Why should an Indian, any Indian – student, journalist, activist, lawyer, academician, politician, worker, feminist, communist or an ordinary citizen – care about Kashmir?
First of all, it is untrue that we don't care. There are way too many shades of opinions, suggestions, ideas and even convictions that we Indians have with respect to Kashmir and Kashmiris. And funnily, we are a bit too convinced of our own versions of Kashmir. Very few of us bother to check our facts. Critical thought seems so distant that it hardly appears to be a possibility.
As obsessed as we are with our wishful fantasies of Akhand Bharat and the future of Kashmir and Kashmiris "in India", it will not be an exaggeration to claim that we Indians have little idea about the history, politics, culture, tradition, art or even the geography of Kashmir.
To most Indians, Kashmir, an "integral part of India" is paradise on earth. It is where we go to holiday, relax or to escape. To the political left, right and center it is an indisputable part of India. They do differ, just a little, on how Kashmiris, "our very own citizens", ought to be treated. To a few of us, slightly aware of the cruelties, injustices and the brutalization of the territory and its people, it is an issue too distant and far away. The problem is too huge and we, too small. And sometimes we simply choose to limit our imagination. Because it is comfortable that way, you see.
Why then, should an Indian read, understand or know the truth of Kashmir? I would say we must. We must because understanding Kashmir is like looking at a mirror. And this mirror never stops horrifying you. With every look you move one step closer to recognizing just how ignominious you are.
It is in Kashmir that the Indian state functions without any façade. It is here that the brahmanical Indian state ceases to pretend. It is here that the Indian media displays its brahmanical biases and prejudices while recklessly branding an entire population as 'islamists', 'jihadists' and sometimes as 'terrorists'. It is here that our colonial mindset unleashes itself.
In Kashmir, we are at our objectifying and appropriating best. We do not stop at objectification. We also claim ownership over the land, water, flora, fauna and also the people of Kashmir. By claiming ownership over them, we reduce them to property. Our property. A voice of dissent and we are all prepared with pellets, bullets and tear gas.
At this point we might want to tell ourselves that history is too complicated. It is not fair to reach such simplistic conclusions. It's true. So let us just glance through the situation since July 2016. The encounter killing of Burhan Wani by the Indian Armed Forces on the 8th of July 2016 triggered massive protests in the valley when lakhs of Kashmiris – men, women and children - took to streets. We were so disturbed by the sight of civilians protesting that we responded to stones with bullets and pellets. We were so fearful of their mourning that we shot at them in funerals. We ensured that any expression of grief or anger by a Kashmiri is met with severe repression.
By the end of October 2016, a total of 9,010 people had been injured including 1,248 children below the age of 15, a large number of them blinded for life. By the end of December 2016, 76 civilians had been killed. In several instances, the Armed Forces have ravaged and bombed the houses of civilians, burnt their crops, ran over their cattle and livestock. The snow hasn't melted, but we are back with encounters and a desperate show of power and dominance almost every single day.
Thousands of Kashmiris have been attending the funerals of slain militants and civilians. Protests and shutdowns have been consistent since July 2016. Why are they on streets? Why do they want to break the cordons? Why do they want to help the militants flee? Why do they hate Indian forces? We have a standard reaction - why should we care?
It is here that I would like to cite an incident that has been stuck in my mind since it happened a couple of weeks ago. It is a minor but revealing piece of statement. This was in a seminar on the conflict in Kashmir that I attended. One of the panelists, a businessman perhaps running a tourism company, was invited to speak on "Tourism as an effective tool for national integration and international friendship". He spoke after two Kashmiri boys who, in fact, talked favorably of India but also mentioned the disturbances back home. In response, this businessman stood up and hugged them. He was happy to see "non stone pelting" Kashmiris. But to their brief on the situation in Kashmir his response was, "Why should we care about your psyche? It is your loss."
Why should we care about their psyche? Why should we bother to understand? Why should we hear them out?
This behavior is a reflection of the fact that we are one step ahead of ignorance and denial (which are both non-deliberate). This is a deliberate decision to snub. And this decision is a manifestation of our unbounded arrogance and self-righteousness. We are not merely ignorant or unperturbed. We are audacious and unabashed. In torturing, killing, maiming, raping, violating, objectifying, humiliating, dehumanizing, infantilizing and brutalizing Kashmiris, we have brutalized ourselves. This is why we need to know the truth of Kashmir. The truth of Kashmir is the truth of every Indian.
The Indian state has occupied Kashmir by fraud – legal, political and moral fraud. Every page in the history of Kashmir cries out fraud and betrayal. Our silence today, amounts to our acceptance of the ruthless violence and unbridled occupation of the Indian state in Kashmir. We, the people of India, are party to this violence. This is why Kashmir.
Oh! And there is one more reason. While thinking about "why Kashmir", we might as well think about – what is it about Kashmir that makes us so defensive? Why have we been in denial for seven decades? What do we fear? Perhaps we fear the word that Kashmiris love the most. Perhaps what we really fear is – Azaadi!
Shinzani Jain is an independent researcher currently based in Mumbai.
Illustration by Nidhin Shobhana.