“A tree won’t fall with a single blow”. Turkish proverb
A failed coup attempt by some members of Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) in July 2016 made international headlines for few days. The news quickly faded away and firm clamp down and a purge inside Turkey prevented any detailed information about the dramatic changes in Turkish Armed Forces in the last two decades.
Events of July 2016 were the final phase of the demise of the first republic established by the country’s founder Kamal Ataturk and emergence of second republic. Turkish Armed Forces assigned themselves the role of guardian of the republic and were a dominant force for almost a century. TAF directly intervened several times while at other times removed civilian governments by orchestrating events behind the scene if they perceived any deviation from the Kamalist secular vision. Turkish Armed Forces have finally met their tragic end and moved out of the power center. Continue reading “Turkish Turbulence – Shock Therapy for Turkish Armed Forces”
At the outset I must say that I am a Kashmiri Pandit, born in the 80s in Srinagar and my family (and I) were forced to migrate from the Valley in the early 90s. I have summarized my experience on brownpundits earlier. In this third of a series, I’d like to analyse the reason why Kashmiri Muslims were, and significant sections of Muslims still remain, disaffected with India. [Please note that what you’re going to read is my opinion, which may contain some bias in spite of my best efforts to correct it. Much as I try to remain objective about Kashmir’s politics generally, it is not humanly possible to isolate my thoughts from my experience.]
The short (but simplistic) reason behind the disaffection of Kashmiri Muslims from India is politicized religion, i.e. Islam. However, like all problems in the physical world, reducing explanations to simplistic binaries is never a very good idea. Therefore, some exploration of the context of Islam/Muslims in Kashmir is necessary. What people (especially Indians) should realize is that the group they refer to as “Kashmiri Muslims” is far from being a homogeneous group, and unsurprisingly like any human society not all of them think alike. Secondly, when we speak about “anti-India sentiments” amongst Kashmiri Muslims, one should try to form a nuanced understanding of what exactly is anti-India in those sentiments.
I’d like to begin by a disambiguation about Muslims of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, for the next few paragraphs, before delving into their disaffection (or lack thereof) with the Indian State. Here’s a detailed ethno-linguistic map of the (erstwhile) state of J&K:
The dark oval-shaped region that you see above is the Kashmir Valley, surrounded by the Pir Panjal (< Skt. pira panchala) range. As the figure shows, the dark Kashmiri-speaking region (entirely within Indian boundaries by the way) is circumscribed by the diagonal (descending) pattern which corresponds to Gojri in the legend. The sliver of land, immediately to the west of the Line of Control is patterned differently and is inhabited by Lehnda/Pothowari speakers. To the East of the Valley, we have the Shina and Ladakhi regions, occupying the lion’s share of the landmass of the state of J&K. To the South the pattern changes again as people speak Dogri (< Skt. dvigarta, dialects akin to Pothowari in Pakistan administered regions and to Himachal Pahari), and to the very sparsely populated North, Dardic (Shina, Burusho, Pashai etc) dialects dominate.
Clearly, Kashmiri Muslims form a subset, an important subset (but a subset nonetheless) of the undivided state of Jammu & Kashmir. Non-Kashmiri Muslims of J&K also include some prominent Dogra Muslims, e.g. ex-CM of J&K and a cabinet minister in many Congress/UPA governments, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Dogri singer Malika Pukhraj (who emigrated to Pakistan), tabla-nawaz Ostad Allah-rakha (Ostad Zakir Husain’s father) etc. This is what Dogri language sounds like (a rather famous Dogri folk piece sung by Malika Pukhraj ironically on PTV – all place names mentioned: Paprole, Lakesar, Nadaun etc are in Jammu & Himachal by the way):
The Gojri-speaking Gujjar-Bakerwals (one of India’s scheduled tribes) are semi-nomadic pastoralists who move from mountains to the Valley with seasons. The Gojri-speaking cattle-herders can be found from Kashmir to Northern Rajasthan (and parts of Indian and Pakistani Punjab in between) and, at least in India, Hindu and Muslim Gujjars self-identify as a single ethnic group. E.g. during the Gujjar-agitation by Rajasthani Gujjars to get Scheduled Tribe status (which implies positive discrimination in education and jobs), Muslim Gujjars of J&K joined the rioting. Gujjars of J&K have also been at the forefront of demands for raising a Gujjar Regiment of the Indian Army and Muslim Gujjars currently form the backbone of the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry. Unsurprisingly, the only BJP MLA from a Muslim majority border constituency in J&K is a Gujjar. The Indian SC/ST reservation system, pasture-land and grazing rights and support for Gojri language (part of the Western Rajasthani/Marwari dialect cluster) and culture by the Indian Government over the last 70 years has been a major factor in main-streaming of this community. Muslim Gujjars make up around 20-25% of J&K Muslim population and are a sizeable votebank. Furthermore, Gujjars were traditionally looked down upon by the settled Kashmiri population of the Valley and attitudes to them were no different to notions about, say, gypsies in Europe – an uncouth people who excel at thieving and petty crime. I’ve personally seen various instances of this discrimination first-hand, in one case against Gujjar children. All of these factors make Muslim Gujjars of J&K one of the most stoutly pro-India constituencies.
