These movements are a sustained and total response, over a period of time, of the entire population against the larger state. They are not the usual one-day peaceful strike organized by certain groups or leaders against certain policies of central government in one part of town. It is a final rejection; a complete breakdown of communication. Hurt pride, unheeded grievances, a desperation, have exploded into the movement. It explains the readiness to risk all. Commentators have been surprised that the traditionally gentle and tolerant Kashmiris have been so agitated this time. They point to the syncretic nature of Kashmiri Islam. It is a remarkable fact to contemplate now that during the violence of 1947, Kashmir saw no communal killing. The brutality of the state merely appears to reinforce the determination for self-assertion.
The movements remain acephalous. With the intelligence agencies of the state we look in vain for its leaders. There is no Imam Khomeini rallying people. There is not even a Sheikh Abdullah in Kashmir. His family, who had reflected the dynastic principle of politics in South Asia, have been overtaken by events. Unknown names, faceless spokesmen, express the revolt. It is the expression of the entire community. The student, the trader, the house-wife, the peasant and the politician are all one this time. There is thus a populist element to the movements; an element which generates the uncontrolled anarchy. It is this which ensures the extremism and savage violence. The Kashmiri killing of a Muslim Vice—Chancellor was a sign of the times. The message was clear for Muslims: you were either with us or against us. The time for sitting on the fence was over for Muslims; which is where Islam comes in.
The Islamic sense of identity is prominent among other conflicting ideologies in these movements. We must first make clear our definition of Islam. By an Islamic identity I mean a general awareness of being Muslim among Muslims, whether in politics, clothes or customs, not necessarily in terms of religious orthodoxy. This is a recent development, for large parts of these communities were neutral to their Islamic identity over the last decades. Many had perhaps felt it prudent to consciously set aside Islam. They had become secular Soviets, Palestinians or Indians, good citizens, loyal nationals. But in the end they also faced the tanks and bullets of the state. They were labelled, ‘en bloc’, Muslim rebels. No ‘ism’—Marxism or secularism—protected them. With others they had little to tall back to expect the Islamic identity. Besides, once the momentum picked up, the only support they received was from other Islamic groups, whether Iran supporting the Soviet Muslims, the Arabs the Palestinians or the Pakistanis the Kashmiris. Muslim leaders have always had a constituency in Kashmiri hearts. When those in Pakistan die, whether of the left, like Bhutto or the right, like Zia, there is widespread mourning, a general sense of loss.
But it is important to point out that though Pakistan appears as a champion of Kashmir and has gone to war twice at least with India over Kashmir, this time Kashmiris appear to demand their own future. Many would prefer an independent Kashmir, free of both India and Pakistan. The slogans of ‘azadi, independence, in Kashmir exclude both Delhi and Islamabad.
The Islamic label was also a convenient one for the Western media. A mosque or mullah appear as easily recognized symbols of ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ in the West. A rally after the Friday prayer, a man with a beard arguing for rights, a youth with a gun are projected as Muslim fanatics.7 It was therefore easy to see these movements as Islamic. Unfortunately, this also ensured indifference to the plight of these communities in the West. The last thing the West wants is more Muslim fundamentalism. So the 2000 deaths this year in these three areas made little impact internationally. In contrast, threats of cutting off gas to Lithuania by Moscow were discussed on the front pages of the newspapers and during the main TV news.
But media is a double-edged sword. Pictures of Muslims standing up for their rights, facing tanks and bullets, in different parts of the world on TV or in newspapers inspire Muslims elsewhere. An apocalyptic mood is created and enhanced. ‘If my brother can face Israeli soldiers on the West Bank why can’t I face Indian ones in Kashmir?’ they ask.
Lastly, though certainly not the least, is the importance of the Universal ideas of self-dignity, freedom and identity. The contemporary climate that has generated these ideas is a European one juddering East European states.8 But reporters in Kashmir, like Raymond Whittakar, note the constant reference in conversations to “Lithuania” as a potent symbol of the times and mood. There is thus in these movements a resonance of a larger global pattern.
The post-modernist spirit, easily noted in Kashmir, is a combination of cultural jouisance and nostalgia, of schizophrenia, of challenging central authority and accepted traditional notions of modernity such as “progress”, “economic development”, “the needs of the nation-state” and “central planning”. But South Asian political figures and bureaucrats appear will fortified against the post-modernist winds blowing in the world. Because they do not comprehend the new universal spirit they cannot concede its cultural and political implications.
We may therefore conclude that it is a combination of external and internal factors that has created the conditions for, and explains, the Kashmir movement in 1990. There is little doubt that it is substantially different to earlier expressions of identity. In this case, the desperation and determination appear extreme, sustaining the movement against the full and heavy-handed might of the state. Islamic revivalism is part of the explanation for the movements, deprivation and distrust the other parts. The clumsy handling of the movement by government ensures its continuation. The men in power are out of tune with the times in Kashmir. Where compassion and imagination are required we note violence and suspicion. The sheer lack of charity is compounded with absence of judgment.
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