A road to empathy and solidarity: A reading list on Kashmir

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In the midst of the brutality unleashed on the people of Kashmir by the State over the past few weeks, there is a small spark of hope: all over India, people have gathered together to speak up for Kashmir. There have been protests, public meetings, and efforts to organise smaller meetings or discussions on Kashmir. This is a welcome sign that at least a section of Indian citizens are refusing to fall in line with the hectoring of an influential section of the television media. In a vitiated climate where empathy with Kashmiri anger and aspirations is branded as a betrayal of India, there are Indian citizens willing to open themselves up to that empathy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has thanked all parties for “speaking in one voice” on Kashmir. Sadly, it is true that most of the voices in Parliament have actually spoken in a single voice on Kashmir – the modulations or variations on the ruling party’s Kashmir tune by, say, the Congress, are so slight as to be negligible. The grim consensus can be broken only when people across India begin raising their voices in favour of a political solution for Kashmir that is in keeping with what Kashmiri people want, that emerges from talks with Kashmiri people.

Kashmiri people have made it clear, over and over, that what they want is “azadi”. What shape and forms can Kashmiri azadi take, and what is a way out of the seeming impasse? Arundhati Roy sums up the answer, when she says that “everybody, on all sides of the dispute” need to “find a new imagination” – an imagination based on being “able to think clearly, speak freely and listen fearlessly to things we may not want to hear”.

On a few occasions, Indian leaders have also said that they possess the necessary imagination and empathy to talk to Kashmiris about a political solution. Narasimha Rao said “the sky is the limit” when it comes to the shape and form of such a solution. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when asked whether talks with separatist groups would be “within the scope of the Indian Constitution”, said the talks would be “within the scope of humanity.”

What these phrases indicate is that even India’s rulers know that a solution to Kashmir calls for unusual flexibility and openness, that it isn’t possible within the scope of the slogan “Doodh maango kheer denge, Kashmir maango, cheer denge” (Ask for milk, we’ll give you milk pudding, ask for Kashmir, we’ll tear you apart). Those phrases are careful not to rule out or foreclose any possibilities for Kashmir’s future.

Nightly news potboilers

The problem is that the hope represented by those phrases has remained still-born – those phrases have been presented to a Kashmiri audience, on occasion, but they have not been allowed to become part of India’s mainstream political imagination. The mainstream Indian political and cultural imagination continues to be shaped by the “cheer denge” discourse and its variations. In an age where the line between television news and entertainment has been blurred, the coverage of Kashmir by influential television channels has dropped to the level of the average Bollywood patriotic potboiler, with one-dimensional characters (the evil terrorist, the brave soldier). In that uni-dimensional world, there is simply no room for the people of Kashmir, let alone for the history of the Kashmir problem.

Such coverage drags us all inexorably away from the possibility of a solution in Kashmir, from an end to the bloodied, sightless eyes and pellet- and bullet-riddled, pain-filled bodies of Kashmiri children, youngsters, and people.

In a recent article and in a live video-interview on Kashmir, I had appealed to Indian citizens to mute the TV and read up on Kashmir – read, not to reassure themselves that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” but to understand why so many Kashmiris assert otherwise. Even if you don’t believe that secession is the answer, it is important that we at least frame the question correctly: that we understand why the right to self-determination is the political question in Kashmir.

In response to many queries about where to begin reading on Kashmir, I drew up a list of materials in a Facebook post. In the thread of comments, the list grew. I am now elaborating a little on that reading list. More than a reading list, I think of this as a road-map to an empathetic conversation with the people of Kashmir.

A disclaimer, before I begin: inclusion in this list does not imply that I endorse the perspective of the works in question. It should go without saying that one may benefit even from reading books with which one disagrees.

Where To Start?

The average Indian citizen who is new to the Kashmir issue may choose to start with the pain of human beings of Kashmir, and move from there to the history of the Kashmir problem. That way, the human pain of Kashmir may act as a compass in the maze of historical material on the Kashmir problem. Or you may, of course, start the other way around – and begin your reading with the history of Kashmir conflict, in which the pain and suffering of the Kashmiri people is rooted.

Rights Violations in Kashmir

When one speaks of rights violations, rapes, custodial killings and mass graves in Kashmir, one is sometimes greeted with whataboutery. Say that a Kashmiri student has been attacked in Bhopal, and another student attacked in Hyderabad for ‘looking Kashmiri,’ and you will be asked, “What about Biharis being attacked in Mumbai?” Talk about rapes in Kashmir, and you will be asked, “Don’t women get raped elsewhere in India?” The thing to remember about Kashmir (and the North East) is that much the violence and humiliations have been inflicted in the name of India, the perpetrators – many of whom wear Indian uniforms – have been protected in the name of India; and that is why they breed resentment against India, in a way that violence or rapes in, say, Bihar or Karnataka might not.

Read Buried Evidence: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves in Indian-Administered Kashmir, a report by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir. Imagine if mass graves with thousands of people buried in them were to be found in Uttar Pradesh or Tamil Nadu. Would such a discovery not be prime time news, greeted with shock and horror? Yet, Indian television has rarely, if ever, discussed these mass graves in Kashmir – mass graves in which, it is suspected, many of the people picked up by security forces and “disappeared”, ended up.

To know more about the “disappeared” persons, get to know the remarkable organisation, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons founded by Parveena Ahangar, whose son was abducted by security forces in 1991 and never seen again.

To keep in touch with the current situation in Kashmir, you can visit the site of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. Both the APDP and the JKCCS post regular Facebook updates also.

