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Is India 'occupying' Kashmir? Why the Lefties are wrong

It has become fashionable in some pseudo-Left circles to call India’s insensitive and ham-handed approach to Kashmir an “occupation.” Nobody needs to defend the human rights violations in Kashmir, nor the rough-and-ready methods used by the security forces, but an occupation it is not.

The forces sent to keep the peace in Kashmir are no more an occupation force than the police forces used elsewhere to impose section 144 in a Ramlila Maidan to disperse a bunch of Baba Ramdev followers. Or to keep the peace in Ayodhya. The only difference is the length of time such forces have been used in Kashmir as opposed to elsewhere. The forces in Kashmir represent the will of the people of India to remain a secular people – however badly the job is currently being done.

The latest worthy to make this Arundhati Roy kind of point on Kashmir is Pankaj Mishra. In an article in The Guardian, Mishra casually lumps India’s “occupation” of Kashmir with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. He says:

“India and Israel, both products of botched imperial partitions, were the Bush government's two most avid international boosters of the catastrophic "war on terror", fluently deploying the ideological templates of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – democracy versus terrorism, liberalism versus fundamentalism – to justify their own occupations.”

Once you have labelled India as an occupational force in Kashmir, it automatically justifies mindless communal violence in the valley in the name of the Arab Spring and “freedom struggle”. Says Mishra:

“Let's not forget: before the Arab spring of 2011, there was the Kashmiri summer of 2010. Provoked by the killing of a teenage boy in June last year, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris took to the streets to protest against India's brutal military occupation of the Muslim-majority valley. Summer is the usual "season for a face-off in Kashmir", as the Indian filmmaker Sanjay Kak writes in Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir, a lively anthology of young Kashmiri writers, activists, rappers and graphic artists. There is little doubt that Kashmiris, emboldened by the Arab spring, will again stage massive demonstrations in their towns and villages”

There are several thing wrong with this glib comparison between Israel and India.

Reuters

First, the insertion of the phrase Muslim-majority Valley is itself disconcerting. If the intifada is about fighting “brutal military occupation”, how does the fact that Muslims are in a majority in the valley matter? This is where he gives the game away. Quite clearly, for Mishra the fact that Kashmir Valley is a Muslim majority region is what makes India an occupational force.

Second, Israel and India. Israel evicted the Palestinians from their homes. In India, the glorious Kashmiri freedom struggle has evicted Pandits from their homes. The Indian army has been building up its presence in Kashmir ever since Islamists and jehadis violently cleansed the valley of the Pandits.

Third, Indian policy has always respected the need for Kashmir’s separate identity. Unlike Israel, which evicted the Palestinians and created settlements in Palestinian land forcibly, India never even attempted to change the ethnic composition in the Valley ever. In fact, the ideological fathers of the Kashmiri intifada have done this. Indians, on the other hand, have learnt to live with Kashmiri laws that are clearly discriminatory against people from outside the valley.

Mishra acknowledges this, but uses it as a stick to beat up the BJP with. This is a favourite tactic with the pseudo-Left. When you want to demonise India, bring in the BJP and the RSS – and everything is justified. Does Mishra not know that India is larger than the BJP and the RSS?

“In 1993”, says Mishra, “the then Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, reportedly advised the Hindu nationalist leader LK Advani to alter the demographic composition of the mutinous Kashmir valley by settling Hindus there. Advani, later India's Deputy Prime Minister, fondly quoted from Netanyahu's book on terrorism, given to him by the author. Israeli counter-insurgency experts now regularly visit Kashmir.”

This is a nice way of acknowledging an inconvenient truth. India, even under LK Advani and a BJP-led government, did not try to change the demographic composition of the Kashmir Valley. But for Mishra, the mere fact that India and Israel cooperate in counter-insurgency is somehow a great crime.

It is worth recalling that the normalisation of ties with Israel began with the Congress government of Narasimha Rao. Defence and anti-terror relationships are not based on the policies India and Israel follow internally, but from who can help us in areas we consider of prime importance for national security.

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Fourth, Mishra completely ignores a simple point about the intifada of Kashmir. Its ideological head is Syed Ali Shah Geelani, an Islamist and communalist. His whole argument has been that Muslims are a separate nation and hence cannot live with a Hindu-majority India. When Mishra can find the words to condemn Sangh Parivar communalism in a Hindu-chauvinist India, he cannot bring himself to condemn Geelani’s Islamic communalism.

Geelani is an unabashed votary of the Shariat and the future of Kashmir he envisions is that of an Islamic state. Among other things, he has said that the Kashmiri struggle is a struggle for Islam. That Hindus and Muslims are separate nations. That Shariat will be imposed in Kashmir if he comes to power, but Hindus will be protected. (The last statement needs to be said now, but which Islamist state has protected minorities in the neighbourhood? Pakistan? Bangladesh?)

Hear Geelani’s statements on these issues.

“If a true Muslim participates in any struggle, it is for the sake of Islam. So, how can you say that the Kashmir conflict has nothing to do with religion?”

“Islam, as I said, is a complete way of life. No other path is acceptable to God. So, in the absence of an Islamic polity, it is difficult for Muslims to lead their lives entirely in accordance with the rules of Islam, which apply to social affairs as much as they do to personal affairs.”

“They (Hindus and Muslims) are totally separate nations. There is no doubt at all about this. Muslims believe in just one God, but Hindus believe in crores of gods.”

Geelani is an unabashed votary of the Shariat and the future of Kashmir he envisions is that of an Islamic state. Reuters

In short, Geelani’s Kashmir will be non-secular, and a closed society that wants to eliminate syncretic elements within its fold.

While the stone-throwing youths of Kashmir may, or may not, share Geelani’s narrow attitudes, on what basis can India assume that the movement in Kashmir is not sectarian? When a majority of the Pandits, Buddhists and other minority Muslim communities in Kashmir are either silent or actively opposed to the intifada, on what basis does Mishra assume that the intifada is somehow admirable?

The fifth point is about the “occupation”. The terminology is similar to what is being said about the Maoist struggles, where a venal bureaucracy and police forces are presumed to be occupational forces.

The defenders of democracy actually end up diminishing it by pretending that freedom means the state has no right to defend itself. It is one thing to seek reforms and change, quite another to say that when confronted by its enemies, the state must just lie quietly and die. Anyone claiming to represent the minorities or some dispossessed group has an automatic right to destroy the state.

As Swapan Dasgupta argued in an article a couple of months ago:

“Should democracy be governed by absolute permissiveness of speech? There are statutory restrictions (dating back, ironically, to colonial times) against religious hate speech. Should this be scrapped? Should the state attitude to all opinion be totally non-judgmental? If not, what are the no-go areas that don't disfigure India's overall democratic personality?

“Secondly, while there is a case for using discretion to distinguish between Arundhati Roy and Ali Shah Geelani, how should the law deal with Maoist insurgents committed to the violent overthrow of the state? The suggestion that there are existing laws to deal with criminal misconduct is disingenuous. Apart from the difficulties of the 'due process' in disturbed areas, reducing counter-insurgency to fighting crime presupposes a reactive approach. It undermines the role of pre-emption in counter-insurgency.

“Finally, there is a much larger issue. Must democracy be a constant punching bag? Should the state have no right of self-defence?”

Mishra and others of his ilk should not use India as a punching bag for their venal brand of rhetoric. They may presume to speak for libertarian values, but they are essentially speaking to entrench sectarian thinking in Kashmir Valley. The cry for azadi is really a call for sectarian politics and majoritarianism – the precise thing that Mishra would oppose in the rest of India.