It is impossible to comprehend the policy of New Delhi to Kashmir without recognising that for people on both sides of the ideological divide in India, Kashmir has a supreme symbolic importance well beyond just the land and its people. What makes Kashmir inestimable as an emblem for both is because Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in India. All other Muslim majority regions in undivided India (except Hyderabad that was subdued) joined the union of Pakistan. Kashmir, through the chance of history, remained with India.

For several secular Indians, Kashmir is a test-case for a country that declares in its Constitution that the nation belongs equally to people of every faith. By that tenet, the fact that Kashmir has an overwhelmingly Muslim population is in itself an irrelevant basis of the claims that Pakistan lays on Kashmir – only on grounds that the majority of its people are Muslim – because Pakistan is a country whose central organising principle is religion, but not India.

The problem is of course the gaping chasm between principle and practice of India’s constitutional secularism. If the majority of Muslims in Kashmir are not convinced that India, in practice, assures them the dignity and protection of equal citizenship, then the moral claims of India’s secular Constitution on their hearts and minds break down. They also shatter if the Hindu (and Sikh and Buddhist) minorities do not feel safe and equal in Kashmir. The exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in the 1990s, and the lack of any effective political and social initiative from the Muslim residents of Kashmir to either have prevented their flight, or to ensure that they can return safely today and live in mixed settlements with their Muslim neighbours as in the past, further enfeebles the secular premise for Kashmir to remain a part of India.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons).

But the greatest weakness for those who believe that Kashmir’s continuation in India is the ultimate litmus test of the success and authenticity of its secular credentials is that if the majority of Kashmiri Muslims demonstrably do not want to continue to throw their lot with India’s destiny, then no secular democratic principle is endorsed by holding them to India by decades of military suppression.

For Hindu nationalists, on the other hand, precisely the fact that Kashmir is Muslim majority makes it suspect in its loyalty to the Indian nation. In the eyes of the RSS, in the orthodoxy of the Sangh, the Muslim is the “enemy within”. The taming of Kashmir has therefore always been high on the RSS agenda for India as part of the establishment of India as a Hindu Rashtra. The flying of India’s flag in Lal Chowk, the central square in Srinagar, has therefore long been an article of both faith and valour for the RSS, as a symbol of the submission of Kashmir to the Indian nation. (The irony is that the RSS has long refused to fly the Indian tricolour at its headquarters in Nagpur. It flies the saffron flag instead). The annulment of Article 370 of India’s Constitution – which guarantees a special status to Kashmir – is one of the three paramount demands of the RSS. The other two are the construction of a Ram Temple at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, and a Uniform Civil Code (again aimed to revoke the rights of Muslim men to have more than one wife or to divorce their spouse at will).

Therefore, in the present era of triumphalism in the Hindutva camp, with Modi’s repeated impressive successes at the hustings, the suppression of any kind of popular or militant Kashmiri assertion is politically fundamental to the advance of the Hindu Rashtra. It is for this reason that the taming of Kashmir is seen to be imperative not just for the integrity of the Indian nation, but for the triumph of Hindu nationalism.

Unlike in the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance administration, which also subscribed to a militarist approach to Kashmir but, at the same time, kept open other avenues of dialogue and development, the present administration is happy for the Kashmiri today to see the Indian state mainly in the form of a menacing and unrelenting gun-toting Indian soldier.

Last November, a piece in The Guardian, asked:

“How did India get here? How is it all right for a constitutionally democratic and secular, modern nation to blind scores of civilians in a region it controls? Not an authoritarian state, not a crackpot dictatorship, not a rogue nation or warlord outside of legal and ethical commitments to international statutes, but a democratic country, a member of the comity of nations. How are India’s leaders, thinkers and its thundering televised custodians of public and private morality, all untroubled by the sight of a child whose heart has been penetrated by metal pellets? This is the kind of cruelty we expect from Assad’s Syria, not the world’s largest democracy.”

The answer can only be – India got here because of the triumph of majoritarian nationalism: its hubris, its spectacular want of compassion.

(Photo credit: Reuters).

