In August, Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh were declared Union Territories and the history of Kashmir was rewritten. So the newspaper proclaimed, as the media went out of its way to create an epidemic of acclamation in the wake of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah declaration.
My first sense of concern and panic was not about the larger political dimensions but about the fate and welfare of my students. Many Kashmiri students attend my university and add a sense of diversity and cosmopolitanism to it. Quite a few have returned to work in Kashmir, men and women deeply committed and knowledgeable about the state. When the news came, I tried desperately to contact them but all phone lines and the internet were down. The silence was painful and worrying. Waiting for messages, I found I was having imaginary conversations with some of them. As a small tribute and as a hello to them, I decided to pen my thoughts down, talking to my students in an imaginary classroom.
One of my students is an intense philosopher, a feminist with a deep sense of the Sufi imagination of Kashmir, convinced that philosophy can be a way to peace. She has a tremendous sense of the everdayness of violence and what it particularly means to women, tired of the machismo of men playing security games. I can hear her arguing: “The sadness of the BJP government is that it thinks Kashmir is empty space and its people mere Lego sets to be rearranged again and again. Space is empty of memory. For the regime that rules us, history is a march of time, a parade of power. For us history is memory, the memory of waiting, waiting for peace, waiting for men to come home, waiting.”
The Modi government, she would complain, has no sense of the language of time and waiting. I can hear her say that it is your illiteracy about time that makes you do what you are doing to us.
I can imagine one of her friends helping her clarify her argument. Each does it with a story, each story embodying a concept of time. The group virtually claims that a thesaurus of time is one answer, a bouquet of peace to Amit Shah’s arid governmentality. “Think of everydayness, think of routine, our timetables declared by curfew, our seasons of fear punctured by protest. The crisis moments come when troops shoot down our loved ones, moments of protest punctured by periods of silence, the muteness of boredom. Our patience needs a million synonyms. There must be a history, a poetics of Kashmir time.” I can see her adding, maybe waiting is a woman’s word which Delhi does not understand.
A friend of hers, a student of governmentality and a poet, adds: “The language of governance has no sense of people. You confuse words, so integration to you means occupation to us. You confuse space with time, creating history out of fictions you call Union Territories… This is why you never understood Farooq Abdullah crying. It was not just personal grief. It was a lament for a people and his father’s dream, a death of a promise. While we mourn today, you celebrate a breakdown of contract and promise. You keep rewriting Kashmir as if they have no memory, no archives, no stories of their own. Your legislative feats are full of amnesia.”
Another student who has been dawdling between studying politics and philosophy added, “it is not Kashmir you are trying to rectify. It is your unconscious. Your regime keeps rectifying history, enacting historical figures in an attempt to purge your unconscious. You have Modi and Shah playing second-hand Sardars again. But I guess chowkidars cannot be Sardars and you confuse petty diktats with statesmanship.”
My philosopher student added, “I listened to a version of Modi’s speech later. You openly treat Kashmir as a space to be invaded by real estate operators and corporations. Kashmir is not just a colony, that would be too impolite. It is actually more instrumental. It is a property, a forgotten piece of real estate on which you have declared open season. You are creating a homelessness of our people even at home.”
Two of them turned sadly and ferociously at me. “Remember what you taught us about democracy, that democracy is a synonym for hospitality, for the dialogic, for representation, for participation, for difference. Today we list these words on the mourning wall of democracy. Each synonym of democracy a casualty of your governments diktats.”
The political scientist added, Indian democracy was always haunted by the nightmare of the nation-state. “India became a nation-state haunted by two genocides — the Bengal Famine and Partition. Today, your democracy is haunted by two enclosure movements gulagising a people in Assam and Kashmir. Your government pretends to be a democracy but prefers to play nation state.”
The women who began the conversation said abruptly: “Forget Kashmir. Think of what majoritarianism has done to India. You are transforming states into gulags and calling it progress.”
I realised she was right. When India reworks its democracy, Kashmir could become a part of us. The Humpty Dumpty we call Kashmir cannot be put together again till we re-invent our democracy. August 15, 2019, might be the beginning or the end of it. That is the question India has to answer.
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 23, 2019 under the title ‘The casualty of a diktat.’ The writer, a social scientist, teaches at O P Jindal Global University.