I visited Srinagar – the summer capital of India-occupied Kashmir in January 2016. As a student of history, I went fully conscious of the vexed incorporation of the territory of this erstwhile princely state into India in October 1947 in the name of “national unity and integrity”. Consequently, I had few illusions about the ever-widening gap between the ideals of India’s democracy and their practical manifestation in its relationship with Kashmir since. Put simply, this relationship reduces Kashmir to one among many, what anthropologist Kamala Visweswaran calls, “geographies of everyday occupation” of social and individual life by the state apparatus. Yet, I was taken aback by the latter’s overt omnipresence, ostensibly, during “peace” time. Given this oppressive military and para-military penetration of the landscape, especially in the last 25 years, it is no wonder that the civilian uprisings of 1990, 2008 and 2010 and now, in 2016, represent a cyclic pattern of violence, which will continue unabated, until and unless the Indian State genuinely engages with the Kashmiri people and their aspirations.
I was not to know then that six months later, yet another round of protests and a brutal military response would begin; one with an immediate trigger (the death of the charismatic militant leader Burhan Muzaffar Wani), but well-located in the longue duree of structural “domination” over individual “resistance”. Back in January, as I came out of the Srinagar International Airport and reached the exit gate, two sights competed for my attention: a row of shops on the left in a small semi-circle, populated by men in pherans, and a cluster of personnel from the Indian armed forces in combat fatigues. Their vehicles stood near. My host was having tea in one of the shops. He came running past both the pherans and the fatigues, hugged me and welcomed me with these words – “this boy is a jet fighter”, commenting on how fast I had reached the exit gate. I could not help but smile at first but then I thought about the words “jet fighter” and found it rather appropriate given the bunkers one saw around the runway; the army’s presence in this heavily-militarised state has affected the cultural lexicon of the region.
According to British-Marxist historian, Perry Anderson, military presence has, post-Second World War and in the postcolonial world, usually appeared in two forms – for an “emergency” in the peripheral areas or as a “dictatorship at the centre”. In this case, it is the Indian bayonets and state violence in Kashmir that belies the myth that “democracy” exists in the state. As we made our way towards the city-centre, the usual sights of expanding suburbia took over; foremost among them being houses – rather big and impressive. “Kothis” – I uttered; my friend responded with “new money” – indicating the increasing gentrification of the region. The sight of these kothis and their high walls was periodically interjected and over-shadowed by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camps, buildings and numerous battalions, protected by barbed wire. I was soon to realise that the CRPF presence on Srinagar roads and neighbourhoods was ubiquitous. I would keep exclaiming about this during the trip and eventually feel both foolish and ashamed for doing so; it was only to my “new” non-Kashmiri eyes that the oppressive military presence appeared extraordinary. For my friend, they were merely a “part of the landscape”.
In 2012-2013, according to figures quoted in The Indian Ideology by Perry Anderson, there were about 400,000 men from various army battalions and paramilitary forces who were present among the five million strong Kashmiri populace at the time – a ratio higher than in Tibet, Palestine or, lately, even in Iraq. It is necessitated because the Indian State, after securing the Valley of Kashmir in 1947-49 (courtesy a lapsed imperial decree, a forged accession and a false promise of plebiscite) can hold on to Kashmir only if it indefinitely maintains its military numbers in the state to intimidate and keep the population under intense scrutiny.
Taking advantage of an unusual sunny spell, we decided to drive around the city. Soon, an underwhelming Jhelum appeared with its many bridges and banks choc-a-bloc with shops, houses and restaurants. There were also well-kept parks, new shopping complexes, big buildings of banks (SBI and J&K) and, most disappointingly, flyovers under construction. Relief came at the Dal-gate. The surrounding heights, the shikaras, the house-boats named with global aspirations – from “Buckingham Palace” to “New Sydney”, the still waters, the jetty ghats and the necklace-like tree-lined road completed the picture. My eager queries about the buildings atop surrounding hillocks were met with some expected and some unexpected answers: there were hotels run by the Taj group and the Lalit group, the well-known temple of Sankaracharya, and the houses of the high-and-mighty. Perhaps indulging my curiosities about the latter, the car was turned away from the Dal and up the hill towards the heavily protected Gupkar road to Lalit Hotel – a former Dogra palace where Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had stayed during his August 1947 trip. I also caught sight of numerous high-profile name plates like Dr Farooq Abdullah (ex-Chief Minister) and N Paul Vasanthakumar (the Chief Justice of J&K High Court). These houses, belonging to Kashmir’s political elite, are perched on secure heights, comfortably nestled in the bosom of the Indian state, and aptly symbolise the “patron-client” relationship that exists between them and New Delhi. These collaborators of the state apparatus occupy a privileged liminal space, at once distant from and also looking down upon the masses, while looking up in anticipation and apprehension at their “protectors”.
