Ahmed and Francois

Francois runs into Ahmed, an old pal from grad school, at Le Pain Quotidien near their old university.

Ahmed: Terrible, what happened in Paris, no?

Francois: Awful. But, I am not Charlie. What I am, actually, is that I am sick to the pit of my stomach. And, you, you don’t need to feel sorry.

Ahmed: I am not sorry. Just feel like people need to own up to what is done in their name.

Francois: Well, it is not like people have chosen the men who committed the crime as their representatives in some kind of election or referendum. On the other hand, those who invade other countries in the name of defending “freedom” are actually chosen by many. There, in societies who call themselves democratic, responsibility must be taken. But that rarely happens.

Ahmed: That is the beauty of democracy, in principle! Don’t you see? At least, it allows you to own up, and gives you a chance to accept responsibility. In terrorist ideology, no one takes responsibility. Even if terrorists do claim responsibility for their barbaric acts, they do so to take pride in their acts, and not to seek redemption. And that, my friend, goes against the spirit of taking responsibility. Taking responsibility means accepting the immorality of one’s actions, and hence suffering punishment, paying reparations, and even seeking unconditional forgiveness.

Francois: Ahmed, sadly, democracy allows anything but taking responsibility. But, first, can’t you see that your language is already tainting your call to ethics and responsibility. Calling some people “terrorists” already puts them beyond the pale of legitimate human order, and thus allows violence for which no responsibility can be assigned. “Barbarism” is a negative container, a term that artificially collapses the world of too many people, and turns it into some kind of a dark, unfathomable mode of being. There is a crisis of language here, you see—because the language of the ethics is already compromised by the self-righteousness of those claiming to fall in the “camp civilization”. By the way, if responsibility means paying reparations, I wonder if anyone has paid for slavery and colonialism of the past, and for the wars on, and dispossession of, defenseless people in the present.

Ahmed: To create fear and terror among people through acts of violence, especially if it is done in “defense” of, or to spread an ideology, is terrorism and nothing else. It is a belief that terror will change the thinking of people, their way of life.

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The man who covered-up a ghastly crime, and remains unrepentant

How does one react when a man who hushed up a brutal case of mass rape calls the testimonies of the victims as “at best a gross exaggeration but more probably a massive hoax”?

A tiny, far-flung village in Kashmir called Kunan is assaulted by Indian soldiers during the night of 23 February, 1991. The assault is part of a ‘cordon and search’ operation. After the ordeal is over, villagers say the soldiers had sexually assaulted the women of the village. News reaches the international press. Local bureaucrats and government officials make reports, and the army is given a clean chit.

But the tiny, far-flung village begins to attract further international attention. Indian government flies a Press Council of India (PCI) team to Kashmir, headed by a BG Verghese, to make a report. The PCI team writes another report and calls the villagers part of an anti-India “psy-war,” and their claims as an attempt to defame the legendary and virtuous Indian army. The case is hushed up. The tiny village is silenced. But much of the budding Kashmiri press is convinced that the PCI team did not even visit the village, either because Verghese was already convinced that the villagers’ claims were false tout court, or based on the Indian army’s denials he accepted the allegations as a prima facie caseof slander Continue reading

India’s Dissent Intolerance

The offensive republic does it again. For cheering Pakistan cricket team’s win over the Indian team in Bangladesh, Indian state books 67 Kashmiri students under section 124 A (sedition), 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 427 (mischief) of the Indian Penal Code.

Sedition charges in India carry three years prison sentence. Three years… for cheering and clapping! Wendy Doniger, you’re mildly lucky, India is pulping only your books. Here it is pulping sixty-seven young Kashmiri lives, for one of the most frivolous reasons possible.

Soon, we will hear that the fault is all with colonial laws, or the arctic chill in India’s much-touted tolerance is coming from the “Modi wave”. While India is dissent-intolerant, liberal nationalist Indians have often perceived this intolerance as the inability of the Indian ‘society’ to digest offense–mostly seen as a trait of the right-wing groups–and only directed at the liberal Indian writers, artists, or non-Indian scholars of Indian culture or history.

