I AM yet to reel back from the aftershocks of India’s political bedlam of August 5. India’s prime minister Narendra Modi’s government shocked millions who believed in the ideals of secularism, which has remained firmly entrenched in India’s functioning democracy. All the news and the follow-ups have certainly disturbed me, and also traumatised many others who think like me, because not only of its absolute harshness but also of the fact that Modi chose to annex a valley that has carried its baggage of disputed status for 70 odd years. And in the aftermath, the irony, however, has persisted so much that Modi’s action was wholeheartedly welcomed by India’s millions of people at large.
Personally, I have been least surprised by the reaction of exuberant Indians, wherever they live in this vast subcontinent, or somewhere, on this planet. Most Indians have continued to believe that the armed conflicts, turmoil and chaos in Kashmir that have raged over the past few decades had been entirely caused by the villainous Pakistan and a country that borders the ‘disputed territory’ and, much to the chagrin of everyone, claimed Kashmir to be a Pakistan-owned ‘real estate’.
Once-truncated and neighbouring country of Pakistan had allegedly been in pursuit of its own agenda and, for ideological reasons, fomented three wars against India while also, reportedly, sending a steady stream of terrorists into the valley. If there had been a secondary villain for this section of the Indian (read Hindu) public, it has included the Kashmiri Muslims. Therefore, they deserved to be given this ugly adversarial status for not adequately showing their gratitude to India in respect of the special privileges that had been granted to residents of Kashmir and, later on, for having purged the valley of the Hindu residents (known as Pundits) who had once lived happily there.
Muslims or non-Muslims, everyone felt the heat and also experienced the trauma. The abrogation of Article 370 was a direct slap in the face of Pakistan. Ostensibly, this also was further deemed to be a nasty slap in the face of the ‘pampered’ Kashmiris. As a source of jubilation, on social media, raucous Hindu majoritarians but exuded naked triumphalism. Some engaged in exulting in the joy of ‘owning’ homes that overlooked lakes in the valley while so many others liked to indulge in cruder fantasies of possessing beautiful Kashmiri women.
Two months is a long time for vanquished people to be subjugated and to remain under siege. And there has been a lot that is very substantial and worthily expressed on the media, particularly on what has been going on in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution, taking effect on August 5.
However, most of us who wished to go into details of news sources did find themselves looking at the big picture differently from those who went in and filed their reports earlier. However, the Indian government spun a new story that their clampdown on civil liberties in Kashmir with increased military presence, summary arrests of all mainstream and separatist leaders and the overall communication blockade made the unfolding of this changed reality in Kashmir utterly peaceful.
Unfortunately, what we have discovered now has turned out to be exactly the opposite of Modi’s aspirations.
Kashmir is positioned, literally, on the razor’s edge — humiliated, angry, disturbed and ‘disrobed,’ in the words of a journalist who visited the valley. The fact that there has been no violence has to do with the resilience of the people. It is an active and collective choice being exercised each day to observe a civil disobedience. In feeling rejected and betrayed by the Indian state, Kashmiris have chosen to respond through a largely non-violent protest.
Most people that journalists have met told them that the traders were keeping their shops and offices closed not under any call by militants or separatists or political leaders but as a definite act of resistance against the Indian state. This is the big picture visitors to the affected region have come away with and it has remained significant for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it points to an internalisation of the trauma caused after the abrogation of Article 370 in a radically new way from the previous instances of state versus people. In 2016, when there were large-scale protests after the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, people were sucked into those protests by the ‘separatist’ leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
At this juncture unfortunately, there is no leader and also muted call of protest from any quarters. Hence, the decision to keep shops and businesses shut is one that individuals have themselves carried across Kashmir and perhaps has totally been on their own instance.
Secondly, this mode of protest has set these past two months of lockdown apart from all others in the past. People in Kashmir are no longer interested in an interaction with the Indian state. That vacant space has now been voided. From those who have been hardliners to separatists, demanding a union with Pakistan or ‘azadi’, to those siding with India, they have all reacted to the current political situation as a big, abominable trauma.
The collective shock, fear of reprisal, has, however, turned the Muslim Kashmiris into muted protestors. They maintain that this may well be the lull before the storm, or perhaps in the making of molten mass deep inside the volcano that is bound to erupt; however, regardless of what comes next, these two months of curfew were needed to be recorded as a phenomenon which was allowed to persist in its own right.
Finally, Indian and foreign journalists have spoken to a spectrum of people from politicians (those that were not in jail), bureaucrats, homemakers, schoolteachers, traders, fruit sellers, taxi union people, students, teachers, intellectuals, poets, writers, farmers, children, journalists, and members of the distinguished civil society actors, pundits, Sikhs and Christians, and even wedding caterers across five districts in the past 10 days.
From Srinagar to Baramulla to Anantnag to Badgam and even Jammu, all share but one thing in common — every single interaction has resulted in an emotional outpouring. Therefore, the visiting journalists decided to write on what had gone amiss in the day-to-day lives of people and, then, present all that as an emotional landscape. Ostensibly, it was felt that there needed to be the honest way to relate and transmit the stories of what they saw, heard and experienced in their very short trip.
In order to protect the people they met, journalists visiting Kashmir have also withheld all names and identity markers. But they also have reproduced large chunks of what was related verbally, unprocessed and uncontaminated so that this would shape into open-source material for whoever could find it useful.
The visitors to Kashmir had also included a team of citizens concerned from different professional backgrounds — people who travelled to Kashmir in September 25–30 and to Jammu on October 6 to share this as an act of solidarity and fact finding mission — in order to understand the impact of the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent security clampdown and communication blockade on the lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Anirudh Kala is a psychiatrist and a writer based in Ludhiana. He has writtena very well received book, The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness, published in 2018. A novel set in the decade of Punjab terrorism and a non-fiction book on drug addiction in Punjab are in the pipeline.
Brinelle Dsouza is an academic, activist and public health professional from Mumbai. She is also deeply engaged with issues of secularism, communal harmony, inter-religious dialogue and gender justice.
Revati Laul is a Delhi-based journalist whose main body of work is in understanding violence. She is author of The Anatomy of Hate, a book about the riots caused by Gujarat mobs in 2002.
Shabnam Hashmi has been working as a social activist for more than 35 years. She is the founding trustee of Anhad, an organisation that works on issues of democracy, secularism, gender rights, diversity and pluralism. Shabnam has extensively worked in Kashmir and Gujarat as well as at the national level.
These four people fronted this report but the main body of work was done by civil rights activists with decades of dedicated work in Jammu and Kashmir. They cannot be named in order for them to keep up the difficult long-term fight for truth in times of post truth.
I have felt deeply grateful to the people of Jammu and Kashmir for having poured their hearts out to the visiting media people and to have shared with them stories of betrayal, anger, loss, despair, hope, resilience, survival and/or resistance.
I have remained a student of history. I have studied and followed the Kashmir issue for many decades. Guided by my personal instincts and reasoning, I could not believe that India has acquired the disputed territory by a show of hands. All events and justifications provided by the government warned me that the action was ‘malicious’ — morally and politically.
Nazarul Islam is a former educator based in Chicago.
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