JNU Row: Beyond the “seditious anti-nationalists”

March 19, 2016

by Shatakshi Asthana

Quoting Anirban Bhattacharya during his speech, surfacing on JNU campus in the midnight of 22-02-2016, media’s favourite Umar Khalid said,”It is very easy to become an anti-national.All you have to do is to start thinking and soon you’ll be declared an anti-national.”

No wonder a country ,which has been taking pride in being the largest democracy, functions ‘smoothly’ because nobody thinks,nobody questions. Everyone moulds themselves in the system and goes with the flow. That is what nationalism is-going by the “collective conscience of people.”, right?

I don’t know Afzal Guru.I don’t know if his confession was forced (I don’t find it hard to believe, though). I don’t know how true were the other evidences found against him. They could very much have been,no denying that fact.But the opposite is possible too. Neither do I know Umar Khalid or any other organisers of the 9th Feb event. I don’t know whom had they invited, with what motive. I don’t even know how blindly should I stand with JNU or against it, despite of it being way more reliable than the ‘inspiring’ national channels.

These are things no one can know. All one can do is to believe-believe what is served or fed as information through sources, again, who will vary in authenticity and be certainly above any sort of inputs from their ‘collective conscience’.

As I go through the videos, articles and all other sources of information, with those opens up almost a new world of facts burried deep down, a layer at a time. There is something hidden, behind the scenes, which is potentially influencing the contemporary scenario and the flames are hiding that backdrop.

Call it emotion, bias or emotional bias, whatever, my first reaction to the videos (doctored ones back then) was why will JNU students do something anti-national? Why do they have to be so agitated to call for ‘Kashmir ki azadi’? And above all why are they calling Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt’martyrs’? That doesn’t sound like JNU students.

But what it sounds like is-as some reports (which could too be false) say – a Kashmiri accent (in the videos).

In my attempts to know the background I reach Umar Khalid’s facebook page.It had this poster.


Well,the caption says it all.’The country without a Post Office.’It is the title of a poem by Aagha Shahid Ali which derives from an incident that occurred in 1990, when Kashmir rebelled against Indian rule, resulting in hundreds of gruesome and violent deaths, fires, and mass rapes. For seven months, there was no mail delivered in Kashmir, because of political turmoil gripping the land.

Quoting Khalid’s post- ” Where sunlight melts in snow and the blue doves and white mountains look at their own reflections on the mirror clean lakes. Over different eras, the ruling classes have changed but this propaganda around the beauty of Kashmir remains unchanged. In Government of India tourist dossiers till date, Kashmir features as ‘Paradise on Earth’. But a country is not made up of its physical bounties alone, it is rather made up of people and history. Kashmir did not belong to Nehru, nor does it belong to the Manmohans and Modis of the recent times, who keep flaunting this ‘inalienable crown’ to the whole world. What they consciously invisibilize is that how the occupation of this territory has taken place through might and brutal force, by re-writing history, obliterating memories and facts. Kashmir belongs to the people of Kashmir, though they have been historically robbed of that belonging. Caged in conduit wires and faced with blood stained bayonets from all sides, turned into the most militarized zone in the world, Kashmir remains: the country without a post office. The snow that accumulates and melts and accumulates again keep burying its history along with thousands of mass graves.”

The media trials running across all ‘patriotic’ news channels against these students in a race to give the judgement even before the case could reach the court,tagging the students as ‘Pak agents’,’terrorists’,’anti-nationals’ directly, while tagging themselves as most patriotic and ‘true sons of mother India’,so much infuriated ,almost at the verge of jumping off their seats, ‘acting’ out the scripts dipped in the ink of nationalism,completely over shadowed the prospects of discussion over an issue as serious as Kashmir.

Whenever Kashmir’s issue is brought up we look at it as a match-point against Pakistan.That’s all it’s significance has become to Indians, like you and me, who might have visited Kashmir a few times, gotten the most beautiful pictures with an insanely beautiful landscape in the background. When Pakistan loses a match we mock them saying,”100 run toh bane nahi, chale hain Kashmir maangne”. Even at international stages unless our leaders slam Pak delegates, firmly reminding the world , how ‘integral part of India’ Kashmir is,we consider their speeches cold. Kashmir isn’t a trophy that you want to keep locked up in a glass showcase showing it off to the world neither is it just nother political issue to provide you a platform to demonstrate how you believe in zero-tolerance.

