Arundhati Roy is one of India’s most recognized writer and a social activist who has taken up several people causes in defiance of large corporate interests and governments. She has been highly critical of the US government policies, the actions of Israel and the decisions of the Indian government over the past several years. Like all intellectual activists who tend to create a controversy by speaking the untold truth in a hard-hitting manner, she had chosen several issues that make unruly governments and sheep-like people-followers very uncomfortable with what she says. After reading through several of her commentaries, essays and speeches, there are several things that are clear about her-
· she is very highly inquisitive about the World,
· has probably spent several hours and energy to gain an alternate perspective to largely accepted truths about the World,
· is very revolutionary and bold in her statements and outlook on life,
· has written a book, the God of Small Things, which was destined to be successful as it encompasses topics that titillate the literary palate of generous Western promoters as it hits right on what they perceive as always-a-winning-formula topics like “Indian Sex”, “Indian women exploitation”, “Indian religious bias” and “Indian caste system”. The caste system being one such word and social definition, created by our British masters, that we have so well hypnotized ourselves with,
· is lucky to have earned a lot of money showered by corporate big-wigs, publishing monopolies and wealthy sponsors of literary awards, the very people she supposedly despises the most, and
· is probably spending her money wisely for social causes and spending her time wisely on meaningful pursuits (which include conferences and meets where she is invited around the world to talk at and I’m guessing something she doesn’t charge for unlike past Presidents and ex-CEOs)
A feminist Indian woman national always deserves the respect and admiration of fellow Indians and the World at large. While India always produced and has seen several of them since ages, the greater part of the “developed” world only sees them rarely, like an oasis in a parched desert. Drawing inspiration myself from several of these people of her kind and related disposition, I am amazed by the power wielded by the intellectual mind.
Having said that, I would however like to divert my attention at this point to one topic that she has repeatedly been very rhetorical about, including the one instance where it probably went too far for the political leadership and the general public, during a conference in India on October, 2010. Taking a very unemotional view on the speech she made that day, I was amazed at how intellectually strong people also tend to suffer time and again from a “truth-based bias” that can force them to build opinions or say things that on introspection never lead to an objective evaluation of reality. Breaking down her speech into the important snippets of wisdom she shared that day, this is what we see.
1. Choice of conference: Arundhati Roy has gained international reputation, thanks to her books, but then a lot due to her fight-the-system campaigns primarily against the regimes in US, Israel and India. She has of course covered other countries in good details too, but the focal point for her international campaigns against the evil of “empires” has been these three countries. Roy has been in the company of some wonderful people like Howard Zinn and in Universities like Harvard to share her viewpoints on several topics.
Looking at all that, the Azaadi conference was a questionable choice, not because it had certain anti-India elements like Geelani, a Maoist leader who supports the killing of innocent people locked into jobs that support government establishments and a range of other speakers who became largely unheard. It was questionable because of two primary reasons:
a. the promotional intent of the conference, which happens with all conferences intent on spreading propaganda, was purely about why Kashmir should not be a part of India, but nothing else towards a discussion on what is the true path forward for all Kashmiris in the future. This was something Ms. Roy impressed upon towards the end of her speech but it didn’t bring any visible change to the rest of the speakers.
b. Whether today’s population in Kashmir, which consists of several unaccounted infiltrators from Pakistan’s NWFP, wants to accept or not, the Hindu minority was a very vital component of Kashmir’s unique culture and legacy. There was no representation from that minority group of Kashmir, thereby making the conference look like a propaganda farce than a forum for a Kashmir solution.
By choosing to become a popular voice of the ‘azaadi’ movement in the conference, Ms.Roy became a poster child for that movement, but at the same time, didn’t come out as a rational, unbiased social activist whose only bias, if at all, should be towards human justice and life.
2. Starting punch-lines: Every speaker intent on riling up their audience or seeking the occasional publicity stunt, start with a punch-line statement and then end with an even more powerful ending statement. These statements are meant to define the personality, message and overall outlook of the speaker. Adolf Hitler did that for the Nazi cause and as even Nazi-hating observers will admit, he was phenomenal at spreading his ideology to his audience. Winston Churchill did that too, although his speeches were mostly well written and well executed prose in the Queen’s English. Now, Arundhati Roy also started with a punch-line. These were the lines that Ms. Roy said (for exact transcript, you can watch her edited videos on YouTube):
“…Kashmir was never an integral part of India. Even the Indian government has accepted in the UN that it’s not an integral part of India…”
Well said, since the truth is that successive Indian governments starting with Nehru struggled with the definition of what is Kashmir for India. While some governments claimed that Kashmir is indeed a part of India, there were others who were not clear in what that meant.
