Posts Tagged ‘Hindutva’

Religious fanatics in India and Pakistan

January 18, 2017
Nasir Khan, January 18, 2017

(I wrote the following piece in reply to a comment by a Facebook friend.)

Both Hindu and Islamic architecture have influenced each other in many ways. By its appearance, Jejuri Temple seems to be a clear example of this interaction in architecture.

Regarding your views on the division of Hindus and Muslims, my reply is: If these people, Hindus and Muslims, regard one another as human beings first where people’s religious beliefs are left as their personal matters and nothing more, then a common human and humane bond will emerge that will allow cultural diversity but wherein all people will stand for common humanity and common political, social and economic rights and obligations.

But in India and Pakistan things are working in the reverse order. In these countries, the first consideration is towards religious identity while what is obviously common, our common humanity and our oneness as human beings, is pushed out of sight! The result is fanatics and fundamentalists in Hindus and Muslims have made living for ordinary people difficult.

The Hindutva fanatics in India have poisoned the minds of vast numbers of Hindus and have made them anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan by their continuous propaganda. Many feel that is the only way to make India a purely Hindu state by preaching the mantra of Akhand Bharat. There is so much hatred against Muslims and Islam in Indian right-wing Hindus, which I find hard to believe.

In Pakistan, the right-wing religious and political parties have equally viciously poisoned the minds of millions of people for establishing a theocratic state instead of a modern democratic state.

Consequently, their continuous indoctrination and misleading information against the non-Muslims has relegated religious minorities in Pakistan to a secondary status. The victimisation of some innocent people for having violated the so-called blasphemy laws of Pakistan under concocted charges is a living proof of the cancerous fanaticism and primitive mindset that once flourished in the early middle ages.

India’s right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party: searching a new subterfuge?

June 30, 2009

By Badri Raina | ZNet, June 30, 2009

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page


Wasn’t there a playwright who penned Six Characters in Search of an Author?

Well, India has a “major” political party that seems forever in search of a programme.

It is called the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

But, hang on; unlike the famous play cited above, the BJP’s interminable project is, in fact, not to find the author/programme but to constantly hide the one and only it has.

That author of its unreal being is the RSS, the so-called cultural organization that was established by India’s right-wing, Brahmanism in 1924 in order to direct the anti-colonial freedom movement towards the formulation of a majoritarian Hindu Rashtra, in opposition to the secular and pluralist ideals of the then Congress-led national movement.

Staunch adherent to that time-tested instrument of social and every other oppression in India, the caste hierarchy or varna vyavastha,  three dominant principles have constituted its raison d’ etre:

–an unrelenting hegemony of the upper castes over Hindu thought and practice;

–an unrelenting crusade against the Muslims whom it regards as alien to the land, and chief enemies of India’s “cultural essence”;

–a close embrace with militarist imperialism and with the systemic economic underpinnings that make such militarism and imperialism possible and necessary.

Not till 1949 did this organization declare its allegiance to the Indian Tricolour as comprising the undisputed icon of the new nation, and then too under duress and as a quid pro quo to the Nehru government’s willingness to release from prison its big chief or sarsangchalak who had been locked up as a consequence of the banning of the RSS after the Gandhi murder in 1948.

Only then was the RSS literally coerced into framing its constitution and putting on record its allegiance to the flag.

The fact that it still remains unreconciled to the Indian Constitution was borne out when the Vajpayee-led NDA regime (1999-2004) constituted a Constitution Review Committee, designed to alter some of the basic features of the Republic.

Continued >>

The Quest for Purity

November 25, 2008

Another Name for Fascism


I am not a fascist only when

I decimate all other kind;

I am a fascist when first I think

It is purity I have in mind.

(Badri Raina, Modest Proposal & Other Rhymes for the Times, Sahmat pub., Delhi, 2000)


These are confused times for India’s political Hinduism.

As the hours go by, the proverbial cunning of its leaderships across its many falanges experiences an exhaustion that surprises most of all the Sangh itself.

Having fooled millions over a century, it is astonished to find that it may at bottom have been the most fooled.

Adroit as it has been at double-speaking its way out of double-speak, the alleged involvement of its scions now in acts of terror renders it the mirror-image of those it never ceases to construct and condemn as its “other.”

