In India, liberalism is convenient



Women during a sit-in protest in Shaheen Bagh, south Delhi. Photograph by Bhat Burhan

Days leading to the abrogation of Article 370, in the first week of August 2019, were nightmare of sorts for people in Kashmir Valley. Anxious, worried and forlorn faces, who were looking for answers on what was going to befall them, rushed to stores to pile up ration and other essentials in case something major was about to happen: India-Pakistan war, abrogation of Article 370, or hanging of a prominent pro-freedom leader?

On the ground and on social media, messages of seeing this pain through dominated the atmosphere as people promised in panicked texts to return strongerOn the morning of 5 August, the government forces lay a siege across Kashmir and the populace was simmering behind one of the most strict communication blackouts.

However, while Kashmiris made sure that they would survive the punishment, they didn’t shy away from calling out the criminal silence maintained by those who had called them their own. Though people did not expect either the Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their allies or the right-leaning media houses – who were rejoicing with dreams of setting up homes in Kashmir and marrying Kashmiri women – to speak against the clampdown; the eyes were on a minuscule population of the mainland Indian society who call themselves liberals.

The hopes were that these self-styled liberals would at least mention the caging of Kashmiris, if not hold protest marches in the metropolitan cities; as recently, they were seen protesting with #Resistance and #Aazadi on Twitter and holding same placards across the country – against a controversial law that grants citizenship on the basis of religion.

Instead, the liberals of India tacitly cried, saying, “The decision was good, but the way it was done is something that was not right.”

A few others extended support as well. The best example is, often claimed to be the model of alternative parties, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – led by “liberal Arvind Kejriwal. His party voted in favour of removal of Article 370 in the parliament in August 2019.

One was not even expecting them to toe the line of their counterparts in Pakistan – who have been ruthless in criticising the state and going even a step further by writing and protesting against its military. So much so that the famous Indian right-wing ideologues and trolls use their work to highlight the rot that is prevalent in Pakistan. However, people were expecting them to speak up against the holing up of a population over a decision they had no say in.

The convenient liberalism in the country often takes a stand on the safe-to-bash-state issues; for instance, the Twitter will shout for airlines denying flying Kunal Kamra, a stand-up comedian and maintain silence over the detention of an alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Sharjeel Imam, following his speech in Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi, on blocking highways to Assam.

Therein, in the initial days, Kashmiris looked up to these liberal names because a sizeable number of them had made careers out of the miseries in Kashmir Valley; they visited the Valley, clicked pictures and then later posted them on their social media handles showing their affection captioning, a population withering in the 30-year-old conflict. The superficial acts of empathy garnered them welcome on their next visit.

Only to be betrayed over and over again.

However, those locals in the knowhow of things refrained from welcoming; instead, they banked upon their own survival skills and repeatedly called the pseudo-liberals as worse than the right-wingers.

While Kashmiris bickered on whether to rely on these liberals to ally with them in one of the worst clampdowns in recent past or not, the answer was provided again by none other than time.

This week, the August 2019 decision – which brought communication blackout, hundreds of detentions, political void, economic crisis, and much more – completed six months.

While Kashmiris suffered, and survived, a six-month long e-curfew, the liberals did not even turn into keyboard warriors. However, as the voice of Shaheen Bagh gained momentum and the Swara Bhaskar’s and Anurag Kashyap’s rallied in support of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, some in the liberal domain have started to voice their concern over a region that was put behind barricades more than 180 days ago.

This includes the likes of the president of JNU Student Union (JNSUSU), Aishe Ghosh and Ram Subramanian. While Ms. Ghosh acknowledged that voice should have been raised when the Article was abolished, Mr. Subramanian on the other hand, apologized to the Kashmiri people for maintaining silence for six months.

This happened on the heels of two events, one was the restoration of 2G internet services in Kashmir, second was Pakistan commemorating 5 February as Solidarity Day for Kashmiris. Wherein, the Virtual Private Network (VPN) kicked off social media on 2G in Kashmir, the clampdown continued to receive global coverage.

On the eve marking six-months of the decision, two former chief ministers, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, were booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) alongside a handful of other politicians. In the parliament, Prime Minister Mr. Modi wrongly quoted Mr. Abdullah from a Faking News, a satirical website.

The Twitter liberals had their fodder, again.

For instance, Mr. Subramanian, who calls himself a liberal stuck in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) creating a HinduReich or the advocate of rights and equality, Ms. Ghosh – and many others like them – really speak about Kashmir from the heart? Or just to not lose the grip of running Kashmir narrative, which gets highlighted on an international level? The questions will be answered again by the time.

The fact though remains that, from here, Kashmiris will take every Indian liberal with a pinch of extra salt.

Saqib Mugloo is a News Editor at The Kashmir Walla

The story appeared in our 10-16 February 2020 print edition


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