But, here is the biggest disappointment that a person like me who sucks up to words of wisdom from intelligent people suffers from. Yes, Kashmir was not a part of India. It was a “princely” state of the British government that the Indian government got into its “empire” through a divine trick or intervention from the last British viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, and the then ruler, Raja Hari Singh. Yes, Kashmir was not a part of India. But, so are the North West Frontier province, Gilgit and Baluchistan not a part of Pakistan. So are Tibet, Inner Mongolia and other autonomous zones not a part of China. So are Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland not a part of the United Kingdom. So are Hawaii, Alaska and the US pacific settlements not a part of the Unites States. In fact, every so called country of this World has constituent states, local governments, ethnicities or most importantly people, which are not a part of that country or don’t want to be a part of that country. Wouldn’t it have been a great example in intellectual lecturing if Arundhati Roy had taken the pains to explain this simple reality to her audience and to the Indian public in general so that they understand what they are dealing with?
Since she didn’t mention it, now it brings into question the biggest feedback that people had for her speech, why didn’t you mention about Pakistan. Not a word was uttered about Pakistan in her speech. Maybe, she didn’t consider it as important to the agenda at hand. But, by not choosing to utter even a word about Pakistan, she missed out an opportunity to seal the deal for Kashmiri independence. Azad Kashmir or PoK is an occupied area of Kashmir that Pakistan took over right after Independence. Even after several successful wars, the Indians didn’t take it back. But that is a game or political ploy that we can reserve for later discussion. Azad Kashmir may not be having Human Rights reported issues of stone throwing or street protests, but it is everyone’s knowledge that it is a training ground for Islamic militants/terrorists/freedom fighters. Keeping that aside, it is one of the most economically poor states in the nation and has no great reputation for either the presence or treatment of minorities either.
Now, this conference is for the independence of Kashmir. But, why just from evil India? What about from evil Pakistan? What about from evil China? Now, by not asking that, she has proved that she just turned out to be a tool for Syed Geelani’s pro-Pakistan and anti-India banter for Kashmir’s independence. While she toyed with the golden word “justice” a lot of times in her speech, she failed to give enough justice to this very simple argument.
She then goes on with this statement:
“ See in 1947, we were told that India became a sovereign nation and a sovereign democracy, but if you look at what the Indian state did from midnight of 1947 onwards, that colonized country, that country that became a country because of the imagination of its colonizer—the British drew the map of India in 1899—so that country became a colonizing power the moment it became independent, and the Indian state has militarily intervened in Manipur, in Nagaland, in Mizoram, in Kashmir, in Telangana, during the Naxalbari uprising, in Punjab, in Hyderabad, in Goa, in Junagarh.”
Yes, the British indeed cooked up a map of India and in fact created a then non-existent nation called India for their propaganda and colonization purposes. Yes, there was Indian military intervention in the places she mentioned. It began with the iron-hand (aka use of military force if needed) policy of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to bring the so called defined nation of India back into a single piece. Yes, Goa was militarily occupied. But, it was from the European Portuguese colonists- occupiers who obviously changed the social, religious and cultural landscape of that state over several years, most possibly by force. Without mentioning this and by including it into a laundry list of Indian exploits, she is still telling the truth but preferably telling the truth to suit her purposes. Hyderabad wanted to go with Pakistan. Yes, we would have had a mini Pakistan within the Indian empire serving the needs of the Pakistan Empire in West Pakistan and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh). Yet again, this is another bad example of blatantly listing out colonization pursuits of India by using hard hitting statements. Yes, Punjab was an issue. But, why is Western Punjab in Pakistan not an issue? My problem with her statements is not with the fact that she didn’t mention Pakistan, but with the fact that she didn’t utilize the power of truth to enlighten her audience. When truth is selectively used to serve the publicized or secret needs of a group or person, it is called propaganda. That is what she ended up doing – mere propaganda.
