While we are all humans, we are not all alike. Differences of ethnicity, language, forms of government, cuisine, attire etc. are what make the world a beautiful place to live in, just like a garden with a multitude of flower varieties. This idea is beautifully represented in verse 49:13 of the Quran that talks of humanity being a family descended from one couple but divided into nations and tribes for the sake of identification, and these identifications are natural, like identification with one’s near relatives. However, often, our nationalist and religious identities take away from the larger humanistic impartiality (which Prophet Muhammad emphasized when he said that you must stop your brother from oppressing others, as stated in Shahi Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 43, Hadith 624, and he used the term ‘ummah’ in the constitution of Medina in a national context including the non-Muslims) and make us view events and situations in a biased manner so as to feed the notion that our grouping isn’t in the wrong (something that, at times, takes the form of ludicrous conspiracy theories) or that others may be worse. Many of us often take delight in exaggerating the wrongs of those in other groupings (and no grouping is an absolute monolith, for everyone in it to be blamed for the wrongs of some), but without showing ourselves the mirror, only believing what sounds like music to our ears. I am an Indian Hindu and had written an article on the blog-site of the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune talking of how several people in India and Pakistan exaggerate the problems of the religious minorities on the other side of the border to validate their nationalist prejudices, and I did so citing several specific, irrefutable facts that would counter the psychological projection of exaggerated minority victimhood (not necessarily false propaganda, but one side of the story suiting the agenda of majoritarian people in both the countries to tarnish the image of minorities in their own country, pointing to their supposedly extremist co-religionist majority in the other).
While I got some comments from both Indians and Pakistanis appreciating my piece, many of my fellow Indians angrily accused me of equating the scenario of majoritarianism in both the countries, with them asserting that the religious minorities in Pakistan are undoubtedly worse off than in India, especially given the legal setup in Pakistan reserving posts of President and PM for Muslims, the religion-specific and prone-to-misuse blasphemy laws, restrictions of Ahmedias’ religious freedom and freedom of speech, other than the declining percentage of the religious minorities in Pakistan, with many Hindus, for instance, seeking asylum in India. While I would not disagree with these facts, that still doesn’t imply that we ought to make sweeping generalizations about the Muslim populace of Pakistan as being viscerally majoritarian (yes, the extremist section of the majority is very problematic, like it is in India, though India has its share of extremists from the minority religious groupings as well) or even unduly exaggerate minority victimhood in Pakistan, and while I had talked of majoritarianism in both the countries, I never said the scenario is equally bad in both, and certainly, Pakistan is worse than India when it comes to religious intolerance. Likewise, from among Pakistanis, one Faraz Talat accused me of wanting to write off all wrongdoings by the Hindu right from the historical record, saying that all talk of exaggerating victimhood was a hogwash to silence any discussion on Hindu majoritarianism in India. While I have personally nothing against Faraz, what he said is something which, I believe, couldn’t be rationally derived from my piece, any which way, but he did not even so much as acknowledge that I was referring to the exaggeration of majoritarianism in Pakistan by some Indians too, and so, by his yardstick, would he suggest that I wish to condone the crimes by the Muslim right in Pakistan as well? I strongly condemn majoritarianism anywhere and equally condemn generalized majority-bashing (especially in pluralistic countries, with even developed countries with much better law-and-order mechanisms having their sporadic hate crimes, occasionally even by law-enforcers, and in Pakistan, most of the victims of TTP terrorism, other than sectarian and ethno-linguistic clashes, are Muslims, though that doesn’t mean that crimes against the non-Muslim minorities there be condoned), and indeed, the recent hate crime of a Muslim man being killed in an Indian village (not in Kashmir) over the issue of beef is reprehensible to say the least and has drawn wide condemnations from the Indian civil society. Hopefully, justice will be done soon.
Faraz has recently written a piece on the blog-site of Express Tribune in Pakistan, on the ban on beef in Kashmir, and has suggested that it was deliberately timed just before Id-ul-Zuha. He has also made references to what he considers a serious clampdown of civil liberties in Kashmir by the Indian state. This article of mine seeks to fill in the information vacuum, for as I see it, Faraz has presented one side of the story, which he is entitled to, but which carries a psychological projection that exaggerates that side of the story and overlooks some very crucial facts. The larger “core issue” of Kashmir, with the legal and moral validity or invalidity of the competing claims of India, Pakistan and the people of the erstwhile princely state on both sides of the LoC who support either of the two countries in its claims or just desire complete independence (in the context of which the text of the United Nations resolution mandating withdrawal of Pakistani troops before their Indian counterparts is also relevant) and how there can be reconciliation as also the record of human rights violations committed by some of all camps, including the rogue elements in the Indian military and paramilitary forces engaging in rapes, fake encounters of innocents who are branded as militants, and forced disappearances, like their counterparts in conflict zones across the globe (including Balochistan and the erstwhile East Pakistan), which must undoubtedly be condemned in the strongest terms (though the inevitable deaths of civilians that occur while trying to control stone-pelting mobs by soldiers using pellet guns or tear gas shells are a different case altogether, and often, when the soldiers aim at the legs, children, who are shorter in height, unfortunately get fired at on their chests and heads with fatal consequences), is a different topic of discussion altogether, to which a separate article can be dedicated, and here, my focus shall only be on some specific points raised by Faraz in the current scenario. I do indeed have a keen interest in the Kashmir issue, especially given my having had several Kashmiri friends of diverse ages, political opinions and religions. And yes, the dimension of the Kashmiri Hindus, also known as Kashmiri Pandits, displaced from their homeland by Muslim extremists among the Kashmiri separatists is often unfortunately overlooked, as my fellow Indian friend Saif Ahmad Khan has forcefully contended in this piece for a Pakistani media house, and for a rebuttal to the rationalizations and conspiracy theories offered about their exodus, please see this article; by the way, many militants targeted Kashmiri Muslims as well for reasons like pro-India political leanings, extortions, marrying a girl etc., and they forced the cinema halls of the valley to shut down (for apparently being un-Islamic), which are still not back.
