Protests in Soura, Downtown Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir on 11th August, 2019 | Photo: Praveen Jain
Protests in Soura, Downtown Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
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Recent events in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have forced us all to revisit the tenets of national or sub-national self-determination. In 1919, American President Woodrow Wilson articulated the rosy liberal vision of self-determination for national, sub-national, ethnic, linguistic, religious and racial groups. Conservatives, who were concerned with empirical, on-ground realities, rather than with statements of abstract idealism, were quite sceptical about Wilson’s ideas. It was supposedly a good idea to separate Czechoslovakia from the ‘reactionary’ and ‘oppressive’ Austro-Hungarian empire and encourage self-determination. The only problem was that this resulted in Slovaks and Sudeten Germans complaining that they any day preferred imperialist Austrian oppression to being dominated by the Czechs.

Kashmir has witnessed something similar. There has always been a level of discontent and anger among many of us with the fact that while Kashmiris were merrily buying up real estate in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Goa and Bengaluru, Indians from other states could not buy that cottage in Gulmarg or that tiny apple orchard in the Valley. Nevertheless, for some 40 years, Kashmiri privileges were tolerated in a typically lackadaisical desi way.

This changed when the Czech analogy turned up in Kashmir in spades. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the oppressive Czech element gained ground among the Sunni Muslims of the Kashmir Valley and among large sections of their leadership. This may have been a consequence of increased Pakistani activity following the end of the war in Afghanistan. This may have been the result of the breakneck growth of Wahhabi ideology in different parts of the world. Whatever the reasons, the focus shifted from any residual discrimination that the Indian state may have been practising against Kashmiris to the active and malevolent persecution of sections of Kashmiris by the majority and majoritarian Sunni Muslims of the Kashmir Valley, whose obsession with their own right to self-determination started resulting in the active oppression of minorities within Kashmir.

The Hindus of Jammu and the Buddhists of Ladakh, who all along had grievances of their own, started getting restless. The treasured ‘autonomy’ of the whole state was increasingly seen as an instrument to oppress Jammu and Ladakh. But all this might have carried on in the typical low-level grievance-mongering so characteristic of many groups and indeed associated with so many issues, in modern India.


Also read: Indian Muslims know what is going on in Kashmir only too well — their will is being broken


The persecution of minorities

The case of the Kashmiri Pandits was different. These were by many accounts the rightful ancient aboriginal Adivasis of Kashmir. Just because they were a hapless and helpless minority, they became fair game. They were ruthlessly attacked. Their Islamist opponents even insisted on many occasions that the bodies of those Pandits who had been killed in public should remain as it is in a macabre ritual of public humiliation. Pandit homes were targeted. Elderly Pandits were forced to come out of their homes and shout anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans. The Kashmiri Sunni Muslim leadership was simply unable to prevent these ghastly excesses. My own suspicion is that in the 1990s, the Kashmiri Sunni Muslim leadership was caught between a rock and a hard place.

If they defended the Pandits or disowned the extremists among the Sunni Muslims, then they would have lost all credibility and been displaced as leaders. It was a case of the mobs leading the leaders. There might also have been a lingering feeling that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a break-up of the Indian union was a distinct possibility. The leaders doubtless wanted to be on the right side of history as they saw it. Many of my Kashmiri Pandit friends, who in the 1970s had supported ‘autonomy’ and restriction on Kashmiri lands being bought by ‘outsiders’, now became aggressive opponents of autonomy. After all, they found Jammu, Delhi and Pune less restrictive than Srinagar, for themselves.

Over the next three decades, Kashmiri Sunni Muslim extremists and their leaders of the extreme, moderate and quasi-moderate varieties simply lost their way. Not just beer bars, but beauty parlours and cinema halls were shut down as a result of Islamist excesses. Sufi shrines were deliberately targeted and set on fire. The Hindus of Jammu who had tolerated limited voting rights for themselves started getting more restless and noisier. The Ladakhis started making their case with greater levels of articulation. But things did not end there.

The tiny Ahmadiyya community in Kashmir was petrified. The Shias started growing restless. Groups like the Gujjars, who had ‘self-determination’ anxieties of their own, started getting media coverage.

