Saturday, 14 August 2010

Kashmir and the Indian Conscience

Here’s a brutally frank write-up on Kashmir in the UK’s Guardian that should give liberal, educated Indians pause. The author is not a Kashmiri Muslim. Nor is he a biased Pakistani or ignorant Westerner, as our convenient stereotypes go. From his name (Pankaj Mishra), he is Hindu and of Indian origin.

I suffer great moral pangs on the issue of Kashmir, and articles like this only reinforce them. My only quibble with this otherwise powerful article is its complete silence on the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus (the Pundits). The author should have followed his own advice and dealt with that additional “messy reality concealed by stirring abstractions”, as he put it. But that omission should not cause us to sweep the larger issue under the carpet.

Indians have a certain healthy wariness towards men in uniform (the police more than the army, which is generally invisible in daily life). How many Indians would enter a police station with a jaunty step? One of the luxuries of being part of the middle or upper classes is the relative ability to lead one's life without ever coming into contact with the police. But there is no escaping the constant stream of stories (in the Indian press, not the "biased" Western media) of “death in police custody” and “encounter killings”. There is probably more than a grain of truth to what is being said about the behaviour of India's men in uniform in Kashmir. False notions of patriotism should not prevent Indians from speaking up about it. We are humans first and our national identity comes second. Indians shouldn’t go on the defensive and refuse to look seriously at the issue just because Pakistan raises the Kashmir issue for its own opportunistic reasons.

It would be good if Indians themselves could bring pressure on the Indian government to dramatically improve the situation in Kashmir. Even if we believe that a plebiscite or independence for part of the region (the Kashmir Valley) is a bridge too far, we can at least insist on greater press access and more honest reporting on Kashmir. That may shame the authorities into providing a lighter touch and better administration.

It’s the least we can do.

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