Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why we need to keep talking about the inconvenient Kashmir question.



In its most recent version of attack on educational institutions, the BJP-led Indian state has targeted the hallowed Jawaharlal Nehru University of India, branding the University as anti-national. The initial round of police attack on the University has been followed up with attacks by RSS and BJP affiliated goons on University students and faculty associated with the University.

A section of the mainstream media associated with the agenda of the Hindu Right, Times Now and Zee TV have catalyzed the attacks through the media trials of students and the broader University, repeat-broadcasted through 24/7 cycles and captured in hashtags and sound bytes.

At the heart of the recent spate of attacks on the University is an event organized by a group of students on February 9 that raised questions about the legitimacy of the juridical process that led to the hanging of Afzal Guru, alleged to be associated with the attack on the Indian parliament in December, 2001.

The media stories narrating the February 9 event have been built around the anti-India and freedom for Kashmir slogans that were apparently raised at the event.

In subsequent protests and public discourse, the conversation has primarily focused on the evidence and the claims made regarding the role of the student activists at the event. Discourse for instance has focused on "Who raised the slogans," rightly pointing out that the JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar did not raise the slogans and was most likely present at the event in his capacity as JNUSU President to manage it.

Moreover, this discourse has pointed to "outside elements" who were apparently present at the event and might have raised the slogans. Other stories suggest the presence of Kashmiri students at the event who raised the separatist slogans.

While this discourse on the factuality of events is an important counter to the anti-national narrative currently being circulated and magnified on social media, I also find it to be limiting as it potentially accepts the claim "Raising questions about the trial of Afzal Guru or about the sovereignty of Kashmir" are anti-national.

It forecloses the possibilities of ongoing and much-needed conversations on Kashmir, plebiscite in Kashmir, sovereignty of the Kashmiri people, state-sponsored violence in Kashmir, and (im)possibilities of democratic representation of Kashmiri voices.

Attributing the voices of sloganeering to "Kashmiri outsiders" marks Kashmiris as outside of the space of the nation state. It shuts off possibilities for important and much-needed dialogue on the Kashmir question, giving in potentially and paradoxically to the jingoistic notion that "to ask questions about Kashmir is to be anti-national."

The notion that interrogating the relationship between the Indian state and Kashmir is out of discursive possibilities circulates and reifies the ongoing forms of repression in Kashmir. The possibilities of listening to Kashmiri voices that account for and represent the atrocities and violence carried out by the Indian state in Kashmir are erased.

As a result, key elements of the Kashmir conversation, the role of the Indian state in Kashmir, the accounts of the state-sponsored rapes and extra-judicial killings in Kashmir, remain erased.

At this moment of nationalist muscle-flexing across India, it is vital to not only question the ways in which falsified information and allegations were manufactured, but also the very premise of these allegations. Doing so is important toward cultivating possibilities of dialogue on the Kashmir question in India.

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