KASHMIR - A FAILURE OF POSTCOLONIAL NATIONALISM
The year 1947, with the partition of British India, marked the beginning of two independent dominions: India and Pakistan. The two newly formed countries started with a deep sense of nationalism and ethnic and religious unity. With a heightened wave of nationalism and patriotism, India aimed to create the largest democracy in the world. The newly created democratic state had nationalism as its basis. Unlike other democratic states, India is rich in culture, heritage, and ethnicity but lacked a sense of collectiveness. Therefore, nationalism and patriotism were used as the ideological basis for creating a sense of collectiveness in the newly formed state.
Michael Billig defines nationalism as a “discourse that constantly shapes our consciousness and the way we constitute the meaning of the world. It determines our collective identity by producing and reproducing us as ‘nationals.” Although for the past 75 years since independence, India has tried its best to create a ‘nation-state”, the state of Kashmir stands against this idea.
Five years ago, Indian Nationalism was primarily anti-colonial. But today India has turned into a colony itself, curbing human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and occupying states like Nagaland, Assam, and Jammu and Kashmir, militarily. The only “democratic” thing happening in the country seems to be the elections. Kashmir is the best example of a new model of internal colonialism, where the formerly colonized nation has turned into a colonizer. This essay attempts to explore how nationalism is not bolstered by merely occupying a state. As Billig says, nationalism comes through determining a collective identity by producing ‘nationals’ and a national sentiment that India has failed to create in the region. It is nothing more than a forceful military occupancy.
Mohmmad Junaid’s article on “Death and Life Under Occupation: Space, Violence, and Memory in Kashmir” correctly describes how the Indian government's military occupation has resulted in a failure to instil nationalist sentiment in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. His article elucidates the essence of occupation and how occupation is concealed beneath the masks of "democracy" and "security.” He categorizes democracy in Kashmir, in the context of occupation, “as an institutionalized process in the occupier state, the undemocratic nature of rule in the occupied regions, and the floating image of democracy (democracy as the ‘‘pure sign’’) as it hovers.” It is ironic how the ‘only’ democratic process that happens in Kashmir is the elections, which are conducted under high curfew and supervision. He accurately explains how democracy in Kashmir is designed to support territorial nationalism.
The continual battle on the state’s border act as an event to increase patriotism and nationalist sentiments. The author defines the on-ground nationalist sentiment in Kashmir by calling it “the role of a kind of nationalistic glue that artificially binds the nation together.” Within the context of Billigs’s definition of nationalism, nationals come with collective identification of nationalism. Thus, according to this definition, can Kashmiris be called nationalists or Indian nationals? How would one identify a state which is administered by a democratic government, run by elected officials, but is held under a military occupation, with all human rights curbed?
Thus, the debate around "democracy" has been utilized to create a false dichotomy between the Indian democracy and the Kashmiri independence struggle. It is a contrast in which the latter’s independence movement is seen as undemocratic in comparison to Indian authority, which portrays itself as democratic since elections are held. Angana P. Chatterji adds on to the militarization of Kashmir by saying, “Discipline is used on individuals and collectives by those authorized to perpetrate violence in the interest of the ‘national good’”. Here, national good refers to Indian nationalism profiting from the endless war in Kashmir.
The colonizing nature of the largest democracy is best visible in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be seen better anywhere. Over the years, due to a failed administration, the state has witnessed rigged elections, military oppression, terrorist attacks, and the autonomy given by article 370 being gradually eroded by both presidential orders from the Centre, and with the consent of state assembly. Many may argue that the government has been working for the progress of the state and the policies implemented will take some years to bear fruit.
However, the brutalities committed by the state overshadow any good done by the administration as reported in the Greater Kashmir, an e-paper, which quotes, “40 civilians were killed and 72 were injured in militancy-related incidents in Jammu and Kashmir till this month in 2021”.
Partha Chatterjee accurately describes the colonizing nature of India in the state. First, with the abrogation of article 370, a ruling constitutional provision affecting the fundamental structure of federal relations between the Union and the states is revoked by an executive order, approved by a simple majority in Parliament, without consulting the elected representatives of the affected state. Second, the Union government has all the power to partition a state without consulting its own people or elected legislation. Third, a state that has existed since the constitution's inception has been reduced to a Union territory, ostensibly to make it more conducive to growth and democracy. All these actions reflect the colonial nature of the Indian state.
Before understanding the colonial nature of India, we need to explore why Kashmir is a failure of post-colonial nationalism and why India is holding on to it despite the rebellions against it. Angana P. Chatterji argues that Indian civil society believes that an autonomous or independent Kashmir will become an Islamist state, posing a danger to India's democracy. What the administration fails to recognize is that Kashmiris do not distance themselves from Hindus, but rather from the Indian identity as a whole. The rebellion of Kashmiris is not against the Hindu-majority nation but against the Indian government’s rule over them. Throughout these years, Kashmir has demanded its identity as a nation, a nation that belonged to Kashmiris rather than India or Pakistan, a nation that promoted 'Kashmiri identity.'
In establishing the arguments for Kashmir's claim to freedom Chatterji believes, New Delhi has appointed itself as the arbiter. The Indian state is concerned that any change in the established order in Kashmir could spark a massive internal crisis in India. According to Chatterji, there is widespread resentment across the country, due to variations in culture, imagination, and desire which are mortgaged to the notion of India, as constructed by its Hindu elite. Kashmir continues to serve as an excuse for India to avoid dealing with its internal issues.
