15 October 2019 09:01 AM

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RAJMOHAN GANDHI | 8 AUGUST, 2019

Kashmir: Two Words 'Union Territory' Says It All

With goli not boli now


‘With boli, not with goli.’ With words, not with bullets. That’s how New Delhi would deal with the people of Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi solemnly declared from the Red Fort on August 15, 2017.

Only three days back, New Delhi’s Governor in Kashmir had assured Kashmiri leaders that the sudden military bump-up, instructions to tens of thousands of Amarnath pilgrims to leave Kashmir at once and go back to their distant homes, and the shut-down of phone and internet services in the Valley did not amount to signs that anything major was to happen.

Then, on the morning of Monday Aug 5, an important article of the Constitution was excised without discussion. Loud cheers greeted the deed, which formally and surgically removes the last vestiges of Kashmiri autonomy.

Several non-BJP parties applauded the not very noble step. A Shiv Sena MP expressed confidence that a future Akhand Bharat was on the horizon which, to begin with, would absorb the portion of Kashmir that Pakistan occupies and the restive Pakistani province of Balochistan.

Some insist that this constitutional change is no big deal, only an acknowledgment of long-existing reality. But there is celebration and pride. ‘India’s integration is finally complete,’ it will be said, ‘How happy the soul of Sardar Patel must be!’ (No, it won’t. But that is another discussion.)

If the Tibet Autonomous Region is swiftly converted, following a quick short speech in the People’s Assembly in Beijing, into the Proud Chinese Province of Tibet, or the Proud Chinese Territory of Tibet, there would surely be celebrations in many parts of China.

In those long-ago days when Indians were demanding freedom from the British, some of the latter, led by a certain Winston Churchill, would reply: ‘You want independence only to crush the weak and the small among you.’

‘AND I WAS RIGHT,’ Churchill may be heard roaring somewhere.

In those long-ago days, champions of a Hindu nationalist ideology opposed to efforts for Hindu-Muslim partnership used to say, ‘See how Hitler deals with a difficult minority!’ In more recent years, such champions have been saying, ‘See how Israel deals with a difficult minority-dominated area.’

In imitation of the Israeli example, it is possible that Kashmir’s absorption will be followed by the settlement of Indians from other areas in and near the Kashmir Valley, especially in the Jammu region, perhaps with the goal of turning the Valley’s majority Muslims into a minority in the single Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir that has been launched in tandem with the abrogation of Article 370.

There is the law of force, and there is the force of justice. The former acts swiftly, the latter takes time.

Sometimes a great deal of time, as Indians knew when they were fighting for freedom, as the Dalai Lama and his Tibetans know as they struggle to retain a modicum of autonomy, and as the Palestinians know as they strive to retain self-respect even as more and more of their lands are taken over by a steam-rolling power.

These are only a few examples. Millions in the world have spent entire lives gulping humiliations. Eras where nations and societies permit weaker sections to dissent are in fact relatively new in the world’s story.

Some of us innocently thought that in India such an era would last forever. Holding that belief, we walked proudly in the world, holding aloft banners of ‘Democracy’ and ‘Human Rights’. Now we will fold up the streamers and lower our heads.

Much of India applauds the absorption of Kashmir. Marchers holding banners of ‘Resolve!’ and ‘National Greatness!’ will be welcomed with drumbeats. Modi’s favourable numbers will rise.

The majority is not always right. For centuries, the practice of untouchability in India and of slavery in the US received fervent majority support. The people of imperial Britain voted again and again for governments that promised tougher action against rebelling colonies.

Within India, if strict laws did not exist, discrimination against women and Dalits would receive open majority support even today in many a village, taluka or district.

No doubt terror attacks by Hamas injured the cause of Palestine’s liberation. Terror attacks by Kashmiri extremists in the name of azadi alienated many Indians who might otherwise have supported a large degree of Kashmiri autonomy.

The fact that hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits fled or were forced to flee the Valley was a huge gift to India’s champions of absorption.

But even serious flaws do not take away forever a human being’s right to govern herself or himself. The same is true for the right of an area’s people to offer consent to rulers or withhold it. They are human beings, not robots.

The abrogation of Article 370 confirms the charge of interest in territory and unconcern for people. It also signals the abandonment of any policy of winning Kashmiri hearts and minds.

The two words, Union Territory, say it all. But the law of karma has not yet been abrogated. In the end, the arc of history is not kind to those who treat with contempt the dignity of a dissenting people.
 

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