I moved house from the Valley some 52 years ago, and acquired a non-Kashmiri wife — someone, incidentally, who cooks a finer gourmet Kashmiri meal than most Kashmiri women I know — and yet the very worst anybody may do fails to keep me from being there again and again and again. Ruthlessly as I have in the last three decades sought to analyse the “Kashmir issue,” when it comes to my attachment to my mother tongue, and to the sweet ways in which its uses transform everything, including contentious subjectivities, my heart rises to my mouth. And why should I misrepresent myself in this the seventy-second year of my life, pray.
So there I was again, for five beloved days between March 17 to 21, 2013, while curfews and killings were around, attending a seminar on the subject of “literature and ethics” at the department of English, but, more to the point, listening and interacting with a group of young and quite brilliant alumni. Kashmir University has more women alumni than men — an irreversible consequence, I venture to think, of the exceptionally progressive vision that comprised the Naya Kashmir manifesto offered to Kashmiris at the threshold of Independence from colonial rule — and, surely in the department of English from whence I took my first Master’s degree in 1961, the standards of articulation, oral and written, and of high-end scholarship and research activity never fail to astonish me and many others who take the trouble to be there.
Needless to say, the Valley finds itself in a cornucopia of contradictions. It feels suffocated by the overbearing presence of armed men, never knowing when what misery may descend on which innocent man or woman, even as the English press in the Valley, that which I know, must qualify to be one of the most uninhibited of any in the country. Almost without exception, it articulates an anti-India line on most issues without fear of overt reprisal, although, as elsewhere in the country, it pays for so doing through a loss of any share in governmental advertisement revenues.
Equally with the boldness in public expressions of animus against Central excesses, including perceived excesses on behalf of the State regime, there is distinctly greater caution in voicing any negative views about what comes from the “other side.” For example, on every visit I make, I meet newer and newer young men and women who bespeak a proto-Marxian critique of the State, but who tend to fall into silence at the coercive attempts by radical elements to force the Valley into a salafi straitjacket. A silence, I might add, that nevertheless eloquently expresses fear rather than approval. A fact that is often soundly to the fore in the conviction and energy with which the same young people scoff at the tragic goings-on in Pakistan and much of the “Muslim” world, refusing the claims of organised religions to constitute emancipatory nationhoods, even as some among them continue to be more revolted by the workings of American Imperialism in causing this bloody consequence in state after state.
But most genuinely, and most hurtfully, it is the discriminatory treatment that young Muslims now and again receive at the hands of India’s state apparatus and other private and public institutions that continues to cause the most misgivings with Indian claims of democracy. Quite rightly, they remain dismayed by the repeated failures of India’s secular state to resist the pressures of right wing Hindutva politics. Meritorious Kashmiri Muslims often find their freedom of choice in career planning limited to either Aligarh, or Saudi Arabia, often in violation of their most evolved thoughts and aspirations.
The slogan of “Azadi” thus acquires a spontaneity of justification, even as few young Kashmiris who oppose “Indian nationalism” are clear in their minds as to what shape the Kashmiri nation might or might not take were secession to be granted to the Valley. This especially in the light of the many post-Tahrir Square happenings in much of the “Muslim” world. Many who admire the unequivocal energy and justice, for example, of Arundhati Roy’s advocacy, concede in quieter ambience that the State is unlikely to wither away either from India or from the Valley, and that it may not be a clever idea to blank out all else other than the desire for secession.
Take that for all in all, and I would still like nothing better than to expire with dreamy eyes open to an October sky in the Valley under the magnificence of a flaming chinar tree. But, before that consummation, be in the Valley alive and talking for as long as the fates might grant.
(Badri Raina, who is based in Delhi, is the author of The Underside of Things: India and the World.)