ardent supporters of political causes that violence feeds on itself. Apart from their other numerous ‘actions’, the Maoists murdered two policemen who were in their custody, both of them tribals – Francis Induwar (beheaded in 2009) and Lucas Tete (shot in 2010)… On the price paid for dissent, let us remember TP Chandrashekharan, a dissident CPI (M) leader in Kerala murdered in 2012 for setting up an alternative left group. The accused… belong to the CPI (M).
Be that as it may, conflicting views on what caused the Pandits to depart need an airing, not silence. Why have the victims of the largest (the number could be 3 lakhs) communally-driven migration in independent India’s history been the target of barely-concealed animus from leftists? Kashmiri’s have undergone terrible suffering ever since militancy began, and they include Pandits as well as Muslims, residents of the Jammu region as well as those of the Valley; Kashmiri speaking people as well as others.
Apologists for the status quo ask us to stop talking about caste-based discrimination – as if it will go away by pretending it does not exist. The same attitude has been exhibited by many of us with regard to Kashmiri Pandits – as if we can get rid of a mountain of pain and injustice by looking the other way. If we stand for giving voice to suffering humanity, we must stand for all the victims of oppression in the Valley, regardless of their faith. If we stand for free expression and dissent we must ask why the Pandits have been treated with indifference and worse, by leftists (given some honourable exceptions). Failure to conjoin the plight of the Pandits with all other victims of insurgency and state repression is a betrayal of our humanity and weakens our political integrity. Furthermore, it drives victims to other kinds of extremism, or to cynicism and despair. Why should we abandon good causes to bad politicians?
Defending democracy and the constitution
Indian politics has entered a phase of extreme danger – from the standpoint of the laboring citizens who need democracy the most. It is disturbing to see a section of India’s ruling class seeking to bypass and undermine constitutional rule by validating a politics of hatred and intimidation. Hindu Rashtra and Akhand Hindustan are mutually contradictory ideals: if you want one you will automatically rule out the other. The relentless tirade against Muslims, Christians and Communists by the Sangh Parivar will produce the contrary of what they wish for (or say they do). The theories of Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar are recipes for India’s disintegration. Extremism feeds on itself by appearing in different forms.
Whatever be its flaws, the Indian Constitution is the best consensual statute upon which to base a defence of democracy. Revolutionaries should consider the possibility that a section of the Indian ruling class is already bent upon doing away with democracy. So rather than a violent revolution to overthrow the constitution, we need a non-violent mass awakening to defend and implement it. But that will require serious re-thinking on socialist politics. Since the ongoing student movement is committed to defending the freedom of thought, there should be no problem with this.
The current student movement in JNU has received welcome support from students and academics all over India and the world, in addition to the support of many political parties. It can make a difference to Indian politics, but politics is too important to be left to specialists of revolution. Authoritarianism and hatred of dissent may be witnessed across the political spectrum - right, left and ‘marketist’. It would be best if students made up their own minds about political issues, and inaugurated an open dialogue with society. Incidentally, the term ‘revolution’ means the completion of a circle. If you want transformation, close the circle and get out of it. The only answer to extremism is moderation, truthful speech and non-violence. Jai Ho.
The above article was first published by labour historian and public intellectual Dilip Simeon and posted on his Blog. [Dilip Simeon’s Blog]
Afzal Guru, convicted of conspiracy to wage war against India and murder in December 2001, was hanged on February 9, 2013, has re-emerged as a martyr. The Democratic Students Union (DSU) had decided to hold a cultural meeting inside the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to protest against what they called “the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat” and in solidarity with “the struggle of Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination.” The University having given permission for the event earlier, decided to withdraw it about 20 minutes before the meeting was to be held. This was done apparently, under pressure of the ABVP, the students’ body of the BJP.
What happened next is well known. The police arrested the JNUSU president, Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of “sedition”. Several others have also been taken into custody and the police are still looking for more students. The prompt police action against ‘anti-national’ students and its deliberate inaction in the case of assault on JNU students, teachers and journalists inside the Patiala House court and the statements by the home minister and other members of the government and ruling party alleging links between JNU students and Pakistani Jihadi organisations, clearly shows that the government believes that the students of the JNU were indulging in activities aimed at destroying the integrity and sovereignty of the country.
Clearly, in this atmosphere of heightened indignation of the self-righteous nationalists, some of whom have said they would not hesitate to kill people who raised anti-national slogans, the JNU students have little chance of escaping being sacrificed at the altar of nationalism.
Let me move away from what is happening and the debate about whether the JNU students should be charged with sedition. Let me get back to the issue of the protest against the execution of Afzal Guru. More critically, why is the execution of Afzal Guru still seen as unjust by so many people of this country, and not just only Kashmiris. The slogan, "Tum kitne Afzal maaroge, har ghar se Afzal niklega!" (How many Afzals can you kill, Afzal will be born in every home) is significant as it shows that in the eyes of several people Afzal become a martyr.