Furthermore, J&K has Shina and Ladakhi-speaking (predominantly Shi’a) Muslims in the Kargil region to the North of the Valley. They are racially, ethno-linguistically and due to their Shia-belief also in religion distinct from the majority Sunni Kashmiri Muslims of the Valley. Note that Kashmiri Muslims themselves have a Shia sub-group (around 20% of the Valley’s Muslim population and primarily resident in the North of the Valley). Some of the Shia families are actually of mixed Indo-Iranian descent and were instrumental in introducing Persian carpet-weaving skills to Kashmir. The Kashmiri rug trade is almost completely in the hands of the Shia, and all Kashmiri Shia traders plying their trade in rugs and shawls can be found in all corners of the country. Kashmiri Shia too have a strong pro-India bias, and Shia recruitment into the Indian army from North Kashmir villages is commonplace.
The Kashmiri-speaking Muslims (primarily Sunnis) are the predominant ethnic group of the Valley. They are almost completely descended from the Hindu population (of different castes) before Islam came to dominate the Valley from the 15th century onwards. In some cases, the caste-mandated occupational distinction called kram in Kashmiri (< Skt. karma; work, guild) still survives. E.g. Surnames like Wani (K. wonyh < Skt. vaNika; cf. Hindi baniya) is the class of tradespeople and shopkeepers, Batt (K. baTh < Skt. bhaTa; lit. mercenary, soldier), Tantray (K. tantray < Skt. tantriNa; soldier – word attested only in the Rajatarangini for soldiers of Kashmir’s kings), Pandith (K. paendyith < Skt. panDitaH; scholar, teacher, brahmin), Dar (K. Daar < Skt. Damara; agriculturalist feudals of Kashmir Valley, analogous to Jatts of Punjab or the dehghan of Iran),Lone (K. loan < Skt. lavanya; a class of Kashmiri damaras, see below) are common amongst Kashmiri Muslims.
It has to be said that unlike many Muslim communities of the plains on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, Kashmiri Muslims almost never try to concoct any Middle-Eastern/Central-Asian descent, in spite of the fact that Kashmiri Muslims are much more recent converts than say Muslims of Sindh, Punjab or Gangetic belt. However there has been an urban legend about Kashmiri descent from Jewish tribes, which is easily dismissed given zero evidence in any pre-Islamic Sanskrit chronicles of Kashmir (which are numerous and detailed) and no tell-tale genetic imprint. In general, any Kashmiri Muslim will straight-up admit to their forefathers converting to Islam from Hinduism, and I have even known Muslim families (converted Pandits) to hang on to the yajnopavit threads of the paternal ancestors lest throwing them may bring ill will of the departed. Needless to add, Kashmiri Muslims are genetically indistinguishable from the Hindu Pandits.
Given the above background, when one thinks about the views of Muslims of Jammu & Kashmir on India, one needs to keep these important ethnic / religious distinctions in mind. The rest of this post is concerned with Kashmiri-speaking Muslims of the Valley of Kashmir, wherein the disaffection with India is the strongest.
Per se criticism of India is a national right and being anti-some-aspect-of-India is not just expected, but necessary in a functioning democracy. There can be no improvement in functioning of a society or government without voicing criticism and all such “anti-India” activities should be very welcome. Many of the anti-India sentiments expressed by the Muslims of the Valley are very genuine and a person like me would support these over knee-jerk patriotism any day. The vocal opposition to AFSPA, which a draconian law fit for totalitarian states rather than democracies, is a genuine “anti-India” sentiment. So, is the criticism of the Indian State for mass-disappearances of many locals, detentions without trial, encounter killings, torture of innocents and militants alike and other such terrible excesses and the demand for punitive justice in these cases are the duties of every Indian citizen. The rule and due process of the law are not things that a state can suspend at will or apply arbitrarily when it chooses it. Sticking to them, in face of the gravest of provocations, is absolutely necessary for the functioning of a state that would like to call itself civilized. In that respect, India falls way short of the mark.