From here, appropriately enough, we drove past the abiding and enduring symbols of the “war and diplomacy” around Kashmir though in the reverse order. We halted first at the forlorn-looking building of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan and then saw the sprawling Badami Bagh Cantonment of the Indian Army, where the “XV Corps” soldiers reside. As the car gathered speed, the military markers came: “Rajinder Dwar”, “Somnath Dwar”, a Patton tank numbered 15 probably captured in the 1965 war with Pakistan. Rather ironically, the road led to the Delhi Public School – a relatively new establishment – nestled among mountains being quarried and just off the highway to Jammu on one side and the bypass along Srinagar on the other – not my idea of an ideal location for a school. I was to learn later about the enforced oath-taking that students there were subjected to on 31 October 2014 in memory of Vallabhbhai Patel, under the dictates of the current ruling dispensation in India. The ceremony was to be filmed and the tape was to be sent back to the awfully-named Human Resources Development Ministry in New Delhi. My interlocutor, an insouciant Kashmiri teenage girl, recounted how she had resolutely refused to utter the oath.
With the sun still favouring us, incredibly unusual for Chillai-Kalan – the 40-day period of harshest winter, we went on a drive through the old city areas or what is called “Downtown” by locals. Dominated by the Durrani Fort of 1808 atop the hill of Koh-e-Maran, the winding roads with their throbbing traffic and bustling bazaars brought us in front of a medieval marvel – the Jamia Masjid. Built in the 14th century by Sultan Sikandar, the Central Mosque of Srinagar has a magnificent wooden facade and courtyard of 370 giant pillars – one each from a Deodar tree – and has an amazing area of 384 by 381 feet. With a central garden and fountain, it can hold upward of 50,000 people when they pray together on Fridays and yet the mosque offers an oasis of tranquility in the heart of the old town area. Its splendor is exceeded only by its political symbolism that comes from being the virtual fiefdom of the Mirwaiz – head sermon-giver – one of the three key players in the popular politics in Kashmir Valley since the 1920s. The presence of that politics of “self and sovereignty” in every pore of the physical space in Srinagar was brought home to me in the nearby Naqshbandi mosque too. A small, compact and exquisite wooden structure, its gardens are populated by the graves of people killed in 1930s and 1990s, by the Dogra and the Indian state, respectively. Though closed for visitors, the caretaker was kind enough to walk to the police post and bring back a guard with him, who gave us permission to go in after some cursory questions.
These were pit-stops on the way to our ultimate destination – the Hazratbal shrine – while struggling with a massive paratha picked up from outside the Dastgir Sahib shrine. The Hazratbal shrine, with its sparkling white dome and minaret, is situated right on the left banks of the Dal. This holiest of shrines in Kashmir, containing a strand of Prophet Muhammad’s hair, dates back to early 1700s. Its present structure owes itself to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah – the tallest leader in the Valley from 1930s to 1970s. Its construction by the Abdullah-led trust can be arguably read as his bid to set-up a rival pulpit to the Mirwaiz and his Jamia Masjid. To that end, Hazratbal is an epitome of a coming together of personality assertion, religious identity and political jostling in a striking geographical space by way of an architectural device. It is an impressive sight and for Abdullah it fulfilled his purpose of being elevated by association with the one shrine in the whole of Kashmir that was linked to the Prophet. Little wonder then that Abdullah is himself laid to rest just further along the Hazratbal shrine.