Afzal was convicted by the highest court of the land. His mercy petition filed by his wife, Tabassum was rejected by the President of India. The information about the rejection of the clemency petition was not communicated to Tabassum in time, denying Afzal the opportunity to appeal for a review of his case, a right granted to convicted persons by the judiciary of India. The government executed Afzal without informing his family and his lawyers. The clandestine execution of Afzal violating all procedures and even the law as laid down by the Supreme Court of the land has been seen by many as desperate attempts of ruling parties like the Congress and the BJP to pander to the frenzy of jingoism and appeal for votes.
Afzal was too poor to be able to afford a lawyer, and had asked for legal aid from the state and the court. The Supreme Court has held in 1956 that the every accused has an inalienable right to be defended by a lawyer of his choice, and such representation and defence must be ‘effective’ (Hansraj and Ors vs State, AIR, 1956, p. 641). Afzal never got a lawyer of his choice. The court appointed lawyers, Seema Gulati and then Niraj Bansal.
In anthropological theory, “sacrifice” is ritualised violence concerned with marking and safeguarding social boundaries. The sacrifice is also of course a scapegoat. It is the ideal cultural spectacle for the disposal of bodies which threatens the edifice of the community itself. In modern times the community has been substituted by the “nation state”
At the very beginning of the trail, Seema Gulati conceded that the prosecution had prima facie evidence to frame charges. She admitted all the crucial documents and recovered items presented by the prosecution without demanding any formal proof. Later, all these were used as the basis for Afzal’s conviction. After Gulati’s departure midway through the trial, the court appointed Niraj Bansal, Gulati’s junior as Afzal’s lawyer.
Afzal’s repeated plea to the court that he did not have confidence in Bansal was ignored. It is evident that Niraj Bansal made virtually no effort to oppose the prosecution’s case either on question of facts or law. The importance of the right to effective counsel was underlined by the Supreme Court when it said “judicial justice with procedural intricacies, legal submissions and critical examination of evidence leans upon professional expertise; and a failure of equal justice under the law is on the cards where such supportive skill is absent for one side” (Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot vs State of Maharashtra, AIR 1978, SC 1548, para 3).
The manner in which the court-appointed lawyers had defended Afzal, leaves little doubt it was a case of failure of equal justice. As Afzal had said, “I am Afzal for Kashmiris, and I am Afzal for Indians as well, but the two groups have an entirely conflicting perception of my being”. He was a Kashmiri Muslim in Delhi, liable at any point of time to be confronted, attacked, tortured and imprisoned.
Death penalty has little to do with guilt or deterrence. Prosecution of conspiracy cases which involve allegations of attempts to overthrow the government by waging war against the state is essentially a political trial. Justice in such political trials is not always guided by criminal procedure or substantive law, it is often influenced by majoritarian political considerations dressed in the garb of “democratic values”.
The Supreme Court of India while ruling in Afzal Guru’s case confirmed this when it decided that a life had to be sacrificed to satisfy the “collective conscience of the people”. After the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament the nation needed a sacrifice for safeguarding itself against its enemies, particularly after the Operation Parakram, India’s first attempt at using military coercion against Pakistan, achieved only limited success.
Afzal Guru embodied the perfect enemy. And the media, the military, the intelligence establishment and the politicians – all were agreed. He was a Kashmiri Muslim, a self-confessed failed militant, who had refused to become an informer for the security agencies. A lonely figure who was trying to make a living out of small business and feed his family – a virtual nobody. The court dispensed with its own rules and convicted him on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
In anthropological theory, “sacrifice” is ritualised violence concerned with marking and safeguarding social boundaries. The sacrifice is also of course a scapegoat. It is the ideal cultural spectacle for the disposal of bodies which threatens the edifice of the community itself. In modern times the community has been substituted by the “nation state”. As if in recognition of the importance of rites of sacrifice, the Supreme Court in 2006 had declared that Afzal Guru was to be executed on the day of the Hindu festival of Diwali, when the Hindus in north India celebrate the triumph of Ram over Ravana by burning his effigies.
Annoyed by the appeals that were filed against the execution order and its stay, Swapan Dasgupta, an ideologue of the Hindu nationalists, wrote, “this is the time of the year when India celebrates the triumph of good over evil… it is ironic that this should be the time when the country was confronted with disagreeable demand aimed at puncturing our sense of Dharma”.
