Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Kashmir and Arundhati Roy

Deconstructing Arundhati Roy and her tribe

From The Statesman
ND Batra

Ms Arundhati Roy, writing in The Guardian (UK) about the trouble in Kashmir, makes an interesting self-observation, with an aura of exceptionalism, saying, “For someone like me, who is not a Muslim”, the Islamic idea of freedom is hard to accept. Ah! But what if she were Muslim?

Islam would have been an unbearable burden upon someone born with a free spirit, 451-degree Fahrenheit imagination and a big incendiary mouth (“India’s many torture centres and Abu Ghraibs in Kashmir… The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all”) for the simple reason that Islam (a non-pluralistic religion with an uncompromising claim for truth about one God the Greatest, the Prophet and the Holy Book), and secular freedom, as she has understood it, do not chime together. It is the same reason why Ms Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi writer, does not find any Muslim country comfortable and has returned to India claiming, “India is my home though Kolkata is where my heart is.” If you open the door, all Bangladeshis will come to India because India has much greater freedom than any Muslin country. India has a future. Only the blind don’t see it.But what is wrong with Kashmiri Muslim separatists who do not find India comfortable as the rest of 150 million Muslims do? Ms Roy is puzzled and wonders, “Those who wish to turn to the Qura’n for guidance will no doubt find guidance there.

But what of those who do not wish to do that, or for whom the Qur’an does not make place?” Uttering such words about the Holy Book (no place in Qur’an?) would have been blasphemous if she were in Saudi Arabia, where as a Muslim apostate she would have been stoned to death or would have been running from one hiding place to another as Mr Salman Rushdie did for years after he had supped with Satan. Unquestioned obedience (to the religious doctrine) is freedom in Islam as it is in the traditional Christianity of which the historical consequences have been authoritarianism, intolerance and the Inquisition; not freedom and democracy which developed only after the Western mind began to unshackle itself from medieval religious orthodoxy.

Visiting the Kashmir Valley on the wings of poetic eloquence and with fire in her belly during the recent protests, Ms Roy hyperventilated about Srinagar, “The city floated on a sea of smiles. There was ecstasy in the air.” Kashmiris were free from fear. All they wanted was freedom from democracy by exercising their right for self-determination so that they could live according to the Shariat as the Taliban are trying to do in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But Ms Roy’s free spirit turned fearful and she began to wonder what would happen to the Hindus of Jammu, when Kashmiris are finally allowed to quit “nanga bhhookha Hindustan” and bravely march to “jan se pyara Pakistan” led by the self-proclaimed supreme leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Would they too have the right to self-determination? “Will the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits living in exile, many of them in terrible poverty, have the right to return?” she asks. And she knows the answer.

Kashmir has seen one of the worst ethnic cleansing in recent history but Ms Roy, like other Indian intellectuals, opinion-makers and politicos, is afraid to call a spade a spade. Amazingly she brackets the fringe people with great writers like herself. Listen to her falsetto agony and self-pity: “What will happen to homosexuals and adulterers and blasphemers? What of thieves and lafangas and writers who do not agree with the ‘complete social and moral code’? Will we be put to death as we are in Saudi Arabia?” (Italics added). That Kashmiri scenario of freedom will be an intolerable nightmare and Ms Roy wants India to wake up and get out of a hellhole: “India needs aazadi from Kashmir...” Half a million Hindus who visit Amarnath every year too will be free from the burden of treading the inhospitable mountains. And the poor Muslims of Jammu, who will be deprived of the blessings of Kashmiri azaadi, too will find their own freedom as rest of the millions of Indian Muslims have found.

Echoing Ms Roy’s revelation of how the militancy is miraculously changing to non-violence in Kashmir, Jug Suraiya of the Times of India wondered what India would do if Mr Geelani, and “his followers were to adopt the strategies of non-cooperation and satyagraha…” If Mr Geelani were to develop the true spirit of Gandhian sataygraah and non-violence, he would cease to be the Geelani we know, the man who has never stopped believing that Kashmir being a Muslim majority region belongs to Pakistan and there is no other way except the Islamic way, the doctrine Al Qaida and the Taliban want to impose on all Muslims. The only man who ever succeeded in following Mahatma Gandhi was Martin Luther King Jr, who said 45 years ago, “I have a dream...” And that dream has come true in the rise of Senator Barack Obama, the first Black to be nominated the presidential candidate of a major political party in the US. That is an example of a non-violent revolution.

Mr Suraiya asks rhetorically, “By letting Kashmir go peacefully would the idea of India be subverted? Or would it be enlarged and further endorsed? That is the real import of the so-called Kashmir question: it has become the question of the idea of India, and what that idea means to us.”

Letting Kashmir go peacefully into the belly of the beast, the Taliban, is not my idea of India.

Will “India minus the K-word” (Kashmir) or A-word (Arunachal Pradesh) or N-word (Nagaland) still be India? No. India will not be India. India is much more than a mere geographical, sociological or philosophical idea in the minds of the English-speaking intelligentsia living in their gated communities. India is unlike any other nation, a nation so sharply divided and so diverse, culturally, racially and linguistically, that the only way the sufferings of millions of people can be mitigated, the only way natural and manmade disasters can be confronted and overcome is to keep India together ~ whatever it takes. No nation can survive without statesmanship; or without force.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

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