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The residents of paradise on earth are truly in a hell of a quandary

by Jawed Naqvi, 29 October 2010

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(published earlier in

A hell of a state to be in

28 October 2010

Kyun na jannat ko bhi dozakh mein mila lein ya rab

Sair ke waastey thodi si jagah aur sahi.

MIRZA Ghalib had pondered the merger of heaven and hell to create a bit more room for a leisurely walk.

A separate Persian verse, ascribed to Kashmir’s beauty sees it as paradise on earth, which is how most Kashmiris would want to celebrate their homeland. If we merge the two couplets there’s a fair chance it would read like Indian and Pakistan foreign policies on Kashmir.

Azadi azadi

A little over two years ago, writer and activist Arundhati Roy, in her essay called, had described a veritable Hobson’s choice for the Kashmiris. They wanted, which she supported, from the brutal military occupation by the Indian state, and they wanted to merge with Pakistan, which puzzled her because of the country’s poor track record of treating its ethnic minorities fairly. A third category, with shrinking constituency, sought independence from both.

Her criticism of Indian occupation turned the Persian couplet on its head; she evoked images of hell on earth: “Raised in a playground of army camps, check-posts and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. They`re in full flow, not even the fear of death seems to hold them back. And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second-largest army in the world? What threat does it hold? Who should know that better than the people of India who won their independence in the way that they did?”

In the same article, Ms Roy`s views on Pakistan flowed from a potential nightmare she saw for Kashmiris seeking merger with the Islamic state. “It would be a mistake to assume that the public expression of affection for Pakistan automatically translates into a desire to accede to Pakistan. Some of it has to do with gratitude for the support — cynical or otherwise — for what Kashmiris see as a freedom struggle and the Indian state sees as a terrorist campaign. It also has to do with mischief.

“With saying and doing what galls India, the enemy, most of all. (It`s easy to scoff at the idea of a `freedom struggle` that wishes to distance itself from a country that is supposed to be a democracy and align itself with another that has, for the most part, been ruled by military dictators. A country whose army has committed genocide in what is now Bangladesh. A country that is even now being torn apart by its own ethnic war. These are important questions, but right now perhaps it`s more useful to wonder what this so-called democracy did in Kashmir to make people hate it so.)”

If this is what Arundhati Roy wrote two years ago, what could have prompted some in the Indian media and their political minders to go at her like a lynch mob by reheating an old story, and to slap her with charges of sedition last week? What she said in a discussion in Delhi was not new. (Before leaving for the Kashmir symposium, she had stressed that she had nothing new to say on the subject and that in any case she disapproved of being projected as an expert on Kashmir or any other of the many Indian struggles she felt a strong bonding with.)

The Pioneer azadi bhooka nanga

The media mob against her was led by — a newspaper founded by Rudyard Kipling to ease the “white man`s burden” but now a courier for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party`s communal poison. It needed to deliberately misquote her. The seven-column banner headline read `Arundhati Roy promotes secession: Says Kashmir should get from – Hindustan`.

In a mob, as former minister Sherry Rehman would be aware in Pakistan after a nightmare she faced recently, rumours, not facts, carry the day. This has been used as a successful tactic by religious extremists in Pakistan and in India. Nanga bhookha Hindustan jaan se pyaara Pakistan

Ms Roy’s views on the questionable slogan were contained in the 2008 piece. “The slogan that cut through me like a knife and clean broke my heart was this one: , (Naked, starving India, More precious than life itself — Pakistan). Why was it so galling, so painful to listen to this? … because it was painful to listen to people who have suffered so much themselves mock others who suffer in different ways, but no less intensely, under the same oppressor. In that slogan I saw the seeds of how easily victims can become perpetrators.”

The Pioneer lok nayak,

It may not be a coincidence that the charge of sedition was led by RSS sympathisers, including. Before the Delhi event, all the headlines were riveted to the alleged exploits of one Indresh Kumar. The senior RSS leader has emerged as a key player in the Hindutva terror network, particularly their false flag attacks on Muslims. The RSS had an interest that newspaper headlines take their focus off him. (Sedition was what the RSS supported in 1974, when Jaiprakash Narayan — JP — urged the army and police not to take orders from Indira Gandhi’s government. For that JP became famous as India’s or people’s leader.)

However, way before JP, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the first and last British ruler of free India had come to the aid of those that today are being touted for secessionism by self-styled Indian nationalists.

In his acceptance letter of the instrument of accession apparently signed by the erstwhile ruler of Kashmir, hewrote on Oct 27, 1947: “Consistently with their policy that in the case of any state where the issue of accession has been the subject of dispute, the question if accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the state, it is my government’s wish that as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invader the question of the state’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people.”

That was a different era, when Kashmiris were torn between choosing a Pakistan of their dream and the joys of India’s secular democracy. Today, as Arundhati Roy`s experience shows, they have little to look up to other than their fierce resolve to fight for justice by any means, with anyone. The residents of paradise on earth are truly in a hell of a quandary.

The writer is correspondent in Delhi.