War against citizens

The suppression of Kashmir is now a made-for-television spectacle, designed to both whet and assuage bloodlust in the rising ranks of Hindu nationalists, who see themselves as, by definition, the only authentic Indian nationalists. The Army records videos of its military operations and successes, not just against Pakistan but also Kashmir, and hands these out to television channels, which obediently, uncritically and often with a shared triumphalism relay these, portraying the unruly Kashmiri not just as the disloyal “other”, but as the enemy. I do not recall an occasion in the past in which the Army chief in India openly held out threats to a section of the country’s own civilians. General Bipin Rawat does so belligerently, aware that he is openly intimidating young citizens of his country and theirs. He went so far as to say that young people who throw stones will be treated by the army as over-ground militant supporters, and that he wishes that they would use bullets so his soldiers could respond in kind, also with bullets.

The Army is a highly disciplined force, and its serving officers would not speak to, and through, the media unless they were authorised to do so. Again, I do not recall junior officers of the armed forces defending strategies such as the human shield aimed against Indian civilians in the way that Major Leetul Gogoi did on prime-time national television recently. As Apoorvanand observed in the Indian Express,

“That it did not shock us when Gogoi addressed the nation through the media after being decorated is a disturbing sign. Before him, and the current army chief, we do not remember any army officer addressing a press conference, not even after the Pakistan Army’s surrender in 1971, not after Operation Blue Star or the Kargil conflict. In all these, the army was the main actor. But it refrained from being seen as the director. It was always seen as following the civil authority. The present government is invoking nationalism to legitimise itself. It is trying to show it is the first government which backs the army. The latter is obliging by making the government’s nationalist agenda its own.”

Even more extraordinary is the release, presumably by Indian Army sources, of videos that record their harsh coercive and violent action against protesting Kashmiris. Why should the Army post celebratory videos of its severe punitive action against civilians, who are unarmed or armed at best with stones, often very young, and sometimes women and girls? Videos that establish a brazen violation of human rights, the law of the land, and international law, in the way the Army treats citizens of the country?

Earlier, we could have expected security forces to restrain any such public celebration of their breaking of the backs and spirits of unarmed civilians because of service discipline, for fear of criticism by liberal opinion within and outside the country, and perhaps the sense that the violent repression of one’s citizens is not something to publicly celebrate in a democracy. But no longer. Instead, these videos are circulated as evidence of Army valour, and of decisive action against the unruly and disloyal Kashmiri.

Farooq Ahmed Dar, the Kashmiri who was used as a human shield by the Army.

For retired Army personnel, free from even the formality of Army discipline, this is, of course, open season. A number of them rally their hyper-nationalist rage against the rebellious stone-pelting Kashmiri youth in noisy television studios.

All across Modi’s India today we find that bitter and uncompromising battle lines are drawn between people wedded to majoritarian Hindu nationalism who define themselves as true nationalists and who see those who oppose their policies – the left, the liberals, and the minorities – as wanting in love for their nation, as anti-national. It is instructive to note that Kashmir becomes the flashpoint, or the central contention, of many of these recent contestations, especially in university campuses around the country.

Any discussion about Kashmir that does not endorse its militarist suppression is a red rag for Hindu nationalists. Last year, three student leaders of Jawaharlal Nehru University were jailed, and several more charged with the grave crime of sedition after they were alleged to have organised a meeting on the anniversary of the hanging of Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru in which pro-Kashmir slogans against India were said to have been shouted.

Amnesty International India held an event called “Broken Families” at the United Theological College in Bengaluru as part of its campaign against human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, with well-known journalist Seema Mustafa in the panel. The audience included families of disappeared persons, those who had lost loved ones to fake encounters and people whose relatives allegedly had been tortured by security personnel. Two days later, sedition charges were filed against Amnesty’s Bengaluru unit after members of the RSS-affiliate Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad complained.

The Doval doctrine

A number of citizen’s groups visited Kashmir in the winter of 2016 in solidarity and for fact-finding. I was part of one such group, with Pamela Philipose, Navsharan Singh, Tapan Bose and Dinesh Mohan. We all found that many Kashmiris we spoke to believed that although the approach of the Indian government to Kashmir has for many decades been militaristic, there is a distinct toughening with the new government, a policy of deliberate repression and pacification without dialogue. They sometimes referred to it as the “Doval Doctrine”, after National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, or the “Modi Doctrine”.

According to a fact-finding report of the Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights released in November, the popular perception is that the policy of the BJP-led Union government is to exhaust “the people of Kashmir and thus to subdue them”. In another document brought out in November by the Centre for Policy Analysis, some interlocutors condemned what they saw to be the Union government’s strategy of “letting Kashmir fester and showing the big stick when matters threaten to get out of hand”.