In all of this, one should not lose sight of who/what is this “Indian State” that has been doing these terrible things. Unlike China, it is not an unelected party of individuals driven by some ideology. Nor is it a military-driven deep state like in Egypt or Pakistan, or a Majles of clerics like in Iran, or an absolute Monarchy like Saudi Arabia. The Indian State is its citizens, who vote for representatives to legislate and govern India. Whatever the state machinery does to citizens in a democracy is their collective responsibility and people can lobby against such policies and remove governments with such policies. The voting out of the Indira Gandhi led Congress government in the aftermath of the Emergency is a case in point. Therefore, nothing really stops the local representatives (elected Members of the Legislative Assembly, of whom, interestingly BJP represents the largest voteshare) from lobbying MPs or Ministers in the Parliament for change of laws.
While referendums are generally a terrible idea in any parliamentary democracy (esp. one as large and diverse and with so many social/ethnic/economic faultlines as India’s), I would not mind an independence referendum for Jammu & Kashmir on the same lines as the Scottish independence referendum either, in fact. The caveat, however, is that the means to achieve that (say via peaceful lobbying of Indian MPs and public opinion) ought to be as moral as the end. Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri minorities doesn’t quite meet that standard.
In addition to these genuine criticisms, anti-India sentiments amongst Kashmiri Muslims also include a host of other uncharitable views against the Indian State that are genuinely indefensible. These include expressions of any intention of violence against Indian democracy, ethnic-cleansing of minority populations, of support for totalitarian / genocidal states like ISIS or calls for religious war / revolution. It is the expression of this latter category of sentiments that any citizen of India must oppose.
Reports and witnesses said that huge number of people turned up for the funeral of Najar, a resident of Batapora in Sopore, and it was held twice. The witnesses said that body of Qayoom Najar was wrapped in black flag of Al Qaeda and ISIS while slogans in favour of Ansar Ghazwatul Hind chief Zakir Musa were also shouted by mourners.
The evidence is fairly incontrovertible that the people who express anti-India sentiments of the second category are indeed Kashmiri Muslims. The question still remains, why are the second category of views (which are frankly despicable) expressed by some Kashmiri Muslims at all? While, I am no sociologist, and my understanding on this matter could well be mistaken, I think the reason has to do with the total hijacking of the old (and largely bi-partisan) movement of Kashmir’s political independence by right-wing Jamiat-e Eslami or Islamist sympathizing elements from the late 40s onwards.
Himalayan regions like Kashmir (or Nepal, Bhutan etc) have always been politically distinct from the Indo-Gangetic plains. This isn’t just true today but was true from the very early days of Kashmir’s self-image as a single political entity. Note, historical references to Kashmir only refer to the Valley of Kashmir. Unlike other parts of the Indian sub-continent, the medieval history of Kashmir has been very well documented, and ample evidence from the Rajataranginis indicates how Kashmiris then saw Kashmir as a politically distinct entity (more on this in my next post).
The same expression of political independence finds voice in pre-modern Kashmiri folklore as well and many Kashmiri intellectuals (both Hindu and Muslim) bemoaned the lack of independence of Kashmiris, first under the Moghals, then Afghans and finally the Sikhs/Dogras. The movement of political independence from the Dogra monarchy (Dogras being Pahari-speaking Hindu Rajputs of southern Pir Panjal, Jammu and modern-day Himachal) sowed the first seeds of the Azadi movement in the Valley, with both Pandit and Muslim ideologues in support. The largely secular / bi-partisan nature of this movement was solely to democratize the region, by overthrowing the monarchy – much like similar movements in Nepal against the Gorkha Shah/Rana dynasties or even the secular political movement against the Pahlavi Shahs of Iran.