Worse still, it is abjectly reduced to proffering in defence every single argument routinely proferred by its “opposite” number. And its self-righteous bluster that no Hindu can, by definition, ever be a terrorist rings hollow even among its loyal constituency, rebuke as such bluster does even the lowest form of common intelligence.

How much dent all that will or will not make in its electoral base must depend on some collateral factors, chiefly the further successes of investigative agencies, the fate of the cases in courts of law, and the quality of exertion on behalf of secular civil and political agencies to bring home the facts to the nation at large.


My ruminations here are occasioned by a statement made by the spokesperson of the All India Hindu Mahasabha (that most ontological of theoretical Hindutva over which Savarkar presided as the chief ideologue), Pravin Sharma to Times of India, online on 22nd Nov.,2008.

This statement characterizes the BJP as “an opportunist political party playing politics over terrorism”: clearly, neither the Congress nor the Left could have said more.

It then goes on to say: “Please ask the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, RSS and Abhinav Bharat as to what contribution they have made for Hindus and Hindutva so far.” Fascinating stuff.

Taken together with media reports of confirmation of the truth of the allegation that the Sangh scions now in custody, alongwith an endocrinologist who works at a reputed private hospital in Delhi, were indeed plotting to murder two leaders of the RSS (see The Hindu, 23rd, Nov., p.10), the Congress seems well-placed in saying that there is currently a “civil war” under way within the Sangh Parivar.

But to return to the disillusionment expressed by the Hindu Mahasabha with all other falanges of the Hindutva brigade.

Just within a year of the framing of India’s secular-democratic Constitution, the RSS (Vatican of the Parivar) decided that it was not enough merely to engage Hindus in acts of “cultural” transformation towards hard-core Brahminical practices.

Such work needed to be done politically as well through the party-political system and electoral participation.

Thus was floated the Jana Sangh in 1951.

Sadly, the Hindu “purity” of its programmes (read anti-Muslim agenda) failed to yield any more than two seats to the Indian Parliament up until the end of the 1980s.

A declension from “purity” was thus indicated; and with that realization the BJP was born.

The BJP in turn was to discover that it did not have a constituency large enough even among India’s Hindus to reward it with an absolute ruling majority in the House of the People.

Indeed, it remains a significant pointer to the secular heart of India that this pro-Hindu party has never yet managed more than some 29% popular vote in any general election. And given that not more than some 3-5% non-Hindu voters are ever attracted to it, the conclusion is that some 65 or more percent of the Hindu electorate do not vote for the BJP.

Despite every species of public and ideological manoeuvre that the BJP and its individual leaders have attempted since the infamous Rath Yatra led by L.K.Advani, an aggressive Hindutva putsch that was to culminate in the watershed demolition of the four-hundred year old Babri mosque in 1992, the BJP has been unable to achieve state power in Delhi except in alliance with a plethora of other parties who hold no allegiance to the Hindutva telos.

Thus, if successful political intervention in transforming the Republic into a saffron hue has entailed a mitigation of its sectarian agenda, it has simultaneously found itself at the receiving end of purist injunctions from the RSS -Vatican in Nagpur, reminding it with frustrating insistence that its existence in the first place was to Hinduise the procedures and genius of the institutions of Indian democracy.


Imagine then the enormity of a situation where a still higher custodian, however self-assumed, of Hindutva “purity,” namely the Hindu Mahasabha, now feels impelled to find even the RSS fallen into impurity. And to a point where the alleged culprits now in custody felt warranted to do away with two of its leaders for doing little on behalf of Hindutva.

Another way of conceptualizing the dynamic of this narrative—the ruthless impulse to return to “purity”—is to say that it maps out vividly how democracies are sought to be shrunk from the expanded base of the political pyramid to its fascist point at the top.

And, European history of the last century teaches us how such impulses are sought to be validated by the “self-evident” and “transcedant” claims of some legend/myth of past glory, or some past wrong-doing, or, some self-assumed supremacy of race or religion, even biological purity, all peddled as unimpeachably pure “nationalism.” A whole package of “purity” that in turn warrants without proven mandate violent voluntary vigilantism, and triumphalist war once the state is captured.

What matters is that the illusory victimhood of the majority is first established, and then ascribed to the sinister scheming of the “other” who is seen to “pollute” the “purity” of the “real” nation’s life at every point.

