It has been a common sight in Kashmir Valley since the ’90s: thousands of people accompanying the body of a terrorist killed in an encounter with security forces. Women wail and beat their chests, men shout pro-freedom slogans. Candy and coins are thrown over the bier. Many such dead terrorists happen to be foreigners, especially Pakistani nationals. In the last few years, though, the number of mourners has dwindled. Instead of thousands, the crowd now runs into hundreds.
Thousands or hundreds, but grieving over the body of an intruder is what the rest of India sees the next day on its newspapers. This is what an old man in Meerut, whose son might be in the Army and involved in counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir, sees on his TV screen. That is the impression he has of Kashmir. What he won’t see, as a journalist friend from Kashmir says, is the number of people in villages and towns across Kashmir who silently pass on information about terrorist movement in their area, enabling security forces to eliminate them. Those details will remain buried in some file in an army garrison somewhere.Entrenched stereotypes
For an average Indian, a Kashmiri was the quintessential shawl seller who would come visiting their colony in winters, claiming that his products were the best and the cheapest. “This is pure Pashmina,” he would tell them. Sometimes it wouldn’t turn out to be so. They would then curse him and call him a swindler. But that was all right. The average Indian was used to getting swindled by many others. Feeling swindled is a national sentiment, and the ability to swindle our national pride. In this we were always one — from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. When a couple from Indore went to Kashmir for their honeymoon, the husband would sometimes feel they were being overcharged for a shikara ride. It would also leave them perturbed when a pony handler in Gulmarg asked them whether they were from “Hindustan.” But they would forget it soon afterwards; they would get busy with getting pictures clicked in traditional Kashmiri attire.
But how does a “Hindustani” reconcile with the news of a bunch of Kashmiri boys studying in an institute named after Swami Vivekananda, cheering on the Pakistani cricket team during an India-Pakistan match and then shouting pro-Pakistan slogans? Someone in the Uttar Pradesh police went overboard to the extent of booking the boys on charges of sedition — especially when, in neighbouring Muzaffarnagar, rapists and arsonists named by their victims are roaming free.
But how would an institute that admitted about 150 Kashmiri students have acted differently than suspending students whose sloganeering led to violence? According to the private university’s vice-chancellor Manzoor Ahmed, there was strong resentment against the Kashmiri students who shouted “anti-national and pro-Pakistan slogans.” Should he have waited for the situation to become worse which in turn might have resulted in more serious violence, even death?
We cannot take cricket rivalry seriously given that India and Pakistan have far more crucial issues to tackle. After the Meerut incident, many have said that cheering a particular cricket team or a player playing against one’s country is no big deal. They are right. It is not. It is all right, during an India-England match, to cheer for Alistair Cook, for example. But to then go on and shout “Hail Queen Victoria!” — well, that would be outright silly, or depending on who you perform this stunt in front of, outrageous. It is also true that in matters like these, India or Indians should act in a more mature manner. After all, like a friend commented on twitter, Britain ignores its nationals of Indian or Pakistani origin when they cheer for their country of origin during a cricket match. That is how developed nations are supposed to behave. But imagine during the 2011 Cricket World Cup, in which Ireland’s Kevin O’ Brien smashed a century just off 50 balls to lead his country to a spectacular victory against England, someone getting up next to a Briton from Bishopgate and shouting: “Long live Gerry Adams!”
This is one lesson Kashmiris ought to learn quickly. Their anger against the Indian state is legitimate. But shouting pro-Pakistan slogans in Meerut is not going to alter New Delhi’s Kashmir policy in any way. The best chance Kashmiris have for redressing their grievances is to take along the ‘aam aadmi’ in the rest of India. The old man in Meerut should rather know the humiliation of sitting on one’s haunches the whole day during an Army crackdown. He should know how passports are being denied to young men and women because in the ’70s, their grandfathers believed in a particular ideology. He should know what it is to be caught in the middle of a stone-pelting episode and getting hit in the eye by a pellet.Rippling effect
Kashmiris should not give a chance to rogue elements in Indian security agencies to justify false implication of scores of innocent Kashmiri youth in cases of terrorism. But sadly, that is exactly what will happen in the wake of paranoia created after incidents such as the one in Meerut. The ripples of Meerut are already being felt in other parts. More Kashmiris are going to find it difficult to find landlords willing to take them as tenants. There will be companies reluctant to hire them; there will be institutes reluctant to grant them admission.
India ought to create a lot more opportunities for young Kashmiris to make them stakeholders in her success. But young Kashmiris must also come forward and participate in the Indian story. Many Kashmiris have. One just needs to look around. But there is still a vast enabling space available for many more.
The rise of Islamist extremism in Kashmir was followed by the rise of the militant right in India. In the early ’90s, when L.K. Advani decided to march to Srinagar to unfurl the Indian national flag, the student wing of his party created a slogan: “ Doodh maangoge to kheer denge , Kashmir maangoge to cheer denge” (Ask for milk, we’ll give you milk pudding; ask for Kashmir, we will rip you apart). That slogan turned into an overarching sentiment for the average Indian; it became the whole essence of patriotism.
That idea still holds. That is why even a radical political party like the Aam Aadmi Party tends to tread cautiously on matters relating to Kashmir lest it gives an idea to its supporters that it is anti-national.
It would augur well for Kashmiris if they start asking not for milk but a share of their milk pudding. Maybe when they do, there will be no need to demand Kashmir.