In Conversation with Dibyesh Anand

murmurs-whispers-conversation-dibyesh-anandThe events in Meerut once again exposed the duality of Indian state in how it treats the people of Kashmir. Dibyesh Anand is an associate professor of International Relations at Westminster University in London. He spoke to Authint Mail about the sedition episode and how it reflects the colonial nature of the Indian polity.

AM) The sedition charges against a group of Kashmiri students who cheered for Pakistan cricket team in Meerut sparked an outrage in Kashmir. What do you make of this growing intolerance in India, and did it happen only because the students belonged to Kashmir?

DA) The outrage was visible not only in Kashmir but amongst many progressive Indians too. It was interesting to note how many progressive Indians were joining Kashmiris in expressing disquiet and disgust with this type of bullying by the hypernationalists and the State. Yet, it cannot be doubted that many other Indians felt that the Kashmiri students asked for it because they were cheering for Pakistan. This approach reminds me of ‘they must have asked for it’ approach that misogynists adopt when dealing with sexual violence against women, ignoring the fact that sexual violence in that context is not about a woman’s sartorial preference or behavior but assertion of power by the male. The fact of the matter is that India is supposed to be a democracy. Democracy has to be based on rights. Kashmiris are considered to be Indian citizens and there is no law that forces citizens of India to support or not support certain sports team. Either India should accept that it is a Hinduised flawed democracy where meaningful citizenship is derived from dominant religious-casteist identity or it must avoid these kinds of public harassment of young students for their cricketing obsession. This is partly about how Indians see Kashmiris – as thankless traitors and pro-Pakistan. But it is also connected to the growing salience of Hindu nationalism in India. Had these students been Indian Muslims, their vocal support for Pakistan may have led to communal riots and more violence. This intolerance is thus partly state nationalist and partly religious nationalist. In India we see a more explicit merging of the two. This does not bode well for minorities, dissenters and those like Kashmiris who have a contested relation with the state of India.

AM) After the expulsion of Kashmiri students from the Meerut Varsity, Pakistan’s foreign office next day offered the students a choice to study in their country? Many students who were expelled were studying on Indian Prime Minister’s scholarship scheme. What do these contesting narratives tells us about the state of Kashmir and its relationship with Pakistan and India?

DA) Pakistan would like to fish in the troubled waters but the trouble at this point in time is primarily India’s responsibility. Pakistan knows very well that no one will take their offer of scholarship but they make this empty gesture to show to Kashmiris that they care. One can go and investigate in Pakistan administered Kashmir how many Kashmiris are enfranchised, how many of them can express their desire for Azadi as opposed to desire for making Kashmir a part of Pakistan, how many get scholarships to study. Let us not even go into a discussion of how Baloch people have similar experiences of occupation and disenfranchisement in Pakistan as Kashmiris do in India. But a more important question to ask is why Pakistan can make such offers and a few Kashmiris cheer for it? This is solely Indian failure to accommodate Kashmiris’ aspirations or treat Kashmiri people with dignity. Indian government comes up with schemes such the PM scholarship to support Kashmiris to get education. The problem is that the goals of such scholarships and schemes are not proper education, career development or enfranchisement but control in the name of normalization. However, bureaucratic inefficiencies and contradictions, disconnect between what the various actors within the government want, and the parochial and suspicious hyper nationalist discourses prevalent in various parts of India subvert even the limited goal of ‘normalization’ and ‘assimilation’ that PM scholarship type schemes have.

AM) Cricket in subcontinent has been an occasion of nationalistic posturing, especially in India and Pakistan. Is Kashmir’s support to Pakistan cricket team a symbolic gesture of their political and cultural aspirations and or is it only sports?