All popular struggles for freedom have a deep moral core. In these movements there is a strong tradition of self-sacrifice for the cause of freedom. Through his execution, Afzal Guru, the failed freedom fighter has returned as a martyr. We are witnessing the unfolding of the story of his martyrdom. It is the martyrdom of Afzal that has given birth to the slogan, "Tum kitne Afzal maaroge, har ghar se Afzal niklega!"
Execution of the evil is necessary to uphold Dharma. Already a line has been drawn between the people who are for upholding the Dharma and those who are against the Dharma. The death penalty has become the quintessential expression of the power of the nation and destruction of its enemy. In this scheme of things, the judicial system and the media have taken on the role of identifying the terrorists, who threaten the sovereignty and integrity of India.
The Indian state sees the movement in Kashmir as Pakistan’s proxy war. It refuses to accept that there is popular support for the movement for self-determination in Kashmir. Yet it has tied down nearly half a million members of its armed forces in crushing the movement in the valley for more than two and a half decades.
All popular struggles for freedom have a deep moral core. In these movements there is a strong tradition of self-sacrifice for the cause of freedom. Through his execution, Afzal Guru, the failed freedom fighter has returned as a martyr. We are witnessing the unfolding of the story of his martyrdom. It is the martyrdom of Afzal that has given birth to the slogan, "Tum kitne Afzal maaroge, har ghar se Afzal niklega!" (How many Afzals can you kill, Afzal will be born in every home).
(The writer is a documentary filmmaker and a human rights defender)
“We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of the majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of another country”. Quoting Jefferson in his speech on the eve of adoption of the Indian Constitution, Ambedkar went on to say that Jefferson’s observation was not “merely true, but is absolutely true”.
“I feel, however good a Constitution may be,” he argued in the same speech, “it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot.” Today Ambedkar, far more agnostic about the sacralisation of the Constitution that we are witnessing and conscious of the possibility of its abuse, would have been a disappointed man.
Any engagement with the Constitution that is critical of its nature, scope and applicability that does not conform to the standard Statist position has been turned into a taboo and a crime. That a new generation may envision a distinct nation scares those whose interests lie entrenched in the old order of things. It is not necessary that every act of dissent be progressive, but it is precisely the process and exercise of fearless dissent that creates and ensures the existence of robust democratic societies.
Today’s India is afraid of undertaking this unending, painful and arduous task of constant renegotiation and redefinition which Jefferson alluded to and Ambedkar had seconded quite passionately, which, however, is nonetheless vital for any democracy to exist.That Kashmir has once again exposed the frail and sensitive faultlines of the Indian State is not surprising at all. Quite tellingly, it was Ambedkar’s disaffection with the government’s policy on Kashmir that he cited as one of the reasons for resigning from Nehru’s Cabinet. It is pertinent to recall what he had to say.
The point here is not to go into the merits or demerits of Ambedkar’s position, quite clearly seditious today, by the standards of what is perhaps best termed as the nations’ “collective conscience”, but to insist that we have a right to have a view, on Kashmir, on the Constitution, on the idea of a nation, on everything under the sun. And that we have the right to dissent. The crime Umar Khalid and others are truly guilty of committing is to have dared to think beyond the consensus of the society they live in. As Khalid put it, quite succinctly, they are afraid of young critical minds.
The blotted argument that Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union, which the Left, expectedly, is also repeating ad nauseaum on our television screens, requires the erasure of memory, of facts, of history. It requires a quiet forgetting of massacres, rapes, torture and enforced disappearances. It requires the forgetting of the UN resolutions, the massive militarisation of the state as well as that of the unrelenting struggle of Kashmiris for Aazadi.
It requires the erasure of Kashmiris as a living, breathing people with a voice, with an agency, capable of making a choice. When it comes to Kashmir, precious little separates the Left from the Right. Everyone is on the same boat, everyone is a nationalist, everyone is more nationalist than the other. The vastly different approach taken by the Left on the question of Palestine, from that of Kashmir, betrays its hypocrisy and is explainable only by the colonial logic of mother country being above reproach.
The blotted argument that Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union, which the Left, expectedly, is also repeating ad nauseaum on our television screens, requires the erasure of memory, of facts, of history
What we must demand, nonetheless, despite its blatant betrayal of its professed universal principles, is that the Left not abandon its own conscientious dissenters at this moment. The Left, along with the progressive sections of the society, must at the very least show the political commitment to stand by those who disagree with their stated positions and uphold the right to dissent.
Vajpayee went to the extent of calling for Kashmir’s resolution, involving all the stakeholders including Pakistan, under the ‘ambit of humanity’. Would it be seditious to suggest that the ambit of humanity extend beyond the limitations of the Constitution? If the State can politically engage with the separatists, even allow them to hold dialog with Pakistan - the much maligned ‘Other’ - why should the students have no right to engage with the issue, be opinionated about it and express that opinion?