3. Kashmiri Minorities: Now, this conference was definitely portraying how a certain religious minority is being persecuted by the Indian armed forces in Kashmir since 1992. However, Kashmir’s minorities are not Muslims, but Hindus, Sikhs and Christians who have lived there since thousands of years. Again, the select choice of truth leads to a lot of questions on the genuineness of her thoughts. To look at some further statements by Ms. Roy,
“…since 1947, and when you look at who are those people that it (India) has waged war against—the Nagas, the Mizos, the Manipuris, people in Assam, Hyderabad, Kashmir, Punjab—it’s always a minority, the Muslims, the tribals, the Christians, the Dalits, the Adivasis, endless war by an upper caste Hindu state, this is what is the modern history of our country….”
Yes, India can be accused of waging war or containing dissent in the above mentioned places and the affected people were minorities. This unfortunately goes along with the concept of nation building or definition of a country that I talked about before. But, here is the catch. This so called war was waged against every inhabitant of India, by the Indian state and also by external states. Not just selectively against the minorities but against every identity possible. If not, it wouldn’t be possible that 80% of the country live on twenty rupees a day! The army may be a differentiating factor in some of these examples, but keeping the national borders intact is something that every country is fighting internally or externally for. Removing this barrier would mean the non-existence of India or for that matter, any country in this World as these are all mere political entities. While it is an ideal state of affairs, our 1000’s of years of World history tell otherwise.
This war wasn’t also waged by just an upper caste Hindu state. This repeated bashing of the Indian nation that a lot of foreign nationals love to accept and recognize is again mixed in ambiguity. It is not an upper caste but an upper class state. It is not a Hindu state but a vote-bank state. It may not be a true democratic state, but is definitely a political state. Here is why it is a class based and not a caste based state. Again taking Ms. Roy’s statement into consideration, it is not possible that 80% of the country lives in dire poverty because 80% of the population is lower caste. It is because 80% of that population belongs to a lower class in society irrespective of caste. This is a class difference that is bubbling and may burst in a revolution world-wide as NO country in this world is different.
Even Geelani’s much loved Pakistan (Nanga Bhooka Hindustan, Jaan se pyaara Pakistan!) is ruled by an upper class society even though it has draped itself in the green flag of a uniform, egalitarian Islamic nation. There are conflicting statistics on how many upper castes exist in India. This is so because, our country is an upper class, vote-bank based political state. The more you claim sops based on caste, the more you gain in the system. The more you gain, the more you enter the upper echelons of the class system and the more you enter the class system hierarchy, the more unknown become your caste origins. But going even by some questionable estimates, about 65% of upper castes live below the poverty line as defined by UN benchmark as those living under $1/day. These obviously are upper caste Hindus who are waging war against an upper class society consisting also of lower caste, religious minority and ethnic minority controllers of the nation – politicians, statesmen, activists, government officers and businessmen. A similar lower class in other countries of the World is also waging war against its own state that is represented by an upper class minority ruling their state. It is no joke that to become an MLA in a State assembly in India, you need to spend a crore (Rs 1 crore) a day for publicity stunts and for silencing your opponents. This doesn’t come from just being among a group of upper caste Hindu state rulers.
Vara Vara Rao, the Maoist leader who shared the dias with Ms. Roy is an upper caste Hindu Brahmin leader of the naxalites. But, he belongs to the lower class society and his fight, although at times violent, is for the rights of the lower class society. Ms. Roy either ignored this fact or preferred to not get there as it then would derail the strong message that she wanted to send in her hazy definition of India’s modern history. In fact, without getting into personal attacks of any kind, Arundhati Roy can and should be defined as an upper caste “Hindu” leader of the social activist masses. Although born as a Syrian Christian, she later married a Hindu man. Her upbringing was not in a lower caste society, but in fact, in a strong class system of Syrian Christians who are powerful and wealthy in the Kerala community. Her education has also been in India’s premier educational institutions, not something that the average Indian gets access to. In total, her background and upbringing indicate that she was more of an upper caste Hindu and also given her inheritance and work, a person belonging to the upper class society of India. If these communities are harmful, then one should cast doubts on her intentions too. If she is a defining part of modern Indian history, then her legacy and identity is also skewed.
Ms. Roy made some very hard hitting statements too that many people in the media didn’t care to bring up to help show her in a better light.