Faraz begins his article referring to “firebrand” Kashmiri separatist leader Asiya Andrabi for being arrested for having waved the Pakistani flag, having sung the Pakistani national anthem and slaughtered a cow, saying that the arrest was on “bizarre” grounds. By the way, the leader Faraz hails as firebrand is known for her very radical interpretation of Islam that would like to have all Muslim women in burqas and restrain even the regular friendly contact cutting across the gender divide, with Valentine’s Day being the prime occasion of targeting young adults by her several followers. A Kashmiri Muslim friend of mine living in Srinagar told me that her guy-friend, who she was not even dating, refused to meet her in a cafe on 14th February this year for fear of Asiya’s followers – so, is Asiya a freedom fighter in every sense of the term? Another Kashmiri Muslim friend of mine in a locality in Srinagar where separatist goons are quite powerful did not vote in the Lok Sabha elections for fear of being thrashed by them. Some such liberal-minded Kashmiri Muslim friends of mine feel that despite India’s Hindu right, which they feel is more often than not kept in check by the judiciary and media, India is indeed the best option to have a liberal, tolerant, progressive and economically developing Kashmir (you can read articles by one such Srinagar-based Kashmiri Muslim acquaintance of mine for a Pakistani media house here), and even many liberal Kashmiri separatists are indeed very disillusioned with their theocratic leadership. More recently, Geelani’s foot-soldiers vandalised the prizes and refreshments for a peaceful marathon event in Kashmir, with mostly local Muslim participants, with some girls even being molested, and many from the ‘freedom’ camp even opposed such a mixed-gender sporting event. So, the clampdown on civil liberties in Kashmir is even by the separatists.
Without getting into the larger debate of the Kashmir issue right at the outset in his article, Faraz acknowledges that given that India considers Kashmir as its part-
“One may empathise with a state’s hesitance in allowing a separatist leader her unrestrained right to free expression.”
However, he has further contended-
“But what message does it air to the world, when a state harasses and arrests people over brandishing a piece of cloth, or harvesting beef?”
Thus, he says he can understand restraining separatists’ freedom of expression but not the grounds the Indian state resorted to in this context. We will come to the bit about beef subsequently, but about the reference to “brandishing a piece of cloth” or singing a song, it must be understood that from the standpoint of the Indian state, any such act, especially in a conflict zone like Kashmir, is not simply exercising one’s freedom of expression but exercising it in a manner so as to provoke a seditious anti-India sentiment among the natives of the conflict zone. It is one thing to have friendly relations with Pakistani individuals and enjoy Pakistani poetry, music, cinema and television shows, and quite another to explicitly identify with Pakistan, a belligerent state, as one’s own country and not India, especially in a region with much anti-India unrest. It is similar to people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir being barred from hoisting Indian flags or singing the Indian national anthem or loudly talking in favour of their region becoming a part of India, or even their protesting for secession from Pakistan (and there have indeed been several secessionist protests in that region, like its Indian counterpart), and some in Pakistan-administered Kashmir were once arrested for cheering for India in an Indo-Pak cricket match.
Next, let us come to the issue of beef. There had been a ban on the slaughter of cows and sale of beef in the erstwhile princely state since the 1930s, which continued after accession to India. Even when the current separatist leaders like Geelani were a part of the mainstream electoral politics, they never voiced their dissent against this ban. While even I would agree that the ban is a violation of personal liberty (though certainly not religious freedom in any sense, for no religion makes it a must to consume beef) and some of my not-so-practising Hindu relatives and friends do consume beef, it must be understood that for long, beef was never even an important part of the staple diet of most Kashmiris, or the ban a matter of botheration. In the last few decades, the sale and consumption of beef picked up with hardly any action taken against those violating the ban. Some time back, a lawyer, obviously with Hindu rightist leanings, filed a case in the J&K High Court demanding strict implementation of the already existing ban, and given that it is not within the purview of the High Court to amend the law, and its responsibility is only to implement it, it did order the provincial government to implement the ban, which many people have erroneously suggested as an introduction of a beef ban, as if it was not there already. Besides, while media reports have mentioned only the High Court order, the earliest report of which I found online was dated 10th September 2015, one would have to examine when the petition was filed, and when all the hearings took place, given the pendency of cases with the Indian judiciary (South Asians have a lot to improve on, especially in the sphere of judicial reforms and police reforms, but that is another story) to arrive at even the hypothesis that this was done deliberately in the wake of Id-ul-Zuha, as Faraz has suggested.