Today, Khalid and the other organisers of the Cultural Event at JNU are the face of that dissent. So far no proof has emerged that any of them raised the condemnable slogans calling for India’s destruction. Their only fault is to have raised the question of Kashmir’s right to self-determination. But if speaking on, arguing for and debating this question is seditious than the state should perhaps look into its own closets as well.
Nehru himself not only debated this question in Parliament, but publicly promised to hold the plebiscite. The present government may wish to dump the likes of Nehru and Ambedkar in the dustbin of history, but we must ask on what grounds then can the government of India, under Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh’s rule sit across the table with the Hurriyat and JKLF who openly call for Kashmir’s freedom from the Indian State, instead of booking them for sedition. That should have been more straightforward, given that both these parties, the Hurriyat and the JKLF, are not merely debating this question but are active political entities whose programmes revolve solely around this central axis.
Vajpayee went to the extent of calling for Kashmir’s resolution, involving all the stakeholders including Pakistan, under the ‘ambit of humanity’. Would it be seditious to suggest that the ambit of humanity extend beyond the limitations of the Constitution? If the State can politically engage with the separatists, even allow them to hold dialog with Pakistan - the much maligned ‘Other’ - why should the students have no right to engage with the issue, be opinionated about it and express that opinion? By cracking down on the students the government has sent the message that in India, Kashmir must not be spoken of.
Kashmir, however, is not the endgame here; it has only provided the government with the easiest way with which to break the backbone of an increasingly assertive students’ movement that has been spreading across the country. From IIT Madras to FTII, from OccupyUGC to UoH the students have consistently resisted the government’s cocktail of neoliberal-Hindutvavadi fascism.
Repeatedly, the dissenting students have been labelled as ‘anti-national’ by the members of the ruling BJP and its students’ wing, the ABVP. Action against these ‘anti-national’ student groups has been initiated directly under orders from the central government, violating the autonomous space of the university in the process. The same hysteria of being labelled ‘anti-national’ which contributed to Rohith’s suicide has been raised many decibels in the case of Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, mostly through a pliant media.
In such a scenario as this, where protesting beef bans and forming Ambedkar study groups, where protesting fund-cuts and even conducting movie-screenings has repeatedly been branded as anti-national activities by the apparatchiks of the ruling class, raising the question of Kashmir’s right to self-determination was at the same time the most radical and the most blasphemous thing to do.
The response it has elicited from the government on the one hand betrays the State’s vulnerability over its claim to Kashmir being an integral part of the Union, has also on the other hand opened a wider battlefront between the fascist regime and its opponents. Kashmir, having seen and suffered the worse at the hands of the Indian State, has now exposed the worse face of the fascist regime yet.
At this crucial juncture it is the minimal necessary political obligation of the students and the Left to stand by the organisers of the event and safeguard the right to freedom of expression and dissent. But that’s only half the task. The true political transformation lies elsewhere. The choice between fascism and freedom that we face today couldn’t be starker. As the counter-movement against fascism grows, by ignoring the question of Kashmir, it will only retain the aporia at the heart of Indian democracy. The struggle for democracy has to be twin with the struggle for independence.
In redefining India’s relation with Kashmir, the counter-movement has to re-imagine India, moving away from the discourses of nationalism; community must take precedence over territory and people over country. Not so long ago Perry Anderson had criticised the Indian intellectual class for placing Kashmir in footnotes, ‘between delicate parentheses, to be discussed elsewhere’. Given the state of affairs, it might take the parliamentary Left a bare few centuries more in coming to terms with its intellectual dishonesty and criminal complicity when it comes to Kashmir, yet the turn of events has produced the fervent in which the possibility of freeing Kashmir from those delicate parenthesis and footnotes comes to fore, yet again.
Fidelity at this time is not to ask the question, ‘what is nationalism?’, but to radically invert the gaze and ask instead, ‘what is it to be independent?’ Fidelity at this point is not to ask ‘what is the idea of India?’ but to ask ‘what is Kashmir’s call on that idea?’ To do so would be to truly stand in solidarity with the organisers of the event, and the oppressed people of Kashmir. To free Kashmir from the footnotes and the parenthesis is to foreground it, is to speak more and more about it, and to speak freely. To free Kashmir is to listen to the disappeared and to talk to the dead. In India, Kashmir must echo.
News in Brief
While the entire nation is staging massive protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019, recently passed by the upper house of the Parliament, Dhruv Rathee explains, point by point, the problems and innate unconstitutionality of this bill and how it puts the life of citizens in jeopardy.
While the entire nation is staging massive protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019, recently passed by the upper house of the Parliament, Dhruv Rathee explains, point by point, the problems and innate unconstitutionality of this bill and how it puts the life of citizens in jeopardy.