From CounterCurrents.org: “Competing Nationalisms and Religions”
‘Even if India were to pave the streets of Kashmir with gold, we would still refuse to identify ourselves as Indians,’ insisted a Kashmiri Muslim friend of mine, whom I shall call ‘Salim’, the other day. ‘Salim’ is no fervent Islamist or fiery Kashmiri nationalist. Indeed, he is completely lax in matters religious, bordering on the agnostic, and has scores of non-Muslim and non-Kashmiri or what he calls ‘Indian’ friends. Yet, like many other Kashmiri Muslims, he passionately advocates independence for his homeland. ‘We Kashmiris were never Indians, and can never accept to call ourselves so,’ he argues. He thinks the boys taking on thousands of well-armed Indian troops in the streets of Srinagar and Sopore today, armed with just stones as weapons, are being foolish—it will only result in even more tragic loss of Kashmiri life, he rues—but he resolutely believes in what they are fighting for—azadi or freedom.
Contrary to what the Indian state might insist, it is not for economic development that the Kashmiris are out on the streets protesting today. It is not for better houses, government jobs, tarred roads and regular supply of electricity that thousands of Kashmiri youth took to armed struggle two decades ago. Visitors to Kashmir are struck by the fact that the sort of endemic poverty that characterizes large parts of India is hardly visible in Kashmir—everyone has a house and at least a bit of land, and people generally look healthier and better-fed than in ‘India’—and this despite the last two decades of strife that have played havoc with the local economy.
That being the case, no amount of loans, grants and income-generation projects funded by the Government of India are likely to make much of a dent in many Kashmiri Muslims’ fervent desire for independence from India or to ‘win the Kashmiris’ hearts’, to use the phrase much bandied about by Indian politicians and journalists alike. Nor are dire warnings that an independent Kashmir would hardly be able to economically survive, leave alone thrive, or assurances that it is bound to hurtle into interminable economic chaos if it joins Pakistan.
‘Man does not live by bread alone’, ‘Salim’ sagely quotes the Bible when I point all this out to him, and then again, ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’
If it is not for lack of jobs or out of desperate poverty that many Kashmiri Muslims continue to dream of freedom from India, then what is it that drives them in what seems to be a never-ending war against one of the mightiest armies of the world, in which, so far, they have lost more than a hundred thousand of their own? I have reduced the whole complex Kashmir imbroglio to two basic factors: Competing narratives, claims and demands of nationalism and of religion. Nationalisms and religions are total, and can be—as is so blatantly apparent in Kashmir and India—totalitarian, ideologies that brook no compromise with those, perceived as ‘enemies’, who act as foils to construct a certain identity of the national and/or religious self.