Rather than blaming the High Court for doing its job by implementing the law, it would actually be much more pragmatic to demand of the elected representatives, an overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims (about two-thirds) from parties other than the BJP (there is only one Muslim provincial legislator who won on a BJP ticket in J&K) to actually amend their J&K penal code (which is different from the Indian Penal Code, given the special status J&K enjoys under Article 370 of the Indian constitution) and just lift the beef ban. But when rationality goes for a toss and tempers fly high, that does not happen. What happened thereafter was sheer barbaric behaviour with very many Kashmiri youths killing cows on the streets and uploading videos of the same online. It is highly likely that the carcasses were not even cooked as meat, and even Islam prohibits killing animals, except for the sake of food [as stated in Abu Bakr’s ten rules of warfare], as Prophet Muhammad diverting his army to prevent trampling over a cat giving birth to its progeny, demonstrates. Besides, given that many Kashmiri Muslims do get outraged at the prospect of their religious sentiments being hurt by some cartoonist from Denmark or the likes, they must indeed also respect the religious sensibilities of the Hindus too by not uploading videos of the slaughter of an animal the Hindus revere. The only relief was that these acts were condemned by several rational Kashmiri Muslims, including those in my friends’ circle.
It is also a fact that the petitioner for the implementation of the cow slaughter ban was associated with the BJP, but there is absolutely no evidence to conclusively suggest that he did so with the nod of the top brass in the party, and not out of his own personal conviction (of preventing cows being killed, based on his own religious sensibilities) or to assert himself more strongly as a powerful political individual within the party, for people in the BJP (and other political parties) have taken stances and even filed cases contrary to the position of the party. Varun Gandhi, a member of the BJP known for an alleged anti-Muslim hate speech in 2008 he completely denied delivering but which is believed to have had a major role in the electoral defeat of the BJP in the national elections in 2009 (Narendra Modi’s victory this time around with only 38.5% of the vote-share, with the majority of the votes getting divided between various other political parties was also out of anti-Congress frustration and promises of economic development rather than Hindu extremism), has recommended the abolition of the death penalty and has criticized former BJP governments for ignoring anti-AFSPA activist Irom Sharmila (whom many extreme Hindu rightists would hurl abuses at, describing her as “anti-national”). Another noted member Subramanian Swamy (despised by many Muslims, Christians and liberal Hindus like myself for the Hindu-extremist views he has articulated on many occasions) has criticized the Modi government for not doing enough on the issue of bringing back black money stashed abroad and has even moved to the judiciary to have defamation decriminalised, with his own government arguing on the other side in the court, with Swamy calling the stand of the Modi government on this issue “strange”. (By the way, while Subramanian Swamy and Varun Gandhi have been accused of an anti-minority bias, many other BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar have never said or done anything to invite such an allegation, and even Arun Jaitley differed from the party line when he supported the idea of decriminalising homosexuality.) So, while some very esteemed newspapers in Pakistan known for their impartiality, possibly based on an oversimplified understanding, have put up put up headlines clearly blaming the BJP as a party for the beef ban in J&K, it may not have been a move of the party, though the BJP has been responsible for beef bans in some Hindu-majority provinces like Maharashtra, and my take on that viz-a-viz India’s secular constitutional ethos has been summed up here. It may also be interesting to note that the BJP has clearly stated that it does not support the idea of banning beef in the province of Goa and India’s northeast, where there is a high population of minority religious groupings, and it has been reaching out to the population of Kashmir trying to win them over, some administrative inefficiency very typical of our part of the world notwithstanding. (On a totally different note, I am no camp-follower of the BJP, though I may be seen as defending them here, but my task is not to defend any party, but to demonstrate the complexities of Indian politics, and rebut the idea that the Indian state is necessarily out to curb the very legitimate culinary rights of Kashmiri Muslims.)
So, this may not have been planned by the BJP, though given that it was an already existing ban in J&K, supporting the idea of lifting it will be difficult for the BJP, given that all the Hindu candidates who won on a BJP ticket have been from Hindu-majority constituencies in the Jammu region of J&K. Besides, till such time as the ban is ever lifted, it will have to be implemented on the High Court orders by the home minister of J&K, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (who is also the chief minister of J&K), a Muslim politician from the PDP, a regional Kashmiri political party known across India for its soft corner for the Kashmiri separatists, including the theocratic and communal among them. Ironically, this party is in coalition with the BJP in J&K, for the BJP and PDP won a vast majority of seats from the Jammu region and Kashmir region respectively! So, my friends, South Asia is very complex!