I, along with many of my friends, could not identify with the religious discourse that groups like Hizbul Mujahideen had started in Kashmir in early 90s. Yet, we were also aware that our ‘education’, even in the school which was run by Jammat, was putting us outside the larger Kashmiri sense of self. We were taught about Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad, and Subhas Chandra Bose in school textbooks; but never about Abdul Qadir, the hero of the July 1931 revolt against Dogra rule, or Maqbool Bhat, who was hanged by India in Delhi on 11 February 1984, because someone had killed an Indian diplomat in UK in Maqbool’s name. We were taught poems of Sarojini Naidu, Rabindranath Tagore, and Shelley; but heard about Habba Khatun, Mehjoor, and Rasul Mir only from grandparents. Iqbal was an exception.
Only later could we realize the significance of how some of us had become insensitive to themes of resistance couched in the language of communitarian and religious symbolism.
Was tehreek indeed just acts of ‘Muslim zealots’ sabotaging Indian secularism as T. N. Madan, an elderly defender of Indian control in Kashmir, suggested, or was rather religion the language employed by a vast majority of Muslim subjects waging a struggle against the denial of their basic rights by a ‘Hindu nation’, as Sumantra Bose argued?
Mridu Rai in her work ‘Hindu Rulers Muslim Subjects’, says that during the Dogra rule, the invocation of religion by Kashmiri Muslims in the period 1846 and 1947 suggests a positive cultural and religious affiliation, quite as much as attempts flowing from material concerns to rectify religion-based discrimination perpetrated by the Hindu state. And here she differs with Sumantra Bose saying that Dogra rule was not Hindu rule in the sense Mughal rule was Muslim rule, but Dogras had turned Kashmir into a veritable Hindu state, unlike Mughals.
This religion-inspired discourse, which to a school-secularised minds might seem totally anachronistic, had a particular function. There is literature present on JKLF (which professed, at least publicly, to be a ‘secular’, ‘socialistic’ organisation working for national liberation). On Hizbul Mujahideen and the so-called “pan-Islamic” groups whatever little is available is rather to present these groups as crazed Islamic fanatics giving them an almost ethereal, other-worldly quality. Call it otherising. Probably it is because the ‘analysts’ lack adequate analytical tools to grasp this phenomenon, so they often land with what Western analysts have to say of Al-Qaeda, to understand “Islamist” groups in Kashmir.
The new discourse that these groups started was in fact a discursive break to reclaim the Kashmiri subjectivity and voice. The apparent lack of its meaning, or its attributed ‘irrationality’ was quite the reason why such discourse took root. For Kashmiris who failed to achieve independence in 1947 by appealing to the modern lexicon of secularism (Kashmiriyat) and Socialism, and which in fact landed them into the hands of a secular modern occupier, and for decades remained voiceless, and were constantly denied nationhood, used this new discourse to get themselves rid of the definitions imposed by India.
Taking up arms by the “docile Valley people” or Rushdie’s “Blue-eyed lake people” was one more disruption in the dominant narrative. Shalimar the Clown was no longer a clown but a murderer, says Rushdie, forgetting what set Kashmiri Shalimars apart was their unflinching desire for freedom. But then, why complain? Rushdie is known for advocating only his own freedom. If the new Kashmiri was a murderer, the first thing he murdered, and for good, was the entire corpus of literature on Kashmiris build up over two hundred years, which was used to justify illegal occupation after illegal occupation.