These short comments are taken from responses to an essay by Mohamad Junaid and Balmurli Natarajan in Samar Magazine December, 2011.
Thank you for this thought provoking article. Three questions. I could not agree more with you about the “original sin” of South Asia. No one can deny that the question of nationalism in South Asia remains unresolved, and not just in Kashmir. No one could disagree that nationalist identities in South Asia have been shaped by imperialism, just that it is in incomplete statement, because they are also shaped by other historical factors such as anti-colonial movements, religion-based identities, linguistic identities (Bangladesh) and so on. This original sin is often referred to as Partition. My question is: had there been no Partition – and I know questions of ‘what if’ are speculative by definition – what would have Kashmir’s history post-1947 been like? This speculation is not out of the blue if one considers the anti-monarchy movement in Kashmir at the time, and which for many seemed to coincide with the democratic if and federalist impulses at the time. That question is of course not specific to Kashmir but also to other sub-nationalist movements in South Asia, from Tamil Eelam to Bangladesh and Chittagong to the Madhesi movement in Nepal to the ethnic ones in the north-east and even as far west as Balochistan. There is little doubt that Partition and the resulting creation of Pakistan has shaped these movements. What, for instance, would Balochistan’s politics be like if Pakistan had not been created? And if there had been no India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir who would the Kashmiri rebel be procuring arms and international diplomatic support from? My second question is specific to Kashmir. The authors write, “South Asians need to rise in solidarity with Kashmiris to set a new foundation for democracy and decency.” One could only add to that and say the entire world should do so. But we know that solidarity is not a one way street, and for the people of Balochistan or Nagaland to rise in support of the democratic aspirations of the Kashmiri people, the least it would take is similar solidarity from the people of Kashmir on both the Indian and Pakistani sides. Have there been signs of such solidarity yet? Also, what forms would such solidarity take? Lastly, given the above questions, what do the authors think about the role of nationalism in the Kashmiri movement against occupation? Given that the original sin affects not only Kashmir but many regions and communities in South Asia, what are the authors’ thoughts on making borders irrelevant in South Asia as a means of setting, to use their words, “a new foundation for democracy and decency” – not just for Kashmir but also, in the spirit of South Asian solidarity they invoke, all of South Asia. best shivam
Thanks Shivam for your comment. The questions you pose need much elaboration, but unfortunately due to my tough schedule at present I will take the route of brevity. It is not wrong to pose the “what if” questions. Often these questions help destabilize our mistaken faith in the inevitability of the present order. I think Kashmir would have been a much better place, had the events in the subcontinent not overwhelmed the processes that were unfolding in Kashmir. Look at the New Kashmir document of the National Conference at that time, or the intense politicization of the Kashmiri peasantry. The aspiration for a New Kashmir as a free, socialist nation could have become a beacon of hope for South Asia’s struggling peoples. And of course then we wouldn’t have to procure weapons from anywhere. Militarist thinking and the race for arms is deeply connected to the logic that sought to impose India and Pakistan on the diverse peoples of South Asia. Establishment of India and Pakistan, in my view, spelled a disaster for the the entire region–its peoples, its cultures, and its histories. Since this establishment is umbilically tied to the decisions that were made between imperial authorities and South Asia’s elites, most peoples of the subcontinent cannot expect this arrangement to work in their interest. Least of all Kashmiris for whom the decision became intrinsically connected to the perpetual confinement of their freedoms. We often forget that Partition did not only create Pakistan, it created India as well. It is only retrospectively that Indian nationalists (and even those who don’t claim to be so) have naturalized the “idea of India”, as if it existed as a nation-state since eternity. So when one says “subnationalist movements in South Asia” we need to be careful, for aren’t we assuming that there is a supra-nationalism, ostensibly some authentic one, whose “sub-” parts the rest of the movements represent? Is Indian or Pakistani nationalism more authentic than Balochi or Naga? Personally, I don’t believe in nationalism, either as an ideology or as an ‘imagined’ collectivity. Yes, I do believe in movements of freedom, of collective liberation from external rule (or even any form of rule that doesn’t have the real democratic consent of the people), even if these movements take the appellation of being ‘national’, or religious. The expectation about reciprocity of solidarity from the people of Kashmir is a valid one, but often not well thought out. You know for so many years now Kashmiris have stood up in solidarity with the people of Palestine (and rightly so), since days when Indira Gandhi proclaimed Yasser Arafat as her brother and PLO never uttered the word Kashmir in return. Indian establishment has disconnected different sections and classes and regions from each other, truncated possibilities of communication between peoples of the subcontinent. Imagine, they have managed to make a country of billion people believe in their lies about Kashmir (of course not all of them care about Kashmir). Within Kashmir they have fragmented our society, poisoned our politics, destroyed relations of trust. In this situation when one looks for reciprocal solidarity, the question comes as a slightly mistimed one, one a bit too early. But yes creating those connections is the responsibility of all those peoples who hope to overthrow foreign rule or an oppressive order. This question of “making borders irrelevant” is alright but I believe that these borders are not just demarcation lines between South Asian states, but also those lines that are replicated within the societies between castes and classes. Otherwise, capitalist logic or imperialism also wants to make borders irrelevant–that way can only help commerce and big business, and the cultural elites, but not solve questions of domination and control. There is also a beauty in maintaining certain boundaries, the uniqueness and specificity of places, and not roll them over to flatten all difference in the name of homogeneity. (I am only speaking here for myself. But perhaps Murli would agree with me).