Cashmere, if you can…
Down with this phony democracy then. Just download Sanjay Kak’s Kashmir documentary Jashn-e-Azadi
Polemic is the sweet prerogative of youth. If you’re not a polemicist at 21, you probably don’t have a heart. If you’re not more casual, half cynical by 32, you probably don’t have a head. Practically every Indian male grows up in India with his own unique viewpoint on Kashmir, cricket and Katrina Kaif (okay, the last one merely suited the alliteration: it could be Madhubala, Madhuri or Priyanka Chopra, depending on when you were growing up).
The year was 2000. Kashmir was still by and large a settled issue in the minds of the urban middle-class young. It’s simple enough to solve world’s problems when the arena’s an air-conditioned seminar room and the audience a bunch of students, supposedly trying to get an education, given to idle chats in the evenings.
The time was right, the setting and audience, perfect. I began vomiting my thoughts, “There is more to a community than a commonly accepted illusion of who they consider God. ‘Two majority religions, hence two separate nations’ was the founding principle of Pakistan alone. There was more to a uniquely secular Kashmir, in its moderate vision of Islam, a multi-religious and cultural heritage, and its complex, nearly 500-year-old history of different colonisers, to term it an Islamic state — merely for its Muslim-majority population. In fact Kashmiri Muslims had died fighting against Pakistanis and their surrogates who wished to free them in a supposedly holy war after Partition,” yeah, I’d just started.
“Sheikh Abdullah, the state’s most popular pre- and post-independence leader, or the ‘Lion of Kashmir’, had mentioned many times over, ‘He had a religion in common with Jinnah, but a dream in common with Nehru,’” I went on.
“The princely state Kashmir’s independent status, until 1947, was itself a generous gift from the British to subservient Hindu rulers of Jammu. Dogra kings had paid a paltry Rs 75 lakh for the entire real estate and the setting sun in 1846. Was there a referendum even today, the choice before Kashmir would have to be between a democratic India, and a Pakistan, perennially in a state of emergency. Division of India had never left any scope for the freedom of princely states,” I blabbered more.
“Pakistan’s open support to militants in the Valley seemed neither philanthropy nor a response to Kashmiris’ demand for Azadi. The logic was existential: If ‘Muslim’ Kashmir could prosper in secular India, there could be no better argument left against the theory and creation of Pakistan itself…” I could have gone on. There was nothing factually incorrect about my argument. But a gentle nudge from the adjoining seat urged me to stop.
Healthy youth demands positive aggression: any ‘ism’ (in this case, secularism, more than patriotism), could gain from this fresh fountain of zeal. A natural glare from Yasin Malik’s cold eyes that evening had already heated up the college conference room. He’d been hearing me all right. He didn’t think the diatribe befitted a reply, much less a discussion. He kept his gaze, walked up to us, shook my hand, and left.
Yasin chaired the separatist Jammu And Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), armed, like the most of the movement, by Pakistan. I saw him last in Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Our Freedom), a daring documentary shot and edited between 2004 and 2006. In the film, Kak, the filmmaker, travels across Kashmir after the elections in the state, and before India celebrates its 60th year of independence. He debunks the claim of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Prime Minister then, that the Valley, through its massive turnout at the polls, had voted for an Indian Constitution. They evidently hadn’t.
I somewhat changed my own bookish opinion on Kashmir only a few months after that evening at the college seminar room. We were at a debating tournament in Glasgow, Scotland, miles away from both India and Pakistan. The two brightest ‘Indian’ students from a Malaysian university competing against us had chosen to register themselves as from the ‘Republic of Kashmir’: not India, not Pakistan. Rest didn’t matter. You sense the same in Kak’s film as he narrates the story of the domination of the Indian state. The problem before us isn’t Indo-Pak, or law-and-order. It’s personal.
Equally well known protagonists of Kashmir are ignored in Kak’s film: around 1.6 lakh Pandits who migrated in a religiously polarised J&K, or the fanatical forces at work from across the border. The omission is deliberate. Kak focuses instead on indigenous people, and their genuine, loud voices for freedom: 18,000 Indian soldiers who have perished, warring against an unknown enemy, and a popular sentiment; about a lakh martyrs, or terrorists, or militants, or freedom fighters (call them what you want, it will not change their deaths); youths lost in misfires misreported as cross-fires; and the psychological agony of locals, otherwise so used to the physical beauty of nature around them.
A closed-door discussion is at best academic claptrap, when public sentiment is already not with you. Indian government represents the Indian public. In a few decades, the ‘Partition generation’ will have gone: their wounds will matter less, history even lesser. For whatever nationalism’s worth, wouldn’t we rather buy a visa, than watch over a lakh people die? You think. A visa, that’s what a place or its nationality, means to most individuals (like me). ‘Domino theory’ be damned.
Azam Inquilabi, a 60-year-old ‘freedom fighter’ in Kak’s film who’s been imprisoned in both Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir says long stretches in jail (or torture) increase the resolve of an ideologue. If a man is harassed, he bows his head before Allah and fights a metaphysical war against the might of the enemy. This hardly suits a state that brags about its commitment to democracy and liberalism. If dissent is not accommodated within the system, the tussle can only lead to anarchy.
Arguments may be complex on all sides. I’m told Kashmir also has politically changed a lot since. Pakistan is in a further state of mess. The Valley should be the last of their concerns. Yet, you can have your own views, I can have mine. It’s scary that we’re not even allowed to debate.
Kak’s film screening was clamped down upon by an angry Mumbai police in 2007. This is when I first saw it. This week, Symbiosis College of Arts And Commerce in Pune had to cancel the show because ABVP, the collegiate wing of the Bhartiya Janata Party, wouldn’t like anyone to see the film. The police are quick with appeasing gangsters and aggressors on streets than protecting freedoms of speech in matters like these.
A complete blackout of their points of view in Pune is what we offer Kashmir in lieu of a democratic India. Good lord, their other option is Peshawar. This is the only reason we still think they’ll stick with us.
Download Jashn-e-Azadi here.
Follow the writer on twitter@mayankw14