Sanjay Kak

“We must stop projecting the failures born out of the poverty of our own imagination onto others.”

Eminent documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak speaks to NOW on the current crisis of Kashmir

Kashmir is boiling again. Nearly 60 young people have been killed, scores injured. Security forces are on rampage. Is the current protest different from the protests of the past?

People in India tend to see events in Kashmir only through these spikes – the protests, the pellet-gun blindings, the killings, and in the brutalities that are reported during these uprisings. What is much more sinister, and damaging in the long run, is the steady unwavering repression that most Kashmiris have to deal with. What does the story of Burhan Wani tell us? Humiliations are heaped upon a fifteen year old, followed by the senseless killing of a loved one – none of this is unusual in Kashmir. Where does that take someone like Burhan? Somewhat inevitably to the life of a militant, and to near certain death.

In the aftermath of the 2010 protests everyday life had become unbearable even for those without a spectacular track record with the police and army, especially in the villages and kasbas. Relentless scrutiny by the armed forces, endless reporting to the police stations, physical violence, everyday humiliation. So the huge upsurge we are seeing this past few weeks is a consequence of the accumulation of the pressure that has been building up for the last six years, if not the last twenty five. What is new is what has been observed in the past few years – that the ranks of the militants are filled mostly with Kashmiris, and when there are encounters, or when militants are cornered by the para-military and Army, then people come out in droves to protect the young men, throwing stones at the Indian security forces, often even while encounters are going on…

What sorts of steps should the government take to bring the situation under control?

Sadly the Government of India seems to be only interested in managing the situation, only interested in bringing it under control – by whatever means necessary. If that is the aim then I am afraid we are doomed to these cycles of protest and violence: 2008, 2010, 2016. We must recognize that there is no substitute for democracy to resolve the issue. And I’m not talking about the farce of elections. Can we say that the conduct of elections is at all a measure of the people’s will in Kashmir? Where are the elected representatives during these past weeks? It took the Chief Minister almost a week to come out with a statement, and even today the MLAs are too scared to visit their constituencies. What kind of relationship does that suggest with their electorate? We need real democracy, we need demilitarisation, and then we need a good and honest referendum. It’s not an impossible set of goals, is it?

The media has been gagged. Internet, mobile communication cut off. What according to you is the Indian state up to?

The Indian state is doing what it has done consistently with Kashmir for the past quarter century – trying to pull a blanket of silence over the happenings in Kashmir. The difference this time is that while most parts of the mainstream media are still complicit in parroting the tired old excuses – this is all Pakistan’s doing, this is all an Islamist uprising, etc. etc. – the internet has made it possible for the real stories to get out. Even with the crude sealing off of printing presses, the snapping of mobile and internet connectivity, the stories did get out. But despite all this I’m actually very struck with the way an unusual new openness is showing up in the Indian media, both in print and on the web. More and more Indians are coming to realize that they have been misled, even lied to, about what really is going on in Kashmir. One consequence is obviously that more and more Indians are getting alienated from the state, and what it represents.

Why has Mehbooba Mufti’s support eroded? Is it because of her political inexperience despite of her being a close associate of her father, the late Mufti Md. Sayeed?

The PDP came to power on two things: the anti-incumbency vote against the National Conference, and the promise of preventing the BJPs entry into Kashmir. Once elected it then ended up doing precisely that: making an alliance and forming a government with the BJP! Is the rage of the people in South Kashmir difficult to understand? Mufti Sayeed was an astute politician – and a former Home Minister of India – but even he could not deliver any part of the hope that he had held out to Kashmiris, the promise that the alliance with the BJP was made in order to bring in much needed resources to help Kashmir recover from the disasterous flood of 2014. Those resources never came. In its place is a yawning silence from Delhi towards Kashmir, a very loud and obvious silence on the part of the Indian State. In that silence even a small step must be read as a big statement. The Prime Minister usual loquaciousness on the social media was missing completely when it came to Kashmir these past weeks. The Home Ministry’s initial concerns displayed an unseemly anxiety only to ‘normalise’ the situation so that the Amarnath Yatra could proceed normally… I’m not saying that the previous governments, both in Delhi and in Srinagar, performed much better in the huge uprisings of 2008, 2009 and 2010. But at least one could not detect the desire to actually exacerbate the troubles. That is certainly new, and that is what is disturbing.