At the grave of the much-avowed “Lion of Kashmir” is a plaque bearing some memorable final words; that these come from as early as 1946, from a political life, which ended only in 1982, is itself curious. It is an ironical refrain considering it is about the “unity of purpose” between four million Kashmiris and the 93 million Indians against British rule in India and their ally in this struggle – the princely ruler of Kashmir. For, it is obvious now that once that unity of purpose ended; the sheer asymmetry in power was always going to tell in only one direction.
So his legatees as well as his last minders could only let the hollow words, spoken pre-1947, to adorn his resting place. After all, Abdullah’s Prime Minister-ship of Kashmir from 1947 to 1953 was thanks largely to the presence of the Indian Army. Neither he nor New Delhi was prepared to test “how wide or how deep” support for Abdullah really was, which anyway was never uncontested. His co-option, if at all representative of the vox populi in 1947-48, quickly degenerated into a puppet regime that set the template for the next 40 years and set the broad framework, which endures. It is a facade of collaboration achieved with ease between 1953 and 1984 and then asserted again, after the militancy of the 1990s, from 2004 onwards, with a prominent face of it – Mufti Mohammad Syed – passing away peacefully on 7 January 2016, while still the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
Having surveyed the architectural splendours to understand their political symbolism, it was time to get back to the comfort of the third triad of Kashmiri exceptionalism – food! I was taken to Ahdoo’s Restaurant that is only two years short of completing a century of its existence. Overlooking the Jhelum, its classy interiors, unhurried air and caring staff made it an unforgettable experience that was to be repeated through the trip. What made the meal more appetising was the accompanying conversation on “Salafi” versus “Soofi” movements in Islam among my interlocutors. As they switched back-and-forth between English, Hindustani and Kashmiri, I was struck by this triad of languages that they navigated and that rendered meaningless any attempts to fetter them in any subcontinental binaries. And yet, later that night, I came face to face with another facet of the state-designed straitjacket that Kashmiris are forced to wear when my ignorant query about cinema and cinema-halls was met with an incredulous response: “There are no cinema halls. There used to be some halls but the army has taken them over for years now”.
The following day – 22 January – as we took to the road to South Kashmir, there was a strike in the city to mourn the victims of the Gawkadal Massacre. Twenty-six years ago, on 20 January 1990, the CRPF troops had fired upon a group of Kashmiri protestors at the Gawkadal Bridge on Jhelum in what has been described as one of the worst massacres in Kashmiri history. While on our way, we went past the town of Pulwama, where an “encounter” had just ended with casualties – including a civilian – and a call for shut-down had been given. As we drove on the NH-1-A towards Jammu, along the snaking Jhelum and past the flat fields of saffron, shops full of cricket willows – once again I realised how much of a “Valley” Srinagar and its surroundings are. The road – the aorta of the state – was being widened into a multi-lane highway and the sights were similar to similar road construction sites – men at work, bull-dozers, tar-coal pits, up-turned earth, flying dust and diversions – above all, diversions.
We drove through a partially shut-down market of Bijbehara, past the eighth century ruins of Avantipora and turned left on a high-winding road along the river Lidder to enter the very picturesque Lidder Valley. Our destination was that eternal favourite of the Hindi film industry – Pahalgam. The road we took had rows upon rows of precisely planted apple trees on one side and the Lidder River on the other. But the anticipation of seeing Pahalgam was squelched when I saw ad hoc settlements of the kind I had not prepared myself for. As huts, bigger structures, fences, and demarcated areas appeared, I was puzzled and the spell was broken only by a photo of Shiva with the caption, “Welcome to the Yatris”. Only then did I realise that Pahalgam was enroute to the Amarnath cave site – a holy shrine for the devotees of Shiva – and what I was viewing was the “pilgrimage camp”.
