I am just an ordinary writer, and much of the feedback I often get is from those I know personally. Many such people ask me as to why I give so many clarifications and frequently give pre-emptive rebuttals to possible counter-arguments (even silly ones and conspiracy theories) whenever I write articles. The reason is that I want to convince those who disagree with me, not just get applause from those who agree with me.
While the feedback of those agreeing with me matters too, my ultimate audience is those that I seek to convince to see the other side. In order to do so, it is often of great help to acknowledge the genuine concerns (often lost in their rhetoric, but which need to be sifted out) and valid arguments of that camp, for then, they open their minds to you easily to start with, and subsequently, one can politely deconstruct the fallacies in what they are saying and how their extremism would actually be hypocritical and counterproductive to their cause. I have genuinely converted some Hindu rightists, other jingoistic Indian nationalists (who believe that the morality of the Indian state in its engagement with other nation-states or with secessionist forces should be taken as axiomatic, with only its naivete or passivity being worth complaining about, and these people are therefore incapable of helping to negotiate a solution, making the necessity to push conflict inevitable) and Muslim rightists by doing so, though I have not always succeeded.
[While I am no celebrity, I may also clarify something to those who know me through Facebook. I believe that the web may be a great place to expose people to alternative points of view, but may not always be the best place for subsequent dialogue (unless well moderated and I don’t have the inclination to endlessly moderate debates/discussions on everything that I post), wherein winning an argument often becomes an ego issue in the public glare and people descend to personal attacks, which is why I often refrain from having anyone and everyone participate in discussions on my Facebook timeline, which is not the point here in any case.]
Sarcasm, mockery, defiance etc., while being necessary at times (though calling for the destruction of a nation and hailing violent acts against unarmed civilians is indefensible in all contexts) to show that you are not intimidated and even to build bridges with those belonging to the ‘other’ community if you are speaking for them, has no positive role in this larger outcome of changing the mindset of those sharing your national/religious/regional/ethnic identity but extremist about the same.
Besides, in this process of genuine engagement, as I said, the idea is fundamentally to convince, not offend (though I do indeed support the right to offend as a part of the freedom of speech as long as it doesn’t amount to hate-mongering against a collectivity of humans based on birth-based identities, but that is another matter), and taking extreme positions is something that only hurts your cause, as also of those largely sharing your views but who are closer to centre. Now, the Hindu right will appeal even more to the confirmation bias in many (though fortunately not all) Indians to tell them that anyone raising concerns about human rights violations by rogue elements in the Indian security forces in Kashmir (as I, without any shame or guilt, would say I have), trying to impartially understand the negative role of successive Indian governments in the conflict [by way of allowing the dirty politics of rigged elections (allegedly)], opposing the death penalty including even for terrorists or asking for Kashmir’s secession (by the way, I don’t support the last two, speaking for myself, and I have discussed in some detail why I oppose Kashmiri separatism as lacking the requisite legal or moral validity here) is someone who, by default, wants India’s destruction.
These people from JNU or wherever shouting extremist slogans at the Press Club of India haven’t won any new converts to their cause (and if they think Guru was wrongly hanged, how does he become a martyr?), but have instead only helped the Hindu rightists and other jingoistic Indian nationalists. These people from JNU are a part of the problem, not the solution. To get a better understanding of what I am saying, you can read this article by a liberal, Srinagar-based non-separatist Kashmiri Muslim lady who believes that the separatist movement is basically Muslim-rightist and intolerant to dissent in reality (while also condemning wrongs of the Indian state and the Hindu right), this allegation against the Kashmiri separatist movement not being malicious propaganda, something that I too have discussed in this article on this very portal.
While it may indeed be intellectually fashionable to talk about humanism without nationalism (for nation-states are, after all, man-made constructs), till such time as nation-states are real, they need nationalist cohesion for progress and security, and just as loving your family over other humans is not inhuman, nor is identification with one’s country, and those Muslim rightists pleased by strong denunciations of nationalism in general should indeed realise that those critiques would even apply to pan-Muslim nationalism, with territorial nationalism based on a shared political and economic destiny being much more rational, and global pan-Muslim nationalism of the “Muslim ummah” variety is anachronistic, even going by the Muslim scriptures, as I have discussed here (I know that some Muslims would question whether I, as not being a Muslim, can give my own interpretation of Islam, but if non-Muslims are not expected to study and analyze Islam, how do Muslims expect non-Muslims to not have prejudiced views about their faith?). As I have stated earlier, country-oriented nationalism does not have to be and shouldn’t be the type presupposing the morality of your government in the realms of foreign policy and engagement with secessionist forces to be axiomatic, only complaining about its naiveté or passivity, and one should be open to hearing out counter-narratives, but counter-narratives cannot entail supporting attacking the parliament, and seeking the ‘barbadi’ of a nation, which is a section of humanity, isn’t humanistic either.
Often, opponents of any kind of statist nationalism cite Tagore and Gandhi to validate their views, but what they do is to present a misinterpreted version of what Tagore and Gandhi said. Tagore did indeed lament as to how the division of the world into nation-states became a cause of antagonism, and how nationalist biases often prevented impartial, humanistic assessments in an era that saw two world wars, but Tagore was very clear on the point that human nature had its doses of both good and bad (in his own words – “We must admit that evils there are in human nature, in spite of our faith in moral laws and our training in self-control”), which is why both good and evil shall always exist, and he did not advocate any utopian ideas of a world without borders, presuming that we can all actually possibly happily have a totally fair and reasonable central government accommodating the concerns of the entire human race with all its diversity, when in reality, provinces within countries also have bitter conflicts over resources, and there will always be administrative demarcations of territory for governance. Tagore pointed out in his popular essay on nationalism–
“I have often been blamed for merely giving warning, and offering no alternative. When we suffer as a result of a particular system, we believe that some other system would bring us better luck. We are apt to forget that all systems produce evil sooner or later, when the psychology which is at the root of them is wrong. The system which is national today may assume the shape of the international tomorrow; but so long as men have not forsaken their idolatry of primitive instincts and collective passions, the new system will only become a new instrument of suffering.”
