Hug Campaign: A misfit in Kashmir

January 10, 2016

by Mudasir Wani

JKRF recently organized a hug campaign in Press Colony, Srinagar on 30th November. It was “inspired by a Muslim man who stood blindfolded in Paris, asking people to embrace him if they trusted him after the November 13 attacks.” What is ‘Jammu and Kashmir Reconciliation Front (JKRF)’? And what is this campaign in Kashmir for – ‘Universal brotherhood, tolerance and revival of Kashmiriyat’?

What that poor fellow did in Paris cannot be copied in Lal Chowk, as these two are different places with distinctly separate contexts. The hug campaign in Paris was meant to revive communal trust between religious communities for tolerant and multicultural ethos. After the Paris attack, Muslims in the West are being looked down upon with suspicion; they are seen as one homogenous group as if represented by ISIS. The need was to put across: one, ISIS should not be seen as archetype of Muslims and define their fate and two, solidarity needs to be upheld and restored. ISIS might explain its ‘revenge’ against French foreign policy towards Syrian civil war; but that is not what all Muslims believe in. It was to restrict the spillover of terrorist acts of ISIS into the socio-religious harmony of people in Paris that the hug campaign started.

However, Lal Chowk is not Paris, Kashmir is not France, and India is not ISIS. Lal Chowk is where press ‘colony’ and Clock Tower (Ghanta Ghar) are located to record and witness the time(s). Kashmir is where United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) is present since 24th January 1949 (before India swore on 26th November 1949, ‘We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens:’, so technically Kashmir neither was part of India’s ‘We’ and nor has ‘resolved to’ anything), it is a disputed territory with a UN promised plebiscite. And India is a state with strong institutions like – Army (for occupation), Media (for propaganda), Civil society (for trivializing issues), Judiciary (to satisfy the ‘collective conscience of society’), Legislature (for laws like AFSPA), and NGOs like RSS (for integration and Akhandta, even if it intimidates the freedom loving people and peripheral sovereign states).

This hug campaign of JKRF can be understood in two ways: either it is a publicity stunt by the organization or it is to malign Kashmir’s political issue as a religious issue. Such a misrepresentation of Kashmir’s struggle will create an image of Kashmir where people are slitting each other’s throats in the name of religion. Is that really the case? Isn’t it rather the state which is doing the same – killing people in Kashmir in the name national security and state sovereignty?

Hug campaign should have happened in the cities and towns of India, where communal riots happen and religious intolerance is rampant as a daily reality, and not in Kashmir where religious intolerance does not exist. Kashmir is unnecessarily being driven to be clubbed with the communal politics of cow belt; both by the cow vigilantism by RSS goons and by the language of rights by legislators (like MLA Rashid). Kashmir does not, and never did, face communal disharmony and communal clash among people. Fortunately, politicians do not harness communalism for votes; rather they get mandate for status quo from the security-state.

It is the Indian security-state which aims to fragment the people along religious lines. Why does the state disallow Muharram processions in Srinagar but simultaneously sponsor Amarnath and other Yatras? When Freedom of Religion is a fundamental right, then it should be upheld for all, and there should be no selective approach to it. Even during the peak agitation in 2008 Amarnath land row, not a single Yatri was hurt or offended by the Muslims of Kashmir. Why one point is not understood clearly that Kashmir is not a sectarian or religious conflict, rather it is a political struggle for the Right to Self Determination.

What should have happened ideally is that, Indian Civil Society should have come out and asked for a hug from Kashmiris; to convey a message to Kashmir that what Indian state is doing in Kashmir in the name its people has nothing to do with the people of India. It would have symbolized that conscious citizens of India renounce the tyranny and oppression done in their name and do not support the same.

Instead, it is Kashmiris who come out and hug each other as if they are at daggers with each other. Kashmir has no issue of communal intolerance. It is being forced upon the people of Kashmir, either through offshoots of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) or some other state sponsored agencies – be it the killing of truck driver Zahid in Udhampur or state managed massacre of Sikhs in Chattisinghpora or state orchestrated migration of Kashmiri Pandits. These state backed acts of communal violence have nothing to do with the perceived deteriorated social harmony amongst the people; they are meant solely to reduce the Kashmir issue from a political issue to a communal issue and give it a bad name.

What is ‘Jammu and Kashmir Reconciliation Front (JKRF)’? The word ‘reconciliation’ presupposes a conflict, and aims at restoring the earlier friendly relationship. JKRF with the word ‘reconciliation’ is a good name insofar as they recognize a conflict; but they are mistaken in identifying the nature of the ‘conflict’ and where reconciliation is indeed needed. I guess their dictionary comes from a state-subsidized printing press, which is why they skip the important ingredients in their comprehension of the conflict in Kashmir. JKRF needs to introspect, and not become a confusion brewing machine running on the fuel of state power. It is ridiculous on part of such organizations to stage such dramas in the name of reconciliation – generally post conflict phenomenon. Even the reconciliation under Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa happened in the post-Apartheid period not during the Apartheid regime.

One can argue that people of Kashmir are as tolerant as in Paris, but it is external forces like ISIS in France and India in Kashmir that facilitate communal rifts and disharmony. It is this situation which validates the rationale for hug campaign in Kashmir as in Paris; to reinforce solidarity for tolerance. Agreed! But then the proposition should change and JKRF should call Indian state ISIS (a terrorist) in essence. Still this will not compensate the futility of such exercises in Kashmir because there is enough scope that media will skip the coverage of that part.

Tolerance and brotherhood are universal values, and none oppose these ideas; but what is discomforting is the context and manner in which they are appropriated in Kashmir. Rather than asking right questions, right issues are raised at wrong places and at wrong times. Is it that Kashmiris do not trust each other in Kashmir, or is it that Indian state is Machiavellian enough to create rifts in the name of religion?