This realization resulted in Nadim’s almost exclusive concentration on Kashmiri. He had written his first Kashmiri poem in 1942 on “Maej Kashir” (“Mother Kashmir”), an appropriate topic for a time when Kashmir was passing through a critical phase with the mass movement slogan “Quit Kashmir” challenging the established Dogra dynasty
However, the “secular” nature of this movement (like other such movements in Iran or West Asia) slowly evapourated as the Islamists hijacked the entire narrative – especially after the Partition and Pakistan’s active support of such “Jehadis”. The rise of Zia-ul Haq in Pakistan, which coincided with the Afghan Jehad and copious amounts of money (Saudi and American) being transferred to the radical Islamic seminaries in Northern Pakistan led to a tremendous shot-in-the-arm for Kashmiri Islamists. That is the time (late 80s) when we witnessed the rise of overtly Islamist tanzeems in Kashmir: Harkat-ul Mujahedeen, Allah Tigers, Lashkar-e Tayyaba, Jaish-e Mohamed etc, who now are inextricably tied to the modern global Jehadist narrative. The ethnic cleaning of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley was a logical implication of this Kashmiri Islamism and remains a bleeding sore.
Today, most of the “Azadi” speak of Kashmiri Muslims is a thinly veiled aspiration for an Islamo-fascist utopia, a kind of Lebensraum for Muslims. Obviously, we already have the first Lebensraum for Muslims of South Asia next-door in the shape of Pakistan, so the mutual camaraderie is rather de jure. This yearning for a Lebensraum also explains the rather recent trend of unfurling ISIS flags from mosques in Kashmir and overt support of Kashmiri militant leaders to the global Jehadist cause.
“These are Rohingya terrorists who killed Buddhist monks in Myanmar,” the monk said in his live commentary on Facebook, pointing to Rohingya mothers with small children in their arms.
Sri Lanka’s extremist Buddhist monks have close links with their ultra-nationalist counterparts in Myanmar. Both have been accused of orchestrating violence against minority Muslims in the two countries.
South Asians understand that the power of religion as opposed to race more than most people. The craven and obsequious respect granted to Arabs (and to a lesser extent Iranians and Turks) by South Asian Muslims is so natural and taken-for-granted that it only seems that way to outsiders. Despite the fact that Muslims and Hindus of any given region are clearly related by blood (in some cases, whole portions of castes convert in toto), they often speak as if they are racially distinct. Muslims somewhat sincerely, but affirming obviously false West Asian Asian, and Hindus more performatively, by asserting that India is for the Hindu race, from which Muslims are excluded.
The above story is a different dimension: the identification of Sri Lankan Buddhism monks with the Buddhist Burmese against the Rohingya. There is some historical background to this, as both the Sinhala and Burmese are predominantly Theravada Buddhist peoples. During periods of Buddhist decline in Sri Lanka lineages were reinforced form Burma, and vice versa.
The Rohingya, as I have stated, are racially really no different from the people of Bengal. And like Bengalis the Sinhala are a dark-skinned South Asian people (there are still debates as to whether the Indo-European language in Sri Lanka came from Gujarat or Bengal). The Sri Lankans I’ve met could easily pass as Bengali, and in general vice versa.
It’s an interesting observation from an American perspective, where race is the most salient factor in social-political identification. At least explicitly.
Recently I read a piece, Confronting White Supremacy in Christianity as a Christian South Asian, which is interesting from an anthropological perspective. After all, I don’t know what it’s like to be a progressive South Asian Christian, which is the perspective of this author. But as I read the piece I felt that it elided and conflated so much. A much deeper and richer story was being erased so as to serve up another illustration of the primacy of white supremacy.
If you read From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East you know that how white American Christians treat non-white Christians can be rather ridiculous. One of the stories I recall is of an Arab Christian waiter in Jerusalem who wore a cross, and was very irritated with white Americans with strong Southern accents would inquire when he had converted to Christ. This person of course privately scoffed, and reflected that when his ancestors had been Christians for centuries his customer’s ancestors were still worshipping pagan gods.
Here is a passage from the above piece which I think really confuses:
Christianity in India highlights a violent history of white supremacy through colonization and mass conversion by Europeans including, the Portuguese, Irish, Dutch, Italian, French, and English many of whom hold cultural influence that has remained to this day in places like Kerala, Pondicherry, and Goa. Similarly, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference in the diaspora. For instance, my family converted to Christianity while living under the Apartheid regime in South Africa, an entire system of white supremacy supported by ‘Christian’ values.
The writer is a young Canadian woman whose family is from South Africa of Indian heritage. Additionally, though she never is explicit about it, her family seems to be evangelical Protestant. This is an interesting perspective, but it is a totally different one from that of South Asian Christianity.