As Khalid writes-” Kashmir belongs to the people of Kashmir’. It is them who were promised a referendum by Pt.Nehru – “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given, and the Maharaja has supported it, not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not, and cannot back out of it. We are prepared when peace and law and order have been established to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations. We want it to be a fair and just reference to the people, and we shall accept their verdict. I can imagine no fairer and juster offer.” (Broadcast from New Delhi on 2nd November, 1947, Govt. of India, White Paper on J&K, Delhi, 1948, p.77)

However,that never happened.

But who are you or me to slam those who want to give Kashmiris a voice? Everytime someone talks about their right to self determination they are declared a threat to the ‘unity and integrity’ of the nation, separatists, anti-nationals. And by whom? Well,let’s not even go there.

A couple of days back I read in a newspaper that a Kashmiri kid who had cleared his class 10th board exams with 98% marks turned into a militant and was thereby killed in an encounter! Class 10th! That scares me.Something IS wrong in the valley.Something that gets overshadowed by the scams costing thousand crores, the sensationalising reporting of a politician calling another-‘maut ka saudagar‘ (with Daily Soaps’ Special Effects), in fact even by what is going to happen in the next episode of Sasural Simar Ka! (*facepalm)

Yes.I doubt how many people know who is Irom Sharmila. (I won’t tell. Google. That’s the least you can do.) Irom,the face of the wrath faced by the Seven Sister States (GOOGLE!), shares no less the pain than that of the Kashmiris-AFSPA.

That brings me back to Afzal. Reading his interviews and other articles discussing his history one thing that establishes as a fact is that he had crossed the border and had taken a training for about three months. Realising that it was for no good to him he returned to India and surrendered.But the life thereafter was nothing but tortuous.

In his words (which ,again,could be false like everything else) – “With the meagre income, I even bought a scooter and also got married. But never a day passed by without the scare of Rashtriya Rifles and STF men harassing me. If there was a militant attack somewhere in Kashmir, they would round up civilians, torture them to pulp. The situation was even worse for a surrendered militant like me. They detained us for several weeks, and threatened to implicate in false cases and we were let free only if we paid huge bribes. Many times I had to go through this. Major Ram Mohan Roy of 22 Rashtriya Rifles gave electric shock to my private parts. Many times I was made to clean their toilets and sweep their camps. Once, I had to bribe the security men with all that I had to escape from the Humhama STF torture camp. DSP Vinay Gupta and DSP Davinder Singh supervised the torture. One of their torture experts, Inspector Shanti Singh, electrocuted me for three hours until I agreed to pay Rs 1 lakh as bribe. My wife sold her jewelry and for the remaining amount, they sold my scooter. ”

But I wonder if this is the story of just one Afzal, of one Kashmiri militant who tried to find a way out of the Indo-Pak battlefield.

Khalid answers this too.

“Keep counting on fingers: on January 21 1990, 55 people were gunned down in Basanthbagh and Gawkadal in Srinagar by CRPF when 20,000 people came out in the streets to protest, defying curfew. Four days later on 25 January, 26 people were shot dead in Handwara town of Kupwara district. On May 21 in the same year, 70 people who were a part of a procession carrying the dead body of a prominent liberation leader were shot down near Islamia College of Srinagar. On 11th June 1991, the CRPF fired and killed 32 people in Chhotabazar Srinagar. On 6th January 1993, BSF killed and burnt alive 57 people in Sopore, and then razed down the whole town burning down a total of 72 structures. On 10 April, 1993, 47 people were burnt alive in LalChowk, Srinagar by BSF who razed more than 300 houses, shops and godowns. On 22 October, in Bijbehara BSF open fired on a procession killing 50 people. In 1998, once again on 8th August, 35 labourers were killed in Jammu by CRPF. In 2008, during the protests against land transfer to the Amarnath Yatra, the Indian state killed 60 people. In 2010, when people came out in the streets against the Indian occupation around 120 people, most of them youngsters, were killed by the security forces. And these mind you are just a few glaring examples, the entire history of Kashmir is fraught with countless brutal killings. More than 4000 women in Kashmir have been raped and molested by the Indian Army. The rest of us might have forgotten or never known, but the valley remembers two villages, Kunan and Poshpora. On 23 February, 1991, around 80 women ranging between the age group of 13-80, were gang raped by the Indian Army, while the men of the villages, were tied up and made to watch the brutality. The valley also remembers Asiya and Neelofer from Shopian, who in 2008 were raped, and their dead bodies thrown in a canal. The doctor who after the post-mortem confirmed that they had been raped was thrown out ofvher job and the military doctor put in her place decreed that Asiya and Neelofer have accidentally drowned in the canal – not mentioning thatthe particular canal had just knee-deep water!”

