The removal of Article 370 that gave Kashmir special status has brought upon us a new divide. No, the division is not political. It is no longer about Right vs Centre vs Left, or about Modi supporters vs opposition. It is, in all likelihood, about Muslims vs the rest, something that most Indians don’t want to say but know all too well. The ominous signs of Muslims being reduced to second-class citizens in India become more obvious by the day.
Muslims understand what is going on in Kashmir only too well.
The Don Quixote Syndrome
Statements like ‘Kashmir Hamara Hai’ are being thrown around like confetti by the Right-wing ecosystem. The delirious celebration over the stripping away of Kashmir’s autonomy and its special status, as well as the bifurcation of J&K into two UTs, makes one wonder if only Kashmir and not the Kashmiri is considered their own. Plots of land have been won, where non-Kashmiris can sit and sip that salty pink nun-chai and boast about Kashmir being theirs.
It’s much like the Don Quixote Syndrome. Droves of men, and some women, are hell bent on believing that they have taken over a land that had been connivingly kept away from them by the dreamers of Islamic Caliphate, stone-throwers reared for militancy, and Sharia-loving, fatwa-issuing Jihadis. This is straight out of the Islamophobes’ playbook.
Only that this victory is much like Don Quixote fighting the windmills. It’s delusional. The people of Kashmir have been locked up in their homes since 5 August 2019 without any communication with the outside world.
Vande Mataram to Jai Hind
For long, it was said that Muslims from the rest of India do not identify with the cause of the Kashmiri Muslims. But that appears to be changing in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule, especially after the recent move. Across India, many Muslims that I spoke to are lamenting this blatant razing of constitutional rights of Kashmiris. And they feel this way because they see it all around them. The will of the Muslim as a citizen of this nation seems irrelevant for consideration.
The abrogation of Article 370 for Kashmir is similar to the verbal and physical violence that Muslims have to go through – on the streets and in WhatsApp groups – for refusing to chant Vande Mataram or Jai Shri Ram.
What’s overlooked is that Kashmiri Muslims, all this while, kept saying Jai Hind by being a part of the elections that brought them into the Indian political mainstream. The last government in Kashmir, ironically, was a coalition of the pro-Hindutva BJP and Kashmir’s pro-India PDP. In fact, Narendra Modi, in one of his interviews, boasted about the panchayat elections in J&K, which saw a 70-75 per cent voter turnout. All these voters showed their faith in Indian democracy.
Will of the majority
Many say that the curfew in Kashmir is not a first. Kashmiris have faced harsher curfews before. However, they haven’t faced one, in 72 years, where they would only come out of their houses to find out that the autonomy of their land, the identity they held on to so dearly and which was promised to them when Kashmir acceded to India, has been stripped away without even asking them.
The fact is, the nation was given a choice. The BJP in its manifesto promised abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A as part of its Kashmir policy while the Congress assured a review of AFSPA in Kashmir, an act that gives the military unfettered powers to control “disturbed areas”. The people of India, the majority, chose the BJP. It is now the will of this majority that is being thrust upon the Kashmiris.
Buddhist-majority Leh and Hindu-majority Jammu are happy to be out of the mess of the politics of the Valley. But Muslim-dominated Kargil must toe the line of Leh? And Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley must toe the line of Jammu? So, while Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, BJP MP from Ladakh, speaks fervently in Parliament about how happy Ladakh is with this decision, he clearly only speaks for the majority – the Buddhists. He conveniently overlooks the sentiments of the Muslims in his Lok Sabha constituency that includes Kargil, Zanskar and Nubra besides Leh. And it is applauded, by the majority.
A little less equal
The will of the people is paramount in a democracy. Today, this translates into the will of the majority in India. But the largest minority in India, approximately 19.5 crore of them, are Muslims. How can they be rendered irrelevant and peripheralised? Whether in Kashmir or the rest of India, Muslims are now being divested of their stake in public policy.
I could, under UAPA, be called a terrorist for reading a book that mentions ‘jihad’. But writers like Taslima Nasreen who paint a ghastly picture of Islam, and thus promote anti-Muslim sentiments are given refuge in India. Excerpts of Salman Rusdie’s Satanic Verses are still read out at literature festivals. Extremists from both ends of the spectrum are rarely ever judged by the same yardstick, which is why a terror-accused Hindu fits seamlessly into the Indian parliament.
Muslims are made to feel a little less equal. Take for instance the Jat agitation of 2016. Although the Jats went on a rampage, most media covered it as a “cynical political build up” that spilled over as violence. When Kashmiris do the same and protest for their rights, they’re called terrorists.
And Muslims see through this difference. What others get away with, Muslims can’t.
Endless conversations on the fabled ‘nikah halala’, forced conversions, ‘love jihad’, cow slaughter, paedophilia in madrassas, namaz on roads, azaan through loudspeakers, change of names of cities and roads only solidify the anti-Muslim prejudice. Muslims are belittled and made irrelevant with each passing day, just like the Kashmiris, whose say held no importance in determining the fate of their land.
Kashmir’s pain is not Kashmir’s alone. Every marginalised Indian today feels it. The new social engineering is clear: their will does not matter since they don’t know better.
Who knew, India would one day become
by the majority,
of the majority,
for the majority.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.