The denouement occurred when there seemed like a great surge of support across the Valley in 2016 for a self-proclaimed Hizbul Muhajideen terrorist who was suddenly eulogised as a hero —Burhan Wani. If autonomy meant that ISIS and others would find acceptance if not sanctuary in the Valley, then it was going to be difficult and well nigh impossible to hang on to the residual political support for Kashmir’s quaint ‘autonomy’ in other parts of India.


Also read: Even if J&K crackdown makes liberals cringe, we must support govt fight against insurgency


Self-determination, but for whom?

The roots of the problem go back to the ill-conceived and sanctimonious Wilsonian idea of self-determination, not for individuals, but for groups who are largely put together on the basis of ethnicity, religion, race and linguistic affiliation.

Sub-nationalist causes, in particular, result in greater persecution of tinier and tinier minorities. We see evidence of this when arrogant Naga sub-nationalists demonstrate a complete indifference, even a hostility towards Meiteis who may be present in large numbers in what the Naga hegemonists consider ‘sacred’ Naga lands. In fact, larger nationalist canvases, like that of the Indian state and need I add, like that of the Austro-Hungarian empire, are more tolerant and supportive of smaller groups and of individuals, who after all must count for something.

In the 1860s, the majority of the people in the Carolinas, in Virginia, in Alabama, in Georgia and in Mississippi wanted to exercise their right to self-determination. If they had been allowed to do so, the sufferers would have been the Black minority. The insistence of the larger American nation-state that the southern Whites would not be allowed to exercise their right to self-determination, resulted in the emancipation of the Blacks. In the early 20th century, during the Boer War, the Afrikaners wanted to exercise their right of self-determination, along with which went their right to oppress Black Africans. The BBC and CNN may not choose to talk about it, but the fact of the matter is that today, on the West Bank, most Christians admit, if only in whispers, that direct Israeli rule was better for them, than the current sham Palestinian autonomy, which has resulted in them being marginalised and even being driven away.

The insistence of the Indian state that untrammelled autonomy is not possible for Kashmir, means that minorities in Kashmir, and for that matter moderate and even non-believing Muslims in Kashmir, can expect protection from the state.


Also read: Kashmir was never just a 1947 problem, it is a 5,000-year old battle of histories


Autonomy as oppressive

Even today, I would suggest that the Kashmiri case for autonomy would have been stronger if they could have paraded a few Pandit ‘intellectuals’ in front of the eager BBC and CNN cameras. The fact is that the case for Kashmir’s so-called autonomy has degenerated into a case for Kashmiri Sunni Muslim extremist autocracy. Pandits, even of the Leftist hue, have no place there.

If Kashmiri Muslim groups position themselves as an ISIS extension, the rest of the world has no choice but to conclude that the Pandits are the Yazidis of Kashmir. The Dukhtaran women who seem to wear stiff metallic burqas are not a very credible or sympathetic set of spokespersons to talk about freedom or its absence.

The rest of India, and increasingly the rest of the world, knows that the demands for autonomy and self-determination on the part of the leaders as well as the rank and file Sunni Muslims of the Kashmir Valley represents an immediate danger to the freedoms of not only smaller minorities, but also to Kashmiri Muslim women who may not want to cover their heads or to the LGBTQ community among Kashmiri Muslims. It is the larger, more capacious kind of nationalism, Indian nationalism, if you will, which does not require the active persecution of tiny minorities and which, in fact, supports them.

The author is an entrepreneur and writer. Views are personal.

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13 Comments Share Your Views

13 COMMENTS

  1. Only India interest and too wrong analysis. This is only a side of story which India wants to sell. It has already exposed itself in front of world when it blocked freedom, migrated pandora to create kashmir a Hindu/Muslim issue and what not. I am only worried about how some people limit Britishers as occupiers and regard them self as Saints.

    Kashmir will be free no matter whether you and I will be able to see it during our times or not.

  2. Only India interest and too wrong analysis. This is only a side of story which India wants to sell. It has already exposed itself in front of world when it blocked freedom, migrated pandora to create kashmir a Hindu/Muslim issue and what not. I am only worried about how some people limit Britishers as occupiers and regard them self as Saints.

    Kashmir will be free no matter whether you and I will be able to see it during our times or not.

  3. Only India interest and too wrong analysis. This is only a side of story which India wants to sell. It has already exposed itself in front of world when it blocked freedom, migrated pandora to create kashmir a Hindu/Muslim issue and what not. I am only worried about how some people limit Britishers as occupiers and regard them self as Saints.

