Looking at the Kashmir issue from Tamil Nadu

Understanding Azaadi Why South Indians need to care more about Kashmir
Voices Opinion Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - 13:39

Following the killing of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani by the Indian Army, the Valley is on the burn yet again. A curfew has been imposed in Kashmir, and at least 32 people have lost their lives in clashes. Hundreds are injured. Policemen have been attacked, with at least one being killed. The Amarnath Yatra has been suspended.

Our Facebook timelines are flooded with stories and analyses on Kashmir. Burhan Wani has suddenly become all too familiar. The mainstream media, of course, is giving the issue saturation coverage, even if it is not the kind many would like.

Speaking as a Tamillian and at the risk of generalizing, the truth is that for many of us in south India the Kashmir issue is either nearly non-existent or too simplistic. We don’t really care about the issue, and if we do, we make a cavalier assumption - that Kashmir is an integral part of India so it must be kept that way at any human cost.

There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, unfortunately, the discourse on Kashmir has been framed largely along communal lines. Unless one is a Muslim from coastal Karnataka, Hyderabad, Kerala or certain pockets of Tamil Nadu, any South Indian is highly unlikely to have understood the Kashmiri issue, let alone care for it. While Muslim leaders do make it a point to talk about Kashmir within the community, Hindu politicians raise the issue only when they see an opportunity, or leave it out altogether.

Secondly, when it comes to Kashmir, we in the south fall prey to the same Delhi-centric idea of India that dictates that our issues are “regional”, whereas anything that happens closer to Delhi is “national”.

There is quite obviously the humanitarian reason as to why we need to care more. More than 30 people have died and hundreds injured in one of our sister-states. An entire state is living under the fear perpetrated by the Indian state. The army rules with impunity, and there is a real threat of terror striking the valley this summer. If we truly believe that Kashmir is an integral part of India, then we have to be more concerned about the screams of fellow Indians who are under occupation. For every single assumed terrorist in Kashmir, there are several innocent men, women and children whose rights are being trampled upon.

But it is not just about humanitarianism. There is a specific political reason as to why we need to care more.

Politically speaking, there are many things that south India and Kashmir agree on. We agree on the need for federalism, we don’t agree with the Hindi-states’ hypernationalism, we have fought for greater autonomy and we’ve never really bought the idea that Delhi represents all of India. Where we depart, of course, is secessionism.

In fact, Dravidian parties have always supported more freedom for Kashmiris even if they have never endorsed secession. In 2000, when the subject of state autonomy was being discussed with much gusto, there was a strong understanding between Karunanidhi and Farooq Abdullah, the then CM of Jammu and Kashmir. Karunanidhi was careful in stating that the solution to Kashmir should be in within the Indian framework, but nonetheless have to do with increased autonomy and freedom for the Kashmiris. In the past, Kashmiri organizations have lauded Dravidian leaders for their strong stand on linguistic equality. Periyar and Jinnah agreed on separatism, and even Rajaji was in favour of better relations with Pakistan, and for allowing the people of Kashmir to live with dignity and honour.

But even with all this in common, south Indians’ understanding of and engagement with the politics of Kashmir is dismal. Not because we’re not humane enough or we’re apathetic, but because we don’t really see how this politics affects us.

Except, it does. What’s plaguing Kashmir today is the hypernationalism that screams that India is some monolithic entity of their imagination that everyone in India must subscribe to. What’s ailing Kashmir is the Delhi-hegemony that dismisses our concerns because we’re not close enough to the Capital, physically or ideologically. What’s happening in Kashmir is more intense but similar to what happens in Tamil Nadu when we talk about our fishermen being murdered, and the rest of India looks on quizzically. Only this time, we are the rest of India. We are the ones refusing to look beyond Delhi’s propaganda and engage with the heart of the issue.

As Sushil Aaron writes eloquently in HT, what we are seeing in Kashmir today is an outcome of how Kashmir was handled by India’s political class and security establishment. The Kashmir manifesto is Delhi-driven, and written with the interests of those in Delhi alone in mind. By refusing to look at holistically, we’re essentially blindly following the Delhi narrative: that since Kashmir is a part of India, it must stay with us at any human cost. We don’t stop to think about the fact that lakhs of Kashmiris are living as second-class citizens in their own soil. What comes to our mind is the terror done in the name of a free Kashmir, not the terror faced by those seeking a free Kashmir, every day.

This is not to say that ‘Azaad Kashmir’ or Pakistan's occupation of Kashmir have to be endorsed by us, there are strong arguments against them too. But do we not need to be concerned more about our fellow state in the Indian union when they say that their human rights are being violated every second? These nuances are lost in the simplistic nationalist narrative.

In not understanding the Kashmir conflict and its nuances, we stand at the risk of being coopted into the larger idea of Dehi-centric Indian nationalism, which never has, never will understand the concerns of Indians who live far off in the South or North-East. In allowing ourselves to be coopted by the Delhi establishment on Kashmir, we are only feeding the narrative which refuses to truly, fully acknowledge cooperative federalism.

During the Sri Lankan war in 2009, the discourse in north India collectively berated Tamil passions as manufactured and meaningless. We wondered, why don’t these guys get it?

Well, the same reason why we don’t get Azaadi. Let’s change that.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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