Twitter is witness to innumerable differences of opinion every day that translate into allegations and counter-allegations. In one such instance, the well-known scholar and activist, Madhu Kishwar accused Shujaat Bukhari, the editor-in-chief of ‘Rising Kashmir’, a local daily in the valley, of getting money from the Indian state agencies and yet spitting venom at India. This prompted the ‘award-winning editor’ to file a defamation case against Kishwar in December 2016.
Now there is nothing especially revelatory in the above tweet, given that the Indian government, right from 1947, has been extremely generous in allocating funds and resources to the valley, even while meting out a step-motherly treatment to the other two parts of the state, Jammu and Ladakh. But even in the specific context of the newspaper in question, Madhu Kishwar’s single tweet thrice hits the nail on its head even without straying into the ‘controversial’ zone:
- ‘Rising Kashmir’ enjoys regular patronage from the state government in the form of advertisements.
- Shujaat Bukhari’s brother, Basharat Bukhari, is a minister in the state cabinet.
- The editorial stance of Rising Kashmir is decisively pro-separatist.
It can be argued that Kishwar’s tweet was indeed controversial, even to the extent of being defamatory, and it is only in a court of law that the real intent and consequences of Kishwar’s action may be ascertained. But as soon as one takes a cursory interest in the proceedings of the case, it becomes clear that battle is not being fought on a level playing field.
For one, the speed with which the case has progressed makes one wonder why the same alacrity is missing in open-and-shut cases against hardcore terrorists of Kashmir. Secondly, the eagerness with which arrest warrants (not mere summons) have been issued against the accused makes her question the soundness of the legal proceedings.
However, the intent of this piece is not to question the sovereign majesty of the courts and invite their holy wrath. Rather, the idea is to draw attention to the pattern common between the general contours of Kashmiri separatism, of which Bukhari is a passionate adherent, with the particulars of the defamation suit against Madhu Kishwar.
The pattern has a name – Kashmiriyat, and the fact that Kishwar herself has endorsed this hoax in the recent past is indicative of its sway on the Indian intelligentsia. Kashmiriyat, as we shall see, makes Kashmiri separatism a resilient variety of Muslim separatism, one that survives by disguising itself as a righteous fight against imagined oppression and by co-opting its very victims.
It is a truism that Kashmir is an integral part of India’s ancient civilization and there is simply no rationale for it to claim separateness. Kashmiriyat softly works at undermining this fact. It is another name for Kashmiri sub-nationalism.
Sheikh Abdullah coined the term in the 1930s so as to claim a greater degree of influence in the ever-shifting power dynamics of the subcontinent in the years just preceding independence. The coinage had the blessings of Abdullah’s good friend, Jawahar Lal Nehru, who saw it as a clever way of undermining Jinnah’s efforts to seek Kashmir’s merger with the soon to be Pakistan. Unfortunately, this disingenuous foray into manufactured identity politics turned into a Frankenstein monster that continues to harass the Indian establishment to this day.
Kashmiriyat blends in with the politically correct cultural vocabulary of secular India but the following attributes reveal its insidious agenda in diverse settings, whether it is affecting an entire society or just random individuals.
In the absence of a genuine positive definition of itself, Kashmiriyat seeks legitimacy and vitality from a vehement denial of its adherents’ natural identity. Therefore, Kashmiriyat is, by definition, a denial of Kashmir’s ancient Indic past and consequently, its politics is inherently anti-India.
In the hatred for India, it finds common cause with Pakistan, which was founded on the same principle of denial and accordingly, Kashmiriyat is another name for the Islamization of Kashmir. Consequently, the distinction between the demand for azaadi and a merger with Pakistan is one of political expediency.
“Pakistan se rishta kya, La illah ilallah” (How are we related to Pakistan? There is no other God but Allah)
In the late eighties, many such slogans were raised in the valley that left no room for any doubt whatsoever about the real nature of the movement. The extremist violence finally led to the exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus, who were eyesores in the grand hallucination of Kashmir’s Islamic future as a province of Pakistan. However, after the exodus of the Hindus, the movement came to be associated with religious extremism and risked distancing potential allies in the global Human Rights industry. Kashmiriyat saved the day.
Shujaat Bukhari is thus an exemplar of Kashmiriyat. He maintains a carefully crafted façade of neutrality and appears to be equidistant from the cynicism of Indian and Pakistani establishment. His newspaper carries elaborate apologia for terrorism on a regular basis, rationalizing Geelani’s bigotry one day, squarely blaming India for the failures of Kashmiri society the next and drawing false parallels with Palestinian intifada on another.
Make no mistake, beneath the shimmering pretense of stoic neutrality, packaged as the right to self-determination, is the visceral hatred for pluralistic ethos.
Subversion of instruments of the state
For all its anti-establishment oratory, the duplicity of Kashmiriyat cannot be effective if it refuses to make use of the resources of the same establishment that it despises. All arms of the state are ultimately controlled by people and it becomes important that the right people are placed in the right positions.