    Kashmir will be free no matter whether you and I will be able to see it during our times or not.

  4. Kudos to Jaithirth!
    The ambition of Kashmiri Muslims has been to convert the Valley into an Islamist entity since ages but they had partial success when they forcibly converted Kashmiri Pandits into their religion. History is witness to this. Kashmiri Pandits’ exodus in 1990 happened for the 7th time. But this time they took the help of Pakistan and with them committed brutalities, rapes and forcibly occupied their properties.
    Their motive is again partially successful as anywhere in Valley you will observe that it is 100% Islamist. Sufism is gone and Mosques and blurring loudspeakers sounding narratives 24×7 against India and non-muslims. From A to Z it smells of Islam with no other religion seen in proximity.
    But they are perhaps befooling themselves when they ask for autonomy because if at all it happens even in their wild dreams Pakistan will not allow them to remain so. He already had tried it in 1947. That time again they will seek refuge from India or else parish permanently.

    Our Govt has to do a lot by making them aware about this fact. Not only this but the Jammu Region has to play a dynamic role to tell them that J&k is not just the valley but it includes the bigger Jammu region as well which neither wants islamisation nor autonomy.
    In this the Govt of India has so far failed. It should take all measures to dilute the thinking of Kashmiri Sunni Muslims by all means. One important measure is to send back Kashmiri Pandits and involve them actively in this process. They know them, their language and above all their lifestyle.

  5. To the point. I have never visited THEPRINT. But reading this through external site I visited THEPRINT to know who wrote this article and the need to appreciate
    Kudos Mr.Rao

  6. Fantastic article! This (tenet of self determination based on self proclaimed identity) is exactly what is wrong with Kashmir issue. What if tomorrow a sizable chunk of Kashmiri poulation converts to Christianity and demands right to self determination because they no longer identify with local culture? Will the Kashmiri state agree to those demands? Even if you break down your states in autonomous regions, there is still going to be minority population in each of them. It’s turtles all the way.

    I think as long as the constitution of a nation guarantees individual rights and the population has freedom to select Representatives at Center who can speak for them, self determination does not make sense.

  7. Interesting thoughts and agree with Jaytirth. If only so called Kashmiri ruling class had shown equal concern for autonomy for Ladakh and Jammu regions, minority status for Hindus and Buddhist in J&K and ability and willingness to work strictly within the framework of instrument of Accession, it would have made a lot of case for continuation of Art 370. Azadi was never the option in any case.

  8. Ok, you are trying to be polite. That’s fine.
    This is pure Jihad land conquest scheme.
    The dumb idiot enablers of this Jihad shed tears that the people in the valley are “oppressed”. The security forces were there because of the large scale violence.. RDX bombs, machine guns, ethnic cleansing and murder of people if anyone disagrees with them. Anyone who disagreed with the terrorists and wrote or said something they faced death. “Democracy” for You.

    The valley has become Wahabi Sunni extremist hell hole. Thanks to the neighbor.

  9. Why check the route to a village one has no desire to visit, as Jaswant Singh would have said in Rajasthani. No territorial change is possible. With the external dimension having been secured, time to focus on improving the lives of ordinary Kashmiris. The validation of these recent constitutional changes lies in an improved security situation, a less oppressive presence of armed personnel, more tourists visiting the Valley, investment, job creation. The next five years should be better than the previous five.

    • Exactly but population in all three regions is being fooled by politicians by showing them unrealistic dreams. Indian politicians keep promising our population about taking back POK. Pakistani politicians do the same. Same with Kashmiri politicians who keep on showing false dreams of independence to their population. The fact is, no transfer of land is possible through dialogue. No politician will give away anything on discussion table. After 1998/99 it is no longer possible to gain a single inch of land through military action. The only practical coarse of anction and most probable future is converting current LOC to international border. focus of politicians in all 3 regions should be in conveying this reality to their population. It will save a lots of lives and time.

      • This is a well analysed article. But while Wilsonian self-determinatiom isn’t a perfect guarantor of resolving disputes, I wish to submit that it has its place.

        Take for instance the Brits justifying colonial rule in 1920s on the basis that exit from India would only mean take-over by princes, upper caste domination and communal cauldron- all the while ignoring the rapacious economic exploitation, racism and suppression they themselves engaged in. Surely you will concede that the conduct of the Indian state in J&K has been less than ideal?

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