Bracketing Kerala with Pondicherry and Goa is simply misleading. Christians are nearly 20% of the population of Kerala, and most are St. Thomas Christians, whose origins predate European contact with India by many centuries. Originally part of the territory of the Persian Church of the East, modern St. Thomas Christians have splintered into numerous groups with varied affiliations, in part due to the trauma of contact with Portuguese Catholicism. But through it all they maintain an indigenous Christian identity which is distinct from any colonial imprint.
Second, large numbers of India’s Christians are converts from Dalit populations, or, tribal peoples in the Northeast who are racially and culturally distinct from other South Asians. The framing in the piece is that South Asian Christianity has to bear the cross of colonialism, but a good argument can be made that for Dalit converts and tribal groups in the Northeast Christianity is the vehicle for resistance to oppression, assimilation, and colonialism on the part of the dominant South Asian cultural matrix.
This is not to say that the piece does not speak to a real dynamic. North American white evangelical Protestantism is inordinately freighted with racialized baggage. And it is easy to reduce into the Manichaean framework of postcolonial theory, where whites are the sole agents of action in the world. But to the generality, Indian Christianity has many disparate threads, and this sort of reduction is misleading.
This is second in the series of posts on Kashmir (on its language, people, politics and culture). This one is my perspective on the specific targetting and ethnic cleansing of autochthonous Hindus (Kashmiri Pandits) from the Valley, euphemistically referred to as the Migration within the community. I realize that the politics of Kashmir as a topic can be controversial, even incendiary sometimes. Any political take on the topic is bound to ruffle someone’s feathers, and I imagine this post may ruffle a few. But then, as the rhetorical Kashmiri proverb goes pazar daryi, apzis kaeThyh katyi? [truth will stand, (but) where are lie’s knees?]
Kashmiri society became increasingly politically Islamized in the late 80s. This was partly a result of the Afghan Jihad and the copious resources that the Americans (and Saudis) pumped into Pakistan, which was under (surprise, surprise!) military control at the time led by Zia al-Haq. A sizable fraction of the money was funnelled by Pakistani military junta to support Pakistan’s proxies in Kashmir. For more on Pakistani military junta’s dalliances with the US and Arabs see this and this.
Besides the Cold War, the larger geo-political situation in the 80s (in India and its near abroad) was nothing to write home about. An Islamic theocracy had recently taken control in Iran, ethno-religious (Sikh) insurgency was going strong in Indian Punjab (many Hindus were killed in Punjab, followed by mass rioting and killing of Sikhs and general lawlessness in the capital and across North India after Indira Gandhi’s assassination), while the statist-socialist License Raj economics bled India dry. To make matters worse in the latter half of the 80s, the Indian Army was also sucked into a pointless counter-insurgency offensive in Sri Lanka against the dreaded LTTE, whom ironically the Indians had trained only a few years earlier. Social fissures exposed by the politics of caste and reservations (cf. Mandal commission) were festering too. In short, in the run up to the 90s the Indian state was beset by deep crises: politically unstable, economically near-bankrupt and socially volatile.
This was the time when many of the training camps in Northern Punjab and so-called “Azad Kashmir” (in reality neither Azad nor Kashmir – more on that in the next instalment) were being set-up and run by veterans of the Afghan Jihad against the Soviets. In that respect, the Pakistani Army was trying to do what it had always done – use the people (primarily tribals) of its peripheral hinterlands as cheap cannon-fodder to engage a larger enemy. The porous mountainous borders of the Line-of-Control made infiltration rather easy. Nor was cash a problem (fake Indian currency came later), as the entire Jihadist economy of Kashmir in the early 90s ran on the greenback. I have personally seen wads of US dollar bills (and an AK47 concealed under the phyeran) with a student of my dad’s, who (I now suspect) couldn’t help showing it off to me as I was just a kid.
The infiltration into the Valley and strengthening of the hardline Islamist extremist fringe (backed by Pakistan) within the Valley’s Muslims put the, small but influential, Kashmiri Pandit minority in an alarmingly difficult position. A short note on who Kashmiri Pandits are is probably necessary at this point.
