The ghastly terror attack in Pulwama on 14 February has caused widespread outrage. While all parties have sought to put up a united face, condemning terrorism in all its forms, and explicitly blamed Pakistan for encouraging and supporting terrorism, it is equally condemnable to observe the extent to which people from Kashmir are being targeted and terrorised across cities, colleges and universities in India, by right-wing groups.
Reports on attacks and street-protests against Kashmiris have already emerged from parts of Delhi, Dehradun, Jammu (to cite a few). On 17 February, Kashmiri female students in Dehradun locked themselves up in student hostels and rented rooms, when the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad members called Kashmiris “traitors”, demanding them to leave the city “within 24 hours”.
Hearing chants of “Kill Kashmiris... Babar ki aulad” in streets across certain parts of Delhi made me realise the extent to which we – as a nation – have failed the people of Kashmir, and the Muslims of our own nation.
Outrage Over Pulwama & Anti-Kashmiri Sentiments
Each of these acts (despite all national outrage against the Pulwama attack) needs to be seen as in-border acts of terrorism too, seeking to terrorize an innocent citizenry –forming a part of a pluralistic national core.
Widespread feelings of racism, misogyny, rage, nihilistic violence are increasingly being normalised against Kashmiris, including some of the floating traders migrating from Srinagar to different parts of the country.
Social media is flooded with expressions of such negative emotions, reflecting demagoguery and intolerance of the highest order. It is critical to see this as part of a pattern here. These expressions aren’t new and have proliferated in recent years, especially since the current BJP government came to power.
Between 2015-2017, I had visited parts of Jammu and Kashmir for research and personal reasons, staying for extended periods in the Valley, interacting with locals and learning more about their socio-economic history, and also gaining experiential narratives of growing up (and living) in a conflict zone.
In the aftermath of events that followedthe death of Burhan Wani in 2016, the situation in the Valley had worsened in terms of its political, economic and social landscape (quite similar to the 1990s).
You can find CRPF personnel standing every 40-50 meters inside the city of Srinagar, with armed trucks moving all across the city. In 2017, reflecting on the deterioration in the Valley’s state of affairs, some of us argued how we were inching closer towards a civil war.
Part of the reason for Kashmir’s turbulence can be mainly attributed to a culture of ignorance showcased by successive governments, including the current Modi government which has alienated Kashmiri people (especially the youth). The government hasn’t made an effort to understand the culture, lives and narratives of Kashmiris, neither has it done much for the region's social and economic development.
The widespread otherisation of Kashmiris, our inability to understand the true spirit of Kashmiriyat, along with the failure to ensure consistent social and economic development of people in the state is responsible for today’s xenophobia.
Kashmiriyat, as a social fabric, has been chaffed and frayed by decades of conflict, and our limited knowledge affects our perception of Kashmiris and their culture. In championing fraternalism, Kashmiriyat transcends any form of religious divide (in terms of beliefs or dogmatic stigma), and remains centered on a common love for one's homeland and a common speech.
In terms of social and economic development too, the spatial access to basic social services (access to drinking water, healthcare, education across all levels) and employment opportunities remain dismally poor, given the state's per-capita income and its generous fiscal and productive contribution towards hydro and electric-power generation at a national level.
The Political Quest for Uni-National Identity
It is important to recognise that identities often turn out to be porous, inconsistent rather than being fixed or discreet, thereby, being prone to confusion. In terms of our own national (Indian) identity – especially in the post-independence context – one has seen it to be rarely invoked – except in times of war/ a terrorist attack or a cricket match. The implicit idea of our national identity has been preserved in a pluralistic core, that is accommodative of all socio-cultural variations.
Unfortunately, what we are witnessing right now is a coordinated national level political movement to build a uni-national identity, dissolving any form of social acceptance from our pluralistic core.
Radical Islamists have tried to do so in parts of West Asia, and the Hindu nationalistic forces (groups like Bajrang Dal and VHP) are doing so in and across India. Kashmiris are a victim to this uni-national identity cultivating exercise.
Anti-Minority Trend is Part of ‘Electoral Strategy’
It is therefore, vital to see the terrorising of minorities at this point, simply as part of an electoral strategy and political tool. In an election season, when a government fails to actualise its own manifested expectations, it is natural to expect more such radical measures to mobilize votes, using fear as an electoral currency.
In the days and weeks to come, we may see more radical groups spreading negative solidarity (using acts of cross-border terrorism) to justify and practice in-border terrorism.
In a bid for peace, a conscious citizen-led effort is required, to understand, read and practice the cultural principles of Kashmiriyat – an effort which is at the core of the survival of our national identity, one that is pluralistic.
Deepanshu Mohan is Assistant Professor of Economics and Director, Centre for New Economics Studies, O.P. Jindal Global University.