In Jammu and Kashmir today, two things are palpable: a peculiar stillness in the face of huge adversity, and an uncommon political wisdom.
The calm is noticeable to even the mildly sensitive visitor to Kashmir. You can ‘touch’ it at the morning cluster outside the baker’s shed, read it in the faces of those absorbing the name of yet another civilian life cut short yesterday, and hear it in the chit-chat about the politics of the times. It is not a silence produced by the dumb acceptance of one’s ‘fate’ or the craven, calculating taciturnity of a Uriah Heap. It reflects a silence somewhere between the dignified tranquility of the wise and the twitchy anger of the warrior waiting to avenge the murder of her world.
It is also a poised and detached calm, an eerie outward stillness, that says there is nothing more you can do to us that will shock us. Inexplicably gratuitous cruelty tends to shell-shock its quarry, make him search for reasons within and without for the affliction that visits him. In that vein, there were many who used to argue for the need to introspect about our own politics in Kashmir, the need to perceive Delhi as adversary rather than enemy. There are still some holdout compatriots whose liberality is a product of their personal past rather than of observations about our collective experience. But for most Kashmiris, the question of how such gratuitous cruelty can be perpetrated was answered by the democratic election of the BJP-Modi-RSS dispensation three years ago.
That answer has vindicated the Kashmiri distrust of India for the last 70 years and of its many successive governments, whether ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. It was a comparatively liberal government in India that empowered its military with laws that have suspended birth-rights and civil liberties in Kashmir for almost 30 years now.
The BJP-Modi-RSS government deepened that empowerment by emboldening the foot-soldier to claim moral superiority in beating, torturing, maiming, blinding and killing civilian Kashmiris for asserting their nationality and their freedoms over a hypothetical construct of an “Indian nationalism” that has yet to be theorised into praxis. Given the infancy of the modern Indian state, it is but natural that there should be ambiguity and doubt.
However, the BJP-Modi-RSS government laid to rest any doubts about how India intends to address ambiguities. To wit: India is a Hindu majority state. Non-Hindus live in it because of the generosity of its mainstream. Citizens are obligated to demonstrate their loyalty as dictated by the government. These requirements are not exclusively for Kashmir, of course.
But it has had two effects that are exclusive to J&K. First, it has justified the attempt to protect our limited accession to India on 26 October 1947 by making it a radically federal state of the Union of India. Second, the revived definition of the idea of India vindicates and legitimises our screams for freedom (that is what azaadi means, unambiguously) to protect our political identity as a multi-confessional, multi-ethnic, plural and diverse state.
The second of my observations is that an uncommon political wisdom permeates J&K today. It is reflected in the call for unity in the face of the latest assault on its negotiated relationship with the Government of India of 1954. The assault has been led by a freshly-minted NGO which has petitioned the Supreme Court of India to abrogate Article 35A of the Constitution of India that protects the uniqueness of the J&K state’s legal connect with the Union of India.
A primary consequence of this assault has been the revelation of just how politically educated our civil society is. All of a sudden, we appear to have mastered, en masse, the labyrinth of legalese, such as the difference between a ‘legislative assembly’ and a ‘constituent assembly’, the nuances of an endorsement of a petition by a ‘government’ or a ‘legislature’, and the subtleties of meaning in the BJP-Modi-RSS government’s decision to not file an affidavit in the Supreme Court against a petition challenging a clause in the Constitution of India that it has sworn to uphold.
Such comprehension of the GoI’s machinations will bolster the fight against the deceitful and incremental usurpation of our legal rights in J&K and instruct us on how to take tactical steps against the backdrop of a strategic struggle to preserve our freedom in a South Asian political environment diseased by dogmatic authoritarianism and dishonest purism. Moreover, it will raise consciousness about the importance of protecting our political identity, which is about defining the kind of political society we want to live in, rather than Hamletian questions about who we are.
The lurch towards authoritarianism spells more woes for India. For starters, it is but another name for concentrating power. Authoritarian rule makes government a centripetal machine rather than an institution in the service of people. But a centripetal bent will release centrifugal forces.
The popular will of the peoples of Kashmir is an example of it. The currency of the Hindutva nationalist impetus may be the result of bigotry or centripetalism, but the effect of either intent will be the same: to unleash centrifugal forces throughout India. Jammu and Kashmir has a historical, legal and political basis for challenging centralisation, as do the states of the North East. Other states and regions, such as the Dravidian south, will challenge it based on political emotion, fierce as many of them are in their defence of linguistic and cultural freedoms.
India’s biggest woe, however, will continue to be Kashmir. Why? Because, dangerously for India, the Kashmiri has stopped feeling sorry for himself. She realises that there is nothing worse that can be done to her. She apprehends that it is India that is in greater danger of imploding as hatred of the Dalit, minority obsession and muscular nationalism overtake its lofty ambitions of establishing for itself a secular, diverse and plural society. It is time for India as a whole to respond to the dangerous path it has adopted, particularly in the last three years.