Kashmir – where liberalism fails
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Tired of lack of success from men armed with AK-47s and grenades sent out to fight a professional army and create terror among civilians, Kashmiri separatists and their friends in Pakistan are now resorting to a strange way of carrying on the Kashmir “freedom struggle” – stone pelting. Stone pelting is nothing new in our part of the world. The stone is one of the weapons of choice throughout the country for violent mobs seeking to express “public anger.” The benefits only begin at giving vent to anger. Many a time, the situation spins out of control, some policeman gets injured, and the police are forced to open fire. Bullets usually kill or at least severely injure (the stone pelters know), and the papers next morning are full of stories about police heavyhandedness and police brutality. It helps win public and intellectual sympathy for what basically are violent mobs bent on destroying public property, disrupting normal life, causing injury to policemen and preventing them from doing their duties.

The script is no different in the case of Kashmir. Here the stone pelters are fighting for “azaadi” and are expressing public anger against India in general, and against the CRPF for the deaths of “protestors” killed in firing. The images of the violence in the Valley invoke strong reactions from liberals in Delhi. The stone pelters as tastelessly referred to as “protestors” (what do we call these people then?) It is amazing how every violent mob represents a political or social cause for the liberals.

Then there is the typical condemnation of the CRPF and the Armed Forces. People in the rest of the country are taken on guilt trips: “You dont know how it feels to live under the constant watch of the Army”, “Kashmiri youth are alienated.” Some brazen it out and call for Kashmir’s independence.

While expressing sympathy for the innocent children who are caught in the crossfire, liberals ask no questions and express no concern about the nature of the ideology that makes parents bring children to “protests” that are inherently violent and are always under the risk of inviting gunfire from the police. It is very unfortunate and deeply saddening that teenagers and even younger ones are being killed in firing by the CRPF but the fact is that the CRPF did not put them in the mobs. The responsibility for their deaths must be shared equally by the mobsters – adult men and women – who brought the children to the violent mobs, a point that liberals fail to make when they paint the CRPF and by extension the Armed Forces in the darkest of colours.

From the liberal perspective, the demand for a separate Kashmir is legitimate. We are told that a group of people who want to live in an independent country have every right to do so, irrespective of its implications and the means employed to achieve such a goal. This line of thinking, in case of Kashmir is fraught with fallacies, the main question being: how can small hundred-odd congregations of vocal, violent, stone pelting Kashmiri Muslims, and their supporters in the homes, in the Kashmir Valley represent or decide the fate of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, that includes significant populations of Hindus in Jammu and the Valley, and Buddhists in Ladakh? Liberal concern for minorities in secular countries finds no parallel in the case of Kashmir.

By supporting Kashmir’s independence, liberals support a profoundly illiberal idea – a Kashmir that is an Islamic republic – which is what the Kashmiri “freedom struggle” really is about (yes, we heard the gyaan on “azaadi” actually meaning freedom from Indian rule but an Islamic republic is the next step.) Liberals must decide whether they would like an illiberal Kashmir under strict sharia laws where adulterous women would be stoned to death and minorities would have unequal rights or a Kashmir that belongs to a liberal democratic country that, for all its imperfections, works under modern law with a liberal Constitution that guarantees several rights and freedoms to its citizens. Well, for those liberals for whom burqas are tools of women empowerment, an Islamic republic in Kashmir could be liberal paradise and it would not at all be surprising if they are found drumming up support for it, directly or stealthily. But at least they must stop pretending that they are for the protection of individual rights.

The liberal perspective on Kashmir fails also because the Kashmir issue is viewed only through the lens of rights. There is a reality about Kashmir that must be factored into all solutions offered to solve the Kashmir issue. For instance, plebiscite, recommended often by liberals, is impossible under the changed demographic circumstances in Jammu and Kashmir. May be holding a plebiscite could have been easier had not the Kashmiri “freedom fighters” been over eager in driving out hundreds of thousands of Pandits from the Valley. Also, the question of plebiscite concerns the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the Chinese-occupied areas of Aksai Chin. The demography of the PoK has changed drastically over the last 60 years due to the large scale influx of Punjabis from Pakistan. Plebiscite is out of the question. In any case, are liberals comfortable with the idea of holding a plebiscite that may result in the formation of a theological state from a secular democratic republic? Shouldnt things be the other way around for liberals?

Liberals also do not give adequate importance to the history behind the Kashmir issue. “Let’s move on”, “let’s forget the past”, “What a head ache! Let’s just give away Kashmir and concentrate on economic growth and become a superpower,” we are told. It does not take into account that Indian perceptions are deeply influenced by the history of the Kashmir issue, especially the event of Partition.

The Partition was a traumatic event for most Indians. One of the reasons is because Partition stabbed at the idea that Hindus and Muslims could live together as one nation. Partition also invokes intense sorrow because of the bloodshed and inhumanity that surrounded the Partition. About a million people lost their lives and 12 million got displaced in one of the largest population transfers in human history, enough reason for those responsible to be hanged, brought back to life and hanged again several times.

But Indian nationalists regret the Partition mainly because they believe Pakistani Muslims “broke” their country and “snatched” away their land. Pakistan is seen as this cancerous tumour, that took birth and grew uncontrollably under Islamic radicalism and was ultimately dissected violently and painfully from the Indian nation by the Partition. The movement for Kashmir’s “azaadi” is seen as an unfinished business of the Partition, a recurrence of the same cancer that resulted in Pakistan. With Kashmir, Indians are faced with two choices – another Pakistan-type surgical removal or therapy with democracy and economic integration. Most nationalist Indians, who value their freedom, respect their jawans and repose confidence in the Indian state even in face of its many imperfections, overwhelmingly choose the latter. But liberals would make the amusing but sorry spectacle of chopping off their heads to get relief from a headache.