“…the great debates between Ambedkar and Gandhi and Nehru—they were also real debates and over these last sixty years whatever the Indian state has done, people in this country have argued and debated and deepened the meaning of freedom. We have also lost a lot of ground because we’ve come to a stage today where India a country that once called itself Non Aligned , that once held its head up in pride has today totally lain down prostrate on the floor at the feet of the USA. So we are a slave nation today, our economy is completely—however much the Sensex may be growing, the fact is the reason that the Indian police, the paramilitary and soon perhaps the army will be deployed in the whole of central India is because it’s an extractive colonial economy that’s being foisted on us…”
The above lines have a lot of warnings for the current state of affairs of our country and the rest of the World too. If one is willing to learn, there is a lot of literature and opinions on how a market based capitalist economy slowly intruding and taking over democratic rule of a state will eventually lead to large scale destruction of people, resources and the environment. We are already seeing that in action with the US economy slowly churning into a giant blob that could explode any time. However, these statements are misplaced in this discussion as Ms. Roy’s statements would have been well suited for a “save democracy” conference rather than a “let’s break democratic principles to help certain groups achieve whatever they want” conference that this turned into.
It is not that Ms. Roy never mentioned this altogether, but again, the choice of a conference failed to bring out the real lessons that one was supposed to learn from these statements. Continuing further,
“…I want to believe that this fight is a fight for justice. Not a fight in which you pick and choose your justices—“we want justice but it’s ok if the other chap is squashed.” That’s not right. So I remember when I wrote in 2007, I said the one thing that broke my heart on the streets of Srinagar, was when I heard people say “Nanga Bhooka Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan.” I said “No. Because the Nanga Bhooka Hindustan is with you. And if you’re fighting for a just society then you must align yourselves with the powerless,” the Indian people here today are people who have spent their lives opposing the Indian state…”
Now, those were the words of wisdom that one should have taken up. But, I am not sure anyone supporting a separate Kashmir state only from India ever got what she said. That is because, there are not many in Kashmir today who are willing to be a part of the Indian masses and work towards true positive democratic change for their betterment and that of the country. What they want is just to get away from India and go to Pakistan. Lack of moral strength and action from successive Indian governments obviously didn’t help with that either.
These statements also bring out the subtle naivety that Ms. Roy exposed in her interpretation of the statement, “Nanga Bhooka Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan”, and how she then used it for her message of supporting the Nanga Bhooka Hindustanis. But, the problem is, the people shouting those slogans were not talking about the poor of India, they were talking about Indians in a poor way. More than this statement, she should have talked about the more famous slogan that was pushed into the World media and by lobbyists from our “friendly” neighboring countries in other forums to showcase the Indian oppression against the Kashmir cause, “Indian Dogs, Go Back!” By subscribing their lives to Pakistan, these activists are supporting a movement that they believe can help them from getting away from any obligations required towards holding hands with the minorities who were evicted from the valley. Now, this brings us to the other statements she made specifically about minorities,
“…We know today that this word ‘secularism’ that the Indian state flings at us is a hollow word because you can’t kill sixty-eight thousand Kashmiri Muslims and then call yourself a secular state. You cannot allow the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat and call yourself a secular state and yet you can’t then turn around and say that “we are allowed to treat our minorities badly “—…
…I think this disturbance is based on a misunderstanding, because I was beginning to talk about justice and in that conversation about justice, I was just about to say that what happened with the Kashmiri pundits is a tragedy, so I don’t know why you all started shouting, I think it’s a tragedy because when we stand here and talk about justice, it is justice for everybody, and those of us who stand here and talk about their being a place for everybody whether there’s a minority whether it’s an ethnic minority or a religious minority or minority in terms of caste, we don’t believe in majoritarianism so that’s why I was talking about the fact that everybody in Kashmir should have a very deep discussion about what kind of society you’re fighting for because Kashmir is a very diverse community and that discussion does not have to come from critics or people who are against azaadi trying to divide this struggle , it has to come from within you so it is not the place of people outside to say “they don’t know what they mean by
azaadi, do they mean Gilgit and Baltistan, what about Jammu? What about Laddakh?” These are debates that people within the state of Jammu and Kashmir are quite capable of having by themselves and I think they understand that. So, to just try and derail things by shouting at people is completely pointless because I think that people, the pundits in Kashmir, all the time I’ve spent in Kashmir, have only heard people say they are welcome back and I know people who live there, who believe that too, so all I want to say is that when we are having these political debates, I feel I have watched and have been listening to and following the recent uprising in Kashmir, the fact that unarmed people, young people armed with stones, women, even children are out on the streets facing down this massive army with guns is something that nobody in the world cannot help but salute…”