[With the Vedas, the six appendices, with the Pada and Krama (texts), with Vedanta and Siddhanta, logic and grammar, Purana recitation, with Mantras and the traditional sects. With its masses of Puranic, Vedic (śruti) and logic disciplines (tarkaśAstra), and, moreover, marked by Agnihotrins (fire priests), with Brahmins (vipra) devoted to meditation, asceticism, recitation and so on, and zealously engaged with ablutions, worship, and the like ... the land of Kashmir is the best - Dvitiya Rajatarangini of Jonaraja composed during the reign of Zayn al-Abidin]
Kashmiri Pandits are the Brahmins of the Kashmir Valley, who largely survived numerous changes in the volatile political climate of Kashmir Valley until the present day as a single, cohesive community. However, Muslim rule in the Kashmir Valley since the 14th century, forced a sub-division within the Pandits into karkun and goaru/zutish classes, the former taking up employment of the state (as scribes, historians, administrators, tax collectors, civil servants etc) and the latter as the sub-priestly class exclusively performing the rites & ceremonies. This function continued as Kashmir passed from the hands of local Chak (cf. Skt. chakra) Sultans to the Moghals to Afghans to Sikhs to Dogras (under the British) and finally to the Indian Republic. Similar to other states and regions of India, the Pandits/Brahmins of Kashmir constituted 4-5% of the population of the Valley. However, owing to their traditional access to education, and other cultural attributes (honed over centuries of living under, what essentially was, foreign occupation), representation of Pandits in the cultural, educational and technical spheres, legal services and bureaucracy was an order-of-magnitude higher than their fraction in the general population. Under the Moghals, Sikhs and then the British, Kashmiri Pandit communities thrived in pre-Partition Lahore and Peshawar, and also in Delhi and Lucknow. Notable members include the Nehrus, descended from a scholar of Persian, Raj Kaul, a Moghal courtier under Farrokhsiyar. Dinanath Razdan was the Divan of the Sikh Empire in Lahore. Mohammed Iqbal Lahori descended from the Sapru family (one of whom, son of the Divan of Barakzai Pashtuns in Kashmir, married a Muslim lady and was excommunicated from the Kashmiri Pandit fold). Generations of Dhars, Kauls, Razdans, Saprus, Katjus, Duranis, Nehrus etc have provided numerous Indian civil servants, diplomats, scientists, professors, lawyers and judges, politicians and military chiefs since Independence.
The predicament Kashmiri Pandits found themselves in the early 90s was rather grave. Hit lists by the early Jihadi tanzeems featuring Kashmiri Pandit names were commonplace. I recall some names from my childhood as JKLF, Allah Tigers, Harkat al-Mujahideen whose hit-lists (i.e. lists of names pinned to electricity poles overnight in neighbourhoods across Srinagar) I have seen personally. Some of the Pandit names on these lists were related to Police or Defence Forces, but many were Judges, Doctors, Professors, Surgeons, Civil Servants etc (including few of my family’s acquaintances and relatives). Common Muslims, esp. in the rural hinterland, of the Valley did not bear grudges against the Pandits, and there are many stories of how close ties were between Pandit and Muslim families. However, a systemic anti-Pandit bias did exist amongst some elements of the more urban Muslim bourgeoisie: begrudging the economic and social status of Pandits coupled with the typical Islam-is-superior spiel. While such views can be common in a jostle of cultures and usually not dangerous, they are kept in check by a natural equilibrium (cross-cultural tolerance) that a settled society achieves after centuries of co-evolution. But this social equilibrium can be easily damaged if violent extremist voices are left unchecked, which is essentially what happened in Kashmir 80s onwards.
The type of people who joined the tanzeems in Kashmir in the late 80s and early 90s were the local thugs and ruffians, many engaged in petty crime (or with some sort of criminal record), largely unemployed and easy to sway into some grandiose-sounding religio-political rhetoric. Many of them found complete sanction of their narrow-minded views from the cash-rich Islamist ideologues (many backed by Pakistan). Funding of local Kashmiri mosques, which by the way look more like Buddhist pagodas or Hindu temples, by Saudi and Emirati governments also rose a lot in this period. In addition to the above, there were some genuine, hard-working middle class boys too, who joined the fray thinking of it as some sort of revolutionary duty. There were some I knew personally as they were my Dad’s students at Kashmir University. They were lovely guys who treated me like their own younger kid brother, taught me to ski and play cricket. The guy who showed me what US Dollars looked like was one of them. As I later got to know from my dad, he had joined the JKLF in spite of my dad’s cautious dissuasion, crossed the Line-of-Control to train in Pakistan, joined the Jihadist ranks as an area commander and died within weeks as the grenade he was to throw (presumably at a Central Reserve Police Force convoy) got entangled in his phyeran. Clearly, the Pakistani training had failed to take into account Kashmiri sartorial preferences. Horrible deaths (or torture of captured militants) at the hands of the J&K and Central Police forces were commonplace.