I have previously argued that dissent-intolerance extends more fiercely, more cruelly, and much more often against those communities and nations deemed as “internal enemies” of India. Would Indian police file sedition charges against an Indian Hindu if he or she were to cheer for the Pakistan team? I don’t believe so. In fact, it is likely that such a behavior would be touted as a sign of India’s maturity. Continue reading

The Offensive Republic

The self-righteous liberals in India are shocked by Penguin India’s decision to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’. They are disseminating and signing petitions, and writing articles that express a range of emotions, from disgust to dismay. A few others are (rightly) concerned that the actual blame may lie with the antiquated Indian laws and not with the publisher. Among the latter is Doniger herself.

Indian liberal give an impression that India is mostly a benign Republic , except periodically when it kowtows to fringe rightwing groups. This Indian elite, which cloaks its nationalism—a nationalism not so different in form from the explicitly Hindu rightwing nationalism—in a liberalist discourse, would have us believe that Penguin’s decision to withdraw the book is either just a rare case or an unexpected thing to happen in India. But it is certainly not rare. As different articles written in the last few days reveal—and for anyone following the story of censorship in India—the list of banned books, films, and other creative works is long.

Most of the books banned are those that diverge significantly from the narratives of Hindu nationalism. More significantly, however, what gets books or films banned is if they shine any light on the deftly veiled violence of the Indian state either during its formation or in places still being coercively incorporated into this postcolonial empire. There are mounting cases of intellectuals and activists who have been harassed at home, or have either been denied entry into the country or deported, for touching on ‘sensitive topics’ like Kashmir. One can imagine how careful the authors and researchers have to be before taking up issues that the government has deemed as ‘sensitive.’ The Indian state likes to make examples of people. Ban a book or deport somebody, and the rest will get the message. Continue reading

The Divisions and the Divide

After repeatedly failing to act with any integrity or bare minimum decency for the last five years of their rule–forget improve people’s lives–the parasitic political formations in Kashmir, led by the National Conference, have come out with their latest joke. Local newspapers uncritically reported that the plan to “administratively” divide Jammu and Kashmir into further 650 units was a major event. NC’s statements were quoted verbatim to present the plan as an equivalent to the ‘Land to Tiller’ program of the early 1950s, based on which tens of thousands of landless peasant toilers had received land while their crushing debts were written off. ‘Land to Tiller’ was a great achievement indeed, and would have been one of most progressive political events to happen in Kashmir’s modern history, had it not been accompanied by the 99-year leases on Kashmiri lands that were handed to the Indian occupying forces. Our land was returned to us with one hand and taken with the other–simultaneously.

But ‘Land to Tiller’ is an old story now. What about the new divisions plan? Given our long experience with the parasitic forces in Kashmir, this new plan or some other similar deceit, should have been expected. The election drama is again round the corner. Apart from overblown announcements of lofty new plans, we will see sops to government employees, fake threats of resignation, some statements that diverge from the scripted narrative (scripted by the Indian establishment), and a few other antics as we move further into this year. The divisions plan is nothing but a new shenanigan; at best a nominal government’s attempt at showing that they do sometimes make decisions (that not everything is decided in Delhi), at worst, this plan is indeed also scripted in Delhi, perhaps to give the Congress party an advantage in the elections by rearranging the electorate. The second seems unlikely, for India really does not need to go to this length to make the Congress win; they can just rig the elections as they have been doing. Democracy in Kashmir is after all a managed affair.   Continue reading

The Square (and the Circle)