Now, here is the real frustration with what she mentioned above. Ms. Roy very confidently states that 68,000 Kashmiri Muslims were killed by Indian forces and hence challenges the claims of a secular state by India. On a similar note, once some riled up people in the audience asked what about Hindus, she had this to offer: “…I know the story of the Kashmiri pundits. I also know that the story that these Panun Kashmir pundits put out is false. However, this does not mean that injustice was not done…., I was just about to say that what happened with the Kashmiri pundits is a tragedy, so I don’t know why you all started shouting…”
Ms. Roy seems to have a very strong number when it comes to number of Kashmiri Muslims killed by Indian forces. But, in checking most media outlets, the 68000 number is that of Kashmiris killed since the problem erupted in 1989. Now, it is fair to agree that a majority of this number was of Kashmiri Muslims. But, that number could have well included the following – officially accounted for Kashmiri Hindus killed by militants in the valley with the help of Muslim sympathizers who provided the names and locations of the Hindus to be targeted, unaccounted for Kashmiri Hindus killed by militants but not added to the books as it took a while for India to militarily get back Kashmir in 1992, Kashmiri Muslim sympathizers of Hindus and Indian government who were targeted and killed by militants from Pakistan bent on creating unrest and innocent Kashmiri Muslims killed in the cross fire of violent riots where the weapons used were not just stones but more deadly tools aimed at causing damage to the Indian armed forces. Now, if the math is really done, the losses are great, tragic and deplorable. But, the reasons for the losses are not as cut and clear as Kashmiri Muslims killed just by Indian armed forces. Now, this is no justification for military excesses, but I want to make a case for the valid presentation of truth and Ms. Roy’s statements don’t do that.
Now, let’s take a look at her view on Kashmiri Hindus. Now, this is where the skeptical analysis of truth, which is a must have for an activist like her, comes up. Unfortunately, it is not for her previous number for the Muslims, but is there for the number for Hindus. Her statement about the false information provided by the Panun Kashmiris is largely about that – the sharing of numbers and the losses they incurred. Not about what those losses meant to them. Panun Kashmiris claim that 700,000 Hindus became refugees but official numbers don’t support that claim, thereby casting doubts on the intent of this ethnic Hindu group. But, from a humanitarian standpoint, this is what possibly happened. Kashmiri Hindus were targeted and killed by terrorists trained from across the borders, they were displaced and those who lived in the valley slowly left it. Those who wanted to come back were terrified enough that they will be singled out that they still preferred not to go back there. Some Hindus have taken advantage of the situation by using up government grants, but the rest hurriedly sold all their homes and assets as they didn’t have anyone to support them there. Most Muslims bought Hindu property for dirt cheap prices or occupied them for free and there is no longer a clearly recognized home for the minorities in the valley.
Now, if we need to discount realities just based on the valid claim of numbers, then, based on Ms. Roy’s not so accurate 68,000 number, there could be a dangerous group of people who can interpret the death of Kashmir Muslims as retribution for their sins and their unwillingness to cooperate with the democratic system of nation building as represented by India, but instead choosing to go with the Islamic fundamentalist doctrines of Pakistan and it’s remote control, the ISI. Just looking at these two situations helps us understand how a biased viewpoint shared as hard facts misleads the audience and can potentially lead to serious issues for the future.
Ms. Roy may have called what happened to the Hindus as a tragedy, but “tragedy” is a poor choice of word coming from someone who won a Booker for using exotic English words possibly learnt from schooling in rich Indian Christian institutions. Tragedy is what happens when someone loses their job or their limb or their limb at a job. Genocide or more likely selective mass killings based on religious hatred is what happened to the Kashmiri Hindus and the Muslims. Unfortunately, by trying to make a quick case for only the Kashmiri Muslims and quickly brushing aside the Hindu cause in a half-hearted manner, she has hurt the chances of Kashmiri Muslims getting help even from the unwanted Indian “dogs”, if not the World.
Ms. Roy however also makes a call for adherence to certain democratic principles that can potentially lead to something worthwhile for the Kashmir community. She said, “…everybody in Kashmir should have a very deep discussion about what kind of society you’re fighting for because Kashmir is a very diverse community… These are debates that people within the state of Jammu and Kashmir are quite capable of having by themselves…”
What would have been exceptionally useful would have been a discussion during that conference on how the Kashmiris, inclusive of minorities, can start that unique dialogue and public debate. Instead, the conference went into yet another attempt at bashing the Indian establishment as one speaker after the other chose to do that. Now, it is true that the Pundits are hearing people in the valley say that they are welcome to come back. But, if you talk to the Kashmiri Pundits, you will also hear them say how they were separated out and identified on the streets of Kashmir, sometimes mocked and sometimes made to feel threatened. Complicating this is the fact that Pakistan has no official policy towards stopping AK-47 wielding “freedom-fighters” in crossing a porous border. This means that Hindu minorities going back to the valley can always be woken up in the middle of the night by someone who wants to shower bullets on them! In the same way Ms. Roy said Kashmiris cannot inhale and exhale without their breath going through the barrel of an AK-47, a reference to the Kashmiri Muslims threatened under the Indian military forces.
