Thrashing Kashmiris Only Hurts Pro-India Sentiment in J&K

Thrashing poor, innocent Kashmiris is only going to further alienate those who have been pro-India thus far.

4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

The assault on a Kashmiri vendor in Lucknow by saffron-clad men has generated a wave of condemnation, and rightly so. Most people who saw the viral videos of the assault were horrified.

Their distress was mainly emotional—the man’s screams were heart-wrenching. At a deeper level, the response was based on commitment to citizens’ rights. What happened to him was illegal, immoral, and plain wrong.

That the widespread public outrage got the police to act is all to the good. The Inspector General in charge of the Lucknow range gave instructions to his force on Twitter to look into it, and at least one man was reported to have been arrested.

Policy-Makers Lack Insight

Sadly, it is unlikely to upset policymakers the way it should. For, like the goons who assaulted the street vendors, too many policymakers lack insight into the sociological patterns of insurgency. The fact that these vendors were squatting on the road, trying to sell dry fruits, is a pretty strong indicator that they have nothing to do with any sort of insurgency. No doubt they spends the winter away from family, trying to eke out some money to send them.

Many insurgents, on the other hand, tend to have access to money and are able to maintain comfortable lifestyles. Ironic though it might seem, they also often belong to families with strong links to the network of power and influence.

Who Are More Likely to Become Separatists?

A survey I conducted for my book The Generation of Rage in Kashmir clearly demonstrated that those with an income less than Rs 5,000 a month, or living in a remote area, were more likely to want opportunities for prosperity and much less likely to be interested in insurgency.

Of course, that survey was conducted earlier this decade and that pattern may have changed somewhat, but I believe that it largely holds true.

My survey indicated—shockingly—that the sons of bureaucrats, ministers and others holding public office, often took strongly anti-state positions. Academics, journalists and authors, many of them feted abroad, also tend to actively promote the separatist movement.

Shah Faesal’s Changed Views on Kashmir

In Kashmir, the dividing line between ‘separatist’ and ‘mainstream’ politics is sometimes blurred. Positions taken by National Conference President Farooq Abdullah and People’s Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti, at certain points during the past three years, demonstrate this.

The more recent case of Shah Faesal, who resigned from the IAS after being celebrated across the country for topping the IAS exam a decade ago, similarly illustrates the point.

Since he launched himself into politics, Faesal has taken positions which have sometimes seemed to border on separatism. This change in his stance was seen after his return from Harvard’s Kennedy School, where he spent one year. He wrote on Facebook in a post: “Harvard has changed many things for me. Most importantly and unexpectedly, it has changed my views on Kashmir. It has made me realize that I was wrong about a few important things here. It has revealed to me the scale of my ignorance.”

These ‘changed views’ on Kashmir include his view that “Kashmiris don’t relate to the idea of India,” as he said in an interview to the Hindustan Times. Many, like Faesal, are influenced by ‘anti-state’ lobbies at prestigious foreign universities, and also, in some cases, by ‘foreign funders’.

Easier to Target Poor Vendors than ‘Privileged Separatists’

It is, of course, far easier for street goons in places like Lucknow to target a poor and helpless itinerant salesmen than it is for them to take on the highly privileged promoters and drum-beaters of insurgency—whether these be on social media, in the halls of academia, or the celebrated literati. Nor can one expect street goons to discern any more than the most basic sorts of ethnic and religion-based profiling. It not only comes easier, it makes for the best optics to project oneself as a champion of ‘othering’.

It is therefore, all the more important, for policymakers to take steps to ensure that poor and helpless citizens from places like Kashmir are protected by law-enforcers across the country.

If policymakers miss the woods for the trees, it falls upon activists, journalists and others in a position to influence society, to take firm stands. For, not only is it incumbent on us to protect the rights of all citizens, such hooliganism has the potential to push even the classes from which such poor street vendors come, to clamber onto the bandwagon of separatism and insurgency.

Integration of Kashmiris

Many of the educated young Kashmiris who work in places like Bengaluru and Mumbai, too have learnt to appreciate versions of India and Indians, that differ from the hate-filled objectification with which many of them grew up. Often, their initial view was coloured by the image of just about the only non-Kashmiris they saw as children—the army and para-military forces.

Yet, I know of several who changed their attitudes and worldview after a few months in shared flats and large meeting rooms in a city like Bengaluru.

It is terribly ironic that those who claim to stand for the integration of Jammu and Kashmir seem to be doing the most to reverse such organic processes of integration.

(The writer is the author of The Story of Kashmir’ and The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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