Friday, July 15, 2016

Praveen Swami - The new language of rage: Delhi’s reverie is rudely interrupted by Kashmir reality again

NB: Two things are striking about developments as far apart as Kashmir and UP. One is the evidence pouring in of the terrible wounds, including blinding, of Kashmiri youths shot at with shotguns by the police. Will the Indian security establishment tell us whether they considered using shotguns against the rioters in Haryana a few months ago? Or anywhere else? The other piece of news is that a local court in UP has directed an FIR to be lodged against the 50-year-old dead man (Mohd Akhlaq) and six members of his family. Akhlaq was beaten to death in September last year while eating his dinner. Recently a Union Minister Sanjiv Baliyan, demanded court action against Akhlaq's family. His wish has now been grantedThe heartless mind-set that can drag this bereaved family to court after the husband was murdered in a communal frenzy whipped up by the associates of the Sangh Parivar is breathtaking. So is the mind-set that can order stone-throwers to be disciplined with shotguns. Are the police out on a partridge hunt?

The politics of the Sangh assumes (and behaves as if) there is an irreconcilable division in Indian society. This is not only a form of racism, it is also a self-fulfilling prophesy. The recent appearance of a fake-encounter accused policeman in the company of the RSS leader shows that the Sangh wishes to normalise arbitrary killings by the police. This kind of behaviour has become so shameless that a retired police officer has denounced the governments nefarious machinations. 

If this is how our establishment wishes to maintain 'national integrity', let us be clear that they are only driving people to despair. Crowds cheering Modi in foreign countries will not assuage the pain you are inflicting on ordinary Indians. Shame on you. DS

Praveen Swami - The new language of rage
Tens of thousands of people, some newspaper accounts say, marched to the Eidgah in Srinagar on a grey spring morning in 1990, defying a curfew, to bury Ashfaq Majeed Wani, icon of the Kashmir insurgency. His claims to sainthood were dubious, at best: He’d kidnapped a civilian, now-Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s sister Rubaiya Sayeed, menaced the Pandit minority, before ending his career by accidentally blowing himself up with a grenade in a botched ambush near Srinagar’s Firdaus Cinema, the only actual military operation he is documented to have participated in.

In 1990, even a second-rate martyr sufficed. “Mothers would put mehendi on their sons going to Pakistan”, recorded the scholar Navnita Behera. “Children carried placards saying ‘Indian dogs go home’ or ‘Mujahideen qaum zindabad’”.
The startled surprise with which many in India have responded this week, to the violence unleashed by the killing of Burhan Wani is testimony to the amnesia and denial which surrounds national conversations on Kashmir. Having imagined that politics in Kashmir was engaged in a process of reconciliation with the ethnic-religious nationalism that long drove jihad, New Delhi’s reverie has been rudely interrupted by reality.

Burhan Wani was, as his critics contend, a terrorist, not a feckless innocent. To end the conversation there, though, is to also miss the point. Like Ashfaq Wani, more than a quarter century ago, he was significant as an aesthetic, not an individual. The question New Delhi should ask is why unarmed young men are hurling themselves in the direction of bullets to defend that aesthetic.

Fiction on Kashmir, by sheer repetition on prime-time television, has acquired the magical quality of reality. Facts matter, though, and this one more than others: There is no escalation of terrorist violence in Kashmir. Bar a small uptick in 2012, violence in Kashmir has been declining since 2002. The number of active terrorists, too, has fallen steadily. Last year, there were 148 who carried out 143 attacks — less than one per terrorist per year, the laziest insurgency in the annals of warfare.

There is no upsurge of Kashmiris joining jihadist groups, either. Last year, 66 youngsters were reported to have joined jihadist groups, from 16 in 2014 — a figure newspapers read as a sharp escalation. In context, though, 2010-2013 were years of exceptionally low recruitment; the numbers are now closer to their general level this past decade.

Moreover, the large-scale killings of civilians in the communally-charged protests of 2008 and 2010 did not drive young Kashmiris into the ranks of terrorist groups: Recruitment actually fell. Large groups of people, mainly youth, have been gathering at the funerals of slain jihadists — in October 2015, more than 30,000 marched to bury the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s southern division commander, Abu Qasim — but few joined their ranks.

“The language of war is killing”, the philosopher Carl von Clausewitz taught. This youth cohort, though, is choosing not to speak that particular language. The violence that followed Burhan Wani’s killing, much as in 2010, involved storming police posts. These were the acts of the suicide bomber, perhaps — but without the bomb.

Kashmir’s historically-unprecedented youth male cohort has found a new vocabulary, in neo-fundamentalist Islam drawn off the internet. Islamist currents have long existed in Kashmir. The Jama’at Ahl-e-Hadis, established in Kashmir in 1925, and the Jama’at-e-Islami, wielded great influence over the jihadist movement. The new youth cohort, though, has borrowed the aesthetics of neo-fundamentalism without the rigors of membership of these parties. Internet Islamism appears to offer a kind of moral liberation, free from the taint of compromise, the stuff of real-world politics.

Ever since 2006, thus, young people have found agency around aesthetic questions: Faith, religious identity, issues of honour, particularly the protection of women’s chastity. This is the classic material of ethnic-religious nationalist movements, Islamic, Hindu or otherwise. Young people attacking the police find a sense of agency, even heroism, in giving their blood to guard Kashmir’s cultural and religious identity against what they imagine to be predatory Hinduism.

Politicians in Kashmir have no reason to challenge this grim nihilism. Ever since democratic politics resumed in 1995, it has had a minimal presence in Kashmir’s old cities, heartlands of the jihad. This suits the political leadership, as low-turnout elections here make re-election by party faithful predictable. To the south, in Jammu, the Islamist rise in Kashmir serves a similar purpose, sharpening boundaries between Hindus and Muslims.

Like elsewhere in India, youth despair in Kashmir has flourished in a landscape characterised by high levels of youth unemployment and lack of economic opportunity. In Kashmir, there is an added twist: The absence of the promise of change. “Give me five years of peace”, CM Mehbooba Mufti said at a rally in Udhampur in April, “and I will give you development”. Her predecessor, Omar Abdullah, often said much the same thing. “People have to decide how long they will wait for peace and prosperity”, he proclaimed in Sopore in 2013, at a rally in the Islamist heartland. This extraordinary consensus suggests people are responsible for solving the crisis imposed by violence — not elected leaders.

In 2006, an expert task force appointed by then PM Manmohan Singh made several recommendations to address the firmament on which Kashmir’s youth crisis rests, proposing radical initiatives to develop linkages between agriculture and industry, train young people for opportunities in the services sector, offer land to business, and build a new satellite city for Srinagar. Barely a single recommendation has been implemented.

As politicians see it, there isn’t a payoff for this kind of change. Disenfranchised youth aren’t likely to vote for existing party networks, so it makes more sense to funnel funds towards the well-oiled patronage networks that link contractors to the political élite. Let alone development, politicians — in New Delhi and Srinagar — haven’t sought to equip their police forces to deal with crowds. PM Singh, after the carnage in 2010, promised a task force would be established to “devise non-lethal ways to manage protests”. He didn’t. Today, the J&K Police improvises, using shotguns firing pellets. The weapons are less likely to kill, but near-impossible to aim, causing injuries to eyes. The force has no training centre for modern riot-control tactics.

Kashmir’s New Islamist rise is resistible, if confronted by genuine political activism — but neither the will nor intention to do so is evident.

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