From being a largely Kashmiri-Hindu affair where quirky, individualistic pilgrimage treks were undertaken as much to marvel at the massive ice stalagmite as to worship the phallus it symbolised for some, unsparingly captured by VS Naipaul in his An Area of Darkness, the Amarnath Yatra has metamorphosed since. Now it is an industry of the pan-Indian Hindu agenda to manufacture a sacred geography. It has a special place in the largely Hindu “religious-tourism” complex sponsored by the Indian state – whether led by the “secular-nationalists” or the “Hindu-nationalists” whose visions of the boundary of India are “coterminous” – with other notable examples being the shrine of Vaishno Devi (near Jammu), Badrinath-Kedarnath (Uttarakhand), Tirupati Devasthanam (Andhra Pradesh), Dwarka (Gujarat), Jagannath Temple, Puri (Orissa) and Rameshwaram (Tamil Nadu). That four of these happen to be the legendary Chaar-Dhaams of medieval Hinduism, as organised by Adi Shankara in ninth century, is no mere coincidence.
As it happened, the Amarnath Shrine Board met the same day and, announced the dates of the Yatra for 2016 – from 2 July to 18 August 2016 – and decided upon a quota of 7500 pilgrims per day per route. This amounted to a potential figure of seven lakh travellers on the five-day trek from Pahalgam to Amarnath. After Burhan Wani, the young commander of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, was ambushed and killed on 8 July by the Indian security forces in Kokernag area – around 80 kilometres from Srinagar, the Amarnath Yatra was suspended.
In the days since, the response of the government has tried to put the genie back in the bottle. Close to 50 people have been killed and over 3000 arrested as the protests have spread across the Valley. The usual round of curfews, and the suspension of transport and communication have followed, according to a well-known script. The well-oiled machinery of state has leapt to action with additional CRPF troops being deployed in the state. An incredulous-sounding M Venkaiah Naidu, Union Information & Broadcasting Minister, has asked, “How can any Indian have sympathy for such people?” In employing this binary with all its insidious implications, Naidu followed the time-honoured policy: laying down the line – or the lakshman rekha in his party’s parlance – on who is “Indian” in the eyes of the Indian state. To Kashmiris, however, Wani was a Shahid (martyr) – and, as the late Agha Shahid Ali reminded us once, “Shahid” means “beloved” in Persian and “a witness” in Arabic. From Maqbool Butt (1984) to Afzal Guru (2013) and from Abdul Ahad Jan (2010) to Burhan Wani (2016), beyond the understanding of such people like Naidu, popular heroes have emerged in this contest between occupation of public space by the state and occupation of public memory by martyrs.
The Amarnath Yatra itself should be read in terms of “cartographic anxiety” where, according to academic Sankaran Krishna, there is need to have “representational practices…to inscribe something called India and endow that entity with a content, history, a meaning and a trajectory”. The composition of this Board is most revealing too. It has a Delhi-based, 87-year-old art historian of early medieval India, a Bangalore-based prominent cardiac surgeon-philanthropist, four Kashmiri-Hindus of various public standings, noted environmentalist Sunita Narain and perhaps above all Ravi Shankar – the Tamil-Hindu spiritual figure. Clearly, while popular nationalist ideology sees Amarnath as proof of the grand Indian self-perception of a syncretic, secular space, the ground realities have demonstrated exactly the opposite; what Anderson calls a “confessional expansionism”. A recent example of it was the troubled summer of 2008 when Government of India decided to “transfer” land to the Amarnath Shrine Board for use during the Yatra. The subsequent protests drew over 500,000 people in one of the largest ever demonstrations seen in the Valley and led to a hurried agreement on the “temporary” use of land.
However, this expansionism had started in 1947 itself, with the massacre of Muslims in Jammu – one of the least documented episodes of the Kashmir imbroglio. A forgotten man by the name of Sir Dalip Singh was New Delhi Agent-General in Jammu and he sent a succession of aghast, anguished and helpless reports to his masters in the second half of November 1947. He started by blandly reporting that the refugee evacuation was unsatisfactory, mired as it was in corruption and inefficiency and manipulated as it was by the downturn in communal relations, driven by the Sikhs and the RSS. Dalip then broadened his critique and sent a long letter to Nehru on 18 November:
I wish to submit for your consideration some facts…Dogra party and Punjabi party among Hindus in Jammu – latter turning to RSS – wish to retain Jammu as a Hindu province and let Muslim Kashmir go to Pakistan…Congress is steadily losing ground in East Punjab to RSS. This is also my opinion as of the Governor [CR] Chopra…The Sangh do some work. Their boys have been lengthening the air-strip. This kind of thing naturally makes them popular. It is difficult to see how one can avoid their entering the state. Almost every official is secretly in touch and sympathy with them and would turn a blind eye. They get in with the military lorry drivers.
