Governing Kashmir: Critical Reflections on the Historical Present


The Indian state's refrain to the people of Kashmir is as follows: Indian rule of Kashmir is legitimate because India is a secular democratic republic, organized by rule of law and constitutionally guaranteed human rights. As a democratic state, rule of law may be suspended for national security reasons to protect the state, and such action has been necessary in Kashmir because of cross-border terrorism and 'separatist' elements in Kashmir that includes armed militants. The suspension of democratic rights in Kashmir, India states, is necessary to protect India as a secular democratic republic. Elections are periodically held and touted as proof of democracy in India, but without a vibrant civil society ensuring social freedoms, electoral processes obfuscate the subjection of Srinagar to New Delhi and give Indian governance greater legitimacy than if the center took official control over the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

 

What is the logic of the Indian state to which Kashmiris are subjected? The people of Kashmir must be denied the rights guaranteed to citizens of India because every Kashmiri is considered a real or potential threat to India. Kashmiris are citizens of India who are denied the rights of citizens to protect the state as the guarantor of rights. Law and order demands the denial of democratic rights to the people of Kashmir. Freedom of assembly and movement, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of press, freedom of religion are the basic rights that make India a legitimate state, and it is precisely these rights that must be denied all Kashmiris because when Kashmiris exercise these rights it is considered evidence of the anti-national sentiment of Kashmiris.

 

If Kashmiris want to prove themselves as loyal citizens of India than they must agree to not exercise the rights that are in principle available to the citizens of India. If Kashmiris want to prove their loyalty they must sacrifice their human rights and civil liberties for the protection of 'Greater India'. The Kashmiri cannot be loyal in the same way that a citizen of India is expected to be loyal, which includes the lawful right to organize to express dissent, to demand accountability on the part of government, to protest injustice and oppression in the streets, in the press, in institutions and organizations created to enable a vibrant civil society empowered to articulate its needs and concerns.

 

Democracy, rule of law, and civil liberties are to be sacrificed by Kashmiris for the larger good of India. Those citizens systematically denied the rights of citizenship are to accept rule via permanent emergency because the state of India has determined, as a legitimate state, that such sacrifice is in the national interest. Every Kashmiri must accept the suspension of democratic rights because democratic expression by Kashmiri citizens threatens the nation that protects and safeguards democracy. To be pro-India requires that Kashmiris renounce their rights as citizens. To demand equal rights and rule of law is to be anti-India. To belong to the nation you must accept subjugation to the military and paramilitary legitimated by national security. To belong you must renounce what belonging bestows. Such belonging is already unbelonging, or the false belonging of the slave to the manor.

 

Indivisible India functions through a mind-boggling number of hierarchically organized divisions. The primary division between friend and enemy, citizen and anti-national most profoundly affects Kashmiris, whose status as enemy/other leads the state to view every Kashmiri suspiciously. To protest the negation of civil rights and rule of law in Kashmir is deemed an assertion of anti-national sentiments and named a law and order problem. The law and order problem in Kashmir is that the exercise of civil and human rights by Kashmiris is regularly criminalized. Exercising democratic rights, demanding rule of law and due process is defined as a threat to India's democracy and rule of law.

 

The laws of national emergency that provide impunity to military and paramilitary personnel exemplify the total disregard for law and order under Indian governance of Kashmir. To focus on the unfortunate expression of anger and frustration through stone pelting by young men as evidence of a law and order problem and the violence of protestors is quite simply an affront to critical intelligence. The continual killing of youth by armed forces, met by largely peaceful protests, responded to with more killings by police, is not a cycle of violence that can be traced to the actions of stone pelters. Responsibility for violence rests firmly on the shoulders of the Indian state, evidenced in the unprecedented militarization of daily life in Kashmir, the long history of brutality with impunity, the systemic exploitation of the people and resources of Kashmir, surveillance, humiliation, the suppression of civil liberties and the innumerable atrocities against a civilian population understood to be 'integral' to India. The Indian state has not simply acted to protect its borders and combat armed insurgents. The Indian state has criminalized Kashmiri civilians, viewing every Kashmiri as equivalent to Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or Pakistani agents. The overwhelming presence of military personnel is not necessary to protect borders and defeat armed militants. Such force is necessary to dominate an entire people whose right to determine its own future has been recognized by the United Nations, international law, and the founders of modern India.

 

By viewing every Kashmiri as a terrorist, terrorist sympathizer, or potential supporter of terrorism, India's dominant discourse reveals its 'communal' nature. What distinguishes the Kashmiri who dissents Indian rule from the indigenous person in central India labeled a Naxalite is that the latter is defined as 'one of our own people', and the Kashmiri is an enemy other, whose presence within India is nevertheless demanded to legitimate India as a secular nation, and safeguard economic resources. What makes the Kashmiri the enemy is precisely that as Muslim, dominant Indian discourse fails to distinguish between Kashmiri Muslim, Pakistani national, terrorist, once Mughal rulers, mujahedeen from Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda jihadist. Such indistinction in thought is state racism. To deterritorialize Islam into a monolithic homogeneity divorced from the particularity of culture, history, and politics furthers the communalization of Indian society and legitimates Indian dominance of Kashmir as a national security imperative.

 

To collapse such distinctions to create the false unification of "Muslims" is a necessary step to demonize a people as enemy linked to international terrorism. The communalization of dominant Indian state discourse also enables neglecting the systematic oppression of the approximately 140 million Muslims in India whose mistreatment does not disappear through incantations of Bollywood stars or recent Presidents of nation. It is also communal discourse to consider indigenous peoples in India to be 'our own people' because underneath this claim of inclusivity is the Hindutva notion that indigenous peoples were once Hindus and must simply be 'reconverted'. This communal discourse places the Kashmiri in the predicament of being necessary to India and a continual threat to India.

 

The policy of the Indian state continually shouts to each and every Kashmiri. "You are our enemy. We are here to protect you." In the face of such impossibility, additionally each Kashmiri must be a citizen by virtue of 'agreeing' to forfeit the rights of citizenship or be anti-national by demanding the rights afforded free people. The Kashmiri is told, "If you want us to treat you more humanely, stop demanding human rights." "If you want a future, stop acting to determine your future." "If you want life, accept our right to determine life and death." To resolve the law and order problem starts with removing the military and paramilitary from its role in Kashmiri civil society, drawing back and reducing troops to police the borders, and allowing civil society to express itself without fear of reprisal toward determination of its own future. There is no law and order without a foundation in freedom of speech, press, assembly and movement. Law and order in Kashmir can only find its legitimacy in supporting the pursuit of justice, enhancing freedom, and enabling the riches inherent in different cultural legacies — to live, to be, to learn, and to change. The obstacle to law and order in Kashmir is the same as the obstacle to justice, freedom, and cultural survival. That obstacle is Indian rule. The first step in removing this obstacle is immediate demilitarization of Kashmiri society.

 

 

Richard Shapiro is Chair, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies.

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