Minorities in Kashmir, especially Kashmiri Pandits, lament that the majority in the Valley have not shown enough solidarity after the recent spate of targeted attacks. Why is this demonstration of togetherness and sharing in moments of grief necessary?

Twelve civilians have been killed in Kashmir since October 2, most of them minorities and non-Kashmiris living and working in the Valley. It is presumed that these killings were carried out by Kashmiri Muslim militant groups – although some, including former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, have raised doubts about the source of violence.

However, if minorities in Kashmir are killed, it is only humane that Kashmiri Muslims, who form the majority in the Valley, extend their sympathy and solidarity.

A principle, once established, should be respected and executed everywhere: if a member of the minority community is targeted, members of the majority have a moral duty to come forward and stand with them. Because, more often than not in the subcontinent, violence is carried out in their name. When the majority mourn the death of their minority neighbour, they reject the killers’ claim to speaking in their name.

We need a neighbourhood for this expression of solidarity. I am thinking about those who are known as migrant labourers, who do not have the privilege of belonging to a neighbourhood. Five of the men killed this month had travelled to the Valley from distant homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They are the invisible minority, even more powerless than others. Who will speak of solidarity for them? Who is going to miss them?

A majority under siege

In Kashmir, killings have become normal, more normal than in any other part of India. Kashmiri Muslims are killed by militants as well as Indian security forces. Security forces claim they kill to maintain and establish law and order, they kill in the national interest. It is implied that those killed in such nationalist operations deserve no sympathy. Rather, a show of sympathy on such occasions would be deemed an anti-national act. If at all there is a concession to regret, some of these killings are termed “collateral damage”.

Of course, we should not talk comparatively in the context of death. Each death is a loss of a unique self. So, when Y is killed, we should not ask why no one spoke when X was killed.

But the majority in India needs to talk about its insensitivity to the pain of those it considers “others” in some way.

Going back to Kashmir, I have often wondered about the irony of Kashmiri Muslims being called the majority. A majority that is so powerless it cannot even mourn its leaders. A majority that can move about in its own land only at the mercy of security forces. A majority silenced by the Indian nationalist narrative.

A majority is usually politically, socially and culturally powerful, more powerful than minorities. Are Muslims in Kashmir in such a position? Even the freedom of their leaders is determined by security forces. More often than not, they need the permission of security forces to move or meet their own people. Would they have been allowed to lead a demonstration after the killing of Kashmiri Pandits and other minorities? We know the answer.

In this picture from September 2019, Haseena Malik cries for her son, detained in the crackdown after Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of special status on August 5, 2019. Picture credit: Francis Mascarenhas/ Reuters

The death of the public self

The Indian state is stripping Kashmiris of their publicness. They have been forced to survive only in their privateness, that too a privateness circumscribed by the state.

They are allowed to do farming, run businesses or teach, but they cannot express political opinions of their own. They cannot even assemble on their own terms. Without this right, citizens lose their publicness. In a democracy, the loss of publicness is a metaphorical murder of the citizen.

How does a citizen’s voice matter if it is not a public voice? Which voice matters? If citizens’ rights are taken away from them, if they cannot speak even when attacked unjustly, what strength does their voice retain?

So, Kashmiris are allowed to survive, lead an economic life. Is even that granted to them? Several government employees have abruptly been removed from service – most recently, it was Anees-ul-Islam, the grandson of the late separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, as well as a school teacher from Jammu’s Doda district. Geelani’s grandson had worked as a research officer at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre in Srinagar.

All the dismissal orders invoked Article 311 of the Indian Constitution, under which government servants may be removed without an inquiry if it is “in the interest of the security of the state”. In each case, the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir was said to be satisfied that no inquiry was needed before the employee concerned was removed. Those facing this indignity are mostly Kashmiri Muslims, such is the privilege of the majority community there.

These orders are so humiliating that there should have been an uproar from all of us in mainland India. Would we have tolerated being subjected to such orders? Would our courts have allowed the government to get away with it? Yet the Kashmiri people know that they have nowhere to go to appeal against it. If they raised their voice against the orders, it would be lost in the Indian wilderness.

Who speaks for them?

After killings earlier this month, some media reports said as many as 900 people had been detained across the Valley. A police official speaking to NDTV the detentions were necessary to “break the chain of attacks in the Valley”.

We do not yet know how many of them are still being held. What is the violence that they have suffered? We do not know. Who speaks for them? What solidarity do they have?

It has also been reported that journalists have been summoned and questioned or detained for their work. Teachers, too, have been summoned. The dragnet of the Indian state does not leave any section of Kashmiri society unscathed.

I met a Kashmiri family two years ago, just after August 5, 2019, when the Centre decided to read down Article 370, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of autonomy and splitting the former state into two Union Territories.

A woman in the family turned to me, stoic resolve on her face, and asked: “What now?”

Slightly taken aback by the question, I replied, “It is important that you preserve yourself.”

She smiled wryly. Which self, was her silent question.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.