Two days later, on 20 November, Dalip Singh reported that Governor Chopra was accused to be a “Sanghi, who massacred 1 ½ lakh Muslims in Riasi”. When a startled Nehru requested Patel to order an “impartial enquiry into military/police conduct” in Jammu, Patel demurred and replied on 24 November, in terms that echo today, that it was “impossible” to do so given its implications for, what else, “state sovereignty”. Meanwhile, Dalip kept reporting the plight of Muslims in Jammu: “300 Muslims killed out of 600 [in one convoy]…I have already told you that I have strong reason to believe that the state troops did not act properly. I have said so several times…Brigadier Paranjape’s court of enquiry has moved off without result. I have no wish to hide unsavoury occurrences. Please remember that our people have not the mentality that you seem to think they should have”. Eventually, Patel asked Dalip to return to New Delhi.
Driving away from this forgotten episode of the past and back in the present, we reached Pahalgam Golf Course fenced by high-rise mountains on all sides, reminding me of a picture of a similarly encircled polo-ground in Hunza-Chitral-Gilgit area from a Geoffrey Moorhouse travelogue of the region. The drive back was along the other side of the river via Seer, Mattan and Islamabad or Anantnag. At the Mattan temple complex came together the fantasy and reality of Kashmir today. An eighth century (AD) complex, mythically pushed back to 2600 BC and associated with the Pandavas – perhaps in quest of authenticity and older origins – shares its compound with a Gurudwara. In its immediate neighbourhood stand two CRPF camps. Our passage through the 50 metres stretch between the two camps was surreal – there were only soldiers sauntering in sight; no civilians at all. To this “military-religious complex”, my friend added two improbable and ironic layers of political personalities associated with the region: Makhan Lal Fotedar and Mirza Afzal Beg – the former being beholden to Indira Gandhi; the latter to Sheikh Abdullah. On our way back in the dark, dotted by lights of the heights of Avantipora hill which hosts an air force station, I kept thinking about the remark by an old Kashmiri man we met along the way. Upon knowing that I was a student of history from India, he had said, “Can you include a bit of our history in your history?”
I had my first brush with the JK Police and the CRPF on the morning of 23 January and it was a result of, “looking suspicious”, what with me sporting a generous beard, and looking too “well-dressed”. Our car was waved down and a venerable-looking, elderly policeman with a flowing white beard asked, pointing at me, “yeh janab kaun hai?” (Who is this gentleman here?). His next words were directed to me, “aap neeche utariye” (Get down). When I got down, I was met not by him but a younger, CRPF jawan who asked me for my ID. Realising that I did not have one on me, he asked me, “kahan se aaye hain?” (Where have you come from?) By now, my friend-host, who had initially not been asked to step down, had been talking in Kashmiri with the elderly policeman, having showed his own ID and establishing my bonafide credentials as an “Indian professor of history”. The phrase worked like a magical charm. The policeman came over to my side and started apologising: “Pehle keh dete…bata dete to utarna nahin padta; Prof Saheb aapko dikkat to nahin hui…!” (You should have told us! If you had, you wouldn’t have to get down. We hope, professor-sir, we haven’t caused you too much trouble!) As we drove off – I could not help but ponder over this strange, dichotomous encounter. On the one hand, this profuse, overt, demonstrative and seemingly sincere respect for the established academic; on the other, initial suspicion for whom? In my kurta and with my beard, who did I appear to be? Did it make me look like a Muslim? Did it make me look like an insurgent – as against my clean-shaven friend dressed in trousers and a corduroy jacket?
