Resistance In Kashmir And The Importance Of International Solidarity
Kashmir is like a chronic festering sore on the soul of us, who trace our heritage to that cartographic cranium of India and Pakistan. The story of Kashmir for me, like millions of others, is a nightmarish tragedy of betrayal, oppression and pain, that turn into anger, unbearable grief and then a dissociated indifference. How long can one live with grief? With anger? With pain? Especially since that’s all one has known from something for as long as one can remember. So, my defensive mechanism with Kashmir had been for a past couple of decades of a scholastic distance. Perhaps, if I stop caring so much, it would hurt less? I reasoned. Not sure if it has worked, but remarkably, since this past anniversary of the lockdown all the repressed demons with regard to Kashmir have come hollering back to the front of my mind. This article is about those demons and how an afternoon in London has helped me think of a way forward in the darkness of despair that has become the Kashmir cause.
They wanted me to talk to Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) diplomats of the British Government, on climate change. All these officers were on their way to assorted South Asian countries and I was one of the ‘experts’ who had been invited to brief them. My charge was to talk about climate change, and its impacts in South Asia. I got to the venue a little early and found myself sitting on the session on Kashmir, just prior to my session. The presenter impressed me with his analysis, empathy and above all with his truth telling of the heart breaking quality.
The presenter rightly noted that the Kashmiri populace had always had an ambivalent relationship with the Union of India, where the highly militarised reality had been tempered by representative democracy and a stake in India’s secular present and future. The consent of the people of Indian Kashmir was sought, and perhaps even an apathetic version of it gained too, through constitutional exceptionalism and representation. Since 1989 though, that consent of had been severely tested. Precipitated by that oldest of South Asian maladies of rigged elections, and helped along by Indian army’s excesses and Pakistani interventionism, the democratic consent of the Kashmiris towards India continued to erode, until August 5th, 2019. That day, even the Indian state dropped any pretence that it had any interest in securing any consent. India admitted to the world and to itself, that indeed it was an occupying power, with ambitions to be a genocidal Hinduvta power, where ethnic cleansing, and rape as a weapon of subjugation were to be gleefully discussed.
On August 5th, 2019, Anupam Kher, one of my favourite actors, and now least favourite human beings, tweeted that ‘Kashmir solution had begun’. Perhaps Mr Kher had the final solution type in mind. But this is for sure, Indian democracy died on 05/08/2019, as well as its veneer of secularism. Afterall a democracy can’t be for some of its citizens and not others. It at least has to pretend to be one for everyone. Hinduvta ideology showed its ugly face, and yet the world remained, deafeningly silent. Why?
Xenophopbia, racism, misogyny, imperialist hubris, neo-liberalism, anti-scientism, religious and secular fascism are signature evils, turned populist virtues of the 21st century. Why would anyone care about Kashmir, in a world like that? The world is silent on Palestine, Congo, Xinjiang, Rohingyas, Yemen, Syria, Balochistan and refugees in Europe or North America, to name a few. Why is the silence on Kashmir any more surprising?
To the presenter that afternoon in London, the surprising part was not that the world was silent. It isn’t to me either. The surprising part is that how few, even silent friends or allies Kashmir has. Just right next to my office in Aldwych, London is the Indian High Commission. So many protests took place there of Kashmiris through the autumn of 2019. I went to many of them. But as the presenter at FCO noted; what is an oppressed nationality protest in London without someone selling the ‘Socialist Worker’ newspaper? It is virtually impossible for a protest for national self determination to not have fellow travellers from Palestine, or Black Lives Matter, or feminist activists present. As the presenter at the FCO noted, ‘It appears to me that the Kashmir issue and its activists are almost hermetically sealed from any other national, gender, ethnic or race emancipation struggle in the world.” One cannot travel through Belfast Catholic section without seeing Palestinian flags everywhere. One, however, cannot find a single non-Kashmiri person at any of the Kashmir protests in London.
My friends Dibyesh Anand and Nitasha Kaul effectively rabble rouse and bring in allies from across the ethnic and national spectrum to show solidarity with the Kashmiris. But rarely does one see the Kashmiri diaspora or activists reaching out and making allies. Heck even within the historic boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir, there seems to be little solidarity with the ethic Kashmiris from Shina, Balti, Ladakhis or even Jammu Dogras. Is it efficient divide and rule by the occupying powers in Kashmir? Is it such successful appropriation of the Kashmir narrative by the states of Pakistan and India, that the people have no independent voice that could build the types of alliances that sustain a national liberation movement? I don’t know. But what I do know is Kashmir is seemingly alone, like an emotionally abused wife, violated, isolated, alienated and muted.
Nothing breaks my heart more than the voices on Pakistani side asking for constitutional replication of what India did to Kashmir, to Azad Kashmir. The recent (re)issuing of the old/new map of Kashmir showing it as part of Pakistan, reinforces the impression among many Kashmiris that, Pakistan’s consistent position that it wants right of self-determination for Kashmiris, is just empty talk. That like India, it is only interested in the real estate—Kashmiri people being an inconvenient appendage. I have written about these neurosis on part of India and Pakistan here.
Instead of looking backward, the point of my ruminations is to think about the way forward. For the Kashmiris it is about an internal conversation about defining and finding their own voices beyond the cliched nationalist stories. Muzamil Jaleel may have made a beginning, as he said in his recent essay, which seems no longer to be available here:
if we are pushed out, boxed into a corner bordered by tall walls, if the bubbling of our rivers and streams is made unfamiliar to us, we cease to be a people. Collective memory alone can come to our rescue. We need to focus on memory.
But that memory alone in the Kashmiri hearts and minds won’t do by itself. That memory has to be shared, compared and celebrated with others. And for that, Kashmiris will have to reach out and find common cause with the oppressed everywhere, from Naxalites in Jaharkhand, to Uighur in Xinjiang to Hutu in Congo. There is no unique pain, as there is no separate peace. Without a shared world, there is no world for anyone.
Daanish Mustafa is a Professor of Critical Geography, Department of Geography, King’s College, London. Daanish Mustafa obtained his BA, MA and PhD all in geography from Middlebury College, VT, University of Hawai’i, Manoa, and University of Colorado, Boulder, respectively. He has taught at George Mason University, University of South Florida and King’s College, London. His research interests have been water resources, hazards and development geography. He also has a corpus of research and publications on critical geographies of violence and terror. His research has been funded by US National Science Foundation, Natural and Environmental Research Council (NERC), the Belmont Forum, International Development Research Council (IDRC), and the British Academy among others. Email: [email protected]