4. Syed Ali Shah Geelani: Mr. Geelani was definitely the central character in this meeting. Apart from bringing in supporters for the Kashmiri cause, he was also instrumental in bringing in speakers from different segments of the political struggle in India and provided a forum for them to talk. This is amazing as this is the kind of public debate that is missing a lot in our country. However, Mr. Geelani’s speech was completely focused on why Kashmir is not a part of India and why it shouldn’t be a part of India. All is good with that, but why should Kashmir be a part of Pakistan? And why is Azad Kashmir or POK a part of Pakistan? None of these are discussed as the forum was definitely for pushing the dial on what can be done to garner support for a non-violent movement where in as Mr. Geelani mentioned, stones were thrown but no Indian soldier was killed. If kids are brought out and the youth is involved, it becomes an all the more interesting twist as now the onus is on the Indian military to scratch their heads and determine what can be done to prevent stones from hurting their heads. After all, stones were not being thrown to see how far they go they were thrown to bump on some soldier who wasn’t attentive enough to escape the missiles. In an age where bullets can be sprayed in a matter of seconds, we can safely believe that stones don’t cause harm maybe!
Well, the reason Mr. Geelani himself is a point of discussion is because of all the debaters looking for social justice that day, Mr. Geelani was the most misleading of them all. Those who have followed him in other press meets know that he is an open supporter of Kashmir going to Pakistan. He of course, includes the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir in that equation. Now, his speech on independence did not mention Pakistan like it is was a forbidden word that everyone secretly signed to not mention before speaking! He bemoans the fact that we have had 150 dialogues since 1992 on the Kashmir issue and it hasn’t led to anything as India fails to agree with the premise that Kashmir does not belong to India. This is a sad state of affairs as successive Indian governments for that many years have dropped the ball on having meaningful negotiations with the Kashmiri Muslims, but instead chose to have a permanent military presence to stabilize the region.
But, here is where Mr. Geelani comes out as not genuine. He has said in the past that Kashmir should be going to Pakistan as it cannot exist as an independent state even if it wants to! Now when a reporter asked why, he said that India, Pakistan and China, yes China too, were interested in Kashmir that they will just take it up. More like money left on a table. Now, not many people mention China as an interested partner in this mess, although we know that Pakistan took a part of Kashmir and then gave it to China! And yes, China does cut a check to Pakistan to keep things going in Kashmir, the same way the US also cuts a check to keep things going in Afghanistan and India cuts a check to keep things going in Tibet. Now, on the pressing question of why Pakistan; his viewpoint is that Kashmiris have dealt enough with India and don’t trust them anymore. His solution for how he will cut a deal with Pakistan is that Kashmir will remain autonomous and run its own administration but will use Pakistan only for managing security, finance and foreign policy. Well, umm, that is what India did with Kashmir, right!?
Now, what about the minorities? Well, they are welcome to come back to Kashmir. But to what kind of Kashmir will they return? It is not with no known vengeance that minority religious places were attacked or are threatened of being attacked. It is not with no known discrimination that the Kashmiri language takes a back seat with Urdu as the official language forced in all schools in the valley and it is not with no known disparity that the Muslim majority takes the larger share of jobs and seats in educational institutions. While these can be corrected by a very good leadership in independent Kashmir, precedents don’t seem to help. The fact that Mr. Geelani hardly has a clear roadmap and definition for what the independent nation of Kashmir tied in its hip to Pakistan will mean, all the stone throwing protests are merely that, stone throwing in the streets by raising voiced slogans for independence. What about Azad Kashmir or POK? What kind of Kashmir will that be once it is allowed by Pakistan to be integrated into independent Kashmir? An excerpt in Wikipedia says, the 2009 edition of the Freedom in the World (report) by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees rated Jammu and Kashmir to be partly free, while in comparison Pakistan-administered Kashmir was rated to be not free.
