Put students, television, cricket match, Kashmir and India into a mix and what you typically get is violence or intimidation against Kashmiri students in universities across the Hindi-belt. That is usual. That is how it is supposed to be. Sometimes the Kashmiri students have even been banished from the university or thrown out of their hostel overnight. None of these makes “national” headlines.
However, after the recent T20 semi-finals, with the same mix of students, television, cricket match, Kashmir and India, the events that followed made it to the chatter of the Delhi’s media echo-boxes. What was different? Because, for a change, the site was Kashmir, not the Hindi-belt and the primary victims were non-Kashmiris. To understand these double standards, we need to base our understanding not on tri-colour rhetoric, but multi-coloured reality.
In Kashmir, very few people support the BCCI’s ‘Team India’ when it plays and yes, many are happy when it loses. That was true for the Kashmiri students at National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar when West Indies won in the recent T20 semifinals. Some non-Kashmiri outsiders didn’t like that. They got a flavour of what Kashmiri students are made to feel daily in Hindi belt. Tension escalated and a few Kashmiri students were assaulted. The Kashmiri people around NIT allegedly threw stones at the hostels on outsider students. Outsider students escalated the matter by trying to take out a procession with an Indian national flag – a symbol that is not tolerated in large areas of Kashmir except under very tight Indian security cover. The Jammu and Kashmir police stopped the outsider’s flag procession from leaving the campus and did so by serious lathi-charge. Some students were hurt.
After the incident, outsider students wanted the NIT to be shifted away from Srinagar. No Kashmiri student has ever wanted universities and colleges of the Hindi-belt to be shifted outside the region, when faced with similar violence and hostility. Police beating up anyone is horrible and this subcontinent has a particularly brutal police system. I am no supporter of police authoritarianism but I am merely pointing it out that JK Police treated them less harshly than it does to its own Kashmiris. There is an ‘us’ and ‘them’ even in superior treatment – that’s how sometimes differences show up, in the most opposite way than expected. What does this say? I leave the readers to judge. What does this also say about the relationship Kashmir state agencies have with the Union agencies – is it one of cooperation or fear?
The ‘national media’ then swooped on it like it never swoops into other situations of police lathi charge of that scale or campus student tension due to cricket matches. It is never the lathi charge but who are lathi charged that ever matters and in that special attention, it was made clear that even the Delhi establishment treats outsiders and Kashmiris differently. Lathi-charge incidents of far greater scale on many Kashmiri youth over the last few years have never grabbed as much attention as this one. When did lathi charge on young people of Kashmir become ‘national’ news? I suspect, it won’t be anytime soon – irrespective of lathi charges on Kashmiris that will surely happen over the next months and years. I also suspect that there might be calls in the Indian Union for bringing sports team support under the ambit of law.
So that chest-beating about the right of flying the tri-colour from Kanyakumari to Kashmir does not become the ridiculous axis of this debate, let me declare some ground truths. Let us try to understand reality here, irrespective of the Indian Union’s legal framework. A nation is only a nation to those who believe in it. A nation does not exist by itself, without its believers. It is a self-styled collective. If this collective has the resources to put symbols of its nationhood in areas significantly inhabited by people who may collectively think of themselves to be some other nation, conflict occurs. The most democratic and peaceful way of resolving this conflict, is to ask the people inhabiting the contested area, what do they want. If this choice is denied, then the outcome of that conflict – victory, defeat or constant repression – is typically ensured by superior resources, especially military resources – that has more money for guns, in short. In such undemocratic scenarios, victory is not necessarily the expression of popular will, neither does it represent the validity of some nation’s concept over another. Men with more guns and money ‘win’.
What do Kashmiris want? I think New Delhi knows that very well and so do we. It is not without reason that Kashmir has been denied a referendum with independent nationhood as one of the choices. A power that confidently claims that most people in Kashmir are happy to be citizens of India also denies the people of Kashmir to show the world the extent of such happiness through a referendum. Whether that is a sign of confidence in what New Delhi claims to be true, I leave my readers to judge.
One thing this incident has done is that many Indian media outlets have carried the state of Kashmiri people’s will that is expressed through this incident. This exploration of ‘what they want’ is something that Indian media avoids in a near-total way. But this incident shows how different Kashmiri students, how different people in that Srinagar neighbourhood are from the outside students. Whether the difference is present in even wider sections of the Kashmiri population is something this set of events cannot directly tell but it does have a strong hint. Indian nationalists claim that Kashmiris are Indians. If that is so, these Kashmiris are a very strange kind of Indian – much of what is considered good by Kashmiris is considered bad by Indian nationalists and vice versa. Does electoral democracy in Kashmir express this aspect of Kashmir? If not, who does the government represent?