The Ambiguous Identity of a Kashmiri

kashmir-dal-lakeThe ambiguous identity of a Kashmiri is one that some of us have had to live with for a while now. Indian nationalists are quick to claim their intractable hold on Kashmiris; Pakistani nationalists are just as quick to claim to speak for Kashmiris. Kashmir, despite having a real internal history and a place in the world, is suppressed by its positioning in the Indo-Pak conflict. Mainstream Kashmiri politicians culpably reiterate that “Kashmir is an integral part of India,” in the process negating the people’s voices and real existence. Separatists are just as quick to scrap that assertion with their vociferous calls for hartal (closing down businesses and educational institutions), in the process sidelining the educational and psychological needs of the younger generation. New Delhi in its signature style is straddling the fence by underlining the need for “dialogue” and “quiet diplomacy” but not taking any substantive measures to “talk” to Kashmiris.
The profundity of memories and mourning of Kashmiris cannot be relegated to the background in official accounts of history. The aggressive statements, delusions of grandeur, melodramatic performances, and witty quips of Kashmiri mainstream politicians as well as separatist leaders have a short-lived glory and do nothing to alleviate the pain of anxious parents, destitute widows, bereaved mothers, vulnerable orphans, educated people unable to make a decent living. Minority voices of Kashmiris that express dissension cannot be silenced forever. Indian and Pakistani nationalisms have sought to mold collective subjectivities by the evocation of pan-national religious affinities resulting in the stifling of minority voices that express divergent political, social, and cultural opinions. The unitary concept of nationalism that the nation-states of India and Pakistan subscribe to challenges the basic principle that the nation was founded on, namely, democracy. In the enthusiasm to nurture this nationalist project, the political autonomy endowed on J & K by the constitutional provisions of India should not be eroded. In October 1949, the Constituent Assembly of India reinforced the stipulation that New Delhi’s jurisdiction in the state would remain limited to the categories of defence, foreign affairs, and communications, as underlined in the Instrument of Accession. This stipulation was provisional and its final status would be decided upon the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Subsequent to India acquiring the status of a republic in 1950, this constitutional provision enabled the incorporation of Article 370 into the Indian Constitution, which ratified the autonomous status of J & K within the Indian Union. Article 370 stipulates that New Delhi can legislate on the subjects of defense, foreign affairs, and communications only in just and equitable consultation with the government of the state of J & K, and can intervene on other subjects only with the consent of the J & K State Assembly. In contravention of the autonomy of J & K, two highly federalist statutes of the Indian Constitution, Articles 356 and 357, were enacted in J & K in 1964.
These draconian articles enabled the central government to autocratically dismiss democratically elected state governments if it perceived a dismantling of the law and order machinery. A constitutional order implementing these statutes was decreed by New Delhi. In the 1990s and the 2000s the military has carte blanche. “Official” accounts of the insurgency in Kashmir and state sponsored repression discount narratives that do not contribute to the deepening breach caused by the communalisation of the Kashmir issue and the zeal of Indian and Pakistani nationalism, according to which “Kashmir is unquestionably an integral part of India,” or any people’s movement in Kashmir is led by “anti-national militants,” or “Pakistan is sincere in its attempts to resolve the Kashmir conundrum” leaves out the politics of the people as was done in official accounts of the Partition of India (Guha 1). Where are the genuine traumas and tribulations of the people in these accounts? Do we hear of the misery of a father who feels emasculated because he cannot fend for his family? Do we sense the anxiety of parents who are painfully aware that the productive years of their child are going by the wayside while the rest of the world is making strides? Do we hear the wailing of a tender hearted mother whose son was waiting to plunge into life but has now been silenced by militarisation? Do we see the apathy of a young educated person who thought the world was his/ her oyster but now has nothing to look forward to? Are we aware of the frustration of politically savvy people whose opinions are made short shrift of by the powers that be? Do we understand the isolation of cultural and educational institutions? Do we see the erosion of the identity of people whose votes count but whose needs and opinions are overlooked? Do we see the legitimacy of peaceful protests and the illegitimacy of firing at unarmed protestors? The discourse of nationalism affects to make sense of the absurd loss of life that occurs. Human knowledge, however, is always tentative and arbitrary. We can learn to cross the frontiers of culture, nationality, language, and citizenship in order to make humanist responses to the belligerence of military powers and the ensuing human rights violations. Indian nationalism deploys the idea of citizenship and fraternity that unifies the entire community in the pursuit of a common goal. In order to assert itself a nation-state needs to draw clearly etched borders so it can define itself in opposition to other nations. But the entrenched border between India and Pakistan erases a shared past. Bloody manoeuvers to destabilise the British Raj were employed by the Muslims as well as the Hindus of colonial India in a joint effort to oust the oppressor.
The composite culture constructed by the two communities was an inherent part of pre-colonial India as well, but is expunged by Indian nationalists and Pakistani nationalists in their attempts to disseminate the unitary discourse of nationalism. Militant nationalism must evolve into critical consciousness: an awareness that unless national consciousness transforms into social consciousness, so-called “liberation” would merely be a continuation of imperialism. The need of the day is for Indian civil society as well as the civil society in J & K to come forward and foreground rational and logical solutions to the political, psychological, cultural, economic, and educational paralysis in Jammu and Kashmir without toeing the line of ultra right-wing nationalism of the Left in India, which represents the party machinery and fails to capture the imagination of young people. Repressive statutes, brutal acts, a corrupt political and bureaucratic infrastructure, pigeonholing Kashmiris as “ignorant insurgents,” creating fissures within the ranks of the people can only undermine the human aspect of the Kashmir issue which no well-thinking, rational person, Indian or Pakistani nationalist should tolerate.

Nyla Ali Khan

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism (Routledge 2005); Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan (Palgrave Macmillan 2010); and The Life of a Kashmiri Woman: Dialectic of Resistance and Accommodation (Palgrave Macmillan 2012). She has edited a major anthology, The Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society, and Polity (Palgrave Macmillan 2012). Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. 

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