In one of his interviews Afzal states that the harassment he had to undergo after his surrender earlier played a role to drive him to the Parliament attack conspiracy, however he accepts that this doesn’t justify the act. In that interview he spoke in English, not too good but way better than a layman.I learn that it was in his second year of MBBS that he had crossed the border. I’m reminded of the class 10th kid.

Not that I’m sympathasizing with him, for what he did (if he did) cannot be justified, but there is a need to introspect. If the Indian ruling classes do believe that Kashmir is as integral part of India as any other state why doesn’t it reflect in their actions? Despite every national/international agency, organisation, committee or even an ‘Iron Lady’ asking for the repeal of this ‘draconian’ act AFSPA,Indian Governments show no sign of considerations. No matter how essential AFSPA is for maintenance of peace in the ‘disturbed areas’, if only the governments could show some sensitivity to prevent its misuse, I believe there won’t be anymore Afzals.

But let me not confine myself to Kashmir for the North-Eastern states not only undergo extreme atrocities but unlike Kashmiris they are often ‘sledged’ as ‘Non-Indians’ (mostly Chinese). So in a way they have zero perks to remain associated with a nation which doesn’t seem to accept them.

-The South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre states- “This reasoning exemplifies the vicious cycle which has been instituted in the North East due to the AFSPA. The use of the AFSPA pushes the demand for more autonomy, giving the people of the North East more reason to want to secede from a state which enacts such powers and the agitation  which ensues continues to justify the use of the AFSPA from the point of view of the Indian Government.”

(If you haven’t googled yet) Irom Chanu Sharmila also known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur” or “Mengoubi” (“the fair one”) is a civil rights activist, political activist, and poet from the Indian state of Manipur. On 2 November 2000, she began a hunger strike which is still ongoing. On 2 November 2000, in Malom, a town in the Imphal Valley of Manipur, ten civilians were shot and killed while waiting at a bus stop. The incident, known as the “Malom Massacre”, was allegedly committed by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state.

Like Kashmir,the list continues.

Sadly,the role Indian media has been playing over such issues is heartbreaking-because it plays no role! It does telecast a ‘mahacoverage‘ over Paris attacks but doesn’t lend an ear to the cries in the hills.And when someone else does that they are awaken from their sleep and completely overlooking the background (rather attempting to create a background-as for Umar),flaunt their patriotism shouting at the top of their voices.They make newsroom debates no less futile than Parliament sessions where nobody’s answers can be heard.It’s just a thunder of raging voices trying to prove their dominance,mostly because they know they can’t prove a logic.And amidst this chaos the ground questions are trampled.

A few days later no one will remember Kanhaiya or Umar or the slogans.Neither those who looked furious on the other side of the TV screens nor those who commented abuses in no less rage, will remember a thing.Things will go on as always.

The accused students will complete their Ph.Ds and lecture future generations about their learnings, academic and experienced. The news anchors will keep grilling (at least pretend to) politicians to establish themselves as fearless. New batches of students will apply for JNU. Discussions will keep happening,but may be there will be more disclaiming words than the real content. Sharmila will keep fasting. AFSPA will keep eating. System will keep fooling us around.

And a Kashmiri kid wanting to be heard will keep waiting for another Umar Khalid or Anirban.