When azaadi means bigotry

When azaadi means bigotry

R Jagannathan

Wednesday, August 20, 2008  22:10 IST


Sometimes, intellectuals do more damage than bigots. Over the last two months, Jammu & Kashmir has witnessed communal tension over land allocated — and then withdrawn — to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. But far from looking for a long-term solution to the issue of binding hearts and minds in the state, the best one commentator could come up with was to give independence to Kashmir. Why? Because we promised them a plebiscite six decades ago.

Liberals who think giving people the right to self-determination is a great idea forget that the other side of the coin of self-determination is often ill-disguised sectarianism. Self-determination sounds like a liberating thought — who wants to live in bondage? — but is, in fact, an admission of failure. This was the story of India‘s partition, and historians even today wonder if it could have been avoided. So why is it such a wonderful idea for Kashmir? If millions lost their lives  during partition, why will it be any better if Kashmir is partitioned today?

The second problem with self-determination is this: at what point do you decide it has gone too far? Today you can decide that Kashmiris cannot live together because of clashing religious identities. Therefore, we split up J&K into Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. But Ladakh and Jammu will continue to have significant minorities even after that. Should we give them self-determination, too? In Jammu, we could give various castes have the right to self-determination.

Boiled down to its essentials, when we talk of the right to self-determination we are really saying that diversity is a curse. We cannot resolve our differences, nor can we learn to live  with our separate identities. Divorce is better than marriage. A look at Kashmir can easily tell you whether we are talking self-determination or sectarianism. Aided and abetted by Pakistan, some Kashmiris are slowly wearing their Muslim identities on their sleeves, not their Kashmiriyat. Otherwise, they would not have silently accepted the ethnic cleansing that took place during the late 1980s and early 1990s. They are clearly party to bigotry.

When the Serbs decided that they will ethnically cleanse Bosnia, the international community  intervened to reverse it. In Kashmir, some advocate self-determination for Kashmiri Muslims – a move that will legitimise all the ethnic cleansing  already  done. What logic!

Another argument used is that Hari Singh, the erstwhile Hindu ruler of Kashmir who signed the articles of accession with India in 1948, had no right to do so on behalf of a predominantly Muslim population. If that is the case, the entire Mughal period of Indian history should have no legitimacy, since Muslims ruled over a predominantly Hindu population in pre-British India. And, yet, the Mughals produced great rulers, including Akbar.

The liberals, of course, make a great show of condemning excessive use of force by the Indian army in Kashmir. While it has  committed excesses in trying to put down insurgency, but it is by no stretch of imagination an occupation force.  India has not changed the ethnic mix of the population, or subverted the Kashmiri identity in any way. (In contrast, look at  what China is doing in Tibet, Israel in Palestine, or even Bangladesh in north-eastern India). Our Army is in valley only because Pakistan has taken upon itself the task of Talibanising the Kashmiris.

None of this is an argument for forcing the Kashmiris to live forever under the shadow of the gun, but the only way forward should be inter-community dialogue, and much greater political and economic autonomy. Not just Kashmir, but every single Indian state — an azadi that allows the people to decide their own pace of socio-economic development.

In a globalising world, the countries of Europe are setting aside centuries of mistrust  by creating the European Union. Even Muslim Turkey wants in. Why then does Muslim Kashmir want out of the Indian union unless it’s partly about bigotry?



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