The ego of the Indian nation and the emotional temperament of its people will not allow a Kashmir to exist with Pakistan or even independently beyond its current autonomous status if there is no meaningful direction ahead and no meaningful public debates encouraged. Mr. Geelani should be less focused in collecting stones and sharing it with kids who don’t know what Azaadi really means, but more focused on how this debate can be made more meaningful so that his 151st or maybe 160th dialogue with India will lead to true democratic freedom for the Kashmiris, not just Muslims, not just Hindus, but even the Sikhs and Christians in that region.
5. The final closing comments: As I mentioned earlier, while your starting punch-lines define who you are for the audience, the closing comments are the call for action from the audience set up in clear, definitive terms. Here were Ms. Roy’s comments,
“…You’ve got to ask yourself—there’s more to resistance than throwing stones—these things can’t be allowed to happen—”how is the state using people?” The colonial state whether it was the British state in India or whether it’s the Indian state in Kashmir or Nagaland or in Chhattisgarh, they are in the business of creating elites to manage their occupations, so you have to know your enemy and you have to be able to respond in ways where you’re tactical, where you’re intelligent, where you’re political—internationally, locally and in every other way—you have to make your alliances, because otherwise you’ll be like fish swimming furiously around a fish tank bombing the walls and getting tired in the end because those walls are very, very strong. So I’ll just leave with this: Think about justice and don’t pick and choose your injustices. Don’t say that “I want justice but it’s ok if the next guy doesn’t have it, or the next woman doesn’t have it.” Because justice is the keystone to integrity and integrity is the key stone to real resistance.”
While Ms. Roy makes an exceptional case for prudence, substituting actionable next steps with beautiful rhetoric turns the speech into a confusing conundrum of meanings for the audience. She makes a beautiful suggestion for how we should not choose our injustices or care about justice for your own self. Again, a practical answer to that would be if Kashmiri Muslims partnered with minority groups to fight for the injustices done to the minorities and also willingly called out the double standards of not just the Indian nation but of other nations acting on the sly to further their own selfish agendas. Kashmir was always plundered historically since ages. Several military forces tried to occupy that nation during different stages of its history.
The challenge with Kashmir is that revenge or retribution will never work as that is what had happened to the region for thousands of years. Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam by rulers from the West bent on correcting “infidels” through threats of death and destruction. The Sikhs came in with their own agenda. The Muslims were persecuted by suffering in the lower end of a feudal system, the British came in with their divisive agenda, The Hindus were divided in their support for the Muslims, Sheikh Abdullah made things right for Muslims by making things wrong for the Hindus and the Indian government and Pakistan government added to the mix by playing around with their own agendas.
None of these can be used to blame one group, religion or nation against the other. Any deviation from following democratic methods of resolution will always lead to more bloodshed and misery. This is the painful story of that valley. India needs democratic reforms to support the life of its people, occupied or non-occupied. It needs for sure but needs less of intellectual superstar writers blasting nations for their complacency and calling an already battered people to take up giant nations with massive power. You make changes to those nations only through the strong pillars of democracy- reason, reform and truth- unfiltered, unbiased truth. The path forward may be painfully slow, but the wait will be worth it as it doesn’t provide short term band aids but a wholesome treatment for the problem at hand.
To take Ms. Roy’s analogy of a fish in a tank for representing the Kashmiris in India, while a fish shouldn’t keep hitting the walls of a tank as the walls are very strong, the biggest concern for a fish is to not come out of the water or not lose the water in which it is still able to swim. There will always be four walls enclosing a water body, whether it is a fish tank or an ocean. Trying to know your enemy isn’t helpful here if the enemy you consider is the four walls saving the water in which the fishes are still alive. Today it may be the fish tank of India. Tomorrow it may be that of Pakistan or that of China. Or, one day, it would be the ocean of the World. But, your enemies that you need to so intelligently be aware of are the other fishes that may try to eat you within that tank or the toxins that someone from outside puts into that tank. The beauty of peaceful democratic coexistence comes from not drilling a hole in the tank but from figuring a way to enjoy the resources available for you within that tank and making amendments if needed to the rules of existence in that tank. As who knows, the other tanks or ocean you want to so eagerly escape to or create on your own may have more fundamentalist sharks or dictatorial whales that you may not survive even a day in if you don’t have an agenda for how the fishes will live in your tank to begin with. You don’t fight to get a separate tank only to end up being the only fish left in it.