Another must-read book is Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? In 1991, soldiers entered the villages of Kunan and Poshpora, tortured many men, and gang-raped the women of the village. The accused were never arrested, never prosecuted, never brought to trial. Nowadays, with the appeals of the convicts of the December 2012 gang-rape and murder case coming up for hearing, there will be no shortage of outrage and demands for death penalty on our TV channels. The same channels, who see Kashmir only through the prism of terrorism vs (Indian) nationalism, seem struck by amnesia when it comes to Kunan Poshpora.

This book is the story of five Kashmiri women who remembered and sought to revive the quest for justice for Kunan Poshpora in the wake of the Delhi December 2012 anti-rape protests. Their efforts resulted in a PIL filed by 50 Kashmiri women and a reopening of the Kunan Poshpora case.

If you ever participated in the Delhi gang-rape protests, or if you sympathised with the protesters, try and place yourselves in the shoes of Kashmiris. You, in Delhi, faced tear gas and lathis, and derision from the government. But you did not face bullets, and you were not told that your demand for justice is illegitimate and anti-national as the people of Kashmir or the North East are when they speak of sexual violence by military and paramilitary forces.

For vivid portraits of violence-torn Kashmiri lives, read Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night. On the exile of the Kashmiri Pandits, you can read A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exile and Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, a collection of writings by Kashmiri Pandits, edited by Siddhartha Gigoo and Varad Sharma. Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon Has Blood Clots: A Memoir of a Lost Home in Kashmir is another memoir on the Kashmiri Pandit exile that is worth reading.

Until My Freedom Has Come is an excellent collection of short fiction, reportage, essays, news reports, interviews and a rapper’s song by Kashmiris (from which the title is drawn), edited by the filmmaker Sanjay Kak.

Historical roots

I find, in conversations, that our education and cultural exposure ill equips Indians to look objectively at the question of self-determination. The first bit of unlearning we must do is to stop looking at Kashmir as a question of Indian honour or a Pakistan- or US-inspired challenge to Indian national pride and instead as a question of Indian democracy. We should know that every mature modern country will be judged by history on its ability and will to deal sensitively and democratically with nationality movements. China will be judged on its handling of the nationality question in Tibet; Sri Lanka on its handling of the Tamil movement; as India will be on its handling of Kashmir, Manipur or Nagaland.

Secession is not necessarily the only outcome of such struggles – possible outcomes of nationality movements could range from various models of greater autonomy, up to secession. The only solutions that ought to be ruled out are the ones that involve triumphant defeats of the aspirations of the nationality in question, because subjugation by force cannot be a democratic solution. A solution in Kashmir will have to be one that respects Kashmiri aspirations; that Kashmiris can accept as being in keeping with their sense of dignity and identity.

My introduction to Kashmir’s history came from the slim Tracts For The Times booklet Kashmir: Towards Insurgency by Balraj Puri. You might, today, like to read the revised and updated version, Kashmir: Insurgency and After. Even this mild and gentle book holds many surprises about the relationship between Kashmir and India – and shakes up many of the perceptions and assumptions we inherit on Kashmir.

Other must-read books for newcomers to the Kashmir story include the books and articles by the legal scholar AG Noorani. Have you, thanks to political propaganda, got the impression that Kashmir got unwarranted pampering and privileges as a result of Article 370? This article by Noorani tells you otherwise. It quotes India’s Home Minister GL Nanda stating that Article 370, the supposed guarantee of Kashmir’s promised autonomy, would serve as a “tunnel in the wall to increase the Centre’s power”. Noorani traces how thanks to “Constitutional abuse and political fraud,” Kashmir ended up being treated inferior to other states in terms of federalism. Noorani’s two volumes on Kashmir Dispute 1947-2012 is also worth reading. His scholarly presentation of documents and facts is a refreshing contrast to the shallow rhetoric aired in most of the TV studios.

A book that thoughtfully discusses the historical roots of the Kashmir issue and explores paths towards a solution is Sumantra Bose’s Kashmir – Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace.

An article that traces the Islamist shift in the Kashmir movement in the 1980s is Yoginder Sikand’s Changing Course of Kashmiri Struggle, Vol. 36, Issue No. 03, 20 Jan, 2001.

A useful reading list compiled by Hilal Mir in the Hindustan Times can be found here.

An unusual book, published last year, is The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism: From the Cold War to the Present Day by the advocate and activist Nandita Haksar. Haksar traces the trajectory of Kashmiri nationalism through the lives of two Kashmiris – one, the Communist Trade Union activist of Kashmiri Pandit origin, Sampat Prakash; and the other, Afzal Guru, whom Haksar had defended.

Like Indian and Pakistani history-writing in general, Kashmiri history-writing too has been burdened with political agendas. A book that looks back at several centuries of Kashmir’s history and at those burdens shaping history-writing is Kashmir’s Contested Pasts: Narratives, Sacred Geographies, and the Historical Imagination by Chitralekha Zutshi. This is a book I’m yet to read but one that I look forward to reading sometime soon.

Fiction and Poetry

Remember Venkaiah Naidu demanding to know why JNU students were trying to project India under Modi as a “country without a post office”? It is sad indeed that India’s ruling politicians should not be able to catch a reference to a poem by a Kashmiri poet of the stature of Agha Shahid Ali. Read Ali’s powerful collection of poems The Country Without a Post Office.

Of Gardens and Graves is a collection of essays by Suvir Kaul, and a selection of modern poems in the Kashmiri language translated into English.

A haunting and painful novel is Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator. A sensitive and insightful graphic novel on the everyday experience of Kashmiris is Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir by Malik Sajad.

Among the material suggested in the comments thread on my Facebook post is a comic rendering of Kashmir ki Kahani (The Story of Kashmir) in Newslaundry. I have not been able to read Part II of this comic, but Kashmir Ki Kahani Part I does a great job of spoofing Kashmir Ki Kali and narrating an important chapter of the Kashmir story.

The Article First Appeared HERE

 

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