The society was so polarized that even my school-mates, 7 year old kids at my school, were affected by the propaganda. Obviously the kids didn’t quite realize what they were saying – nor did I grasp the full import of what was being said – but looking back I shudder at the rhetoric even little kids weren’t spared from at home, which they were inexorably parroting in the school. I was called an Indian dog in my school bus and asked to “go away, leave Kashmir”. My friends told me songs of the mujahideen who were going to come to Kashmir and sweep away the Indian Army. I was too little to know who the mujahideen were, but it clearly left an impression that something wasn’t right. Many kids played make-believe games, where they pretended to keep rifle magazines in their pockets. Older kids started threatening teachers to declare Friday (in addition to Saturday & Sunday) as a school holiday in accordance with Islamic laws. Muslim kids used to ask other Muslims not to clap when a non-Muslim got the school prize or stood first in class and mocked Hindu religious practice.
Many mosques became rallying points for local radicals and all kinds of political sloganeering from the loud-speakers was rife. The common refrain meant for the Pandit minority in those days was simply:
raelyiv, tsaelyiv ya gaelyiv
(convert, flee or die).
And which ethnic-cleansing exercise worth its salt can be complete without references to rape of women?
assyi gatshi panu’nui Paekistan, batav rostuy, batnyav saan
(we’d like our own Pure-land, without the Pandit males but with the females).
The hindu temple in our locality and a school right next to it were torched by a crowd in front of my eyes. Pitched battles of stone-pelters with the Police was a common sight – the stone pelters didn’t even spare my school bus many times. We woke up every morning with tears running down our eyes as the air was so heavy with police tear gas shells used to disperse crowds the night before. Local youth would come knocking late at night asking for my Dad’s snow boots, warm sweaters etc with an implicit threaten of violence if he failed to comply – these were obviously needed to cross the LoC to Pakistani training camps. Killings and assassinations of Kashmiri Pandits, especially prominent ones, was rife. A university professor, a high court judge, an All India Radio employee and a surgeon were shot dead in quick succession in my neighbourhood alone – as the azadi activists ticked names off the hit lists. It was open season on Pandits and many killings had nothing to do with any Jihadi narrative either – Pandits with killed due to long-standing feuds, property deals, alleged RSS memberships and sometimes for the pure wanton pleasure of it, cf. Wandhom massacre, Nadimarg massacre etc.
It was in the early 1990 that things became so serious that some of my Dad’s students/acquaintances strongly advised him to leave – perhaps because his name was doing the rounds for the next hit hist. The growing incidents of violence against Kashmiri Pandit families coupled with the realization that this could happen to us at any time made the penny drop for him. My parents (and grandparents) decided to leave Kashmir almost overnight, with very little planning, and barely any foreknowledge of how permanent this was going to be.
The day I left Kashmir remains forever etched in my memory. It was the 4th of February, 1990. I saw a bomb blast right in front of my eyes – an entire bus was blown to smithereens near Lal Chowk – the centre of Srinagar city. Many Pandit families (including mine) were gathered there, all about to leave their homeland for similar reasons. Thankfully the bus, which was empty, took most of the impact of the blast and except an old Pandit woman (who died instantly) there were no further casualties. I do not know if the blast was meant to kill us (or merely scare us away), what I do know is that I could easily have been a blast victim that morning.
Around 150,000 Kashmiri Pandits were ethnically cleansed from the Valley. They all (including myself) remain card-carrying Internally Displaced People. Terms like genocide or holocaust are clearly exaggerated claims, yet the reality remains that the majority of the Kashmiri Muslim society remained mute spectators when the minorities were hounded out. There was no backlash by the Muslim civil society of Kashmir, no so-called Kashmiriyat on display as the debate became completely hijacked by the right-wing Islamist elements.
