From the discourse of the past two weeks on Kashmir, it would seem as if the people there have risen against India because of pellet guns. There is no doubt that these guns, used by the police and the paramilitary forces, have caused terrible injuries. Every act of cruelty undermines the legitimacy of the state even more, and fuels further radicalisation — and this is true of Kashmir as of anti-Maoist operations or operation against militants in the North East.
But it is also a fact that the security forces in Kashmir have had to deal with extremely hostile crowds. In the skirmishes of the last few days alone, over two thousand policemen and over one thousand personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been injured. Two policemen have lost their lives, one of them after his vehicle was pushed into the Jhelum River from a bridge by protestors. One CRPF jawan, hit by protestors on his head with a brick, is in a critical state. Dozens of police stations and army posts have been attacked by frenzied mobs.
It is still understandable that in a display of anger against the Indian state, or because they support Burhan Wani’s vision, many Kashmiris came out to protest his death. But it is baffling why a section of leftists in India, who are advocates of azadi in Kashmir, would mourn the death of the commander of a terrorist organisation that has not only killed security personnel but unarmed Kashmiris as well, including many from the Hindu minority, in several cases dragging them out of buses and shooting them dead in cold blood.
No matter what stories are attributed to Wani’s reason behind joining the militant ranks, their tautology serves the same purpose: the Indian State and its troops, whose numbers in Kashmir are highly exaggerated in this discourse, are responsible for innocent, young men like Wani turning into jihadis.
But behind the decorous restraint of his father, the support for the path his son chose to adopt comes across very clearly. In comments after comments, including in this 2013 interview with the journalist Jason Burke, the senior Wani clearly says that he is proud of his son and that he is ready for him to die. In another interview, he says that Islam prepares them for only two things: victory or martyrdom, and that surrender could only be possible in front of Allah.
What do you say to such a man? Or to his son who, before he died, appeared in videos, asking young men to join him in his fight for establishing an Islamic caliphate?
It is one thing to be in favour of azadi, but do the leftists realise that azadi in Kashmir means Burhan-wali azadi? Between Khalistanism and Kashmirism, the leftists seem to have forgotten some important lessons. In the heyday of the Khalistan utopia, a few comrades were of the opinion that the Sikhs are the core of the Punjab nationality. They dreamt of sustaining independent Khalistan’s economy by growing Gobi (cauliflower) and selling it directly to Pakistan. But then sense prevailed, and a majority of the leftist spectrum opposed the idea of Khalistan. Several comrades lost their lives while resisting Khalistani extremists.
But on Kashmir, the comrades failed to take into account that the pro-azadi sentiment is confined mostly to the Kashmir Valley, and there too among certain groups, and that the views of the other people in the state also need to be taken into account. While haranguing about the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, they forgot that the ‘self’ is not only a particular section of Muslims. As a result, they even forgot their own people in Kashmir who would have offered resistance to this amalgamation of religious and national identity. So, while communists in Punjab who sacrificed their lives resisting Khalistan were remembered, people like Abdul Sattar Ranjoor were forgotten (The veteran Kashmiri Communist leader was shot dead at his home in March 1990 on the orders of Hizbul Mujahideen – the same organisation to which Burhan Wani owed allegiance to).
As the azadi brigade in Kashmir led brutal ethnic cleansing against the minority Pandits, the communists remained silent. During Kashmir’s Islamisation, hundreds of temples were vandalised or completely destroyed. There was not a whimper of protest on the exodus of 400,000 Pandits. Would the leftists be silent if four lakh Muslims or Dalits would be driven out of their homes and villages? And once they accepted religion as an ideological component of resistance, did they consider the fact that they would lose the moral grounds to oppose Savarakarite militarism?
With the Pandits gone, a wave of intimidation silenced saner and liberal voices in Kashmir. Was there any attempt by the leftists to reach out to these voices? Did they make an attempt to say a word about veteran Pandit communist leaders like Motilal Misri and NN Raina, who founded and nurtured the communist movement in Kashmir? Did they ever try to resurrect the memory of the young Pandit comrade, Somnath Bira, who died while saving a group of Muslims from a mob of Hindu fanatics between Bhadarwah and Doda in Jammu 1947?
Instead of fighting Kashmir’s descent into Theo-fascism, the leftists find no contradiction in calling a man like the Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani to Delhi and elsewhere to their public meetings on democracy and civil rights – a man who has said publicly that he abhors socialism or secularism and that these are not meant for Kashmir, and that Islam alone will work there.
Look at a Facebook message posted by the pro-azadi filmmaker, Sanjay Kak on 9 July. He narrates an incident the morning after Wani’s death when a Hindu man walked by a barricade in Kashmir manned by local policemen. The man was hoping to pass when he got slapped twice by one of the policemen who berated him for going to work on a day when Burhan Wani was “martyred.” (Quoting Kak: “It’s only Saturday for you is it?” the cops said to him, “today is the day Burhan Wani was martyred”). Kak described it as an “anecdotal evidence to get a sense of the mood,” and it is clear that he approves of it.
Now, imagine a similar episode in Ahmedabad where a Hindu policeman is manning a barricade put up in the city immediately after the Godhra riots and slapping a Muslim worker. Actually, it is not a correct analogy. Imagine a Hindu policeman in Ahmedabad manning a barricade on the day Babu Bajrangi is being sentenced in the court and then slapping a Muslim worker saying, “It’s only Saturday for you, is it? Today is the day when Babu Bajrangi has been sentenced to life imprisonment.” Is the slapping of a man by a policeman who thinks that a terrorist is a martyr a matter of upbeatness?
Are my pro-azadi friends okay with Kashmir becoming an Islamic state? When they say azadi for Kashmiris, do they even take into account the rights of the minorities in Kashmir, including the Pandits? When they felicitate their friend Geelani, do they ask him how the minorities will live in a place, which he says will be run not on secularism but according to Shariah?
In a recent, remarkable essay, the scholar Mukul Kesavan argues that the monument for India’s pluralism is its Constitution and that “this is a claim to Indian exceptionalism (as opposed to the common identity of South Asia) because India’s neighbours were either built on the wretched idea that nations are owned by religious communities or later succumbed to it.”
Why would those who claim to believe in India’s pluralism succumb to the wretched idea of Kashmir being owned by one religious community? But that is what, sadly, the leftists in India have largely succumbed to.
The author has written, among other books, Our Moon Has Blood Clots: A Memoir Of A Lost Home In Kashmir. He tweets @rahulpandita