It is in this respect that an equitable representation from all parts of J&K would create insurmountable hurdles in the way of achieving the end goals of Kashmiriyat. As Professor Hari Om demonstrates:
What happens when ideologically motivated officials occupy positions of power? They ally with their comrades and misuse their authority to further their narrow collective agenda.
It is common knowledge that many Kashmiri doctors, blatantly defying the Hippocratic Oath, refuse to treat army jawans admitted in civil hospitals. The writer’s own grandmother suffered at the hands of Kashmiriyat when as a victim of a bomb explosion, she was admitted at a leading government hospital in Kashmir. The deliberate delay in treatment by the doctor in-charge played a crucial part in her untimely death.
One cannot but marvel at the disturbing enthusiasm with which the legal case against Madhu Kishwar has been taken up. In the Kashmiriyat infiltrated institutions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, such efficiency is only visible when Kashmiriyat is threatened or as they say in the pro-Pak rallies, “Islam khatray mein hai”.
The real genius of Kashmiriyat lies in turning victimhood on its head. As mentioned earlier, after the people of the valley were successful in driving out the minority Hindus from their ancestral homeland, they began to be seen as violent extremists. This was an existential threat to the separatist struggle and sure enough, Kashmiriyat came to their rescue.
An outlandish theory was floated that declared that the central government had conspired with the Hindus and by facilitating the exodus of the minority community, had prepared the grounds for the genocide of Muslims. Of course, the genocide never happened but the use of force by the security apparatus to contain the large-scale rioting and violence on the streets was marketed as one. Thus by projecting the jihadi violence as a struggle for the right to self-determination, the ruthless bully mutated overnight into the weakling looking for support and solidarity.
A similar pattern is hard to miss in the current imbroglio that Madhu Kishwar finds herself in. Shujaat, a man of position and influence, realized that his two-faced politics of covert separatism was being exposed and questioned by a fiercely independent woman activist. The threat to this veneer of neutrality resulted in the defamation suit.
It is easy to identify the victim between a man accused of supporting separatism while benefiting from state patronage and a woman battling health issues and travelling to another state to defend herself, all by herself, in a court of law over a careless set of tweets at worst. Yet, the non-bailable warrant that was recently issued against Kishwar makes it evident that Kashmiriyat has turned her into the aggressor here.
Consequences of Kashmiriyat – Friends turning foes
The mass departure of Kashmiri Hindus from Kashmir was followed by the deafening silence of the people outside the valley, who were blissfully unaware of the violence and bloodshed in virtually their backyard. This was the era of government-controlled mass media and internet was not even a word in the dictionary. In time, Kashmiri Hindus settled in different parts of the world and many political parties showed lip service solidarity with them.
By and large, Kashmiri separatism was associated with moral depravity of the worst kind, the soft appeasement of the Indian state notwithstanding. However, things changed in the first few years of the new millennium with the then PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee invoking Kashmiriyat as the way to the hearts of the alienated Kashmiris.
This whitewashing of the past by a PM from the BJP, the only party that calls for the abrogation of article 370, was ironic, to say the least, and this marked a new era of the central government’s relationship with separatists. Where people like Yasin Malik were earlier rightly treated as criminals and terrorists, now the Hurriyat conference was given the highest seat at the table. In the process, the question of the return of Kashmiri Hindus to the valley turned into a cruel practical joke on the displaced community.
Madhu Kishwar was one of the very few independent and credible voices that stood up for Narendra Modi in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. Further, her well-researched book on the relationship between Modi and Muslims cleared the air around many a rumour spread by the sensationalist sections of the mainstream media.
To state it plainly, she was one credible voice on the side of the BJP that arguably helped them gain acceptance among the fence-sitting voters. But today, not one BJP leader has come out in her defense in the open, not to mention the deafening silence of the champions of freedom of expression in the liberal media. Her activist friends from the left as well as the politicians who clicked pictures with her book have deserted her. Truly in line with the demands of Kashmiriyat, the BJP leaders look the other way as their coalition partner patronizes a separatist rag.
The amount of attention that Rising Kashmir gave to Yogi Adityanath’s rise to power in Uttar Pradesh could erroneously be taken to mean that the paper is published in Uttar Pradesh. Like any bully, Kashmiriyat is scared of a challenging confrontation and thus perceives a mortal threat in the rise of the Hindu consciousness in India.
As the above tweet illustrates, the shelf life of the Kashmiriyat hoax is over. The more fanatic believers have started making absurd statements that no one is going to sue them for, but which go on to show nevertheless that they have hit the panic button.
Madhu Kishwar need not worry. The ordinary ‘nationalist’ Indian stands with her and they won’t be able to pull a Syama Prasad Mukherjee all over again.
Ashish Dhar, a Mechanical Engineer and an entrepreneur, lives in New Delhi. He is the co-founder of Pragyata, an e-learning portal dedicated to Indic knowledge systems.