By Parvaiz Bukhari
When democracy is so hollowed out, that it is rendered incapable of letting the people evolve answers to issues facing a nation, the state apparatus is pushed to practice what many call neocolonialism, or else repression. However, most of the time the phenomenon remains obfuscated in the din of democratist pronouncements that ultimately take the shape of propaganda glorifying the state. The least that could be said about such a state of affairs is that it is not healthy.
But, sometimes tender parts of a body of beaten-about rhetorical claims reveal themselves in a manner a Freudian slip unconsciously lays bare an actuality. A former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, a retired General, recently claimed that fifty percent of police personnel in the state were ‘militant sympathisers’, a ‘reality’ he thought the State had not taken note of.
It is not the former Governor’s claim as much as it is his pointing to a possible metaphysical association of a large number of Kashmiri police personnel with a political current of historical roots that he perhaps knows only too well and seeks to criminalise. And, to criminalise here means to invoke dealing with it in a militaristic manner – the mainstay of state control in the embattled region – hence AFSPA for him becomes the “need of the hour”.
This assessment and claim comes from a person who, while he was in office as Governor and thus a ‘custodian’ of democracy in Kashmir, in his attempts to institutionalise his personal ideology of brand communalism – cloaked in so called Kashmiriyat – did everything to not just polarise but also communalise Jammu and Kashmir in an unprecedented manner.
It may be easy to overlook, ignore or dismiss someone as the host of a parochial and communal ideology, but he does not seem to be alone. While it is easy to find innumerable practitioners and propounders of communalism or even racism in India. what hits as disheartening is when a similar language emanates from institutions new and old.
Institutions nurtured over many decades by India’s Hindu right have already pushed public policy towards confronting real democracy. Now, one of India’s oldest and most respected newspapers, The Hindu, recently announced its ‘Centre for Politics and Public Policy intended to encourage research and discussion on critical political and public policy issues’ in the country. One of the Centre’s declared objectives is to promote an understanding of “the failure to subdue secessionist impulses such as in Kashmir”.
Mark the word used – subdue. And it is already what many call a military occupation in Kashmir with the Indian army’s highest number of soldiers stationed anywhere.
From a 134 years old institution of immense repute, the least we would have expected is to use ‘engage’ instead of ‘subdue’. Or, ‘listen’ to the ‘secessionist impulses’ would perhaps have been a display of more respectable intent an institution of freedom in a democracy should have afforded. The language used by the newspaper not just reveals an acceptance of the neocolonialist state behaviuor and militarism to deal with public dissent and discontent, its new Public Policy Centre also appears seeking to inform ways of repression to subdue a people in ways the Indian establishment may not have used so far.
It exposes an utter disregard to a political history that often passes off as loyalty to a certain unquestioned nationalism in India today. One can only hope that the language of repression adopted by autonomous institutions does not further manipulate the genetic core of Indian democracy in the longer run.
As it is, the best that could be said about what we have in Kashmir is a coercive democracy, whose foundations are laid with repression, manipulation and wide-scale torture of dissenters of all hues. It is no secret, like the existence of unmarked and mass graves in Kashmir the world knows about but may not openly acknowledge.
In 2010 Wikileaks revealed that ICRC had informed the international diplomatic community that the Indian authorities allow and condone torture of detainees in Kashmir as part of a grand political project in service of the denial of a historical reality.
When a sharpshooter BBC interviewer confronted Kashmir’s police chief in December 2010, he unsurprisingly denied the phenomenon of torture. “I do not know how the Red Cross could have accessed that information because they normally would not have access to these kinds of locations so it is completely unfounded,” the official responded. When he was asked to clarify about what sort of locations would the ICRC have not access to, the police chief fumbled and said, “Where the accusers (sic) are carrying out the torture.” The implication was clear.
Such occasional Freudian slips, institutional as well as individual, are just the tips of an iceberg that must be exposed to the warmth of the real multitude of meanings of democracy.
First published in Kashmir Reader.