Twitter has been in a flutter over the statement of Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, that Kashmiris do not feel Indian and would rather be ruled by China.
The demotion of a state into two union territories, and the unconstitutional revocation of an article that guarantees its sovereignty, cannot but disillusion a people. And the central government’s claim—reading the failure of the people of the valley to protest against its manipulations as evidence of their acceptance of these decrees—is ridiculous.
Nothing ended protests in Delhi as effectively as the lockdown—not even police action against students.
Imagine this—Kashmir has been under lockdown for more than a year. The leaders who could have become the fulcrums around which movements revolve had all been arrested in their homes at the start of that lockdown, and it was as impossible for them to step out as it is for those who live in buildings that have been sealed off because of Covid-positive cases. In fact, it was more than impossible, because there were simply no workarounds.
Worse, while most of us have managed to shift our lives online, and do over the internet what we cannot do in person, the internet and even phone communication were shut off in the valley until it was politically safe. And to ensure that there was no sudden wave, these essential modes of communication were restored in phases.
Protest need not be vocalised by taking to the streets and holding up banners and placards.
Protest can also be a simple shift in mindset.
In a people who have been beleaguered by state machinations for decades, a drastic measure of this sort—the removal of their autonomy politically and territorially—is all that was needed for a final severing of emotional ties.
Most Kashmiris have rarely identified as “Indian”, and have even taken offence to being called Indian. They do believe their lands have been occupied by both Indian and Pakistan. About a decade ago, Omar Abdullah made an impassioned speech in parliament about being Indian and Muslim, which went viral and catapulted him to centre stage in Kashmiri politics.
And now, his father has made several equally impassioned statements about feeling betrayed and being treated like a criminal. He spoke of the detention of former chief minister—and effectively the last ever chief minister—of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti and demanded whether she was a criminal.
Farooq Abdullah was mocked by the people he has claimed to represent for saying, “Bharat Mata ki jai”.
When no conciliatory gesture is reciprocated, disillusionment will naturally set in. When the disillusionment is already decades old, one is simply waiting for the last straw.
The revocation of Article 370 and the division of a state into union territories was that last straw for many.
It is true that Kashmir does not belong to Muslims, just as India does not belong to Hindus.
If Jawaharlal Nehru had been less keen to pander to the international community back in the day, there would have been no promises to be broken.
But once a promise was made, it ought not to have been broken.
The delay in, and then the denial of the possibility of, holding a referendum is what allowed disruptive elements in Pakistan to fan the flames of insecurity and bigotry in the region and foster the militancy which eventually led to the eviction of Kashmiri Pandits from their homes.
What we are left with, nearly three decades later, is a region in a constant state of emergency, a region that is so tired of being fought over by two self-proclaimed democracies that one of its leaders says twice in a video interview that they would rather be ruled by a more authoritarian power than either of those democracies.
It could be argued that no one in his right mind would want to be ruled by China. But would someone in his right mind want to be ruled by a government that actively seeks to create a Hindu Rashtra, going against all the principles on which this country was founded, going against the rights guaranteed to its citizens by the constitution?
The Covid lockdown has driven most of us up the wall. We have been speaking about mental health issues and the hazards of being confined to one space for weeks at a time. Now imagine months. Imagine years. Imagine not being able to hop across to one’s parents’ home for breakfast despite having been the chief minister of a now non-existent state not so long ago. Imagine the toll it would take on mental health, on physical health. Imagine children being born into a strife-torn, militancy-ridden world where everyone must carry identity cards and anyone can be questioned by men in uniform.
Imagine being Kashmiri, and ask yourself if you would want to be Indian.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com