Armed resistance in Kashmir started in 1988 and intensified in the 1990s. Gawakadal killings was the first incident of human rights violation by the Indian Government. This locally inspired arms movement was initiated against the brutalities and illegal occupation of Kashmir by the Indian state. The government of India has repeatedly shifted the focus from the movement’s aims by calling it a terrorist movement funded by the Pakistani government.
Muhammad Tahir quotes some facts against the Indian security forces who have continued to practice barbaric methods of violation despite the continuous pressure of the international organizations. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson described the violation in Indian Occupied Kashmir as “serious.”
Occupation always thrives upon disorder, and what we observe in Kashmir is merely disorder, that the occupation has created. The battle between an occupier and the occupied is a never-ending narrative that results in nothing but violence. As Foucault suggests, power and resistance operate simultaneously: ‘‘Where there is power, there is resistance.” So, in such circumstances, how can one expect the "occupied" to develop a sense of nationalism for the “occupier”?
Kashmiris often consider India as a foreign country, a country of diverse cultures, a country that is more interested in saving the land than its people. The cultural significance of an imagined community, which Kashmir is definitely lacking can be understood by Benedict Anderson’s book “Imagined Communities.” He associates nationalist imagining with religious imaginings. This similarity is not coincidental but helps us understand the interlinkage between cultural roots of nationalism with death, as the ultimate of an extensive list of tragedies. These imagines communities, as Anderson explains, is the “national imagination' at work in the movement of a solitary hero through a sociological landscape of fixity that fuses the world inside the novel with the world.
In Kashmir, after every death of the oppressed by the oppressor, a sense of collectiveness is established, a feeling that unifies the people for the cause of free nationality, for "Azadi." In their heart, every Kashmiri is aware of that fact, that idea of “Azadi” is a delusion, but it is because of an imagined community that people are willing to risk their lives. They cannot, ‘let the lives of their innocent brothers go into vain.’ For the formation of an imagined community a nation needs to have a sense of collectiveness. Needless to say, India has never been able to integrate Kashmir, not the land, nor the people. Kashmir as a state of India of India is merely a utopian dream which is impossible to happen in the near future.
Therefore, we can conclude that the Indian military’s occupation in Kashmir is a perfect example of miserable nationalism. Nationalism is nothing but a feeling of collective identity, from the above argument. It would not be wrong to say that India has failed to create a sense of identity. From the first step of India, in 1947, Kashmir’s presence in India has been nothing more than a military occupation. One may argue that India has been promoting development while also attempting to instil nationalist consciousness in the region. But one should not ignore the facts: with every government policy, Kashmiris have seen infinite internet blockage; although the government may develop schools for a brighter future. The number of curfews outnumber the number of days children actually attend school; in 2019, schools in Kashmir remained shut for 7 months. In an effort to combat the militants, children and civilians are killed, and women are raped. It looks like India only preserves “law and order” to protect its land and not its residents.
The amount of money used to maintain the military occupation of Kashmir is the money that should be spent on schools, hospitals, and food for India's destitute and hungry population. It will not be wrong to say, Kashmir is nothing, but a political agenda used to facilitate the Indian nationalist sentiment. It would be absolutely irrational for the oppressor to expect nationalist sentiments from the oppressed. Furthermore, though Kashmir has failed to accept post-colonial Indian nationalism, it certainly has created its own imagined community. A community where ‘Shahid’ is the national hero, who sacrificed himself against the oppressors. A nationalist feeling where everyone shares the grief of the ones killed by the oppressors in the hope of getting “Azadi,” freedom from the oppressor. Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali, suggests this relationship when he says:
They ask me to tell them what Shahid means— Listen: It means ‘‘The Beloved’’ in Persian, ‘‘witness’’ in Arabic. To be a shahid is to witness and speak with familiarity of a place that has been turned strange, to remember a dismembered world, and to build—in the two Heideggerian senses of the word—cultivating and constructing—to dwell. And for every shahid killed, this feeling of nationalism increases and integration of oppressed and the oppressor noting but a utopian idea. The Kashmir, which India tends to claim, is nothing but a piece of land which the administration has failed to integrate with the Indian nation. Therefore, India requires azadi from Kashmir as much as–if not more than–Kashmir requires azadi from India.
Calhoun, C. (2016). The importance of imagined communities - and Benedict Anderson. Debates: Journal of Culture, Power and Society, 1, 11-16.
Chatterjee, P. (2019, August 28). Kashmir is the test bed for a new model of internal colonialism. Retrieved from The Wire.
Derrida, J. (1992). Onto-theology of national-humanism (prolegomena to a hypothesis. Oxford Literary Review, 14(no 1), 3-24.
Junaid, M. (2013). Death and life under occupation: space, violence, and memory in Kashmir. Everyday Occupations: Experiencing Militarism in South Asia and the Middle East, 158-190.
Muhammad Tahir, Tabassum,. (2012). Political situation in Kashmir and role of United Nations. SCS Journal , no 1(2), 4-28.
Roy, Arundhati, Pankaj Mishra, Hilal Bhatt, Angana P. Chatterji, and Tariq Ali. (2011). Kashmir: The case for freedom. Verso Books. Verso Books.
Cover Image: Danish Ismail/Reuters
About the author: Rukhsaar Tariq is a third year student who goes by the pronouns She/her. She is pursuing global affairs, with a keen interest in Human rights, feminism and conflict and has an avid interest on effects of conflict on women.