Chashme Shahi Bagh and Pari Mahal, atop the Zabarwan range of hills, overlooking the left bank of the Dal was built in the 1630s on the orders of Emperor Shah Jahan for his Sufi son Dara Shikoh. The well-kept garden and the palace, now in ruins, are well-known among the Mughal sights of Srinagar. What I did not know was that they are right next to the Governor’s House, which necessitates terrific security presence on the road leading up to them. Vehicles are emptied and people walk through a metal detector and a forbidding wall runs along the other side constantly reminding one of the “sensitive” nature of the spot. At the Chashme Shahi, we came across a group of Marathi-speaking tourists, who bustled about in a “hail fellow, well met” attitude towards soldiers, who they looked upon as their protectors, as harbingers of peace and, above all, as facilitators, whose presence in Kashmir made their pleasure trip possible. As they alighted down from their tempo, I could not help but think of a famous slogan that became popular in South Africa in the 1980s: “No normal sport in an abnormal society”. I adapted it to present-day Kashmir: “No normal tourism in an abnormal, militarised space”.
As we moved from there through the winding roads surrounded by woods up to Pari Mahal, I was greeted by three sights – all striking for various reasons. First, the ruins have been taken over by the security forces and there was a callow, barely-out-of-his-teens soldier, who probably had not wielded a razor yet but had a rifle in his hand, keeping guard. Second, the view from the top was nothing short of panoramic and picture-postcard – the sprawling Dal to the right, the city nestled to the left, a helipad straight down below and the white dome of Hazratbal in the distance. But, it was the red-tiled roof top of the palatial Governor’s House that caught my eye most. It is a Vice-regal complex and given its dominating position and fortified location, it can and does most certainly produce a ‘Vice-regal complex’ among its occupants, India’s pro-consuls in Kashmir.
Looking down upon Srinagar, the panopticon effect is so powerful that the politics of space immediately assails the viewer, with the Governor’s House symbolising dominant and arrogant Indian colonialism. One of the most notorious occupants of the Governor’s House, Jagmohan, wrote that “in this ‘valley of scorpions’, bullet is the only solution”. Earlier, in a sordid episode, at New Delhi’s behest he had orchestrated the unconstitutional dismissal of Farooq Abdullah’s government in July 1984. It was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back and convinced Kashmiris that, as BK Nehru – Jagmohan’s predecessor who was removed because he had refused to quit – had predicted: “India would never permit them to rule themselves”.
The extent to which this structural dominance and expansion has been standardised, normalised and accepted-as-matter-of-fact in common public parlance in India came home to me next day when I happened to utter “Shri-nagar” as opposed to “Sri-nagar” and was immediately corrected by my interlocutor. Much like the transformation of “Asoka” to “Ashoka” and “Simla” to “Shimla”, this too represents a sort of Brahminisation and Sankritisation and indifference, apathy or complicity of most Indians towards it.
India today has, as the Kashmiri anthropologist Mohamad Junaid shows an elaborate infrastructure of occupation in place in Kashmir and is forever seeking to make it both efficient and acceptable. For the Indian state and an overwhelming majority of Indian society and media, Kashmir is akin to a “land without people”. Worse, in a burgeoning “cottage industry” around conflict-zones especially since 9/11, when the people are thought of, it is in stereotypical terms of “Muslim/Islamic extremism” and “Pakistan-backed proxies”. The Indian imperatives of security thus neither clash with the Indians’ conception of democracy nor do they represent a contradiction. Instead, they provide the precise conditions in which Indian secularism is to be safeguarded against the many so-called “separatist” and “seditious” tendencies, with Kashmir as the primes inter pares.
Lying on top of this “occupation” is a game of smoke and mirrors, namely, elections that illustrates the adage, “get them by their balls, hearts and minds will follow”. They are important for the Indian state, for they mask the undemocratic reality of its presence in Kashmiri society. If democracy is the government of, by and for the people then what goes in its name in Kashmir must make us ask which “people” the Indian state is referring to. More accurately, in this case, “democracy” is what the government wants and its demands are defined by a majoritarian, Hindu, upper/middle-caste-unity of purpose and, of course, the quest for territory. If anything is actually “democratic” in this whole situation, it is, ironically, the Kashmiris’ call for “Azadi”. And, when their desire for democracy is not being shelled at, it is sought to be smothered by the discourse of development.
