A Kashmir without Kashmiris
Demonisation of the community for immediate political dividends is harmful for the country in the long run.
On March 7, a video from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, went viral. In it, men in saffron clothes were seen beating roadside vendors. Their crime? They were Kashmiris.
If seen in isolation, this incident wouldn’t seem much in the larger scheme of things. A small ripple in the ocean. But this incident did not occur in a vacuum. There is a pattern to it.
The men in saffron were from a right wing organisation. They were seen in the video asking the Kashmiri vendors to produce identity cards to prove that they were Indian. Then they beat them up. On this occasion, however, help was at hand. Locals managed to intervene, and rescued the two Kashmiri traders. One of the attackers was even heard in the video telling the locals that they had beaten the two vendors because they were Kashmiris.
One of the biggest casualties of the recent escalation of India-Pakistan tensions are perhaps Kashmiris. The suicide bombing of a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Kashmir’s Pulwama on February 14 unleashed a series of events which singed public consciousness. As the nation mourned one of the largest attacks on security forces during peacetime, a wave of anger and rage swept through.
The mob went looking for who to blame. Once the attack was claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Pakistan angle came to the fore.
Articles and news studios spewed venom, driving the rage narrative to a logical conclusion, a call for a final solution. It spilled on the streets. Pakistan was too far away and intangible to be beaten on the streets by the mob. So, Kashmiris would do.
Why Kashmiris? Because the attack happened in Kashmir. But why are Kashmiris, even those not living in Kashmir, responsible? Because they are. No argument. A dominant narrative seems to have developed where Kashmiris are not people who think, have emotions, or free will. They are a threat to be dealt with.
It would be an understatement to say that India and Kashmir have a complicated relationship. A lot has happened over the years—a torrent of water under the bridge. You speak to a Kashmiri about what it means to be a Kashmiri, there is a counter narrative that will challenge certain preconceived notions and ideas ingrained in us as Indians since childhood. While an argument can be made that this narrative is also flawed, the question to be asked is how many people have even heard of it? To hear somebody else’s perspective is to humanise them. But in the current scenario, Kashmiris are not people. For, it fits into a larger political discourse built on cynicism and majoritarianism. It suits the political entity ruling the land and its larger cultural project. It gives an opportunity to divide people on lines that could be exploited politically for votes. And it is intangible enough to evoke emotions without needing a concrete solution. The most attractive aspect to this, however, is that it offers a way to distract from the bigger and meaningful problems for which urgent solutions are required.
For many Indians an India without Kashmir is almost inconceivable. It is a land of beauty which has captured the hearts of many. But how can a land exist without the people who inhabit it? While a narrative built around demonisation of Kashmiris may pander to a narrow political setup and yield electoral success in the short term, it will just further alienate a community that already has tenuous links with the country. This narrative attacks the fundamental idea of India.