A wild-goose chase in Kashmir

By Sameer Arshad

Reports about the Centre’s attempts to fuel sectarianism in Jammu & Kashmir have revived the debate about its dangers while drawing parallels with a similar disastrous strategy involving Sikh fundamentalist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale that culminated in the siege of Amritsar’s Golden Temple and triggered insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s. But importantly, the reports have reinforced perceptions that the Centre behaves like a colonial power in the state and in this case seeks to emulate the most effective British divide-and-rule policy that allowed them to colonize the subcontinent for nearly two centuries besides laying the foundations for the two-nation theory. It fuels concerns over the threats to the freedom of religion as one sect is sought to be given official patronage as if sectarian lines are cast in stone and are not blurred by other greater binding forces.

The policy seems to be designed - not the first time though – to present the Kashmir problem in a way that it dovetails with the international Islamophobic narrative. By presenting it as part of the global problem of “fundamentalist Islam’’, it becomes easier for the government to wash its hands off in the events like that of 2010 when around 120 people, including kids as young as nine and women, were killed in firings on Kashmiris protesting another extrajudicial killings of civilians branded as “terrorists”.

The projection of Kashmiris as the threatening “fundamentalist other’’ provides an excuse to the government to continue with laws like the AFSPA that deny the fundamental right to life. It comes particularly handy as the state now has no justification for carrying on with the oppressive laws as Jammu & Kashmir has been among the peaceful areas in the last few years. More civilians have died in attacks on Mumbai and Delhi since 2008 than those in J&K.

The policy seems to be a part of a pattern like the one reflected in how the debate over alcohol consumption in the Valley was orchestrated in the media to present Kashmiris as fundamentalists last year despite the fact that several bars remain functional. For many, the concern for promoting alcohol seemed to be bigger than challenging the miscarriage of justice in the state and revocation of the most inhuman laws that provide immunity to abusers in uniform that even occupation forces in Iraq did not enjoy. This was again done when overzealous mullas hounded out a Christian priest over alleged conversions. Earlier, anonymous letters warning Sikhs to leave Kashmir at the height of 2010 killings was sought to be painted as example of Kashmiri bigotry to divert attention from the mass civilian killings. The policy underlines that the root of all problems between Srinagar and New Delhi --mistrust largely due to J&K’s different demographic realities – remains.

Crucially, the policy underscores the flawed understanding of Islam and Kashmir and how Kashmiris are seen as the other, who cannot be regular people, but essentially ideologically-inclined threatening people needed to be kept under watch.

Despite the strategy behind the policy, it is a futile exercise as the Kashmiri identity subsumes other identities including the ones on sectarian lines. An extreme sense of collective suffering at the state’s hands particularly in the last 20 years has further bound people like never before to frustrate designs aimed at promoting sectarianism. Kashmiris argue that the state’s guns have made no distinction between various sects since. It did not do so in the massacres like the one in Gaw Kadal in the 1990s, where dozens of people were shot dead, thrown into the Jhelum and left to bleed until death. Further, no matter what the state may like people to believe in case of the burning of the Charar-e-Sharif shrine of Kashmir’s patron saint Noor-udin-Noorani - whose sect is sought to be patronised-- people see it as a part of the policy of arson as a counter-insurgency tool in the 1990s that was also used in places like Sopore that was burnt to ground after a militant hit-and-run attack in 1993. Such arson attacks made no sectarian distinctions.

Moreover, the resentment against the state stigmatizes any association with its coercive arms. The policy is bound to be doomed since one such covert arm is seen to be involved in implementing the policy of fuelling sectarianism. The arm is among many status-quoits within the establishment, who seek to ensure that Jammu & Kashmir continues to be seen as a dangerous place full of “crazy fundamentalists’’ and remains a cash cow for them in the name of fighting them.

Even top elected officials – albeit off the record - acknowledge that such vested interests wield disproportionate influence in the state’s affairs and the situation is unlikely to change as the state’s paranoia would ensure that they would continue to rule the roost. (

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 August 2012 on page no. 2

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