Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi
Is it about blaming kids for getting killed and blinded by her government?
“Kashmiriyat” is again in the news, or rather brought back to news. The term was again recently invoked in Jammu by the Chief Minister of the state whose stark failure to safeguard peoples’ lives, and the blinding of children and youth in the past summer in Kashmir, is still fresh, and unforgotten, in public memory. Earlier, she had called the Hurriyat leaders’ refusal to meet the All Party Delegation of MPs from New Delhi as an “insult” to “Kashmiriyat”.
“In Kashmir, Kashmiris do not have any signs of happiness on their faces, but when they reach Jammu, I feel they are alive,” Mehbooba Mufti recently said in the legislative assembly in Jammu. “The people of Jammu have adopted the true culture of Kashmir (Kashmiriyat).” The chief minister also said “true spirit of real Kashmiriyat needs to be revived in the valley” which she finds thriving in Jammu and not in Kashmir.
So, what does Kashmiriyat mean? Perhaps presiding over the killing of about 90 people and blinding of hundreds of youth and teenagers last summer by the government forces kept alive the idea of Kashmiriyat in Kashmir! One wonders how can people celebrate and show such ‘signs of happiness’ amid the killings of their loved ones in Kashmir.
The PDP-BJP alliance, for example, came to be formed against the wishes of even the people who voted for PDP in the valley, hoping to keep the BJP away from power in the state. PDP did not care two hoots about the popular opinion against this alliance and what it voters thought in the Kashmir region and beyond.
Perhaps the “true spirit of real Kashmiriyat” is also about not even feeling a slight remorse for the wanton civilian killings, and not even thinking of stepping down from the chair when the world press shamed the government and called what was done to the people in Kashmir as the “world’s first mass blinding” and an “epidemic of dead eyes”. Perhaps Kashmiriyat is about blaming the kids instead for coming out and joining protests on the streets and in turn getting shot at with bullets and pellets. As the CM once mocked angrily in a press conference when questioned about the use of bullets and pellets against unarmed kids on the streets last summer, “Woh kya toffee lene gaya tha? Doodh lene gaya tha…?”
Over the years the term Kashmiriyat has come to be politicized and propagated from outside the state. The power corridors in New Delhi have also milked it to the fullest, employing it to strengthen and normalize the status quo when it comes to managing the political realities in Kashmir. The besieged population in Kashmir, however, has come to see through the state propaganda and its ideas and definitions of “peace” and “composite culture” which are often mixed with a certain notion of “Kashmiriyat” which we as people have supposedly long forgotten.
The recent provocative statements made by the CM, using her position of power and authority, again reflect how the state interprets “Kashmiriyat” which the battered and militarily besieged people in the valley are supposed to accept without questioning the ill intentions behind pushing down such stock terms. As if Kashmiriyat is about bowing down before the powers that be and their sinister designs to make a compliant population that should uncritically accept whatever the state decides best for it. As if Kashmiriyat will be kept alive if the people make peace with their everyday realities of militarization.
Further, the divisive, naïve statements like “Jammu has become Kashmir today (with regard to composite culture)” made by Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu also speak about what PDP, of erstwhile ‘healing touch’ fame, has been reduced to in the coalition government. A strange ally of BJP desperately trying to salvage its carefully crafted image in the valley, keeping its constituency and voters happy even as the party and its leaders please and speak the language of its more powerful partner, which controls its reigns from New Delhi. They allow themselves to draw closer to its divisive agenda and ideology which has serious, long-term consequences for the regional politics and communal harmony of the state.
The idea of Kashmiriyat acquires sinister dimensions when it is repeatedly propagated by the state actors and defined as per their convenience and attendant agendas for the people of Kashmir. What the term actually means for the people in Kashmir, where it is supposed to have originated from, is at best practiced in their day to day life, without their feeling the need to name it as such.
At the peak of 2016 uprising, as bullets and pellets continued to rain down on people, the last rites of many Kashmiri Pandits who had stayed back in the valley were, like in previous years and like it always happens, attended and even organised by their Kashmiri Muslim neighbors. That has been the practice in the past as well, irrespective of the religion or community one belongs to in Kashmir. People see it as their duty, as a way of life, not a compulsion to be seen as some tolerant people who uphold a certain notion of “Kashmiriyat” to please the outside world.
Despite attempts to spread false news and rumors online about some harm to Kashmiri Pandits and their places of worship during the 2016 uprising, the communal harmony in the valley remained intact even as the majority population was at the receiving end of the state violence. Where was Mehbooba Mufti then? Despite the much publicized attempts to reach out and “console” the victim families in government accommodations, she was far from the unarmed people who were coming out to protest on the streets and being shot at with bullets and pellets by the government forces. None of her MLAs and ministers had the courage to come out of their safe havens and multiple security-covers and meet the people who were out on the streets against the very ideas and the state they represent and defend in Kashmir. The state and its actors, who have blood on their hands, should look within before lecturing people of Kashmir about Kashmiriyat.
The idea of Kashmiriyat, as defined and propagated by the state, is already dead for the people in Kashmir. The idea of India is kept alive in Kashmir with brute force, by politicians who need round the clock government protection from the very people they’re supposed to protect and serve.
Kashmiriyat, whatever that means now, died the day it was appropriated and defined by the state which never had the moral authority to rule the people in Kashmir. When the term is thrust down the throats of people in Kashmir, without feeling the need to ask them what it means for them, Kashmiriyat is deprived of all its possible meanings. It becomes a sinister political project, forever suspect in the eyes of the people who are supposed to celebrate it. Kashmiriyat has been reduced to a political tool to normalize the state violence inflicted on unarmed people every time they come out on the streets to seek and demand their political rights. For the people in Kashmir, Kashmiriyat is now a state construct.