That history also teaches us that these coercive shrinkages of democracy and the concomitant centralization of political power then go hand in hand with the centralization of Capital into a handful of monopolies.

And as the state and its economic arrangements defeat plurality and competition, the Dionysian “purity” of self-justifying authority is born.

In our time, this package of “purity” has been in evidence as the marriage between the pre-emptive claims of neocon imperialism and neo-liberal market fundamentalism, internationally. Christened “globalization,” its beneficiaries have been those at the top of the pyramid, and its victims spread over a base as wide as the world.

How much of that may change now remains to be seen. It is no small tribute to the American people that the consequences of that marriage should have disgusted them decisively enough to have joyfully elected as their President a talented young man from among the “other.”


To return to India.

A remarkable dynamic counter to the re-centralizing, purity-oriented turmoil within the Sangh Parivar is currently at work among India’s Muslims. A dynamic that I venture bears the promise of defeating the renewed fascistic call of the Parivar more conclusively than anything else in view.

Ever since the Partition of India which still left this country with the world’s second largest population of Muslims (and yet a “minority”), India’s Muslims—with most of the elite gone over to the new country of Pakistan—bereft largely of secular leadership internally, have been at the receiving end of three sources of oppression: the animosity of the Sangh, the clout of Muslim clerical authorities, and the neglect by the state.

Invariably they have answered these oppressions in two principle ways: one, to band together qua Muslims, and to vote for political parties that could at the least ensure their physical safety.

With the coming to age of a new generation of Indian Muslims unburdened by personally experienced happenings of the Partition, the failure of the state to be wholly secular, especially in the wake of pogroms against them, and the rise of their aspirations as citizens to be equal partners in the productive processes of an improved national economy, the two habitual recourses noted above have come to be seen as wanting, even as the way ahead has seemed unclear and unconvincing.

It was with those contexts in mind that this writer had, as far back as 1990, made the following suggestion:

“Indian Muslims must. . .resist constructing their identities along a trans-Indian Islam. For one thing, it is only when this begins to happen that Hindutva can lose both its twisted rationale and its retrograde mass appeal. Muslims must, instead, join in with whatever democratic forces and movements are in operation in the regions in which they are located as parts of specific civil societies. Just as the critique of and opposition to majority communalist politics come increasingly from within the Hindu community itself, an invigorated Muslim democratic opinion must take on that role, not just in relation to Hindu communalists but Muslim as well.”

(”Pakistan, Kashmir, and the Democratic Agenda, “The Statesman, 6th May, 1990)

Recent trends have shown that this is increasingly becoming the praxis that Indian Muslims seek now to follow:

–Muslims now seek secular education up to the highest levels;

–Many young Muslim men and women are beginning to question social practices supposedly ordained by one clerical authority or the other;

–Muslims are increasingly and in great numbers part of civil rights activities that seek to deepen the values and stipulations enshrined in the Constitution, and to reinforce the non-discriminatory exercise of the rule of law;

–everyday, one influential Muslim social/cultural organization or the other, including clerical forums, publicly decry the resort to violence in any form, condemning the killing of innocents especially as “un-Islamic”;

–a joyful increase of Muslim faces is in evidence in the public arena, in the media, and in inter-community life generally;

–Indian Muslims, most of all, are beginning to recognize that it is in pluralist democracy rather than some loyalty to denominational “purity” that progressive prospects reside both for them and for the nation-state generally.

As should be obvious, all that subverts the fascist construction of Indian Muslims that has through the last six decades so suited the Sangh Parivar.

This particularly so because the new forward-looking, secular orientation among Muslims draws approval from large sections of ordinary Hindus who remain wedded to the principles on which the Indian state bases itself.

Just as the state as well feels impelled to look more honestly at the specific areas of neglect suffered by Muslims and formulates policies to redress them.


Sadly, the response of the Sangh Parivar to these developments seems to be to recede further into “purity” (emulating Muslim instincts up until now), rather than to say “how good that these changes are underway.”

And this is not hard to understand.

Whatever its rhetoric about Muslim exclusivity, the Sangh has never at bottom desired Indian Muslims to be incorporated into the full life of the nation-state.