It is this matrix that produces moments of mass upsurge against military occupation – in 1990, 2008, 2010 and now, in 2016. In 2010, the shout was “Meri jaan, teri jaan, Ahad Jan, Ahad Jan” – in support of the police constable Abdul Ahad Jan, who threw a shoe at the-then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah during India’s independence day function in Srinagar. In 2016, the slogan is “Tum kitne Burhan maroge/ Har ghar se Burhan niklenge” even as the current incumbent Mehbooba Mufti – who in the past attended many militant funerals – steered safely clear of Wani’s final journey that attracted more than two lakh mourners, according to ‘unofficial figures’. Official figures touted a low figure of 7000 mourners, downplaying the support for the slain militant.
Accompanying slogans that reference immediate events, is a chant the Indian state knows well: “Hum kya chahte? Azadi!” So as long as a world, where “cats (informers) and crackdowns”, “encounters and interrogations”, “bunkers and convoys”, “shoot-outs and searches”, “domination and resistance”, “Anantnag and Islamabad”, Ikhwan ul Muslimeen and Hizb ul Mujahideen and “India-administered Kashmir and India-occupied Kashmir”, continue to exist, and until this colonial-style occupation of Kashmir by India with its accompanying militarisation remains, so will the popular resistance of Kashmiris to the post-colonial sovereignty of the Indian state. The Indian presence in Kashmir remains the state’s biggest response to, what Arjun Appadurai calls, its “anxiety of incompleteness”. The tyrant power it symbolises – just by being there, let alone doing anything – will always produce resistance and will always pitch the State against Society.
On 24 January, I met a student leader who, rather succinctly, summed up the Kashmir situation. Firstly, with respect to the events of 1947 in British India, Kashmir was a “product of a solution”, namely the Partition “solution” for the “problem” of the departing British state and the ascending Indian and Pakistani states. Similarly, with respect to the events of 1975-77, he argued that the happenings of the last four decades in Kashmir were, once again, produced by a “solution”, namely the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah Accord of 1975 that sought to solve the “problem” of Abdullah’s long incarceration and exile from India-administered Kashmir’s politics and the disenchantment felt in the Valley at the gap between Indian pronouncements and performance around restoring democracy when it came to average Kashmiri’s experience.
He had a point, for between August 1953 and June 1972, Sheikh Abdullah had spent twelve years in four different spells of arrest, detention and internment. During this period, Jammu and Kashmir suffered successively under the corrupt Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, the ineffective Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq and the Congressman, Syed Mir Qasim, while alongside putting together a farcical Constitution and holding elections starting from 1957, which were systematically rigged.
From June 1972, he had entered into negotiations with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and returned as the Chief Minister in February 1975. Just before that, on 29 December 1974, he had sent an anguished letter to Mrs Gandhi starting with “the decades of my sufferings and sacrifices”, pointing to the “the lack of trust which continues to exist in the minds of those with whom I may have to deal in the future” [i.e. the Government of India], arguing about the systematic erosion of the letter and spirit of the special status guaranteed to Jammu and Kashmir by the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and remembering his forced exclusion from every election since 1953. He concluded succinctly that his “differences with India were not over the issue of the accession of Kashmir but on the quantum of accession. In my opinion, accession and autonomy are inter-dependent. I had agreed to throw in my lot with India on the basis of the Instrument of Accession signed by the Maharaja which guaranteed complete internal autonomy to the state. If this autonomy is taken away, then the very foundation of the relationship is destroyed”. Needless to say, both the “solution(s)” turned sour, with one leading to the conflict of 1947-49 and subsequent war and diplomacy, while the other leading to two underwhelming Chief Ministerial stints by two Abdullahs (father and son), the infamously rigged election of 1987 and the rise of militancy soon thereafter.
