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A Just Peace in Kashmir? Reflections on Dynamics of Change

by Richard Shapiro, 4 August 2009

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What are the various roles that diverse constituencies must play to facilitate political processes that undo militarization and subjugation in Indian administered Kashmir? How can systemic structures that institutionalize violence, cultural annihilation, economic impoverishment, and political disempowerment be countered through non-violent, ethical resistance? What alliances are necessary to allow hope for overcoming cycles of oppression and breaking with histories of domination? How can international, national, and local actors and institutions work together to disrupt socially unnecessary suffering and ameliorate the conditions of existence? What forces must cohere to enable a just peace to emerge in a democratic Kashmir in the foreseeable future?

Numerous obstacles present tremendous challenges to movements for social justice. The current world order is predicated on systems of inequality that hierarchically divide countries, peoples, cultures, classes, genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and faith traditions to the benefit of the few and the detriment of the many. Dominant powers prescribe the rules of the game to their advantage and utilize knowledge, technology, and markets to structure social relations in their interests. The new global order presents itself as the best of all possible worlds in which sovereign nation-states organized through representative democracy, rule of law, free markets with government regulation, Enlightenment rationality, and human rights are promised as the solution to the problems of poverty, war, ecological devastation, genocide, and terrorism.

This dominant narrative of progress through the spread of capitalism organized in nation-states and guided by knowledge has attained hegemony as it has captured the imagination of postcolonial nations like India. Postcolonial nations have largely reproduced the structures of colonial oppression and organized themselves to become players in the existing global order as militarized, hyper-masculinized, nuclear powers measuring their worth on the basis of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Emerging middle-classes of massive proportion in postcolonial nations like India buttress this process of nation building that mirrors and enforces dynamics of globalization through the production of unparalleled poverty, massive and multiple dislocations, genocide of indigenous peoples, ecological disaster, and abundant psychological malaise. India is embraced by the international community, meaning largely the United States and Western Europe, precisely because it marches in step with the new world order. India amasses great cultural capital as “the world’s largest democracy” in spite of the fact that it is home to 40% of the worlds most economically destitute, and seeks to constitute itself as a nation through policies that disregard the needs of the vast majority of its population.

India is inventing nothing new in its self-constitution as a powerful nation-state. National identity is being fabricated through the equation of India with Hindus, in blatant form in entities like the RSS and BJP, and in more subtle form in the Congress and progressive Indian citizens for whom nationalism linked to ’Hindu cultural reassertion’ is an unreflective response to a colonial past. The equation of Hinduism (unity in diversity) and Christianity with tolerance for difference, and Islam with terrorism, backwardness, and fanaticism, functions as a global trope supportive of unleashing disproportionate violence on Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine, as well as within the territory of India in Gujurat, Orissa, and in the ’disputed territory’ of Kashmir. India forms itself as nation with unexamined Hindu majoritarianism at its base, just as unexamined Christian cultural dominance organizes the United States, rendering explorations of the links between religionization, nationalism and particular secularisms close to impossible. India is also typical in its self-formation as nation in fashioning internal and external enemies as crucial to defining itself, and super-exploiting its most proximate ’others’ to fuel its prosperity. European nations had the Jew as internal enemy. The United States is founded on the backs of its twin others - enslaved Africans and massacred Native Americans.

India has as its main ’internal other’ the Muslim, who can take no solace in also occupying the role as external enemy in India’s dominant narrative. This double site is what the state uses to legitimate the brutalization of the Kashmiri people. Firstly, there is India’s need for a majority Muslim state within its borders to legitimate itself as a progressive, pluralistic, secular nation. Without a Muslim majority state within India, India cannot as easily legitimate itself as a progressive member of the new global order. Secondly there is India’s need to establish national identities that take precedence over regional, local, traditional identities. As a nation, India is in the process of seeking: (1) to establish territorial dominion over the current boundaries of the nation, (2) attain a monopoly on the means of violence, and (3) organize human and natural resources to enhance the productivity and power of the nation. Every nation that has achieved the normative status of modern democracy has utilized sustained and prolific violence to realize these three imperatives and in the process establish its identity. India is in a very vulnerable moment in this process as is evident from an examination of the myriad territories and forces fighting for autonomy in some form from the Indian state. Part of the strategy to foster national identity, simultaneous to providing very little to the vast majority of its population, and in fact fostering mal-development that impoverishes and displaces poor, rural ’citizens’, is to fabricate an ’us’ that must protect itself from ’them’. Without internal enemies India cannot unify itself as a nation.