Indeed such a prospect fills it with the apprehension that its pristine project of transforming India into a “pure” Hindu nation (much like the erstwhile Nepal, now so sadly fallen into secular republicanism) may indeed suffer conclusive rejection. If anything, its private anguish is caused by a sense of betrayal: despite the two-nation theory which led to the Partition of India, why should so many Muslims have chosen to stay back?

The BJP, however, to the extent that it is unlikely now to abandon its participation in Indian electoral democracy, wind up, and return to some cloistered Hindutva “purity,” has some far-reaching thinking to do.

Does it have the will to match the paradigmatic shift in Muslim attitudes and resolves?

Does it have the wisdom to finally own the foundational principles of the Indian Republic as much in conviction as it does in tactics, accepting or rejecting its operations only to the extent that these suit or do not suit its sectarian purposes?

In short, does the BJP have the courage to jettison the fascist “purity” enjoined upon it by its mentors, some among them now alleged to be terrorists, and rejoice in the tainted but humane, inventive, and inter-communitarian exertions of democratic creativity?

As things are, it may be idle of the BJP to think that the dynamics of an increasingly secular polity will forever keep a constituency of “purity” ready and available to it.

Consider that this is what was once stipulated in the Katha- Upanishad:

Hope and expectation, good company and pleasant discourse, the fruits of sacrifices and good deeds, sons and cattle—all are taken away from that person of little understanding in whose home a Brahmin remains without food.”

(D.S.Sharma, The Upanishads: An Anthology, Bharti Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1975, p.43)

Today, many foodless Brahmins are happy to be alongside a Dalit Mayawati.

A History worth emulating in many ways.


For Kashmiri Muslims the meaning of independence from Indian occupation of their land

September 14, 2008

Kashmir is in crisis: the region’s Muslims are mounting huge non-violent protests against the Indian government’s rule. But, asks Arundhati Roy, what would independence for the territory mean for its people?

Arundhati Roy| The Guardian, Friday August 22 2008

A Kashmiri Muslim shows a victory sign during a march in Srinagar, India

A Kashmiri Muslim shows a victory sign during a march in Srinagar, India. Photograph: Dar Yasin/AP

For the past 60 days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half a million heavily armed soldiers, in the most densely militarised zone in the world.

After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government’s worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage. This one is nourished by people’s memory of years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been “disappeared”, hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, and humiliated. That kind of rage, once it finds utterance, cannot easily be tamed, rebottled and sent back to where it came from.

A sudden twist of fate, an ill-conceived move over the transfer of 100 acres of state forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board (which manages the annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave deep in the Kashmir Himalayas) suddenly became the equivalent of tossing a lit match into a barrel of petrol. Until 1989 the Amarnath pilgrimage used to attract about 20,000 people who travelled to the Amarnath cave over a period of about two weeks. In 1990, when the overtly Islamist militant uprising in the valley coincided with the spread of virulent Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) in the Indian plains, the number of pilgrims began to increase exponentially. By 2008 more than 500,000 pilgrims visited the Amarnath cave, in large groups, their passage often sponsored by Indian business houses. To many people in the valley this dramatic increase in numbers was seen as an aggressive political statement by an increasingly Hindu-fundamentalist Indian state. Rightly or wrongly, the land transfer was viewed as the thin edge of the wedge. It triggered an apprehension that it was the beginning of an elaborate plan to build Israeli-style settlements, and change the demography of the valley.

Days of massive protest forced the valley to shut down completely. Within hours the protests spread from the cities to villages. Young stone pelters took to the streets and faced armed police who fired straight at them, killing several. For people as well as the government, it resurrected memories of the uprising in the early 90s. Throughout the weeks of protest, hartal (strikes) and police firing, while the Hindutva publicity machine charged Kashmiris with committing every kind of communal excess, the 500,000 Amarnath pilgrims completed their pilgrimage, not just unhurt, but touched by the hospitality they had been shown by local people.

Eventually, taken completely by surprise at the ferocity of the response, the government revoked the land transfer. But by then the land-transfer had become what Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the most senior and also the most overtly Islamist separatist leader, called a “non-issue”.

Massive protests against the revocation erupted in Jammu. There, too, the issue snowballed into something much bigger. Hindus began to raise issues of neglect and discrimination by the Indian state. (For some odd reason they blamed Kashmiris for that neglect.) The protests led to the blockading of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, the only functional road-link between Kashmir and India. Truckloads of perishable fresh fruit and valley produce began to rot.