Conspiracy theories on what precipitated the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits abound in the Valley. Some may tell you that Kashmiri Pandits had it coming, that they were living cozy lives at the expense of poor Muslims of the Valley and like any (Brahminical) upper class were legitimately thrown out by the revolution for Azadi that continues to this day. Some others might spin it as a conspiracy by the Indian Government who delibrately wheel Hindu refugees out to delegitimize the rightful struggle for Azadi. Any policy mooted by the Indian Government for re-settlement and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley triggers a smorgasbord of reactions from plain reluctance to open hostility amongst the Muslim majority of Kashmir. Needless to add, this experience has caused deep resentment, anger and vindictiveness in a large section of Kashmiri Pandits, which are not going to go away any time soon.
The creation of Pakistan was a culmination of the ‘Indian Muslim National Project’ that was started by Muslim Elites primarily based in UP. It was bound to be a country where religion took center stage in the political arena. Led by a charismatic, populist British lawyer, All India Muslim League was a hotchpotch of landed gentry and titled aristocracy. The Second World War paved the way for an early exit by the British and handed a historic chance to Indian leaders to decide their destiny. It is difficult to predict if a ‘United India’ would have survived for some time in the absence of British interlocutors since fratricide and ethnic cleansing in Potohar had started much before the actual partition. The Muslim Elite (Ashraf) that founded Pakistan decided that the country would be an ideological state, the ideology was chosen to be Islam. Not because the elite overwhelmingly consisted of Islamists (with a few exceptions) but because religion is an easy way to manipulate people. The Khilafat movement had provided a glimpse of what mixing religion and politics could achieve and Muslim Leaguers were well-aware of its power, which is why they used the ‘Islam in Danger’ card during the 1945 election.
The Aerogram has a piece out, Bacon & (Un)Belief: Religion & American Secularism in Master of None, which reviews The Master of None episode about religion. I kind of agree that it was a little unbelievable in relation to his cousin, and how quickly he became a porkoholic (I don’t think pork is superior to chicken, but that’s a matter of taste).
That being said I think it is important to note a personal aspect of Aziz Ansari’s relationship to religion. Here’s a correction to an article in The New York Times profiling Aziz:
In an earlier version of this article, Michael Schur, the co-creator of “Parks and Recreation,” partly described Mr. Ansari as a Muslim. Mr. Ansari describes himself as an atheist.
Aziz Ansari does not define himself from what I can tell as a bad or liberal Muslim. He says he’s not religious. He happens to be a guy who is an atheist, a very negatively viewed group, who is from a Muslim background, a very negatively viewed group. That is one way we have a lot in common.
Also, I had a bacon experience very similar to Aziz. Though in my case it was at a friend’s house where they were Hindus from West Bengal, and my friend was having bacon. My mom came over and I had a piece of bacon in my mouth. She was a little chagrined. She said I’m not supposed to eat pork products and not to do it again.
In general I still don’t eat much pork and ham. But I really love bacon, and have no problem with pork sausages.
The aspect that people like Khan are not emphasizing when they talk about violence having nothing to do with Islam is that most people are not Muslims, and most people (in the West) do not know Muslims in their personal life. So terrorist acts are quite salient as a representation of the religion when that’s the only time it comes to mind in a visceral sense.
This may not be fair to practitioners, but this is how human cognition works. As an analogy, there is a lot of diversity and range of experience for what it means to be an evangelical white Protestant. But for many young secular liberals the salient aspect of this religious movement is its attitude toward abortion and gays. All the charitable giving, or the incredible personal experience of redemption and reform of white evangelical Protestants, is not relevant in a broader social context to most people because these are two policy positions which are salient and distinctive.
Obviously for most Muslims their religion pervades their life, and most of their associations with the religion have to do with family and community. But non-Muslims are not generally part of this world, so it is not a major element of their perception of the religion in a concrete sense. So one strategy for disassociating Islam and violence would be further integration, so that more and more non-Muslims can experience the whole range of the religion. And yet even here it isn’t as if Muslim experiences are distinctive from other religions.
This does not address the elephant in room: Islam today as a religious civilization is in ferment and change, and a non-trivial element does engage in violent habitually, against other Muslims as well as non-Muslims.
Consider the lives of Hindus and Christians in Pakistan. The majority of Pakistanis would not condone attacks upon these communities, but a motivated minority of the Muslim majority are clearly targeting this two groups for persecution. From the perspective of non-Muslims in Pakistan it is the actions of the minority who are violent toward them that really matters, because their lives are on the line.
There are so simple answers here. Though in the public realm stylized simplicity dominates. That too is a human cognitive bias….