This internal enemy is also resolutely claimed as integral to India. The state and its loyal subjects repeat the same refrain: ’Kashmir is an integral part of India.’ ’Kashmir is integral to India.’ Kashmir is the other that is integral to the self, a difference that is integral to the identity of India. How then does India treat this other, this integral difference? To debase, devalue, disrespect, destroy the people, culture, history, land, waters, aspirations, imaginations, passions, thoughts, of this other that is claimed as integral to self reveals much about India’s current state of existence. What other measure is available to us to assess ourselves as ethical entities than how we treat the other, how we engage the differences to which we are ethically obliged to respond? What nation has satisfactorily answered to this call? If a day arrives when Kashmir is ’a nation unto itself’, independent and sovereign, an equal to all other nations, will Kashmir point the nation-state in a new direction? Will the differences integral to Kashmir be respected, affirmed, heard and engaged? Will ’the other’ be the call to ’the self’ to practice hospitality? Will the Gujur, the village woman who buried loved ones and waits in silence for words of/from other loved ones, the atheist, the ardent believer, the Shia, the Sufi, the pundit, the Buddhist, the differently abled, the homosexual, the beggar, the prostitute, be welcomed as participants in constructing a nation that will be ’a light unto other nations’? Will the other be welcomed without the demand or structural incentive to assimilate, to mirror/mimic dominance to be recognized as human? These questions are too much, perhaps even unfair. Yet, is it not necessary to raise them?

Kashmir occupies a literal and imaginary border as inside and outside of India in ways that structure an impossible predicament. The state (and its elites and middle-classes) does not trust Kashmiris whose allegiance is always presumed to lie with Pakistan as an Islamic Republic, thus denying Kashmiris the rights of citizens of India, while asserting the inviolability of its sovereignty over Kashmir as a secular, democratic nation governed by equality under rule of law. The distrust legitimates military rule organized through special laws as necessary to provide law and order as a matter of internal security. Thus, on the basis of being part of a democratic state, the rights granted citizens of such a state are denied to Kashmiris. Inclusion in nation is coupled with dispossession from historical memory, rights, and life. India legitimates its mistreatment through a logic originating with European nation-states. This denial of civil and human rights, rule of law, and the freedoms of citizenship to Kashmiris is because the state must protect itself from forces within itself that threaten its character as a lawful, democratic nation. India must violate what is most inviolable, through a state of exception (the use of law to suspend law as definitive of sovereignty), to protect itself. The discourse requires the allegiance of the Kashmiri people to India, as proof that Kashmiris are not what the nation suspects - traitors and terrorists, as precondition to access to the rights of citizenship. These same rights of citizenship provided by the nation, while denied to Kashmiris, are used by India to justify its claims to being a legitimate state entitled to act as it does in Kashmir. As a legitimate state, India is predicated on civil rights and rule of law that it may legitimately suspend in the name of national security. Kashmiris must align with India given this legitimacy, while living as subjects without rights in so far as the state defines them as a threat to its sovereignty. India must violate what gives it legitimacy in order to protect itself from the internal enemy integral to it. India must destroy itself to protect itself. The state of exception produces a state of autoimmunity. India is also asserting itself as superior to other regional nation-states, and an emerging player in relation to Western Europe and the United States. Like other powerful democracies, India is entitled to do whatever is necessary to fight terrorism and strengthen itself as a powerful, sovereign, capitalist nation, aligned with the movement of progress (dominance).

Kashmiris are placed in a situation where allegiance to India as prerequisite to participation in a lawful democracy involves allegiance to a state that has no rational basis to demand or expect allegiance from the people of Kashmir. India needs to exaggerate the degree of cross-border infiltration and armed Islamist militancy to rationalize 500,000+ troops, blurred boundaries between police and army, and massive intervention in daily life through systematic surveillance, land seizures, checkpoints, torture, disappearances, gendered and sexualized violence, fake encounter deaths and countless daily humiliations calculated to break the spirit of the Kashmiri people. This reality is currently resisted through mass demonstrations, regular protests, strategic use of elections, strategic boycott of elections, navigating restrictions on ’free press’, civil society mobilizations, legal cases, an International Tribunal, and regular acts of dignity, courage, and faith that characterize the present in Kashmir. India demonstrates the persona all too common in the ’league of nations’ - to act with impunity and disregard for international law and local demands for justice. India uses this fiction of the Kashmiri as existing in the shadowy space of inside/outside the nation to legitimate an occupation that ignores the historical particularity of Kashmir and the promises made to the people of Kashmir to determine its own future. The plight of Kashmiri pundits also becomes an opportunity for the state to legitimate regularized violence and systematic oppression of Kashmiris. Were all Kashmiris, whether currently residing in the state of Jammu/Kashmir or elsewhere, to be given voice to express their will, free from coercion, retribution, and manipulation, the outcome would not be in doubt.