The blockade demonstrated in no uncertain terms to people in Kashmir that they lived on sufferance, and that if they didn’t behave themselves they could be put under siege, starved, deprived of essential commodities and medical supplies.

To expect matters to end there was of course absurd. Hadn’t anybody noticed that in Kashmir even minor protests about civic issues like water and electricity inevitably turned into demands for azadi, freedom? To threaten them with mass starvation amounted to committing political suicide.

Not surprisingly, the voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar. Raised in a playground of army camps, checkpoints, and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. Not even the fear of death seems to hold them back. And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second largest army in the world?

There have been mass rallies in the past, but none in recent memory that have been so sustained and widespread. The mainstream political parties of Kashmir – National Conference and People’s Democratic party – appear dutifully for debates in New Delhi’s TV studios, but can’t muster the courage to appear on the streets of Kashmir. The armed militants who, through the worst years of repression were seen as the only ones carrying the torch of azadi forward, if they are around at all, seem content to take a back seat and let people do the fighting for a change.

The separatist leaders who do appear and speak at the rallies are not leaders so much as followers, being guided by the phenomenal spontaneous energy of a caged, enraged people that has exploded on Kashmir’s streets. Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people swarm around places that hold terrible memories for them. They demolish bunkers, break through cordons of concertina wire and stare straight down the barrels of soldiers’ machine guns, saying what very few in India want to hear. Hum Kya Chahtey? Azadi! (We want freedom.) And, it has to be said, in equal numbers and with equal intensity: Jeevey jeevey Pakistan. (Long live Pakistan.)

That sound reverberates through the valley like the drumbeat of steady rain on a tin roof, like the roll of thunder during an electric storm.

On August 15, India’s independence day, Lal Chowk, the nerve centre of Srinagar, was taken over by thousands of people who hoisted the Pakistani flag and wished each other “happy belated independence day” (Pakistan celebrates independence on August 14) and “happy slavery day”. Humour obviously, has survived India’s many torture centres and Abu Ghraibs in Kashmir.

On August 16 more than 300,000 people marched to Pampore, to the village of the Hurriyat leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who was shot down in cold blood five days earlier.

On the night of August 17 the police sealed the city. Streets were barricaded, thousands of armed police manned the barriers. The roads leading into Srinagar were blocked. On the morning of August 18, people began pouring into Srinagar from villages and towns across the valley. In trucks, tempos, jeeps, buses and on foot. Once again, barriers were broken and people reclaimed their city. The police were faced with a choice of either stepping aside or executing a massacre. They stepped aside. Not a single bullet was fired.

The city floated on a sea of smiles. There was ecstasy in the air. Everyone had a banner; houseboat owners, traders, students, lawyers, doctors. One said: “We are all prisoners, set us free.” Another said: “Democracy without freedom is demon-crazy.” Demon-crazy. That was a good one. Perhaps he was referring to the insanity that permits the world’s largest democracy to administer the world’s largest military occupation and continue to call itself a democracy.

There was a green flag on every lamp post, every roof, every bus stop and on the top of chinar trees. A big one fluttered outside the All India Radio building. Road signs were painted over. Rawalpindi they said. Or simply Pakistan. It would be a mistake to assume that the public expression of affection for Pakistan automatically translates into a desire to accede to Pakistan. Some of it has to do with gratitude for the support – cynical or otherwise – for what Kashmiris see as their freedom struggle, and the Indian state sees as a terrorist campaign. It also has to do with mischief. With saying and doing what galls India most of all. (It’s easy to scoff at the idea of a “freedom struggle” that wishes to distance itself from a country that is supposed to be a democracy and align itself with another that has, for the most part been ruled by military dictators. A country whose army has committed genocide in what is now Bangladesh. A country that is even now being torn apart by its own ethnic war. These are important questions, but right now perhaps it’s more useful to wonder what this so-called democracy did in Kashmir to make people hate it so?)

Everywhere there were Pakistani flags, everywhere the cry Pakistan se rishta kya? La illaha illallah. (What is our bond with Pakistan? There is no god but Allah.) Azadi ka matlab kya? La illaha illallah. (What does freedom mean? There is no god but Allah.)