Today I watched Jehane Moujaim’s political documentary ‘Al-Maidaan (The Square)’. The film is set in and around Cairo’s now-famous Tahrir Square. It follows the activism of three young Egyptian men: Ahmed (a secular revolutionary), Khalid (an actor-turned-revolutionary), and Magdy (a Muslim Brotherhood activist). The documentary covers the heady period beginning the fall of the longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak  in January 2011 to the coup that led to the fall of Morsi-headed Muslim Brotherhood government in summer 2013. Let me state in the beginning that the film presents Muslim Brotherhood in poor light, and allegations are made without much by way of substantiation. The narrative flow is smooth; too smooth in fact, given how the complex subject the film seeks to explore is reduced to motifs of ‘betrayal’ and ‘opportunism’. Yet, both betrayal and opportunism are objectively conceivable, and I am not in a position to contest this narrative, even though describing the momentous Egyptian revolution through such neat motifs should leave any commentator with a cringy feeling in the gut. Anyways, beyond the clear pro-liberal slant of the film-maker–which is obviously no sin–there are a few things that were striking and led me to recollect what happened to the revolution which many had hailed as a Spring.


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Trans. Akhtar Mohiuddin’s “Maet Kath”

This last June, which I spent in Kashmir, I looked through some old Kashmiri texts in my parent’s tiny library–sadly the books are slowly being eaten away by insects–and found an old anthology of Kashmiri literature. While there were several remarkable pieces, essays, short stories and poems, in the anthology, Akhtar Mohiuddin’s already famous “Maet Kath” stood out. It is perhaps rare to see such dexterous use of metaphor in Kashmiri literature. Mohiuddin’s evocative prose is social commentary, but it also raises certain existential questions that living and dying in Kashmir pose to all of us. The piece was written a long while ago–I am not sure, but perhaps in early 1980s or even earlier–but his metaphors and their proliferating meanings remain timeless, and continue to be relevant. I translated the text from Kashmiri to English (and this may not be the first such translation of the story, but I couldn’t find evidence of other translations), and with all the problems such efforts involve, I tried to keep my English close to Mohiuddin’s Kashmiri. In the end, all such efforts fail. My failure to translate the title of the story is just one example–there is hardly a figure in the West (now), who comes close to a Kashmiri Moat–sage? madman?–for all such figures are by now pathologized and seen as mental deviants, and ‘wise saying’, which could have come close to the meaning of Maet Kath, remains too bound to the rational form. And as you will see the ‘maet kath’ in the text is wisdom in an irrational form… In any case, I did translate the story, because I believe it must be more widely read.    —Mohamad Junaid  


There are mirrors, you know, pure at heart and with clean breasts. They show you what they see. And what we show them they will reflect the same thing back. But the mirror that I broke, its story is different.

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Stone Wars

I wasn’t one of them. Or I wasn’t, perhaps, any more. When people spoke to me, people whom I had known since my childhood, they addressed me differently; ahan’u, for instance, had become ahan’haz. Both mean ‘yes’, the affirmative, but the respectful formality of the latter word had replaced the affectionate familiarity of the former. In any case, there I stood at a distance watching, moving forward only when the boys charged, returning to my place when they were chased back. I did not shout any slogans nor throw any stones. I may have handed a couple of small pebbles lying next to me to a teenager—a stone-warrior—who was running short. During the “stone-battles” of Anantnag, however, everyone shed painful tears, the throwers and the bystanders. There was no escape from the tear gas. That is why my eyes grew red.

It was dangerous to stand where I was, but I had an emergency exit plan in place. Quite close by is the shrine of Resh-Moal—the Sufi Father—my old refuge. Throughout my childhood and teenage life I walked through the shrine almost every single day. I knew it, and the surrounding labyrinthine alleys and snaky streets, like the back of my hand. In the early 1990s, when the insurgency in Kashmir was at its peak, my schoolmates and I often waited out gun-battles and military sieges of the town inside the shrine until it was safe to go home. The elderly shrine keepers kept us well fed; they would dig out the best date palms for us from their deep pheran pockets—the long woolen gowns with flannel lining that kept them warm. While devotees brought the choicest flaky bagirkhanis from nearby bakeries in large wicker baskets, the shrine keepers kept samovars of almond kahwa going round the clock. This hot saffron-tinged tea, which we drank in carefully measured sips so as not to run out of the bread before the tea was finished, made us quite receptive to the spiritual verses the devotees hummed together—or so we told the shrine keepers.

