Kashmir issue

In Kashmir, Modi's Israel comparison feeds old stereotypes about the Indian state

It also plays into into parallels between Kashmir and Palestine commonly heard in the Valley.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on Tuesday comparing the Indian Army with Israel’s might have have gone down well in some quarters. But in Kashmir, it was greeted with hurt and some resignation.

At a rally in Himachal Pradesh, Modi had said the surgical strikes on "terror launch pads” in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir were “no less” than the exploits of the Israeli military. The comment comes after three months of protest in Kashmir, which have left scores of people dead or hundreds injured.

“By mentioning Israel, the prime minister has hurt a lot of sentiments here,” said Junaid Mattu, a spokesperson for the National Conference. "Already close to 100 people have died." Mattu added that the analogy was “problematic” since, in Kashmir, many believe that the state uses the same kind of excessive force that Israel does.

Modi's statement also feeds into parallels between Palestine and Kashmir commonly heard in the Valley. In the past, comparisons have been made between protests in Kashmir and Palestine, where civilians have been displaced, lost livelihoods, faced restrictions on movement and denied basic amenities.

In the Valley, many call the movement for “azadi” an “intifada”, an Arabic word that means “to shake off” and which was first put to political use in Palestine in the late 1980s. Some images of the civilian protest in Kashmir, such as stone-pelting children, also echo those of the Palestinian intifada.

A ‘confession’

The Valley’s largest circulating English daily, Greater Kashmir, carried the headline “PM equates ‘surgical strikes’ with Israeli operations” on its front page. Its sister publication, the Urdu newspaper, Kashmir Uzma, also took note. Its front page report on Modi’s remarks went under the headline: "Bharat ne wahi kia jo Israel ne Falastine mei kia" – India has done what Israel did in Palestine.

Urdu newspaper Chattan also featured the story quite prominently though other leading newspapers did not cover the prime minister's remarks.

Modi isn't the first person to make this comparison between India and Israel, observed Sheikh Showkat Hussain, head of the School of Legal Studies at the Central University in Kashmir: it's an analogy that Pakistan has long been pushing. “Now it is sort of a confession on the part of Narendra Modi,” Hussain said. “This has endorsed the long-drawn perception which was thought to be communicated by Pakistan and even separatists over here that Israel and India are two faces of the same coin.”

Indeed, separatist leaders of the Hurriyat greeted Modi’s comparison with little surprise. “I don’t see anything new in it,” said Shahid-ul-Islam, spokesperson of the Hurriyat's Mirwaiz faction. "I remember since the '90s when militancy started, Israeli teams used to come here [to Kashmir] and give [army] training." India learnt how to “suppress the movement” in Kashmir from Israel, separatists contend.

But a student in Kashmir University, who didn’t want to be identified, felt the analogy did not show India in a good light. “Israel is a big bully in that part of the world," this person said. "If that is what India is trying to do here, that shouldn’t be proud moment for India. It glorifies how we are being bullies in South Asia and moreover justifies the claims of some sections of Kashmir.”

The battle of perception

The prime minister’s comments have done nothing to help the popularity of the Indian state in Kashmir. In a Muslim-majority region, Hussain pointed out, comparisons with Israel were bound to create anxieties.

Such remarks, many felt, were bound to push Kashmiris farther away from the state. “Modi has a very superficial understanding of political psychology,” said Mattu. “In conflict zones...perceptions matter more than reality or facts. The long-term effect will be further alienation among Kashmiris.”

Others, however, tended to dismiss the remarks as mere rhetoric, and would have no long-term consequences for Kashmir. “The strike is being politicised for the elections in Uttar Pradesh, there is no other importance,” said Tahir Mohiuduin, editor of the daily Chattan newspaper. “As the situation was already bad here, it would have no other impact over the people.”

A local journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the prime minister’s statement was “more rhetoric and less substance”, and that it was a hollow boast. “India is nowhere near the defence capabilities, particularly in terms of indigenous manufacturing of weapons and innovations,” he said.

He added that Modi’s remarks were tailored for his political supporters and had little to do with Kashmiris. “Linking his statement with Kashmir would be unfair and illogical because the statement was meant for non-Kashmiri audience, mainly the states that are going for polls,” he said.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.