For somebody like myself, who is not Muslim, that interpretation of freedom is hard – if not impossible – to understand. I asked a young woman whether freedom for Kashmir would not mean less freedom for her, as a woman. She shrugged and said “What kind of freedom do we have now? The freedom to be raped by Indian soldiers?” Her reply silenced me.

Surrounded by a sea of green flags, it was impossible to doubt or ignore the deeply Islamic fervour of the uprising taking place around me. It was equally impossible to label it a vicious, terrorist jihad. For Kashmiris it was a catharsis. A historical moment in a long and complicated struggle for freedom with all the imperfections, cruelties and confusions that freedom struggles have. This one cannot by any means call itself pristine, and will always be stigmatised by, and will some day, I hope, have to account for, among other things, the brutal killings of Kashmiri Pandits in the early years of the uprising, culminating in the exodus of almost the entire Hindu community from the Kashmir valley.

As the crowd continued to swell I listened carefully to the slogans, because rhetoric often holds the key to all kinds of understanding. There were plenty of insults and humiliation for India: Ay jabiron ay zalimon, Kashmir hamara chhod do (Oh oppressors, Oh wicked ones, Get out of our Kashmir.) The slogan that cut through me like a knife and clean broke my heart was this one: Nanga bhookha Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan. (Naked, starving India, More precious than life itself – Pakistan.)

Why was it so galling, so painful to listen to this? I tried to work it out and settled on three reasons. First, because we all know that the first part of the slogan is the embarrassing and unadorned truth about India, the emerging superpower. Second, because all Indians who are not nanga or bhooka are and have been complicit in complex and historical ways with the elaborate cultural and economic systems that make Indian society so cruel, so vulgarly unequal. And third, because it was painful to listen to people who have suffered so much themselves mock others who suffer, in different ways, but no less intensely, under the same oppressor. In that slogan I saw the seeds of how easily victims can become perpetrators.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani began his address with a recitation from the Qur’an. He then said what he has said before, on hundreds of occasions. The only way for the struggle to succeed, he said, was to turn to the Qur’an for guidance. He said Islam would guide the struggle and that it was a complete social and moral code that would govern the people of a free Kashmir. He said Pakistan had been created as the home of Islam, and that that goal should never be subverted. He said just as Pakistan belonged to Kashmir, Kashmir belonged to Pakistan. He said minority communities would have full rights and their places of worship would be safe. Each point he made was applauded.

I imagined myself standing in the heart of a Hindu nationalist rally being addressed by the Bharatiya Janata party’s (BJP) LK Advani. Replace the word Islam with the word Hindutva, replace the word Pakistan with Hindustan, replace the green flags with saffron ones and we would have the BJP’s nightmare vision of an ideal India.

Is that what we should accept as our future? Monolithic religious states handing down a complete social and moral code, “a complete way of life”? Millions of us in India reject the Hindutva project. Our rejection springs from love, from passion, from a kind of idealism, from having enormous emotional stakes in the society in which we live. What our neighbours do, how they choose to handle their affairs does not affect our argument, it only strengthens it.

Arguments that spring from love are also fraught with danger. It is for the people of Kashmir to agree or disagree with the Islamist project (which is as contested, in equally complex ways, all over the world by Muslims, as Hindutva is contested by Hindus). Perhaps now that the threat of violence has receded and there is some space in which to debate views and air ideas, it is time for those who are part of the struggle to outline a vision for what kind of society they are fighting for. Perhaps it is time to offer people something more than martyrs, slogans and vague generalisations. Those who wish to turn to the Qur’an for guidance will no doubt find guidance there. But what of those who do not wish to do that, or for whom the Qur’an does not make place? Do the Hindus of Jammu and other minorities also have the right to self-determination? Will the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits living in exile, many of them in terrible poverty, have the right to return? Will they be paid reparations for the terrible losses they have suffered? Or will a free Kashmir do to its minorities what India has done to Kashmiris for 61 years? What will happen to homosexuals and adulterers and blasphemers? What of thieves and lafangas and writers who do not agree with the “complete social and moral code”? Will we be put to death as we are in Saudi Arabia? Will the cycle of death, repression and bloodshed continue? History offers many models for Kashmir’s thinkers and intellectuals and politicians to study. What will the Kashmir of their dreams look like? Algeria? Iran? South Africa? Switzerland? Pakistan?