My trip was now drawing to a close. The date, 26 January – India’s Republic day, too was coming close. As Srinagar started taking on the appearances of a garrison town, we were stopped at the same place and subjected to same ID checks on the morning of 25 January. This time, the elderly policeman came over in our direction and told his colleagues to not bother us and waved me, the ‘Professor Saheb’ off with a smile and a handshake. We were headed to Lal Chowk, where in the name of beautification, the state has sought to parcel out space, fence it, and establish a raised platform with benches and fake lamp-posts thereby making it a bit more difficult for people to congregate. From there, we drove to the airport, where a surprise awaited me.
If my exit from the airport had been swift like a “jet fighter”, my entry was crab-like. From roughly a kilometre away, we filed into rows of crawling cars that led to a big X-ray machine where we all got down from the car, got our bags, went through the scanners and then re-joined the crawling queue to the entry-gate. That though was only the first and outer-most layer of security. Upon entry in the terminal building, we joined another queue to walk through another X-Ray machine – arranged according to airlines – and, after a second round of getting ours bags and selves scanned, we made our way to the airlines counter. Here, I was told that my back-pack that had come as a cabin baggage on the flight from Delhi had to be checked in. A notice said, “No cabin bags allowed on flights operating from Jammu and Srinagar due to security reasons”. Ergo, after checking it in, we got into another queue – this time for the more familiar personal security check – after which, we went through what I thought was a thing of past long gone – namely baggage identification. Before going towards our boarding gate, we walked over to an area containing our previously checked-in luggage and pointed out our individual bags, got the requisite slips identifying them and our tickets stamped. Then and only then, were the bags allowed on to the plane.
As the plane took off and flew thrillingly close to the sun-kissed and snow-capped peaks of the Pir Panjal, my mind went back to the final remarks made by that student leader given to interesting formulations. He had said that democracy – Indian or otherwise – operates along the two axes of “leader” and/or “party organisation”. Dissent or resistance movements, on the other hand, need not have either as long as they have a “cause”. So, while a “leader” needs “followers” and a “party” requires “a cadre or supporters”, a cause thrives inside a “community” – infused, informal and instinctive. It may remain dormant but it cannot be diffused by a democratic carapace, no matter how hard or thick. These thoughts were interrupted by an announcement made from the cabin about the imminent touch-down at Delhi and that hard and thick democracy of the Indian nation-state made its presence manifestly felt when the announcer – pilot or attendant – ended with a punchy “Jai Hind” apropos nothing, unless one counts the afternoon of 25 January as an appropriate time to start the, then, upcoming orgy of nationalism around India’s Republic Day.
My flight from the Srinagar airport to the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi was soon over. When I reached the luggage carousal, there they were – the same group of Marathi-speaking tourists waiting for their stuff. How had I missed out seeing the word “Jagdamb” printed in bold, saffron colour on their grey sweatshirts earlier – likely from the Jagdamb Tours and Travels based in Aurangabad (Maharashtra). “Jagdamb” or “Jagdamba”, one of the nine names of Hindu deity Durga, means mother (amb/amba) of the entire world (jagat) and has a prominent place in the Hindu pantheon. Somehow, it seemed to sum up the relation between Kashmir and the Indian state – a widening, deepening dash of saffron in a grey background of mourning; of the widening, deepening assertion of the “One Motherland” – a largely Hindu motherland.
A state of occupation cannot be a state of justice. It can certainly be a state of self-righteous nationalism and the legal apparatus of that nationalism occupying a site through violence; something that is best illustrated by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, in place in Kashmir since 1990. Thus legalised, this violence is experienced by the Kashmiris, as Mohamad Junaid puts it, as a “civilian” who is neither a citizen nor a combatant, as they challenge the Indian state, installed in far-off New Delhi, from their villages, hamlets, lanes and alleys. When Naidu claims, “Kashmir is an integral part of India” or when the Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, asserts that “Kashmiris are our own people”, who have been misguided by Pakistan and rejects possibilities of a referendum or plebiscite and then talk of bringing Kashmiris on “right path” by “sternly tackling” the situation, they are partaking in “a vocabulary of violence” – naturalised and directed against the intimate Other.
~ Rakesh Ankit teaches history at the Law School in Jindal University, Sonipat, India