Hashtag nationalism: Does Kashmir really love India?

For any one growing up in the Valley, anti-India sentiment is popularly acknowledged.

Twitter, like most of India, has recently seen a flurry of proclamations and professions of nationalism. The most surprising of these come from Kashmir – subject to over 100 days of curfew since July – and are beautifully captured by the #kashmirlovesindia hashtag.

The innocuous Twitter accounts weaving this narrative, 140 characters at a time, have pictures of young women with generic Muslim first names and inventive last names, often Khan and Kashmiri. In many of these assertions, there is vehement condemnation for terrorism and Pakistan strewn into the same sentence while photos in jarring neon mention how “every Kashmiri loves India”. Heartwarming as it is to hear such loyalty for the nation and disaffection for Pakistan, how close are these assertions to the truth?

The map of India, with Kashmir as its crowning glory, has had the persuasive capacity to structure the national imagination as one in which Kashmir is seen as an integral part of the Indian mainland. As many have pointed out, this imagination often excludes Kashmiris themselves. Voices from within are often heard, yet seldom listened to. When slogans of azadi ring across the Valley, the people are termed ungrateful.

But what many Indians fail to recognise or even accept is the reflexive disposition of Kashmiris to resist the nation. Kashmiris embody this disposition from early adolescence. Even those who do not actively participate in the Kashmiri resistance movement verbalise hostility towards the Indian nation in speech and acts. They do not take to arms or to the streets to protest, but collude ideologically and resist passively. They may not be the voices ringing out on the streets, but they shape the discourse through living room conversations.

Modes of passive resistance and disguised ideological insubordination operate differently and can be distinguished from the stone pelting and slogan chanting of the streets.

Many in Kashmir are – or seek to be – employed by the Indian state, yet can be found in private spaces acting in ways or holding beliefs that could potentially be termed seditious. They typically express their opinion openly, yet it is disguised. The active protesting of recent years was not always necessary to lift the veil of quiescence. When former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah publicly claimed that anti-India slogans were normal in Kashmir earlier this year, it came as a surprise to the rest of the country. However, for any one growing up in Kashmir, the anti-India sentiment is a popularly acknowledged one.

Everyday resistance

In a recent interview, soldiers employed by the state government described their condition as “aazad Hindustan ke gulaam sipaahi" – enslaved soldiers of an Independent India. This view is common and is also present among children. For instance, at flag-hoisting ceremonies in Kashmir’s schools, even in those run by the Indian Army, many Kashmiri students intentionally disrespect the tricolour. There are rules to hoist the flag, and students usually ignore these rules as the urge for insubordination runs deep in their minds.

Similar incidents are noted during the singing of the Indian national anthem. One is expected to stand still in reverence while it plays. But students in schools all across the Valley find glee in fidgeting during a rendition.

A few months ago, an incident at a school in Srinagar made news when a guest asked its students if India deserved a permanent seat in the United Nation. The students disagreed, leaving him surprised and school authorities embarrassed.

Similarly, Indian national holidays – Independence Day and Republic Day – are symbolically marked as black days.

Kashmiris use cricket as another avenue for everyday, symbolic resistance against the Indian state. Hostility against India is especially high during a cricket match. The pointed support of Kashmiris for whichever team plays against India provides a much needed, active space for resistance. It is common to hear that if India played Israel in any sport, Kashmiris would support Israel. This is a bold assertion in light of the solidarity the Valley feels for Palestine.

These acts reflect the widespread belief that historically, Kashmir's accession to India was not legitimate, and on reports of human rights violations, which together have made Kashmiris even more resentful towards the nation. This discourse needs to be heard, accepted and then dealt with.

Online activism

The growth of smartphones and social media has now created a vast online space for digital activism, and provided an outlet for resistance online. There are often government restrictions on telecommunications and gags on the local media, making the internet an important platform for engaging in political discourse. Mobile internet was restricted recently for the same reason. Nevertheless, tech-savvy activists have taken to the internet, using WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and blogs to have discussions and spread their messages. Attempting to mask this dissent by threatening such activists or creating fake accounts to cover up the shame of so-called anti-nationalism on these platforms is far from the solution.

If history is anything to go by, the deadlock will continue. Many Kashmiris resent the separatists, especially given the economic shutdown of the past three months, but to suggest that Kashmiris love India is also false, to say the least.

To understand the full picture, it is essential for Indians to look beyond the five people they speak to in the tourist towns of Gulmarg and Pahalgam and the security personnel they see during visits to the Valley. Engage and converse with people who live the reality that is Kashmir. Pressing the heart button on tweets that align with one’s beliefs is not enough. Empathise. Living under the constant gaze of the much disliked other is not always pleasant. And if readers still do not get it, here is some dark humour (a shameless plug) in the hope that they do.

Onaiza Drabu is a graduate in anthropology and writes, illustrates and talks about Kashmir in her spare time.

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