At a crucial time like this, few things are more important than dreams. A lazy utopia and a flawed sense of justice will have consequences that do not bear thinking about. This is not the time for intellectual sloth or a reluctance to assess a situation clearly and honestly.

Already the spectre of partition has reared its head. Hindutva networks are alive with rumours about Hindus in the valley being attacked and forced to flee. In response, phone calls from Jammu reported that an armed Hindu militia was threatening a massacre and that Muslims from the two Hindu majority districts were preparing to flee. Memories of the bloodbath that ensued and claimed the lives of more than a million people when India and Pakistan were partitioned have come flooding back. That nightmare will haunt all of us forever.

However, none of these fears of what the future holds can justify the continued military occupation of a nation and a people. No more than the old colonial argument about how the natives were not ready for freedom justified the colonial project.

Of course there are many ways for the Indian state to continue to hold on to Kashmir. It could do what it does best. Wait. And hope the people’s energy will dissipate in the absence of a concrete plan. It could try and fracture the fragile coalition that is emerging. It could extinguish this non-violent uprising and re-invite armed militancy. It could increase the number of troops from half a million to a whole million. A few strategic massacres, a couple of targeted assassinations, some disappearances and a massive round of arrests should do the trick for a few more years.

The unimaginable sums of public money that are needed to keep the military occupation of Kashmir going is money that ought by right to be spent on schools and hospitals and food for an impoverished, malnutritioned population in India. What kind of government can possibly believe that it has the right to spend it on more weapons, more concertina wire and more prisons in Kashmir?

The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all. It allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims in Kashmir.

India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as – if not more than – Kashmir needs azadi from India.

· Arundhati Roy, 2008. A longer version of this article will be available tomorrow at

Playing with fire in Jammu & Kashmir

August 17, 2008

Praful Bidwai | The News International, August 17, 2008

Jammu and Kashmir is burning. Jammu has witnessed an intensely chauvinist, communal and violent agitation for over seven weeks over the cancellation of an order transferring 100 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. This is pitting Jammu against Kashmir, ethnic groups against other ethnic groups, and Hindus against Muslims in dangerous new ways.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has politicised and exploited the agitation cynically. It imposed an economic blockade which closed the Jammu-Srinagar highway for weeks and brought goods transportation to a halt, causing great public suffering.

The explosion of intolerance in Jammu is reproduced like a mirror-image in the Kashmir Valley, where mainstream parties joined separatists in marching to Muzaffarabad with the ostensible aim of selling perishable fruit in Pakistani Kashmir—just when the blockade was lifted. More than 20 people were killed in condemnable, highhanded police action.

The twin agitations threaten J&K’s unity and plural, multi-cultural, and multi-religious character in unprecedented ways. In less than two months, the BJP has succeeded in driving an emotional and political wedge between Jammu and Kashmir—something that jihadi separatists working with Pakistani agencies couldn’t achieve in the nearly 20 years of the azadi movement.

The origins of the present ferment go back to the state government’s decision to establish the SASB, thus interfering gratuitously with spontaneous Hindu-Muslim cooperation in organising the pilgrimage for decades. It has promoted this on a gigantic scale.

Matters came to a head last May when the Congress-People’s Democratic Party government illegally transferred forest land to the SASB. This triggered militant protests in the Valley.

Hurriyat moderates and the PDP joined hardline separatists in giving a communal colour to the land transfer, prompting its cancellation—only to provoke counter-protests in Jammu, which were taken over by the BJP through the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti.

The twin agitations have deepened communal polarisation, and radicalised both Hurriyat and Hindutva hardliners.

The Centre failed to enforce the law and open the Jammu-Srinagar highway until it was too late. Its belated attempt to defuse the situation through an 18-member all-party committee hasn’t made headway.

The SASS wants the land re-transferred to the SASB and Governor N N Vohra removed. Such demands are vindictive or totally devoid of political rationality. This only shows that the BJP wants to prolong the Jammu crisis and milk it politically.

The SASS, a 28-group network, is basically a Sangh Parivar enterprise. Its three top leaders—Leelakaran Sharma, Mahant Dinesh Bharti and Brig (Retd) Suchet Singh—have RSS backgrounds and are closely linked with the J&K National Front, which demands the state’s trifurcation: Jammu and Kashmir as separate states, and Ladakh a Union Territory.

