COMMENTARY / INSIGHT
Reporting Kashmir: the Indian narrative
The Kashmiri youth, bearing the burden of pain and loss of their communities, is surrounded by bunkers, gun violence, curfews, restriction and the deprivation of human rights
Fatima IftikharFatima Iftikhar
AUGUST 13, 2018
Since India’s independence from British colonial rule and the subsequent partition in 1947, India and Pakistan claim their right of control over the region and have fought four inconclusive wars over Kashmir.
Reinforced by Indian military’s ubiquitous presence in Kashmir, the locally elected governments have turned Kashmir into a “late modern colonial occupation” in which state violence is justified via claims of humanitarianism based on the ideology of democracy, and principles of good governance and development. The tale of resistance is a sordid one: Kashmiris launched a popular armed revolt against India in 1989. The Indian state deployed more than 700,000 military and para-military forces in the region to crush the rebellion. It is nearing 30 years now, yet this violent counterinsurgency regime remains.
In many Indian narratives, the issue of Kashmir only appears from the late 1980s onwards to feature reports on the massive uprising, which was supported by Pakistan, against the Indian state, following the rigging in the 1987 elections in Kashmir (to prevent the Muslim United Front from being elected).
With the violence of 1989-90, that saw indigenous resentment and Islamist insurgency in the Kashmir Valley, the area resembled a wild fire. As one analyzes the Indian press reports and articles on the issue of Kashmir, a state-centric rhetoric is apparent. Teresa Joseph states in her research on the issue of Kashmir, “as a dispute over real estate between India and Pakistan, and a matter of national prestige”.
The Kashmiri youth, bearing the burden of pain and loss of their communities, is surrounded by bunkers, gun violence, curfews, restriction and the deprivation of human rights. The narrative of Kashmiriyat: a secular pan-Kashmiri identity by the Indian state unceremoniously thrust to Kashmiris has started to erode. It is used by India to lay its claim to the area, and legitimise violence under the guise of law and order
In February 2017, Nivedita Menon, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), gave a lecture at an academic conference on “History Reconstructed through Literature: Nation, Identity, Culture” held at Jodhpur University in the western Indian state of Rajasthan in which she criticised RSS and Hindutva and showed an upside down map of India. Menon has previously spoken critically about the Indian role in Kashmir. She also wrote an article stating that she was patriotic and loyal to the state, and harbored no anti-national sentiments in her criticism of the RSS and Hindutva. Severe backlash followed her statements; Menon was accused of antinationalism, and had a police FIR issued against her. The organizer of the event was also suspended.
The Kashmiri youth, bearing the burden of pain and loss of their communities, is surrounded by bunkers, gun violence, curfews, restriction and the deprivation of human rights. The narrative of Kashmiriyat: a secular pan-Kashmiri identity by the Indian state unceremoniously thrust to Kashmiris has started to erode. It is used by India to lay its claim to the area, and legitimise violence under the guise of law and order. It has created a situation where political participation or movement against the injustices and traumas suffered by the hand of Indian military becomes close to impossible.
The violence in Kashmir is claimed to be committed in the name of democracy and freedom yet the Indian press portrays the revolt as expressions of unruly people who need to be taken to task for disrupting the supposed ‘peace’ in the region. This narrative spun by the Indian state allows for the global desensitization to the news about violence perpetrated against the Kashmiri people.
Much violence in Kashmir is committed in the name of democracy. Yet, the reasons are implicitly behind the façade of an assumed economic rationality and a moral superiority. The violence against their bodies constitutes of the heinous killings of innocent civilians, rapes of women that are unnoticed and uninvestigated. Moreover the disappearances of civilians that go unreported. This violence is presented as “progress” in a tussle of narratives of progressive Hindus versus uncouth Muslims who are in desperate need of enlightenment.
The ongoing nationalist drive in India, the muzzling of dissent with violence, the appointment of right wing hardliners to key posts, and the rewriting of history in text books — all of it, is to pursue the Hindutva agenda forward. A combination of Hindutva right wing nationalism and a pledge to neoliberal economic policies has meant that the violent transformation of the Indian state is unchecked by any serious critique since the capitalist neoliberal state with authoritarian right wing nationalist governments in charge are rearing their heads around the world. To conclude, India’s treatment of the Kashmiri people and the silence of the Indian press against the atrocities should not be ignored. The Indian media’s role as a “PR lobby” for the Indian government should be considered seriously since it has serious implications on how the world views the Kashmir issue.
The writer is an independent researcher in international relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org