What should rest of India do? Is it failing to understand the Kashmiri psyche?

What Indians should do is to pay attention to what is happening in Kashmir. Its not a question of the Kashmiri ‘psyche’, it’s a question of the absence of democracy on the ground. I see some important signs of that for the first time in India. There have been significant amounts of writing and discussion appearing online and in the print media, and even a string of protests in different parts, in Delhi, Kolkata, Patna, Thrissur, Bangalore, Chennai. This is very significant, because what is going on in Kashmir is as necessary and important for Indians as it might be for Kashmiris. Behind the relentless brutality that has been unleashed over the past few weeks in Kashmir lies a very important new tactic of the BJP-RSS – to unleash another symbol for their future electoral mobilisation. The Kashmir issue is going to be their new Babri Masjid, the journalist Mahendra Mishra pointed out the other day, and he is right. There is a deadly molotov cocktail being prepared – the usual ingredient of Communalism and Islamophobia, but now mixed with Nationalism. They would want Kashmir to be on the boil for ever.

It has been seen that smaller states does not necessarily be a panacea for all problems. If J&K gets independence, will it survive as it will be sandwiched between two giant countries like India and China?

There are two problems in your question. The first is that there is little evidence to say that bigger states are more successful at managing internal conflicts and contradictions than smaller states. That is exactly what people were saying before the USSR broke up, and I don’t see too many people beating their breasts about that huge historical event any more. But what about East Timor? Or Bhutan? What explains their ability to exist?

The second and more fundamental problem is a failure of imagination. If Kashmiris are asking for azadi why do we assume that the form it will take must be the old, outdated, tired path taken by fragile nation states like India, or Pakistan… Why must having an army, a navy and an air-force be a pre-condition to qualify for an independent existence? I think it might be instructive for people in Indian politics to read about the autonomous region of Alto Adige/ South Tirol, wedged between Italy and Austria, which the Italians and Germans fought over for several centuries. Today it is a haven of peace, and an important crossroad for Europe. Why do we have to see Kashmir only as a bone of contention, between India and Pakistan, then between India and China? We must stop projecting the failures born out of the poverty of our own imagination onto others.

Jammu and Kashmir was the first state to implement land reforms in India. In a way, it was well ahead of the rest of India under Sheikh Abdullah. What went wrong afterwards?

The land reforms in Jammu and Kashmir were a consequence of the Naya Kashmir manifesto of the National Conference, and written at a time when the NC was quite deeply inflected with the impact of Socialism. Land to the landless, Land to the Tiller – it was nothing short of a revolution. I think that’s certainly one reason why the US were so anxious to cut short this possibility. The slightest chance that Sheikh Abdullah may have moved towards a more progressive politics – as several Arab states were doing at that time – was enough for them to come out on the side of India in the debate. What went wrong? There were enough people in Nehru’s cabinet who were also very conservative, who would have found that more threatening than anything else Sheikh Abdullah ever said about Independence! Think of the impact that would have had on the rest of the Indian sub-continent.

What is Kashmiri nationalism? Is there a wide gap between Kashmiri nationalism and Indian nationalism?

What is Indian nationalism? Is it what we are being told these days – majoritarian Hinduism draped in a Tricolour flag? Is it that conflation that we see during the Amarnath Yatra, when going on a pilgrimage is projected by the state as an act of patriotism? Or is it that politics of the rebels in the forests of Bastar and Odisha, who say they are fighting to save the forests from the depradations of the mining industry? I don’t think we will be able to define Indian nationalism even after 70 years of Independence. It may be too early to ask that question of Kashmiris…

Sanjay Kak is a New Delhi based documentary filmmaker. He is the maker of films like “Jashn-e-Azadi”, “Red Ant Dream” among others.

Leave a Reply