Two carefully researched articles, one for Frontline magazine by AG Noorani in 2015 and another by Sushil Aron for the Hindustan Times in 2016, examine the elements of the Doval doctrine, which covers both India’s foreign policy and national security.

Ajit Doval, a 1968 batch Indian Police Service officer of the Kerala cadre, who retired in 2005, is reputed to be one of Modi’s closest confidantes. After his retirement, he headed the Vivekananda Foundation, which is strongly embedded in the Hindutva ideology, and has become one of the main hunting grounds for senior appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Right to left: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar. (Photo credit: PTI).

Noorani suggested that one of the key pillars of the Doval doctrine is “the irrelevance of morality”. He wrote:

“Doval sought to explain the dilemma one faces between ‘individual morality’ and the ‘value system of the state’. The state is necessary. ‘If it is necessary, protecting itself will be its supreme role. Individual morality cannot be inflicted on the larger interest of society. The nation will have to take recourse to all means to protect itself. And in this, it cannot afford to subjugate what is in its long-term interest.”

The second pillar is to valorise offence rather than defence. Noorani quoted Doval as saying:

“You know, we engage [one’s] enemy in three modes. One is a defensive mode. That is, you see what the chokidars and chaprasis do, i.e. to prevent somebody from coming in. One is defensive-offensive. To defend ourselves, we go to the place from where the offence is coming. We are now in defensive mode. The last mode is called offensive mode. When we come in defensive-offense, we start working on the vulnerabilities of Pakistan (as the archetypical enemy). It can be economic, it can be internal, it can be political; it can be international isolation, defeating their policies in Afghanistan, making it difficult for them to manage internal political lands security balance. It can be anything…

“…(I)n defensive mode you throw 100 stones on me, I stop 90. But 10 still hurt me and I can never win. Because, either I lose or there is a stalemate. You throw a stone when you want, you have peace when you want, you have talks when you want. In defensive-offense we see where the balance of equilibriums lies.”

And the third pillar of his doctrine is paramount reliance on military might. These three pillars – of amorality, offence and militarism – are dangerous enough if these define a country’s relationship with its neighbours. But the even greater problem is that these define the way Doval believes that internal rebellions as in Kashmir should best be handled. Every dissenting voice in the Valley must be crushed with the brute force of the Army, even if they are children armed with stones.

Might is right

Sushil Aaron dissected the specifics of Doval’s Kashmir policy based on a speech he gave in Hyderabad when he was not part of the government. Doval, said Aaron, characterised the Kashmir problem as the product of the “dysfunctional mindset” of three parties: India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists. India is traditionally reluctant to embrace power, Pakistan is driven by a desire to destroy India, and Kashmiris are complicit in the latter’s project.

According to Doval, wrote Aaron,

“India has trouble in exercising power, in setting the agenda and changing realities in its favour. Pakistan, instead, decided the timing and terms of engaging India in war or peace, India restricted itself to defensive defence, not defensive offence.”

Aaron wrote that Pakistan’s mistake, according to Doval, is to believe that India is weak, and Pakistan, driven by religious fervour, strong. The Kashmiri separatists assume that international opinion is in their favour and they have great faith in Pakistan even though it does not have the capacity nor the intent to liberate Kashmir. Doval argues that the situation will change if Delhi gives up on the high moral ground. “In the game of power the ultimate justice lies with the one who is strong,” said Doval in Hyderabad.

Aaron wrote that Doval regards the 2010 protests (and presumably the 2016 one as well) not as a spontaneous uprising by civil society but as part of a well-orchestrated plan by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in league with Kashmiri separatists. He wrote:

“[Doval believes that] Pakistan instructed people where they should congregate, where to collect stones. There would be calls from mosques as well. He [Doval] said the protests were not peaceful, the type of damage stones can do was ‘totally murderous’ and therefore the security forces “were totally justified in using the force they did.”

Aaron continued, saying, that Doval believes if India exercises power decisively, then Pakistan and the Kashmiris will fall in line: “Apart from the use of force to quell protests Doval also endorses a hardline political approach with a view to conceptually reconfigure the conflict.”

