Conversions in Kashmir: But where are the liberals now?

Thanks to a curious alignment of the stars and circumstances, India’s so-called secular-liberal establishment suddenly found its voice and spine over the Rushdie affair.

R Jagannathan January 23, 2012 11:17:16 IST
Conversions in Kashmir: But where are the liberals now?

Thanks to a curious alignment of the stars and circumstances, India’s so-called secular-liberal establishment suddenly found its voice and spine over the Rushdie affair. This does not usually happen, since this group gets vocal only when it comes to bashing the Sangh Parivar for its pet foibles.

So it is a fair bet that the current discovery of bravado during the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) is likely to be a one-off. The state and the political establishment, as expected, caved in. Rushdie didn’t come, and is busy tweeting impotently. And the authors who decided to read from The Satanic Verses were quietly bundled off and now talk only from other shores. Apologies are also pouring in. Hear Hari Kunzru, one of the JLF tigers on Rushdie, on this.

A better test case for secular-liberals is coming up in Kashmir. For the last few months now, the Muslim clergy and the political right-wing in the valley have managed to raise a froth over conversions by the church. The target of their ire is one CM Khanna, a Protestant pastor who has been converting and baptising a few Kashmiri Muslims.

Even though the conversions are nowhere on the scale that Hindus have faced elsewhere, the Muslim clergy have been raising a storm and one shariat court has already held him guilty and told him to leave the state. The pastor was arrested and released on bail by the state authorities.

However, the persecution of Christians – who are said to number not more than a few hundred in the Kashmir valley – continues and The Times of India reports that almost every Christian in the state is now the object of scrutiny. The most ridiculous case is that of Juan Marcos Troia, an Argentinian football coach who has tried to promote football in the valley. He, too, is looked on with suspicion and his house was recently vandalised.

Conversions in Kashmir But where are the liberals now

A nun prays in a Srinagar church. For the last few months now, the Muslim clergy and the political right-wing in the valley have managed to raise a froth over conversions by the church. Reuters

Even supposedly moderate Kashmiri leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have become active in crying wolf over the conversions of a few Muslims by launching a website for the faithful. According to the newspaper, a Council for Protection of Faith has been set up to “thwart (the) nefarious designs of pervasive forces and the deep-rooted conspiracy of making youth apostate and defectors by giving them concessions and benefits secretly."

Quite apart from the fact that his fear-mongering sounds suspiciously similar to the alarms often raised by the Sangh Parivar over much larger Hindu conversions, the difference is that there is almost no voice – barring that of the Christian Council of India and a few writers like Shuddabrata Sengupta in Left-wing sites like Kafila.org – talking of this more serious threat to secular-liberal attitudes in Kashmir.

The truth is our alleged liberals like to pretend that Kashmir’s azaadi cry is really about freedom, when it is tinged with lots of bigotry. While the leader of the separatist movement, Syed Geelani, wants to impose sharia in Kashmir if it ever gets independence, on the matter of conversions, every Kashmiri seems united. Both the Muslim clergy, and the state government they are allegedly fighting, appear to have closed ranks to battle this religious subversion.

Sengupta, writing in Kafila, raises the question this writer raised some months ago on the azaadi Kashmiris are fighting for: “I want to ask a serious question about the nature of the ‘azaadi’ that the self-proclaimed leaders of the Kashmiri people are demanding. I do not mean to demean or cheapen this demand, which I consider to be just and morally correct. I only want to know whether or not, many of those who voice this demand in Kashmir, do so after due consideration to what ‘freedom’ actually entails, or whether they are just automatically mouthing a demand whose depth they have no intention of plumbing. If the latter is the case, then the ‘azaadi’ they will bring to bear on Kashmir will not be substantially different from the ‘barbadi’ (devastation) that is currently taking place there under the auspices of the Indian state.”

But Sengupta, despite backing the flawed cause of Kashmiri separatism, at least raises this moral objection to what the Muslim conservatives are doing in Kashmir.

The rest of the liberals are busy fighting phantom battles over The Satanic Verses. There’s not one yip on this issue, which has been brewing over the last few months. They have kept quiet, just as they did when half a million Pandits were thrown out of the Valley in one of the world’s worst acts of ethnic cleansing.

If our liberals are truly liberals, they need to find their voice again. They can’t all be struck with laryngitis. Or are they only fair-weather liberals?

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