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A Question for NC and PDP

I would like to ask just one question to Kashmir’s two main pro-India political parties. The question is rhetorical but also instructive. It is rhetorical because the answer to the question is already known to everyone, and, I concede, it is simply meant to put these parties in a spot. I don’t have a problem at this stage in asking rhetorical questions, for these parties never worry about landing themselves in ‘spots’, and because I have come to believe that much of their fumbling politics and thoughtlessness is deliberately cultivated to evade serious engagement with the people they claim to represent. Their unscrupulous opportunism and the impunity with which they grossly misinform their constituents has in a perverse way made these parties resilient and innovative, enough to turn each embarrassment they face into an opportunity to curry favor in Delhi. They act victims in Delhi, and helpless in Kashmir. Nevertheless, I believe my question is instructive as it might teach us a few things about how certain political minds function when faced with basic questions of reasoning.

Before I ask the question, which by the way is in every Kashmiri mind, I must give a small illustration of this last point. In Spring 2009, when I was teaching for a year in a university in Kashmir, N. N. Vohra, the India governor of Kashmir, was visiting the university. Amidst the dust storm that his chopper raised on the tiny hillside campus, a selected few of us were seated around a long table with the governor at its head. The vice-chancellor gave his brief introduction to what the university was doing and planning to do, which was followed by the governor’s fifteen-minute speech.

Some of the people around the table, mostly the faculty and the administrators, ‘listened’ attentively. But these are people who are attentive all the time. They are not listening. They are just attentive, like soldiers. Attention! They hear commands and act spontaneously. They don’t process things. Words pass through their ears to the motor neurons, turn into brain signals, which are projected then straight to the muscles in their arms. If you pay attention, you might notice sudden twitches. Twitches, which indicate their readiness to clap at each drop of a syllable. They can process, but they are too smitten with powerful people, so they choose not to. Continue reading

Peace, tourism, and political games in Kashmir

For a second summer in a row, the Indian establishment and media are agog with Kashmir’s bumper tourism season. The heavy inflow of tourists, after a gap of twenty-three years, when India had practically sealed off Kashmir to the outside world, is interpreted as a loss of popular appetite in Kashmir for dissident politics. The constant refrain is that the Kashmiri dissidents, who don’t accept Kashmir’s union with India as final, no longer command the popular support they did a couple of years back. The inability of the dissident leaders to mobilize Kashmiris on the scale as in 2008 and 2010, when hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris rose up against Indian rule, defying severe clampdowns, braving bullets and teargas canisters, is also portrayed as a sign of the transforming political climate in Kashmir.

While it is evident that recently Kashmir hasn’t seen mass demonstrations that marked the 2008 summer protests or the intifada-style street confrontations that marked the summer of 2010, the assumption that Kashmiris have either reconciled to a future with India or believe tourism will obviate their long-lasting political demand—that of right to self-determination—is spurious.

The actual reason behind the ostensible calm is that intense police and paramilitary crackdowns have muzzled Kashmiri protests. The government keeps tight tabs on dissident activities. Hundreds of political activists are behind bars. Those who are not jailed are either restricted from moving from their localities or kept under round-the-clock house arrest. Strict restrictions are imposed and public spaces cordoned off to preempt public meetings and rallies.

Ordinary Kashmiris also face the repressive state apparatus, and live under the constant threat of violence, incarceration, and humiliation. Hundreds of Kashmiri youth, many in their early teens, who are seen as potential street organizers, are constantly on police radar. They are often cornered on slight pretexts, and slapped with draconian laws, like the Public Safety Act, which allows authorities to keep them in jail without trial for months. Continue reading