Kashmir is the longest standing disputed area in the United Nations, the most militarized spot on earth, and a drain on the hopes for prosperity, peace and freedom for people throughout the subcontinent, and the world. There is no moving toward peaceful coexistence between India and Pakistan, no stabilization of the region, no possibility for global nuclear disarmament, no hope for forms of development that prioritize sustainability and cultural survival over militarization, urbanization, and middle-class consumerism, no space for the impossible healing through mourning/memorializing the trauma of Partition, without granting self-determination to the people of Kashmir.

The realization of that which is demanded by rationality in service of justice and emancipation is always against the odds. In relation to Kashmir, a more peaceful future requires at least four interrelated movements: (1) Massive, non-violent, ethical dissent within Kashmiri civil society must continue and expand, attentive to alliances that build stronger relations between men and women, youth and adults, various faith communities, urban and rural, rich and poor, facilitative of inclusive forms of polity that enable a diverse, pluralistic movement for freedom. (2) Leadership must form a unified coalition that activates and learns from the multiple constituencies that make up Kashmiri society. Divergent desires and imaginations regarding the future of Kashmir should be encouraged and discussed, outside the search for homogeneity or conformity. A Kashmir free of subjugation should enable multiple forms of life through participatory democracy, just governance, and economic practice promoting health, education, and individual and collective prosperity. Natural resources, like water, should be both safeguarded, and utilized for sustainable development. Cultural heritage should be understood as an inheritance of all Kashmiris to fashion a unique society nurturing hospitality, innovation, and multicultural polity. (3) Education and mobilization to shift public opinion in India must be undertaken throughout civil society to expand pressure on the Indian state. Citizen delegations from the various states and communities of India must visit Kashmir to learn first hand about the atrocities, resistances, hopes, and concerns prevalent in Kashmir. Such delegations must bring their new understandings to their neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and places of worship to facilitate discussion and reflection that expand the voices of those who demand that illegal and immoral action in Kashmir done in their name immediately cease. Institutions in India must sponsor delegations from Kashmir, composed of diverse peoples who constitute Kashmiri society, to share the realities they have suffered and the need for alliance toward justice. Hindu faith communities must forge relationships with social justice movements in civil society in Kashmir to oppose Hindu majoritarian dominance and insist that the Indian state demilitarize the state of Jammu & Kashmir, become accountable to international agreements, rule of law, and human rights as the first step on the road to affirming the right of Kashmir to self-determination. Universities and the press must play a strong role in addressing the history and present of Kashmir to empower students and the citizenry of India to participate as informed members of a democratic republic, whose resources and conscience are systematically misused and violated by their government. (4) International solidarities from citizens, governmental and non-governmental organizations, students, workers, professionals, public intellectuals, faith communities, and all interested parties must be organized to educate, inform, advocate, and mobilize for the liberation of Kashmir. International institutions must be both utilized and strengthened as legitimate sites able to hold nation-states legally accountable for their actions. Research, education, and publication on the reality of present-day Kashmir and its modern history must be supported by and within universities, think tanks, and civil society forums. Campuses must become sites where students mobilize themselves to exert public pressure to ethically resolve the situation in Kashmir. Resistance in all four ’sites’ must struggle to establish alliances, clarify goals, mobilize resources, deconstruct desires, and carve out space where different forms of polity and community, promoting ethical dissent, may live.

To commit to these practices secures no guarantees. The process must draw from the resolve of Kashmiris to struggle for justice and strengthen this resolve through principled alliance that breaks the isolation and despair that accompanies any people subjected to brutal mistreatment. The multiple legacies that inspire and haunt us must become the very sustenance that, through sharing, nurtures our struggle. Allow me to conclude by drawing from a source common to the three Abrahamic traditions, and of universal relevance in the present, Deuteronomy 16:20, Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue.

Richard Shapiro is Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.