While Tagore’s writings make it seem that he was against nationalism per se, an analysis would reveal that he was opposed to chauvinistic worldviews of asserting the infallibility of one’s civilisation, refusing to learn from others, and jingoistic antipathy to fellow human beings of a certain other state, but he did identify with and appreciate his Indian identity.
Likewise, as for Gandhi, while he disliked the institution of the state as an instrument of violence, he did consider the state to be a necessary evil (for human beings do need to be regulated to check crime at the very least), and suggested a decentralised state pattern based on indirect elections in the form of concentric circles with the village at the centre, but not doing away with the idea of government. Gandhi even supported state coercion in the context of land reforms, though he wanted the land reforms to be voluntary as far as possible, and Gandhi too, like Tagore, did identify with and appreciate his Indian identity.
And yes, if statist nationalism of any kind is supposedly always a bad thing, then so is the Kashmiri separatist movement that strives to create a nation-state or has affinity to the Pakistani state. And their brand of nationalism, on the whole, isn’t secular (Geelani has openly condemned separation of religion and state, and even the more moderate separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have, in their public utterances, displayed contempt towards Jews, converts to Christianity, and those who are in his view adherents of the deviant sects of Islam, other than making patriarchal statements) and is not in favour of modern freedoms and gender equality, despite some pretensions to the contrary and some genuine exceptions. From girls’ rock bands shutting down to molestations of girls participating in a marathon alongside boys to no cinema halls functioning in the valley owing to militants’ diktats to most of the Hindus being displaced from the valley, that actually represents the true face of Kashmiri ‘freedom’ but what Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz has called the “regressive left” just simply fails to see it, and many other well-intentioned people are often ignorant of the facts and form an opinion seeing only a part of the picture. Even if you declare the Indian state (and not the nation in general) established under the constitution to be your enemy, which is different from criticizing a specific political leader or party, that is an abuse of freedom of speech when you claim it under the same constitution. And not to employ whataboutism as a line of argument, but we didn’t see the free speech fundamentalists routing for those shouting those slogans routing for the likes of Kamlesh Tiwari arrested for outraging the religious sentiments of Muslims.
I will also add another point here. The Supreme Court did not declare that they were awarding the death penalty to Afzal only on the basis of “collective conscience” and without evidence. There was a reference to “collective conscience” to justify awarding him the death penalty rather than a life term, and that had no relevance to establishing his guilt, which was based on evidence admissible under the Indian Evidence Act.
Whether one thinks the judgment was good in law or not is another debate which someone can initiate only after having read the entire lengthy judgment (and not just by listening to what Guru’s lawyers who lost the case or activists for Kashmir’s ‘freedom’ have to say), but it would be totally wrong to cast aspersions on the Indian judiciary as a whole, thanks to which many innocent civilians – Muslims, Adivasis and others – wronged framed as terrorists, have been exonerated, including two people even in connection with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, and even Kashmiri Muslims were acquitted in connection with a terrorist attack in Lajpat Nagar in Delhi in 1984. It is the judiciary which has convicted hundreds of rioters in connection with the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 (in cases relating to massacres such as in the Best Bakery, Ode, Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya), hundreds in connection with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 (though some prominent politicians in connection with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 are indeed yet to be convicted) and the anti-Christian riots in the Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2008 (in which MLAs like Manoj Pradhan were convicted), and recently, it upheld the right of the Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai to travel abroad and even struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, a UPA legacy the Modi sarkar was shamelessly seeking to retain, as unconstitutional. It is the judiciary which has upheld that if a sect of Christians, in the practice of their faith, chose to not sing the national anthem but nevertheless stood up, they had the freedom to do so (an argument that would obviously apply to Vande Mataram for Muslims and Christians not wanting to sing it, for they have not objected to patriotic songs or patriotic slogans in general, but they believe that they can respect, but not worship, anyone other than God, be it the motherland or their own parents).
Besides, a letter supposedly written by Afzal acknowledging his crime has been verified as being written by him by his own brother, and there are indeed several other such letters too. He even gave interviews acknowledging his guilt, as you can see here and here.
Slogans calling for India’s ‘barbadi’ or hailing a man convicted for terrorism as a martyr, thus endorsing the act he was accused of, are deeply problematic and do amount to sedition in my view, though I would respect the judicial verdict on the sedition charges, and those who actually shouted those slogans deserve punishment. Communal hate speech is not always loaded with content of directly provoking violence, nor is it always followed by retaliatory violence from the other side, but is punishable nonetheless and so should this be. These anti-India slogans too were capable of provoking a violent backlash against those raising them by that yardstick. Also, there is some confusion about the very nature of sedition. There are other laws specifically dealing with violence, vandalism or even conspiring to that effect, and sedition is about expression by way of words or other means (like paintings or gestures) to the effect of seeking to undermine the rule of law under the constitutional setup, and does not even explicitly necessitate advocating violence (which calling Afzal a “martyr” does, by the way, amount to), but even advocating disorder or disturbance of law and order comes within its ambit as per the landmark Kedar Nath judgment, and Article 19(2) of our constitution explicitly mentions that freedom of speech and expression can actually be restricted for the sake of the unity and integrity of India.
Also, given that this article relates to Kashmir, let me also make a reference to the pain of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits, which I have discussed in this article, which also rebuts the rationalisations and conspiracy theories offered for their exodus.
(Image Courtesy: Flickr)