Kashmir Portal

A digital Kashmir Info Network

Speaking truth to power

Posted by Kashmir Portal on June 16, 2009

Nyla Ali Khan
For a short while I laboured under the delusion that I would see a prevailing calm in Kashmir this year. I thought the installation of a purportedly democratically elected government would lend a sympathetic ear to the innumerable misfortunes of the people of the state. But to my dismay I saw no such thing. On the contrary, the next day I was absolutely horrified to read about the inhumane rape and murder of two young women in Shopian. My horror at the brutality of this act was further exacerbated by the sophisticated legalese and bureaucratic terminology deployed to ameliorate the callousness of those involved in this act. It is clear as day that in the past two decades the policies of the Indian administration have not only failed to win the “war” in Kashmir, but have also led to an increase in militancy, terrorism, and counter-terrorism. While the current administration’s rhetoric toward militancy and separatism might have softened, has there been any substantive change in its policies towards the populaces of J&K, especially the marginalised? The stakes involved in another six years of failed policy in this region are too high. The nonchalance not just of the administration but of separatists as well towards the economic, political and civil well-being of the people of the state is leading to further militarisation and redicalisation of the region. Historically, there are plenty of examples of governments creating and/or reinforcing national tradition in a fascist form.
The inability to rehabilitate the disenfranchised has provided fertile recruitment ground for radical organisations. The premise of my argument can be exemplified by the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation of 1989, which was used as a platform during the recent parliamentary elections. A disused sixteenth century mosque in Ayodhya, the Babri Masjid, was demolished by radical Hindu supporters of the Saffron movement, with the complicity of the Congress regime, who hoped to construct a temple, the Ram Janmabhoomi on that site. Hindu-Muslim riots swept India in the wake of the Ram Janmabhoorni agitation. Both sides attempted to create a new past for the nation. In the case of the majority Hindus, the militant Hinduism that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement incited challenged the basic principle that the nation was founded on: democracy. A sense of community was evoked in order to create a nostalgic yearning for a concocted past. The religious chauvinism that was manifested, especially by the socio-economically marginalised, during this dark period transformed into bigotry supported by radical organisations in the US and UK, whose geographical distance from the site of violence was a privilege. The progressive attempts of left-wing activists were challenged by the construction of a mythic history asserting national tradition in a classically fascist form.
This project of constructing the history of a nation involves selective appropriations of past and present histories and an abrogation of major parts of those histories. For instance, Kai Friese reports in the New York Times that in November 2002, during the reign of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the National Council of Education Training and Research in India, which is the central Indian government organisation that finalizes the national curriculum and supervises education for high school students, circulated a new textbook for Social Sciences and History. The textbook conveniently overlooks the embarrassing fact that the architect of Indian independence, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist in 1948, a year after the proclamation of independence. Friese makes the reader aware that the version of Indian history has been embellished by some interesting fabrications. One of those fabrications is the erasing of the “Indus Valley” Civilization and its replacement by the mythical “Indus-Saraswati” Civilization in its stead is a strategic maneuver to negate the fact that the ancient scriptures of Hinduism are associated with the advent of the Aryan peoples from the Northwest.
In this nationalist project, one of the forms that the nullification of past and present histories takes is the subjection of religious minorities to a centralized and authoritarian state. Thus, the Babri Masjid, an obscure little mosque, was destroyed by an unruly mob that rallied around the BJP. By blatantly advocating and supporting the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the BJP and its votaries negated the legislation of the highest court of law in the land that sought to protect the site by staying its appropriation by any political party. The legislation was not only abrogated by the active mobilization of the fractious crowd, but by the bigwigs of the BJP who presided over the demolition of the mosque and, I reiterate, the complicity of the Congress. The spectacle was staged as an instance of mass hysteria and exhortations to violence.
Unless the democratic aspirations of the people, especially women, are respected, and their ability to bring about meaningful change without brutal military intervention is recognised, there can be no construction of stable and lasting democratic institutions in J&K. Nationalistic aspirations do not have to be fanatical to be effectual, nor does the demand for fundamental rights have to be self-destructive. We cannot allow history to be reconstructed by the oppression and we cannot remain silent in the face of humiliation. Speaking truth to power is the need of the day.
*(The author is Grand-daughter of Sheikh Abdullah, Nyla Ali Khan is Associate Professor of English and Multicultural Studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, USA).

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