Friday, January 4, 2013

Death of a ‘liberal’ Kashmiri

Naseer A Ganai

Some six months ago when I met him, he talked about marketing and image building: How Kashmir should project itself. How Kashmiris should market their movement in the Western world. Like almost all Kashmiris, he was critical of everything, including himself. He thumped a tea table at Lalla Sheikh Restaurant at Residency Road, and said that we had failed to project our movement in the right perspective. We had not created awareness about the movement in the western world. The world didn’t know that there was Kashmir. We had not approached the western media. We had not approached the western institutions.

He argued that had we briefed the West in a language that the West understands, the Kashmir case would have been far different today. We should have spoken to them in the language of liberalism, secularism and democracy. By “we” he always meant himself and people like him. Others didn’t count in his grand scheme of things.
He was concerned about the radicalization of youth and growing number of mosques. He attributed radicalization to the Indian State, and said that India wanted to Islamize the movement, Islamize Kashmir, Islamize everything, so that it could do whatever it wanted to do in Kashmir. “Once you are branded an Islamist, the West will not support you,” he argued.

He always liked to project himself as a liberal. “I am a liberal to the core, you know it,” he would say. He, however, would describe every Indian institution, be it the judiciary or human rights bodies, as farce. But he was hopeful of Indian civil society actors, human rights groups and would often say that they will act as pressure groups and force the Indian state to act differently in Kashmir.

In the real sense, he was an angry young man. He would argue that we could bring change. “Yes, we can.” He was an eternal optimist. He had complete faith in the West’s institutions. He would often repeat that one day the West would realise that they had the burden of solving Kashmir. “They will come and solve it.” He was wedded to these thoughts. He was wedded to Kashmir. He would often poke fun on anyone of us who would talk about the happenings in Iraq or in Palestine. He would say, “Iraqis and Palestinian might not have even heard of Kashmir. Why should we be bothered?”
In that meeting, I forced him to cut his long lecture short and then asked him to pay the bill. After all, I had to hear his treatise on Kashmir for almost an hour.

Last week, I saw him again. This time we again went to a restaurant. This time too he talked. But this time, others also talked. That was a big difference. And above all he didn't break the table at the restaurant. This time, he didn't criticise “growing Islamisation in Kashmir”. This time, he didn't poke fun at anyone who talked about the Israeli raids on Gaza. He was a changed man. I supposed he had gotten married, so I asked him about it. “I have no plan for such boring things,” he said dryly and I being married looked at him with envy.

He said we should reach to our own people. “Our asset is our own people. Let us reach them. Let us help each other. Let us write in Urdu, let us talk to our own people, who have been subjected to the worst kind of atrocities, treachery and betrayals. Let us make them aware. Let us educate them. Let us listen to them.”

The West will not do anything, he said. “We have to help ourselves. The Indian civil society and human rights groups work as organs of the state,” he insisted. “You should not expect anything from those who get elated over the win of Narendra Modi and rejoice over the state funeral to Bal Thackeray.”

What about radicalization, I asked? “Well, I am not worried,” he said. “These people, these youngsters, they are taking refuge in religion, what is wrong in it? Let others perceive what they want to. When the West’s perception didn’t change our lot in the past 62 years, how can it change anything now? We have to respect their religious beliefs, their religious practices. We have to reach out to our own people.” He repeated this sentence, and he repeated it again and again. “We have given them nothing. We have been mean, we have been brutal, we have been bloody careerists; we have not been fare to our own people. God forgive us.”

After this, he didn't talk much.

And this time, I paid bill for the tea. Because, this time, I felt I was one among in his “we”.