Ignorance and prejudice

Right to self-determination, is almost considered a sacrilege in the rest of India. It is as if Kashmir is a grisly, gruesome wound that they never want to nurse, and anybody that shows a faint desire to do so, is viewed with copious suspicion.

Two images from the recent Kashmir protests have haunted me since the last few weeks: one of an eleven-year-old boy who is hardly visible beneath a mantle of white bandages, another of a five-year-old boy with pellet injuries in his eye. I have followed numerous posts on social media, rummaged through newspaper articles, watched impassioned debates on prime time television, only to find myself sinking deeper into the quagmire of the Kashmir crisis.

However, there’s been one disheartening and disquieting revelation in this, which is empathizing with the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, is almost considered a sacrilege in the rest of India. It is as if Kashmir is a grisly, gruesome wound that they never want to nurse, and anybody that shows a faint desire to do so, is viewed with copious suspicion.

I did not have to venture far to have this realization; friends and acquaintances, through their brazen and callous comments and views, and at times emphatic silence, provided the unwarranted assistance. What is disconcerting is that these people constitute the face of upper middle-class urban India—intelligent, educated and assertive. They suffered intensely because of the cruel brutalization and senseless passing away of Nirbhaya, they winced in pain seeing images of the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi, and they displayed solidarity for Orlando through rainbow pictures. However, when asked about the unbearably painful conflict that the Kashmiris find themselves in, they waste no time in suggesting the hand of a miscreant neighbor and mince no words in creating a wave of antinationalism.

So why has this section of the populace been so ridiculously inimical of the plight of the Kashmiris? Part of it stems from ignorance and part of it from prejudice.

Only a few from the mainland may have travelled to Kashmir, and even fewer have cared to learn about its social, cultural or political history. The rest of India has viewed Kashmir only through the prism of Bollywood, where the placid waters of Dal Lake and the pristine beauty of snow clad summits have provided the ultimate backdrop for fierce wars fought between the country’s security forces and those of the depraved neighbor. Images of valiant soldiers laying down their lives for the motherland have left audiences choked and smothered in a deluge of patriotism. Sadly enough, these tales have steered clear of the menacing saga of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the epidemics of violence, the loss of innocent lives or the hopes and aspirations of a people pigeonholed by their own countrymen. It is as if the rest of the country has seen only what they have chosen to see.

For the more au courant, there’s been a far greater evil at play, which is prejudice and religious bigotry. The trending phenomenon of Islamophobia and the prolific business of Islam-slamming are not just thriving but are being glorified like never before. Like all prejudices, these are rationalized by believers who sincerely believe that they are reacting rationally to a cultural, political and militaristic threat. Kashmir, with its Muslim majority populace has been no exception to this. Add to this continuous infiltration across the border and craftily coordinated acts of unrest by the incorrigible neighbor, and the outcome is the rest of India slamming retaliatory measures of the Kashmiris as acts of antinationalism and terrorism. There is an alarming unanimity in the way they even justify the use of brute force against people of the Valley as necessary measures to curb these acts of ‘antinationalism’ or ‘terrorism’.

It is, therefore, only natural that anybody who questions the impunity bestowed on the security forces is lashed at by this ‘rest of India’. Anybody who raises a voice against the atrocities committed in the name of quelling protesting crowds gets labeled as terrorist-sympathizer. And anybody who speaks about the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination gets painted in the same toxic hue of antinationalism. After all, self-determination for the Kashmiris is tantamount to breaking up our beloved motherland, and how can patriotic Indians even allow that!

As far as a viable resolution to this crisis is concerned, it is being increasingly acknowledged that a political rather than a militaristic solution is the need of the hour. But before looking up to the political machinery, it is important for the rest of the country to view Kashmiris, and not just Kashmir, as an integral part of India. It is important for fellow countrymen to recognize the need to restore the forfeited sovereignty, integrity and dignity to these people. For unless one human being stands up for a fellow human being, no government, no army, and no social organization can heal the wounds of its people or bring peace to the land.

Author can be mailed at ipsys.mail@gmail.com