‘Kashmiriyat: Not an integral construct but a state sponsored one’

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Nandita Haksar-noted Human Rights lawyer and activist- who has not only been watching Kashmir closely but also led the campaign to save Afzal Guru from being hanged has come out with a book, ‘The Many Faces Of Kashmiri Nationalism: From The Cold War To The Present Day’. The book, among other things dwells upon the nature of Kashmiri nationalism and its multifarious aspects. In an interview to the Live Mint, Haksar talks briefly about the book and about Kashmir.

You write of Kashmiri nationalism. From the point of view of Muslims, the valley’s majority community, does this imply independence?

It may mean independence or less than that (for instance, greater functional autonomy). The Kashmiri Pandits have their own definition of Kashmiri nationalism, which is very different from Kashmiriyat. The term Kashmiriyat is a State-sponsored term which is aimed at promoting official national integration, and this is a totally artificial concept.

See, as of now, everyone living in Kashmir are fellow citizens. So I am not even talking about cession or no cession. First of all, we need to find out what they really want. That is precisely the reason why the book has so many aspects to it. Nationalism, too, can have different versions to it. For instance, the aspiration or definition of nationalism of an upper-caste Tamilian may be different from that of a Dalit; similarly, a Bengali may have a different concept of nationalism.

How would you define Kashmiriyat?

This is an artificial concept being promoted by the State which shows that Hindus and Muslims have been living happily for a very, very long time… Even though (earlier) Kashmiri nationalism was more inclusive (with people coexisting despite divergent views).

What do the people of Kashmir really want?

I do not know what they want and this was not the attempt. Also, I have not done a survey or a poll on the issue. As an Indian citizen, my effort was to reach out to the people of Kashmir and try to understand what their problems are and how they see India. It is my job as an Indian intellectual to place before the people the complexities of various questions and problems. So if we understand them, we debate them, but it’s not my job really to prescribe any prescriptions. But I feel that if we do understand their issues and problems, then we should talk and debate about them.

But you have done detailed research for the book. Have you been able to understand what the people actually want?

Again, you are asking the same question. I do not know what they want. But I can surely say that a lot of Muslims in Kashmir are not necessarily anti-Indian state, or even pro-Pakistan. In fact, Afzal Guru had said that he was not pro-India or pro-Pakistan.

The discourse within which Kashmir is discussed largely (revolves) around five main issues. First, showing Muslims as fanatical fundamentalists, and the book clearly shows that they are not so. There may be some fringe elements but a lot of the majority, including Afzal Guru, does not fit into that category.

Secondly, Kashmiri Pandits are looked upon as innocent victims, in fact the only victims of the problems in Kashmir. But a character in the book, Sampat Prakash, who is a Kashmiri Pandit, continues to work in Kashmir even to this day, much to the opposition of his family. Then another character, Manohar, goes back to the valley every year to protest against the the Gawkadal massacre (1990). But the voices or views of such people are also not heard.

There is the issue of India being a victim of cross-border terrorism, which it is to some extent. But then a number of Indian policies, particularly related to human rights violations, have also alienated a large number of its own supporters. Then there is the aspect of Pakistan being the aggressor, using the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) for promoting terror in the valley.

And the fifth aspect that we often ignore is that of the so-called liberal West. We forget that they (have been) responsible, since 1945, to a large extent for creating this problem of Kashmiri militants. How is it that insurgency in Kashmir gained momentum after the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan?

The people in the valley have genuine socio-economic and political grievances which have not been heard and it is not just linked to religion.

Afzal Guru did admit to his involvement in the Parliament attack case. So the dispute was about the extent of his involvement—that he was not the mastermind?

Well, even the chargesheet does not say so (that he was the mastermind). It was, in fact, the likes of Ghazi Baba and others who were the real masterminds. There is no doubt that Afzal had a role in it and that it was a serious offence. That is the reason we did not ask for an acquittal, but only wanted that the death sentence be commuted to life. 

—-Livemint

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