DA) What we witness in the sub continent is not an obsession with cricket but a merging of cricket and nationalism into cricket nationalism. If the main focus was sports, there is no reason why Indians will often support Indian team and not English or West Indies team or why Pakistanis will cheer their country’s team. This is nationalist jouissance at a collective scale. It is quite clear that many Kashmiris support teams that are other than India. And in the subcontinent, Pakistan is seen as the opposite of India and hence many Kashmiris adopt the understandable, though a shallow and problematic, notion that enemy of an enemy is an ally.  The question to ask is if we can read this cricket nationalism of many Kashmiris as their support for Pakistan. In my experience, such a reading would be flawed. Many Azadi supporters who have no love lost for Pakistan support Pakistani cricket team too. This is partly because Pakistan team has quite a few charismatic players. Let us not ignore this. There are Kashmiris who support Indian team too, and this includes not only non-Muslims. We must not forget this. A few Kashmiri friends of mine who live in the valley but like Indian team feel pressurized to keep their preference private. What does this say about cricket nationalism in Kashmir, in India and in Pakistan? That these are not about sports but hegemony of one view over dissidence. Sadly, Kashmiri nationalism shows itself to be no different from Indian and Pakistani nationalism when it comes to being less hegemonic, more humane and more open to dissidence. Of course, this does not imply that there is a moral equivalence. Not at all. Kashmiri nationalism is not lethal the way Indian or Pakistani nationalisms are and this is because the latter have states they have captured.

AM) The urge of invoking serious charges such as sedition which can earn life imprisonment against the ‘anti-State’ people has roots in the British colonial rule of Indian subcontinent. Many commentators have also drawn parallel of such a behavior with the evolution of a neo-fascist culture in developing countries? How do you see this?

DA) The entire episode is as much about a conspicuous intolerance of fascism seeping into Indian body politic as it is about bureaucratic mismanagement. One wing of the government slaps the charges, another asks for its revoking, one offers scholarships and the other defeats the purpose of it by bullying the students. The fragmented structure of the Indian state is at play here. And this fragmentation is also the only hope against India becoming a coherent fascistic state. One hopes that no party or ideology that is exclusivist can capture power without any challenge to it. There were more Indians lampooning and expressing disgust at the slapping of sedition charges than supporting it. Kashmiris need to make efforts to build solidarity with these Indians. In the end, no anti-colonial struggle is won because of generosity of the colonizers but no struggle is a success without seeking to transform the colonizers too and building solidarity with a few from amongst the colonizer.

AM) Many legal experts and even India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were averse to the idea of having a vague law to deal with sensitive cases such as sedition, or bringing disrespect to the country. Do you think this legislation has been used to stifle certain political narratives?

DA) Sedition related laws are like the homophobic Section 377 of Indian Penal Code – they are archaic, legacy of a colonial system and meant to assert the views of the alien state on the diverse population. That these laws remain on the statute books is a sign of failure of the postcolonial project to create a more inclusive and democratic state that is not based on coercion and repression. Though no has been convicted in recent years using these laws, the stifling and disciplining effects they have make them a threat to any possibility for a genuine democracy in the country.

AM) What is the reason behind this large influx of Kashmiri students going on scholarships to study in Indian universities? Syed Ali Geelani recently appealed the civil society and intellectuals to think of contributing towards building institutions for the larger good in Kashmir while as the chief minister called them misguided and even sent his party to handle the crisis in Meerut? 

DA) As the literacy rate increases in the valley and there are not many opportunities for good education there, it is to be expected that more Kashmiri students will go to universities in various states of India. Indian government scholarships are meant to impress Kashmiris about the supportive and pastoral nature of Indian state. Does this really work? It will depend on the actual experience of Kashmiri students when they study in India. There is nothing wrong in Kashmiris experiencing education in an alien set up. This does not dilute a sense of nationalism and a sense of belonging. In fact, such an exposure may prepare Kashmiris better to understand the complexity of Indian system and critically engage with it. What will be gained out of being a frog in the well? We have examples of anticolonial nationalists often getting their education in the colonial system. It is for Kashmiris to look at what the pro-state and anti-state leaders say and what their own families and children do. The fact is that the children of the elite do not need scholarships to study. They go to the best schools in the valley, they go to good institutions in India and abroad, and they capture most opportunities for lucrative businesses and jobs. The challenge is to shift this nepotism and patrimonial character of Kashmir polity and make it more open and accountable to all while at the same time confronting the elephant in the room – the militarized Indian occupation.

Originally published here —


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