Mumbai HC judgement has weakened the voice of inclusive, integrationist Kashmiri Muslims

The recent Mumbai High Court judgment which appears to legitimise murder in the course of communal incitement has upset and alienated the most reasonable and inclusive among Kashmiri Muslims — those courageous voices who are routinely attacked by Islamist and other anti-India propagandists as pro-Hindu or too liberal.

Overturning a sessions court judgment, the high court granted bail to murderers. It appeared to argue that the murderers’ crime was mitigated since they had killed Muslims after being incited to hate them.

The message that interpretations of such judgments gives tends to further weaken the confidence of Kashmiris in an Indian state in which Muslims and other minorities can feel safe and a sense of belonging. To that extent, this judgment has strengthened illiberal extremists on both sides of a growing communal divide and has strengthened the cause of Kashmiri separatism.

The murder of Akhlaq in Dadri, a couple of years ago over a mob’s suspicion that he had beef in his fridge had already given a fillip to separatist sentiment and arguments. Extraordinarily macabre anti-Muslim statements from some ruling party MLAs over the past couple of years have added fuel to the fire of resentment.

 Mumbai HC judgement has weakened the voice of inclusive, integrationist Kashmiri Muslims

Representational image. Reuters

Compared with that vitriolic rhetoric from men in power, inclusive Kashmiris’ messages in response to such public formulations as the recent judgment have been tame, but they reflect the deep pain of isolation.

Sualeh Keen, one of the most courageous Kashmiri Muslim voices for inclusive secularism posted on his Facebook wall after the Mumbai judgment that, "Just like in the ridiculous Dara Singh judgment, again the court has sent out this ridiculous message: that it is less of a murder if the murderer was driven by communal animosity."

Keen had recently appeared on a widely watched debate about Kashmiri aspirations conducted by Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera. Keen defended the rights of those in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, many Muslims and others, to prefer to live as Indians.

A lot of vocal Kashmiri Muslims despise courageous voices of inclusion such as Keen’s. After this judgment, they will have another potent arrow in their armoury of attack against persons such as Keen.

Another courageous inclusive voice on social media is that of US-based Kashmiri academic Sadaf Munshi. She has often stood firmly and feistily for the rights of women and minorities such as Kashmiri Pandits.

In her Facebook post, Munshi asked, "How do you respond to such blatant mockery of the very idea of the judicial process? It's just mind-boggling." In that post, she referred to the judgment as something that had happened to 'justice' in 'my country.'

For a Kashmiri Muslim to openly post about India as 'my country' takes courage. For, she is likely to be trolled by propagandists with a hate-filled mindset — as has recently happened to a teenage actor who had starred in the film 'Dangal'. The young actor was viciously pilloried on social media after Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti described her as a role model.

The judgment tends to confirm the perception that Muslims are unsafe in India — an idea on which Kashmiri separatism has thrived for 65 years. Even Sheikh Abdullah made some strong speeches about the negative prospects for Muslims in a post-Nehru India. In the most tendentious of these, he told an audience at Ranbirsinghpora in April 1953 that he had committed a crime against the Quran by backing accession to India.

Any perception that Muslims’ rights are threatened tends to revive unhappy memories of 19th century Kashmiri history. During Sikh rule (1819-1846), the punishment for the murder of a Sikh was legally set at a higher level than that for the murder of a non-Sikh. Discrimination was established in writing.

Not only that, poor Kashmiri Muslims faced the prospect of forced labour, known as begar. This included being forced to carry supplies for troops in Ladakh and Gilgit over life-threatening mountains and passes. Begari continued to be a part of Kashmiri life until early 20th century.

That history is often conceptualized as near-slavery, and that has a potent influence on shaping responses and biases. The subliminal message of several public formulations by powerful representatives of the state have severely damaged the cause of national integration.

Updated Date: Jan 19, 2017 11:15:58 IST