After the sedition fracas, Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the JNU student union, finally reclaimed his patriot status by reiterating that Kashmir is an integral part of India. This statement is the mother of all gold standards for proving one’s patriotism in India. In addition to its shorthand use, this statement also becomes an analytic for many Indians to understand Kashmir. It is nothing new. Kanhaiya is just a newer version of the patriot that India will be proud of when time comes. Also one cannot negate his personal safety in the wake of sedition charges. And this brings me to the speech he delivered upon his release.
Kanhaiya’s speech—part heart, part strategy—resonated with most who watched. Being a Kashmiri, I was riveted by what Kanhaiya called his “jail ka anubhav” (experiences in jail), his conversations with a policeman while imprisoned. Really, does a policeman talk to you like that when you are detained? For Kashmiris, the primary mode of communication from the police and by implication the army, the paramilitary and the renegade militia is not talking but use of mental and physical torture, sexual harassment, rape, or death — be it instant, or deferred. This is not to say that police dispensed star treatment to Kanhaiya or that they do not abuse their own citizens, but that is another topic altogether.
In my reading of Kanhaiya’s “anubhav” the policeman is symbolic of the Indian sovereign. The human connection between the “revolutionary detainee” and “anonymous salaried cop” become illustrative of the Indian occupation of Kashmir, albeit inversely.
A Kashmiri in custody means no musings on shared humanity. A Kashmiri is treated as a true adversary—an enemy; zero human connection. For a Kashmiri, detention is not about full public and media glare; it is about incarceration without warrant in an army camp, or a secret prison; no habeas corpus, not even the First Information Report. The Armed Security Special Powers Act (AFSPA) allows detainment and includes powers to shoot “any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence.” You might be carrying a gun, a stone, a bitter gourd for dinner or nothing at all.
While I watched Kanhaiya regale an adoring crowd with thoughtful ponderings shared with his fellow countryman cop, my newsfeed was awash with pictures of a young Kashmiri militant, Ishaq, who was killed in an encounter with the army.
Now, I am not trying to equalize an unarmed Kanhaiya with an armed Kashmiri combatant, but even unarmed Kashmiris or those fighting with stones do not get out alive. The militarization of Kashmir has created a war system where killing Kashmiris is fair game. And here I must note that speaking of the brutality of the Indian administration is not to render Kashmir as an issue of human rights abuse or misuse of democratic means. Over the last 30 years, Kashmir both regionally and internationally clearly registered its desire for independence, and the issue is obviously much more than a “bilateral” dispute. The military violence should be read as symptom of the disease of Indian nationalism, which forces its ailment on Kashmir, obviously to no avail.
In its brutal discourse, the Indian state apparatus treats all Kashmiris in the manner of combatants. This exchange, while often fatal, is also seen as a compliment by most Kashmiris who have become bold in flaunting their emotional, cultural and territorial difference from India.
In the wake of the JNU issue, the police hounded Kashmiri students in Delhi, even those who had no connection with the controversy. Indian policies for the Kashmiri militants ensure that they are annihilated. An informal analysis reveals that the average life span of a current Kashmiri combatant is less than a year. The violence meted out by the Indian troops does not leave the civilians unscathed either. But the years of abuse have only emboldened unarmed Kashmiris to fight and resist India with any means possible, be it music, poetry, art, stories or stones. In recent months, Kashmiri civilians have displayed increasing bravado by activating spontaneous demonstrations to provide cover for militants to escape during encounters. Just last month, two young Kashmiri civilians were killed by Indian armed forces following such protests.
In the last vignette Kanhaiya realizes that “beneath the vardi (uniform) they [him/policeman] are both the same.” This becomes a revealing moment for those who painstakingly insist on Kashmir’s difference from India. The Kashmiri body—be it a militant, a civilian, or someone like Afzal Guru who was hanged to satiate India’s collective conscience is not the same as the Indian body. It is the “other”; a killable body, a representational threat oft used to unite India as a nation. Indian rhetoric assumes Kashmir as the integral part but the Kashmiris are well known for being anything but. SAR Geelani’s arrest in the JNU aftermath stands testament to this. The muted response to his detention revealed him as the true adversary to India—a Kashmiri.
Kanhaiya’s statement about Kashmir being integral to India—whether it is his genuine belief, or a strategic afterthought—only shows how vital the forced claim on Kashmir is to regain true patriot status. By reiterating the violence of integration on Kashmir, Kanhaiya like many of his ilk before him and those who will follow, makes visible why beneath the vardi a Kashmiri body will always be different from the Indian body, and ethically so.