For nearly two decades now, Kashmiris have been battling off and on for azadi. They are fighting for a wrong cause, a cause that may have made some sense 60 years ago, but not in today’s world of globalisation, economic migration, demographic pressure and multiculturalism.
Kashmir is never going to be independent, because its independence is defined in xenophobic terms.
Independence is a state of mind; it’s about freedom to chase your own dream as an individual in a place that may or may not be where you were born. It’s not about defining yourself narrowly as a Muslim country, closing your doors to the world (or to India), or making a big deal about narrow ethnicity and make-believe exclusiveness.
Unfortunately, that’s what Kashmiris have done to themselves. They have allowed themselves to be seduced by the Pakistani project of creating an exclusive Islamic identity.
They naively believe that once azadi comes, they can revert to a composite Kashmiriyat. This is precisely what Jinnah believed could be done with an independent Pakistan, but the mullahs had other ideas.
No pandit or Ladakhi or any of the other ethnic populations of Jammu & Kashmir will ever want to stay in this place. No secular humanist can support an azadi project that is rooted in exclusivism when the world is talking inclusivism.
This is not to say that Kashmiris are intolerant or communal. But that is the net result of the pact they have made with the devil. They mistakenly believe that the Pakistani jihadis will leave them alone once they are free from India. The jihadis don’t leave anyone alone, so why is Kashmir going to be an exception?
Kashmiri Muslims, who have worked themselves into a state of anger about Indians, should be clear that their azadi is no different from bigotry and is the result of a heightened sense of insecurity in a fast-changing world. Threats to Kashmiri identity come not from multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious India, but from unidimensional Pakistan and their own insularity.
More serious threats to Kashmiri culture come from globalisation and economic integration, as commerce decimates old values. But the same forces also help us to reduce poverty faster and expand our minds beyond narrow sectarianism.
There is thus no easy answer to how Kashmir can preserve its old sense of what it means to be Kashmiri, but that is a problem no one anywhere has found an answer to.
The entrepreneurial Sikhs discovered that success and emigration dilute identity. They went to war with themselves and us — and lost. The north-eastern peoples — from the Nagas to the Mizos — went through the same turmoil earlier. The tribals of Jharkhand found one answer in a separate state within the Indian union, but they are still going to fret about tribal values.
Net-net: there is no getting away from the reality that our identities are going to get even more plural, and we have to find another way to preserve what we hold dear.
Another truth that the world is beginning to discover is the pointlessness of having nation-states built around homogeneity. Once upon a time, the world believed in separate people going their separate ways.
Self-determination was thought to be a solution for communities which feared for their identities or disliked the neighbours they were living with.
This is how nation-states were born in Europe. Its logical culmination was two horrendous world wars. The nation-state cannot be uninvented now, but like Europe, we need to learn how to reintegrate.
The lesson is clear: if nationalism is not limited by a wider global identity, it will become a negative force that can bring only death and destruction. Do Kashmiris still want to go down that path in their clamour for azadi?
Those who think India is the villain in this case should ask themselves what others have done in similar circumstances. The Chinese have pushed the Han people into Tibet and Xinjiang, reducing the native Tibetans and Uighurs to a minority. The Israelis have allowed Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands. Earlier in history, the whites exterminated the red Indians in America and the Australians did the same with the aborigines.
India, on the other hand has ensured that no Indian can settle or buy land in Kashmir. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to give free land to landless people from the rest of India, thus changing the ethnic balance in Kashmir. On the contrary, it is azadi’s votaries who have ended up cleansing the valley of its rightful inhabitants — the pandits.
The writing on the wall is clear. Azadi is a mirage Kashmiris will never realise in any real sense. Kashmiriyat is fine, but it has to coexist with Indianness and global citizenship. And India is the best place to realise this brave new world. Splendid isolation or a merger with Pakistan is a step into oblivion for Kashmir.