Thursday, July 03, 2008

The secular sentiment

I’m pained to see several sections of the rightist media trying to paint the latest uprising in Kashmir as communal. Without being apologetic, the skew needs to be straightened: The fact remains that there is nothing remotely communal or sectarian about this tumult. It has been secular from the word go. Infact it has never been about religion. It has been a fight between the people, on the whole, versus a discredited establishment. No one in Kashmir is against the Amarnath yatra.

There was a complete ten day shut-down in Kashmir against the transfer of land. Nothing much moved. Even emergency services kept strictly off the roads. Small children would dig-in around every alley to fight tough street battles with the police and paramilitary troopers. Even journalists were stopped. The only vehicles that breezed past the stone-wielding kids, the tear-gas smelling airs, the barricaded roads of Srinagar, the tyre-burned turnpikes -- were the Yatra cabs. About 9,000-10,000 yatris visit the mountain-god daily. Without one minor incident, not a single Yatri [pilgrim] was hurt. This is not communal!

In the intense impasse between people and the government, the feud was mainly about land. The argument ran thus: The yatra is fine. The increase in the number of yatris is also fine. Providing the pilgrims better amenities too is fine but why the heck does the government need to transfer prime forest land to the missionary board. It could very well extend all these facilities without the transfer of land. After all the yatra has been going on for more than a century. At no point in this tussle with the government did anyone -- people, separatists, opposition political parties -- in Kashmir say anything against the yatra. This is not communal!

People vented their anger against the establishment because the whole land transfer/diversion deal was done surreptitiously. Secretly like a gang of thugs, the establishment appeared to be apportioning the loot. It took the ex-CEO of the board Arun [poison tongued, petty minded] to come out with some of the clandestine details in a press conference. No wonder his rants shocked people. Mainstream political forces immediately saw red and decided to go with the grain. Yet just as the state festered -- on the touchy issue of identity and just when the government was feeling plain helpless, the yatra went along. Long queues continued their sing-song trek to the cave. This is not communal!

Despite the charged atmosphere and all the bad blood, the last ten days saw a restraint that is typical of Kashmir. Call it Kashmiryat, call it the legendary Sufi ethos or call it pure secularism -- that while politicians bayed for each others blood and people felled to bullets and hospital wards were inundated with the injured, local people in Srinagar [as reported by national and International press] set up langars [mass-community-kitchens] to feed the returning Yatris. Since the entire city was closed and transport was non-existent, local people rose to the occasion, taking care of the yatris who in some way were central to this enfolding drama. This is not communal!

Separatist leaders in Kashmir are known for their hard-talk. Yet they appealed for calm. Time and again the likes of Mr Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar, despite their efforts to color everything green, called for tolerance. Appeals were issued to help the stranded Yatris. The truth be told mainstream guys across the board -- Omar Abdullah to Mehbooba Mufti -- too extolled lenity. There were no reprisals, no assaults and no hate-talk against any community. It was a simple case of masses versus the state on an emotive issue -- that of identity and selfhood. This is not communal!

Never before -- in more than 130 years of its being -- has the Yatra needed the land. People of Kashmir have a right to ask, and rightly so, why now? Why so secretly? Why hush-hush? Why give it to a missionary board that has behaved so aggressively in the recent past? Why couldn’t the state tourism provide all the facilities for which the land is sought? The government response was, as usual, pathetic: Nary a word. Late confusing noises emerged. But these were just noises that jarred and made no sense. Results: An uprising on a massive scale. A tide that swept everything. All parks with aubergine colored tulips in them.

End-result: Land is back with the state.

Contrast this with the multiple attacks by the Hindu right wing, who with no understanding of the issue, muddle things with their rusticity. In Jammu and elsewhere. Listen to their communal language. The irrational outrage. The threats. The prevailing confusion. An extremely fake sense of jingoism. The vulgar brandishing of tridents. The ultimatums.

This is, for sure, communal.