However, Aron identified fatal flaws in the Doval doctrine. He wrote:

“[It is] entirely abstracted from the nature of lived experience in the Valley shaped by unfulfilled political aspirations, an overwhelming military presence, denial of rights of assembly, and repeated excesses over the years. Pakistan’s machinations and religious radicalism are factors in the Valley but they thrive in the seedbed of opportunity established by India’s policy… [T]he Doval doctrine does not differentiate between separatist leaders allegedly stoking unrest and civilians on the streets – it directs the fury of the State on the latter, thus handing out a form of collective punishment. Doval’s theory assumes that a period of shock therapy will rewire the way Kashmiris think about their situation and accordingly adjust their expectations. But it underestimates what collective suffering does to social resolve; a sense of injustice reinforces the search for meaning, it will not steer individuals towards depoliticised acquiescence. Theoretically neat statist strategies that delineate outcomes on paper have rarely eviscerated morally grounded longings in history. Kashmiris can be repressed, but State violence will not tame their soul. Delhi’s shock therapy has already caused untold damage to Kashmir. If persisted with, it can generate severe militant blowback within the Valley.”

Similarly, in a piece in last month, Shoaib Daniyal also referred to the Doval doctrine, saying: “Formulated by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, the policy [being followed in Kashmir] recommends the use of force and force alone to take back the streets from Kashmir’s stone pelters.”

The Modi government’s muscular policy – of “only brawn, no brain” – was leading to disaster in Kashmir, continued Daniyal. He wrote:

“Kashmir’s anger is so intense, the state’s political presence has nearly faded out. The Srinagar bye-election in April saw a voter turnout of 7% – the lowest ever in the state.”

According to this doctrine, no weapon or strategy of offence is out of bounds – bullets, pellet guns, human shields – even if these outrage international and national legal and moral codes. Victory can only be assured by military might. The only objective is to win, by any means. Even if blood flows, if children are felled or blinded, if mothers weeps, if liberals are outraged, if people do not vote, it does not matter. India has to prevail by more and more military force, even over its own people.

Taking responsibility

The stones flung by children and young men – and some young woman – signals a mounting, perhaps terminal alienation of the Valley from the Indian state, and a loss of faith in the usefulness of democracy and dialogue in altering harsh reality.

We as Indian citizens need to be aware that when this new generation of Kashmiris cries out for azadi, this must be for us a constant reminder of the failure, not just of the Indian state, but Indian citizens – artists, intellectuals, scientists, students, working people, farmers in the country – to stand up and speak out in favour of the legitimate rights of the Kashmiris. They will remember how we failed them.

Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali left behind this poem to speak of the sense of betrayal of the Kashmiri Pandit.

“At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me:
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. You can’t forgive me.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory…

“…There is nothing to forgive.You can’t forgive me...

“There is everything to forgive. You can’t forgive me...”

— Farwell, by Agha Shahid Ali

Reading the poem today, it could be one we write to the Kashmiri people.

It is imperative for every Indian outside Kashmir to be mindful that the 1.3 million pellets that were fired by security forces against unarmed citizens in Kashmir in the cruel summer and autumn of 2016 were fired in our name, yours and mine. And being mindful is not enough, we must take and accept responsibility for those 1.3 million pellets. We are told that all of this is being done to make our nation strong. It is for us that seven million people in the entire Valley of Kashmir had to endure the longest curfew in their history, in all our histories, unmindful of how they lived or died, how they brought food to their children or medicine to their ailing. It is for us that children are being rounded up by men in uniform from their schools and colleges to fill their prisons. It is for us that children are being blinded in the largest campaign of mass blinding in modern times.

You may remind us – no, they are not unarmed. They are fighting our soldiers with stones. Yes, they are, with stones and with fire and fury in their hearts. But we must ask ourselves, is it right for us to blind, maim or exterminate our children because they fight our soldiers with stones?

We are told that a nation cannot be strong if it is ethical or compassionate. These are despicable signs of weakness. A strong state is a state that is without morality or mercy.

Who will tell them how wrong they are? That it is only the weak who fell those who are weaker, whose hearts are empty of mercy, who celebrate the weeping of children and their mothers and fathers. The truly strong are those who have the courage to be kind and just.

(Photo credit: Reuters/Danish Ismail).

The Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

“The oppressor is in solidarity with the oppressed only when he (or she) stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice, cheated … — when he (or she) stops making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures and risks an act of love. True solidarity is found only in the plenitude of this act of love, in its existentiality, in its praxis…”

The time has come for us all to risk the plentitude of such acts of love.