An open letter to IAS topper Shah Faesal and his reply


Dear Brother, first of all, I have to congratulate you, not because I am appreciative of what you have done, but because you got what you wanted to achieve.

The killing of your father “just three days before the medical entrance test” must be the single-most defining event of your life, so let me start my argument from that point of departure. Before that, you must have been in possession of various strands of political and ethical narratives, some of which ran towards azadi, some towards the uses and abuses of human rights, some more towards anger on the injustices your fellow Kashmiris were subject to, still others, it is true, towards the greatness of India as a country, its sheer size and diversity, its proud history etc. I can imagine the pain of your father’s death making you sift through these strands and gather the chosen narratives to forge the rope of your ambition. You must have made wishes by tying knots in that rope – one wish, one knot –an old Kashmiri tradition. You reached the first knot even as the rope was being forged when you were selected for MBBS. Now, by topping the Civil Services entrance test of India, you have arrived at the second knot of that rope.

I can only imagine how cathartic the news of your selection must have been to you. I can fathom the overpowering desire to join IAS instead of IFS to “cleanse the system” and “bring peace to Kashmir”. A sublime ‘constructive vengeance’ Freud would be proud to theorize on.

Sorry, Faisal, for giving such a harsh subconscious spin to your dreams. I apologize. Experience has made me bitter. Trust me, I am one with you on the irreplaceable loss of your father, but the fact remains that in Kashmir the fathers killed by the ‘Indian’ side outnumber the fathers killed by the ‘non-Indian’ side by a huge, huge margin. What about the children and dependants of these fathers? Are they wrong in not believing in a system which killed their fathers? Are they wrong in deciding not to cooperate with policies which they know from personal experience are only meant to brutalize and dehumanize? Are they wrong to pick up the stone of their sentiments and throw it at the visible symbols of oppression?

The bureaucrat in you must already say yes to all these questions. But I know, Faisal, that deep down, there is a poet in you. What does he have to say on this matter? These people, whose real or symbolic fathers have been killed by a system deaf to the wishes of the natives, are surprisingly similar to you; capable of falling in love, feeling pain, sympathizing with those in agony (as you as a doctor must have), responding to comments on facebook, seeking information from public offices and so on and so forth. Like you, they have weaknesses and strengths. Their life and opinion is molded primarily by their own experience, as is yours, only that their experience has been the almost opposite of yours. Now the oppressor wants them to forget everything and make peace. Imagine the killers of your father coming to meet and repeating Manto’s words to you: “Sorry, mishtake.” Imagine them trying to recruit you for their activities, thus making you an example others should follow. Imagine the lure of reconciliation without a resolution.

There are also the larger and deeper questions. For example, the contrast between deaths caused by individuals because of reasons which can only be available to individuals but not in pursuit of the stated aims of the ideologies they belong to, and the deaths caused by individuals not out of individual choices but because the system of which they are soldiers survives only through such terminal tactics. Is it just to treat one at par with the other? Oppression has the monstrous quality of seeping into the resistance and reproducing itself on the “other side”. How fair is it then to isolate individual acts of barbarity from their context and history? Unfortunately, the Indian Civil Services entrance test does not require one to read or think along these lines, so you are on your own here, Faisal.

You are an example because the rope of your ambition is long and therefore admirable. But an attempt will be made to craft this rope into a noose to hang the memories and the sentiments of the people; to employ your success in spearing the collective dreams of fellow Kashmiris; to use your story to obliterate history. You want peace, and so does every other Kashmiri, but there is a difference between peace and surrender and we need to delve deeper into this distinction before arriving at conclusions. You “want to set an example”, but young and inexperienced that you are, there is a fear that the example you set may be that of Hamlet.

Before I end, let me share one last concern with you. We are brothers, Faisal, and even though we may sore our throats over who is Cain and who Abel, it would be good to remember that in the fight between the two, only the devil benefits.

An ordinary Kashmiri.


Shah Faesal replies:

Dear Brother Anonymous
Thanks for the letter. But I wish you had written your name at the end. It would have been easy to address you. Never mind. May be you feel safe in the veil of anonymity.
My problem is exactly the opposite. I wish to be anonymous but don’t have the choice. You are speaking from a position. On behalf of Kashmiris. As if I am the ”other”. Going through some of the comments added to the feeling of being an outsider,as if. But here is the catch. While you consider yourselves to be the self-appinted guardians of Kashmir cause, I can not afford to do. I know how mundane and miniscule my mandate is. I can’t afford to sound statesmanly like you, I am not just meant to be. As a civil servant, I have the job well defined.
Brother,it takes courage to stand up and speak. It also takes courage to sit down and listen. I have spoken my heart out and tried to talk about both sides of the coin. Honesty demanded so. My conscience will never allow me to hide the facts just because I don’t want to displease the Big Brother. You should have appreciated that I didn’t speak from a position. I talked about the violence by greens as much as the tyranny of saffron. And even then,if you feel that my story is being used as an argument to obliterate the history, it is unfortunate.
Slip into my shoes,wear my name-tag and then talk to Manu Joseph or anyone else. You will find it very difficult to articulate even your basic understanding of Kashmir. Not because you dont know how to,but because you know the perils of doing that.
I often see US-based or Delhi-based friends romancing the Kashmir narrative in chatrooms but when it comes to doing something about it, they just change the room! I may be wrong but I have the distinction of being with my people, sharing their joys and suffering. My job gives me that privilege. For me its neither about surrender nor compromise. I have always spoken the truth and will continue to do so. Even if it costs me my job. In public life, criticism is like a fertilizer as long as one doesn’t sell out his roots. Don’t go by the hastily made impressions. It will take some more time to understand what do I finally stand for. Till then lets rest our tongues and stop blaming one another. I am not a Chaudhary of India not should you act as a Chaudhary of Kashmir. Let the story unfold. Time will decide, who betrayed and who didn’t.


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