Bring back secular practices in Kashmir (Sunday Guardian)
The people of J&K seek an opportunity to improve their own lives, and this can take place only if secularism once again becomes a dominant lifestyle choice.
Religious exclusivism and supremacy are antithetical to the concept of secularism, which has as its guiding principle the absence of discrimination between those belonging to different faiths. Those societies and territories where those belonging to a particular faith are given advantages by state policy over others are anti-secular and need to be exposed as such. In India, there has been constant talk about “secular values” and a “secular identity”. There exists an army of commentators who regard it as their duty to protect secularism in our country from enemies real or imagined. However, few of this flock have looked at a state in India where secularism is almost on its deathbed. This is Jammu & Kashmir, specifically the Valley of Kashmir, from where, since the 1990s, not only has there been a steady increase in the extent of Wahhabi influence, but a decrease to insignificance of the minority communities in J&K in the valley. Those few who remain are in constant fear of their lives, and seek to conceal their religious identification lest they become the target of a murderous attack. Houses of worship belonging to the main minority community in the state have almost all been destroyed in the Kashmir valley, again to silence from those who claim to uphold secular principles. Neither in India nor abroad is there even a cursory mention of the fact that the secular principles of the republic have been steadily destroyed over the past four decades in a key state of the union, indeed a state where those in authority consistently pose as the votaries of secularism.
What took place at the NIT campus in Srinagar is every bit as deplorable as the actions of the Delhi police on the JNU campus, after B.S. Bassi took the decision to make Kanhaiya Kumar an international hero by sending him to jail for a few comments made in a speech in a somewhat excitable tone of voice and gesture. However, neither have those who supported or who opposed Kanhaiya Kumar been at all vocal about the brutal manner in which innocent students on that campus were belaboured by policemen. Their “crime” was apparently the raising of the Indian Tricolour. The question that needs to be answered is whether the police in J&K believe themselves to be in India or in Pakistan, for if they are aware that they are in India, it was incomprehensible that students were abused and beaten up for simply displaying the Tricolour, an activity which is the right of every citizen of India since Naveen Jindal won Supreme Court approval for such a right in 2004. Thus far, there does not seem to have been any action taken against the policemen involved in the assault on the Tricolour-waving NIT students. Such pusillanimity on the part of the J&K government (in which the BJP plays a significant part) will only encourage Wahhabi elements in the valley to multiply their endeavours to create a distinct contra-secular ethos and culture in the state, or at the least, in the valley. The more powerful the Wahhabis are in that state, the less the chance that it will actualise its immense potential as a knowledge and travel hub for the world. Because of the intellectual qualities of the Kashmiri people, including the community which has been driven out of the valley since the 1990s, global R&D centres can potentially be established throughout the state, making it an export hub for Information Technology-enabled services.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti visits Delhi frequently, and much of the time seems to be spent in seeking grants and loans from the Central government. The proud people of Jammu & Kashmir do not seek charity, they seek an opportunity to improve their own lives, and this can take place only if secularism once again becomes the dominant lifestyle choice in the state. Whatever the religion of a citizen, he or she ought to have the same rights and treatment from the state.
There should be zero discrimination on the basis of religion, including in the matter of recruitment and promotion in the numerous agencies of the state government. The people of Kashmir have been steeped in Kashmiriyat, which is the same as Insaniyat. However, especially since the 1990s, this gentle culture is being replaced by a growing acceptance of Wahhabism in significant sections of the society in the state, especially in that most enchanting of locations, the Kashmir valley. Globally, there is a reaction against Wahhabism, mainly because of the fact that several groups owing allegiance to that exclusivist and supremacist ideology have taken to violence in a manner which resembles the cruelty of the National Socialist German Workers Party in 1932-45 Germany. Over the past months, for the first time in a long while, forests of Pakistan flags have sprouted in parts of Kashmir, while—again for the first time since the 1990s—the funeral processions of Pakistan-trained terrorists have been accompanied not any more by dozens but by hundreds of people. These are not signs of improving societal health. Rather, they are symptoms of the reality of a tightening of the grip of Wahhabi interests in the state. During the latter half of the 1980s, especially following the Gul Shah episode, a similar rise in fundamentalism stealthily took root, causing incalculable damage later.
This time around, before the problem reaches the levels seen at that time, those who value secularism need to get active in Kashmir so that the march within the state of the Wahhabi impulse gets replaced by the spread of the moderate philosophies that are far closer to the traditional spirit of the Kashmiri people.