Arif Ayaz Parrey demystifies the ongoing discourse on Kashmir's comparability with Palestine amid fears of settler colonialism.
It was the early 1990s. The gun had replaced, albeit temporarily, the file as the weapon of choice for the colonial administration. Our source (who shall remain nameless here), a young reporter at that time, got wind of a rape that had taken place in the Qaezgund area of Islambad. Early the next morning, he took a rickety JKSRTC bus to Khanɨebal, and from there a KMD bus to Qaezgund. During those days it used to take three to four hours to make the journey from Srinagar to Islambad. From Qaezgund, he had to travel another few kilometres to his destination near Kondh, rising into the Pir Panchal. The young woman who had allegedly been raped lived with her father in an isolated house smack in the middle of a maize plantation, as is common in the hill settlements ringing the valley-beds of Kashmir. On the fateful day, her father had gone to Qaezgund to get household supplies. A scouting party of soldiers saw that the girl was alone at home, dragged her inside the house and took turns raping her.
The reporter talked to the father and corroborated her version with his description of the state in which he had found her on his return. He talked to the nearest neighbours, who lived around 400 metres away, to confirm troop movement on that day. There was nothing in the girl’s version that did not seem believable.
He made the long journey back to Srinagar. By the time he was at the office, the day was hemming the evening. All in but his shoestrings, he joined the percussion of typewriters to flesh out the day’s story. He stumbled over the English word for kaeni and shouted for edification without getting up from the typewriter. Did any of his colleagues know the word? One reporter was typing out a story of three civilians having been shot dead in indiscriminate firing by soldiers after a grenade had been lobbed at a patrol party. Another was translating an Urdu press statement by Hizbul Mujahideen. Everyone was busy. No one could spare a moment to recall the word. Exasperated, he filed in that the girl had been raped on the second storey of her home.
In a rare instance, a judge who read the story in the newspaper took suo moto cognizance of the case. A few months later, at the first proper hearing of the case, the counsel for the soldiers produced some photographs and asked the reporter if the house in them was the one he had visited. He confirmed that it was indeed. The counsel pointed the court’s attention to the fact that the house had only one storey. The case was summarily dismissed.
This madwoman in the attic story is a perfect illustration of how much words matter, particularly the words of the weak, which can be twisted and turned into a noose for them. This is particularly true of terms with a blustery sweep that can shift discourses significantly.
In the recent past, one such term that has caught the fancy of the hoi polloi in Kashmir is “settler colonialism”. After the reading down of Article 370 and removal of Article 35-A of the Indian constitution, Kashmir has been declared to be at the threshold of settler colonialism. The use of the term might not be problematic per se. After all, settler colonialism has come to gather a lot of meanings over the course of history and geography. There are the American and Australian examples, of genocide of natives followed by museumification and deculturization of surviving native settlements. On the other end of the spectrum is the example of Tibet, where an entire civilization has been assimilated with almost no bloodshed. What kind of settler colonialism will be unleashed in a certain place depends on an uncountable number of factors, chief among them being the prevailing political thought among the settlers and the natives, the perception the dominant outsiders and the weak natives have of each other, the larger geopolitical situation and discourses, even the climate and geography of the occupied land and the land from which the settlers are moving in. The British and French colonized both North America and South Asia. They annihilated Americans but not South Asians, even though the populations of the two regions were comparable. It is not inconceivable that the climes of North America, better suited to the European temperament, played a role in the decision to rid it of its people, while in torrid South Asia it might have made more sense to utilize the natives in the service of the Empire.
Naturally, given the range of meanings settler colonialism can soak up, it cannot be inaccurate to describe the evolving situation in Kashmir. The problem starts when lazy comparisons are drawn to the situation in Falasteen (Palestine). This is expressed through statements like “Kashmir’s landscape will soon be blighted with Israel-type settlements,” “Kashmir will become another Palestine,” and “Naqba is imminent”. It is easy to understand why such comparisons spring forth. Kashmir is a predominantly Muslim place; as such there is a certain kinship with other chronic conflicts where Muslims are oppressed by “non-Muslims”. We have always expressed solidarity with Palestinians and it is easy to conflate solidarity with identification. The Palestinian tragedy and, more prominently, the heroic resistance of its people, is a readymade template to follow. (Although this underlines a certain lack of recognition and respect for our own tragedy and resistance. We have been struggling against a much stronger imperial power for almost as long. As goes the proverb, “Pannev che ne paigambhar maenmit”.) Moreover, it is almost canon for Muslims to raise the spectre of “yahuid saezish” (Jewish conspiracy) at the drop of a yarmulke. Many Indians and some Kashmiri Pandits warm their hands by this raging fire of imprecision for their own reasons (which sometimes is plain stupidity). But cobbling together such a likeness is erroneous and imprudent on the part of all Kashmiris.
