Abusing Kashmiris not a just response to Pulwama attack

by February 25, 2019 0 comments


Indians are angry after the terrorist attack in Pulwama, but our raging emotions for the perpetrators or the martyred jawans are no excuse for abusing the people of Kashmir.

Most Indians would have childhood memories of Kashmiri embroidered shawls and carpets sold by Kashmiris on cycles and rickshaws. Growing up in Kolkata, Kashmiri shawl sellers were ubiquitous during winter, each carrying his big bag of surprises and calling door-to-door. Some of them had established enough rapport with their clients to serve them through to the next generation. Some found patrons, who recommended them to others. You would hardly find a family in Kolkata who hadn’t bought a piece of winter wear from these travelling salesmen. So much so that no bridal trousseau was ever complete without a pair of shawls at least.

Our man was Altaf, who beyond his pherans, namdahs, kehwa and spices, introduced me to the tales of the Valley, culture and art. Through the years that politics changed in his State and his rosy cheeks became sallow with worry, he never mentioned it or condoned it, always praying that Khuda would show the right way as violence wouldn’t get anybody anywhere and that there would always be the exploiter and exploited in an unequal world, no matter what the manifestation. Except saying that trade had been worst hit and without the houseboat business of his family, things were becoming tough for raising his girls, he never mentioned terrorism or separatism. All he said was the trips to the city cost money and he would cut down the frequency perhaps. His offerings did make it to my trousseau and he became too old to travel. So when news reports emerged that a Kashmiri shawl trader had been roundly thrashed by a mob after the Pulwama attacks in Bengal, I was shocked. Simply because Kashmiri businesses or people have never been ostracised there and had become a part of the melting pot. The only other time such targeting of communities happened was during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. Kolkata lost a fleet of Sardarji taxi drivers as everybody went underground or returned home. The few businesses that remained were because some of them had not known any other home than the city. It took years for them to rebuild a circle of trust. And this for a community which is known for its contribution to national life in the most engaging way.

Yes a nation is angry with the biggest terrorist attack in Pulwama but our raging emotions for the perpetrators or the martyred jawans are no excuse for hitting back at Kashmiris simply because of their origins and push them further into a ghetto of national suspicion. Or just because they don’t subscribe to our idea of what Kashmir should be and challenge cardboard stereotypes of a problem that is so complex that politicians frankly do not want to unspool it. The status quo in the Valley has over the years given the latter an agenda and goal to chase but not solve it. We are looking for easy targets to avenge our guilt, frustration and inability to address the root of the problem. It is true that terrorist networks are indoctrinating and radicalising impressionable youth in the Valley — the number of local recruits is on the rise we are told — but nobody computes the bigger numbers of tormented young people who are migrating from the Valley to India’s many States for higher education, jobs and opportunities that will enable them to buy a new life in an aspirant India that’s not circumscribed by hate and violence. Young Kashmiris, with their natural scientific temperament and high performance index, can be a great demographic resource in fields of research and technology and are willing to stake their future on mainstream absorption. I remember a couple of young Kashmiri artists at the Kochi Biennale who were attempting a culture of engagement — sometimes recording their protest and desolateness, sometimes talking about civilisational heritage — through arts and installations. They shun the boom of the guns very decidedly. What news reports don’t highlight enough is that intelligence, harvested from willing locals themselves, have led security forces to the biggest crackdowns on militants in south Kashmir.

Our reaction and cooption efforts, therefore, will help them see us through another prism and break the stereotypes that they have grown up with. So hitting back at Kashmiri students, psyching them out with mob fury and chasing them out of their hostels and PGs will not only be counter-productive to put it mildly, it would insensitively push them to the worst decades of alienation, considering they took the initiative to break the mould. Even challenging the fear and doubts of their seniors and family, who are now staring them down with “I told you sos.” For once the old mould is re-sealed with new hatred and distrust, there’s no coming back. Particularly when the political establishment legitimises the chain reaction of “Kashmiris not for India”, through an irresponsible Governor tweeting about boycotting Kashmiri goods and its people and the government making no comment on this, too, as a national crisis but leaving it to the Supreme Court to take the lead. Extreme emotions beget extreme reactions and we cannot afford to let all Kashmiris rot simply because there are a few bad apples among them.  

The story is not over with reportage of the latest hitbacks across 11 States. Or the now public apologies for them. It is in the insidious way that suspicion has crept into everyday lives, one that is becoming more a rule than the exception, that should scare us. Hate speech and inflamed passions ruled a residents’ whatsapp group in an upscale condominium complex in Noida. As worse versions of Meghalaya  Governor Tathagata Roy’s remarks circulated among towers, residents forgot that there were Kashmiri owners among them, some of whom had sold their family house back in Srinagar to make good here and knew that tenancy had its own stigmas when it came to them. For all the self-serving cosmetic cultural assimilation of years, the residents had made their neighbours question their choices overnight through one brash act. Not only that, a temple was erected overnight in a cosmopolitan complex post-Pulwama to remind everybody that anybody opposed to majoritarianism was in essence a traitor to the national cause. An IT professional in Mumbai refused to send her children to school for two days simply fearing that barbs might fly their way as they had when she had just got them over from the Valley, their “otherness” being taunted by students. She remained tepid at her corporate workplace, careful that not a single word could be interpreted as sedition given the polarised simplicity of judging Kashmiris.

And if educational institutions in peaceful academic hubs like Dehradun indeed bow down to right wing hardliners, refusing to take in Kashmiri students, then we are equally guilty of closing our minds and creating enemies when there were none, who won’t need brainwashing or indoctrination simply because we sent them adrift. If it is happening in academia, believed to be seeking enlightened worldviews, then such revisionism should not have any place whatsoever there. But these are internecine biases that are working their own trellis of post-truths. Dangerously toxic  to say the least.

Counter-insurgency has its own cost, the search and comb operations having left a deep scar across generations in the Valley. And given that Valley politicians swing like a pendulum between both Pakistan and India, feeding off each other’s imperatives, the people are left dangling in between. The connectivity of the train and telecom, which ought to have been pushed earlier, has helped in mainstreaming aspirations no doubt. Which is why countermeasures now must capitalise on this “exposed” constituency, allowing them a say in local affairs, panchayats and students in colleges. Till they are not empowered to make simple choices, there won’t be trust. And till there is mainstream acceptance of their human worth, there won’t be peace. For politicians will always be, as Altaf said, the exploiter of the waadi.

Courtesy: The Pioneer

Writer: Rinku Ghosh, Associate Editor, The Pioneer

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