The demand is despicably communal. No wonder the RSS national council backed it in 2001. In the 2002 Assembly elections, the RSS supported the Jammu State Morcha, which demands statehood for Jammu.

Any division of Jammu and Kashmir along religious lines is a recipe for the separation of the Kashmir Valley from India. It will harden and freeze two opposing identities—a “Muslim Kashmir,” and a “Hindu Jammu.” Nothing could better help the Valley’s discredited pro-Pakistan Islamic separatists like Syed Ali Shah Gilani, who oppose a pluralist, secular identity for Kashmir.

The demand for trifurcating J&K will play straight into the hands of Pakistani hardliners who want to erase whatever progress has been made in informal talks seeking a solution to the Kashmir problem without redrawing boundaries, and who want to retrogress to the perspective of securing Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan—as part of “the unfinished agendas of Partition.”

Why has the BJP embarked on this dangerous course? It’s desperate to rescue its sagging fortunes by finding any issue on which to win support. It’s organising traffic blockades on the Amarnath issue nationally and mouthing shopworn clichés like “injustice to Hindus.”

The BJP even brazenly denies that there ever was an economic blockade in J&K! General secretary Arun Jaitley calls this “a myth” and contends that the Jammu agitation is entirely peaceful.

Yet, Jammu’s protestors, who increasingly resemble Hindutva’s storm troopers in Gujarat-2002 in appearance, have indulged in stone- and acid-throwing attacks on truck drivers. According to the far-from-hostile state government, Jammu has witnessed 10,513 protests and 359 “serious incidents of violence” on the Amarnath issue, in which 28 government buildings, 15 police vehicles and 118 private vehicles were damaged.

Eighty cases of communal violence were registered, in which 20 persons were injured and 72 Gujjar homes were burnt.

As many as 117 police personnel and 78 civilians were injured in the Jammu violence, and 129 cases were registered and 1,171 arrests made. Schools, colleges, government offices and hospitals were paralysed.

Grievances in Jammu, many of them legitimate, took this regrettably violent expression thanks to communalism’s baneful effect.

The BJP was pivotal in planning and executing this violence. Its leaders have gone Back to Basics—unembellished, crude, super-sectarian Hindutva.

L K Advani just can’t wait to become prime minister. His speeches have become shrill, and his body language has changed. This is no longer the Advani who wanted to inherit the “moderate” Vajpayee legacy. This is the Advani of many past Rathyatras—aggressive, warlike, spewing communal venom, and leaving a trail of blood.

Advani will now stoop to any level to collect political brownie points, regardless of the issue. The other day, the issue was the UPA government’s alleged weakness in the face of terrorism. Then, it was the India-US nuclear deal, the culmination of a long process the BJP itself initiated, and which its urban-middle-class core constituency supports.

Now, Advani is drumming up Hindu-chauvinist hysteria over 100 acres of land, laying claim to it on the specious ground that the Hindus must have the first claim to land anywhere in India by virtue of their numerical majority—and hence primacy.

This is an egregiously, if not classically, anti-secular proposition.

Why is the BJP so desperate? Barely one month ago, after a series of Assembly wins, it had primed itself up into believing that its victory was imminent in the next Lok Sabha. It even started announcing candidates.

But the BJP was badly checkmated during the confidence vote. It lost it—despite trying every trick in the book. Worse, Advani was eclipsed by Mayawati’s dramatic emergence as an alternative.

The BJP’s plans went awry. The victorious and now aggressive Manmohan Singh couldn’t be convincingly depicted as “India’s weakest-ever prime minister.” The BJP botched up its in manipulative political act, where it’s supposedly unmatched.

It wanted to create a Bofors out of the cash-for-votes “sting.” But after the CNN-IBN tapes’ telecast, that looks like collusive but ineffective “entrapment.”

The highest number of MPs defying their party whip during the confidence vote were from the BJP. Thanks to its MPs’ involvement in the “cash-for-questions” scam, human trafficking, and the latest acts of defiance, the BJP has lost 17 of its original 137 Lok Sabha seats.

The National Democratic Alliance once had 24 members. Now it’s down to five.

As trouble brews in all of its state units, the BJP will use inflammatory tactics to buoy up its fortunes. The Indian public will have to pay the price—unless it sends the party packing.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights
activist based in Delhi. Email:

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