First off, the Zionist project might be unjust but at least it is coherent. Jews have been persecuted all over the world for centuries and their desire to have a homeland is understandable. That this homeland should be gained by forcibly removing Palestinians from their homes is, of course, wrong. Ethically, it is a self-canceling position. Besides, no one can build a homeland in the home of another without engendering a never-ending conflict. Palestinians have lived in the region from times immemorial and many of them, Muslims and Christians, are actually Bani Israel, the children of Jacob. However, claiming Kashmir for India is not comparable to this situation. Indians have a vast country of their own, they do not need a safe haven in Kashmir. Even if we were to exclusively consider Kashmiri Pandits, they have a right to live in Kashmir—and a right to return. If they want to live as Indians, they have the option of doing so in India; if they want to live as Kashmiris, they have the option of doing so in Kashmir; and if they want to live as both Indian and Kashmiris, it is possible in an independent Kashmir or if Kashmir becomes a part of Pakistan, through the instrument of dual citizenship. But they do not have the right to claim Kashmir for India and force 95 per cent of the indigenous population to submit to a foreign power.
Secondly, Zionism is built on an idea of racial purity. It claims the land of Palestine for Jews and Jews alone. Jewishness is matrilineal. Anyone not a Jew is a squatter. For the Zionists, Palestinians are Arabs who must leave Israel. Thus, Zionism resolves itself through exclusion. Hindutva, on the other hand, is based on an idea of geographic integrity. Anyone living within the boundaries of Akhand Bharat is a Hindu and must conform to its cultural, social, and moral codes. For the Hindutvavadi, there is no such thing as a Koshur. We are all Indian. The endgame of Hindutva is assimilation.
So, if India does repeat the horrible Palestinian experiment in Kashmir, it will be for either of two reasons. One, out of spite for Kashmiris, for being Muslims and in proud defiance of the Indian state for seven long decades (and counting), despite being outnumbered one to 130. Two, to make the UN resolutions on Kashmir irrelevant. How can plebiscite be a solution when the indigenous population has been drowned out by outsiders?
The more likely scenario is the assimilation of Kashmir (and Kashmiris). Koshur Identity and not the Koshur Body is at stake. Within a few decades, our culture, language, and religion will be sanskritized; our history forgotten, replaced with Indian versions (Hindutvawadi, leftist or Congressy, doesn’t matter). Our blood will be mixed with Indian blood to a point where it seems futile to shed any more of it for our motherland. The face of our motherland itself will be transformed so radically that we, its children, won’t be able to recognize it.
For some reason, defending language and culture is not as sexy as defending religion in Kashmir, and this will enfeeble our struggle. Moreover, neither Kashmiri nationalism nor the profounder Kashmiri spirit subscribe to the notion of purity of blood, and rightly so. But our hospitality towards love will be used to obfuscate the forcible, sly, and deliberately political erosion and destruction of our ethnicity.
An even likelier scenario is a blend of these two. A deadly combination of assimilation of Kashmiris with acquisition of their land. Indians will buy our land and properties, at first through government schemes and administrative manipulation, for example, by utilizing the doctrine of eminent domain; and later—once the spirit of resistance has been crushed—through private negotiations with hapless natives. This will make us tenants on our own land, which means instead of providing us with free benefits, it will cost us to live on Kashmiri land. For example, since the land reforms in the 1950s, subsistence agriculture in Kashmir has provided a bare minimum surplus to farmers, and that too chiefly because they would invest a part of their annual labour on the land they owned. In the future, if a Kashmiri peasant works the land owned by, say, a Gujarati landlord, the landlord will get 50 per cent of the produce, which means the peasant will have only 50 per cent to subsist on. This the peasant will not be able to do, and so they will have to take up additional work to sustain financially. Similar scenarios will play out in horticulture, handicraft, tourism, and other sectors of the economy. Thus, there will be a steady flow of wealth—created by Kashmiri labour—outwards. With an increase in work and diminishing incomes, the threat of widespread impoverishment will loom large, to counter which we will be forced to tether our individual financial plans and our collective economy to the colonizers’ with bigger and tighter clamps. It will also result in greater outmigration, as Kashmiris seek to escape the scorched economy by finding jobs in India and elsewhere.
Under the current economic and political paradigm, it will not be possible for Indians to settles here in droves. However, if militancy abates, agro-based (food processing) or IT-based interventions could create windows of opportunities to settle people. How many is the key question, and the answer will be the difference between colonial quarters a la Algeria or ethnic flooding a la Australia.
Simultaneously—and this is where the radical break from the Palestinian experience will occur—Kashmiris will be sought to be assimilated through instrumentalities of the state and social institutions like education and marriage. There will be government scholarship schemes and job opportunities in the “mainland”. How do you fight falling in love and marrying your colonizer without becoming a Bollywood villain? How do you fight an education system without becoming a Hollywood tormentor of Malala Yousufzai?
Will there be resistance? As surely as the sun will rise tomorrow. But at this moment, when our very existence as a people is under threat, can we afford to err in our prognosis? Will we be able to identify what ails us correctly and express it boldly? If we say we fear naqba, then assimilation (and overtures of assimilation) will not appear as bad in comparison—to us, to the colonizers and to the world at large. So, despite the growing strategic partnership between Hindu India and Israel against a common enemy, we must remember that Kashmir is not Palestine. To paraphrase Tolstoy, powerful colonizers are all alike, every colonized people are colonized in their own way.♦
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wande Magazine.