The right to protest does not imply that the protests are right
K Subrahmanyam’s piece warning against giving in to separatist demands makes a very important point—the tendency to tolerate and appease those who take to the streets to press their demands.
But the challenge facing India is whether we try to set right our governance and improve it or yield to the protesters. Disruption is being made part of India’s political culture by most of our political parties.
Not only Kashmir, but violent agitations elsewhere pose a challenge to the idea of India. The country has to seek a comprehensive strategy to deal with this challenge. Yielding to the Kashmiri secessionists is not a solution. It would be the end of the concept of India. [TOI]
Once the ‘grammar of anarchy’ is accepted as legitimate, accommodating the demands of those who use it—whether it is the Gujjars of Rajasthan, the Amarnath Samiti of Jammu or the Communists in various parts of the country—becomes merely a matter of rationalisation. Any number of principles can be trotted out for the purpose. Shouldn’t those who support yielding to separatist demands in Kashmir also support reservations as demanded by the Gujjars and oppose reservations as demanded by Youth For Equality? Does drawing the bigger, louder, angrier, more violent crowd help reconcile such opposing demands?
This is more than just about Jammu & Kashmir. It’s about the model that Indians accept as the way to reconcile the diverse interests of a diverse population. Mobs, general strikes and public demonstrations might be legitimate means for citizens to express their opinions. But this does not mean that society—and certainly not the government—should accept demands made in this manner. Here the media deserves a share of the blame: the profusion of media outlets has encouraged the tendency of “camera-friendly” agitations—remember Rage Boy—which in turn are blown out of proportion by breathless on-scene reporters and shouting anchors.
Related Link: The inaugural editorial of Pragati; and Harsh Khare calls for “a fundamentalist belief in the curative power of Indian democracy” (linkthanks Anand Sampath).
17 thoughts on “The grammar of anarchy challenges the idea of India”
Madame Roy has spoken.
It’s ironic how India has consistently steeled itself against armed insurrections, but fumbles pathetically when confronted with a “non-violent” agitation. Of course, if this Kashmir excitement does not run out of steam and people start dying again – as they inevitably will – ironically, we’ll be back to more familiar territory and probably handle it better.
MJ Akbar has written a superlative piece in today’s TOI on the same issue: “For peace with Pak, India has to be strong”. It’s staple Sunday reading.
It is extremely troubling that the very idea of India, the sacrifices of blood by Indian security forces and the struggle of the nationalists are at the brink of being frittered away by a bunch of effete liberals pontificating from the India International Center and NDTV studios. Major media houses are increasingly talking in the same chorus and there is a real danger of this azaadi thing being cast as consensus.
I hope you can see the inherent double-standard in your position. You say:
Wow! That’s mighty generous of you.
First I’d make a distinction between “mobs”, “general strikes” and “public demonstrations”. But what you’re basically saying is that let the demonstrators keep protesting and the Indian State should just ignore them and we, “the society” should pay no heed to them.
Didn’t China seem to be applying the same logic recently to the Tibetan protests? Weren’t the British applying the same logic to India’s freedom protests? In fact, by your standard, all protest movements against the Indian state, while certainly should be allowed, there is no reason for the Indian State to listen to them. I see the Naxals using that same logic when picking up arms. They keep reminding those tribal folks that the gun is the only way because the Government will not listen to you.
I do not doubt your intelligence and I’m sure you know that the Kashmiris have been speaking for a long time and neither the people of India nor the government was listening to them. Sure thousands of talks have been held. But what they have been demanding is freedom from India and what we have been giving them is: more money, more military, more martyrs and more propaganda. What is different this time is that the government’s guns seem to be helpless in controlling them. When that happens, as much as we can disagree with the fundamentalist nature of their protests, we cannot hold a people who do not want to be held.
I think John Kennedy who said:
I think what Nitin is saying is that the demands should be considered on their merit, rather than on the nature of the protest.
B.O.K, buddy that’s exactly my point. Who decides that “merit” is always the question. Certainly not you, I or Nitin. I mean, the protests in Jammu were orchestrated by Hindutva parties including the BJP. We all know that, and I presume being a reader of this blog and following India’s “real” news, you know that as well.
But what we saw in Kashmir this time was a mixture of political parties fanning the frustrations of the common Kashmiris and the ordinary people of Kashmir taking to the streets. These protests, bandhs, and other non-violent as well as violent acts in Kashmir, by the fruit-dwellers, the shopkeepers, the truckers were genuinely a part of the people’s movement. If anything deserves merit over political party orchestrated mobs, it has to be a people’s movement. We might not agree with those people. Frankly, I think the Islamification of Kashmir will haunt Kashmiris for a long time, but the Indian State has been reduced to being a cruel oppressor of those people and I cannot choose not see that. India has pushed Kashmir over the edge, not by a land transfer but by years of oppression. The land transfer and its revocation was simply a minor trigger for the hatred that lies underneath.
China’s recent treatment of protesters from Tibet is actually a fairly good comparison. They claimed that “China” was being victimizated by the Tibetans at a time when the great and mighty China was about to hold the Olympics! I hope you see how this applies to India’s “hurt” over Kashmir. It is always easier to see another’s hypocrisy and rarely do we have to courage to see our own.
Who decides that “merit” is always the question. Certainly not you, I or Nitin.
I’d urge you to read B R Ambedkar’s speech linked off this post (“grammar of anarchy”). He, more than you or me, tells you how “merit” ought to be decided. In a constitutional system there are a myriad of ways to make your point, and the system is designed to decide the issue of merit. You, I or BOK can rally a mob (or strike or protest, as you prefer) but it’s quite another thing to say that India ought to accept our demands.
The parallel with China or Tibet is specious. It takes a certain amount of superficiality and flippancy to suggest that there is a “fairly good comparison” between a single-party Communist dictatorship that uses a policy of ruthless demographic change in Tibet, and a constitutional democracy that makes a special exception for J&K to prevent even quotidian mingling. [See this post]
You see double-standards, hypocrisy and suchlike because you are unable to distinguish between the morality of an (albeit imperfect) constitutional democracy and unrepresentative authoritarian governments. The real double standard, and if this were conscious, the real hypocrisy, lies in the inability to distinguish the two.
@Navneet: Bhrata-shri, that was surely *not* your point (adding “exactly” only makes it laughable).
Asking “who decides merit?” is *not* the same as concluding that “Nitin is asking everyone to ignore the protests”. In the latter case (which is what you alleged in your first comment), the question of someone deciding merit wouldn’t even arise, so asking “who?” would be entirely pointless. Ergo, you couldn’t possibly have been making the point about who exactly is going to decide merit (well, unless you are an illogical moron – which, I think you are not).
Please note that I am not doubting your intentions. You might have intended to make this new point back then, but that’s not how it came out in your comment. In future, you should perhaps get someone to read your comment before posting it, and check if they can see the point you are trying to make.
B.O.K Thank you for your suggestion. I’ll try to remain civil and desist from taking the tone towards the “illogical moron” name-calling direction. If you’d like to keep picking on every line then it will end up being a circular dead-end loop of a conversation. So let’s return to more coherency.
Nitin, thanks for pointing me to your other post on the “Grammar of Anarchy”. I take it that you are referring to this text from the Constitution of India:
I’ll respond to this in 2 ways.
If quoting the Constitution is the basis of your argument, it actually weakens your point further. Because then it is only fair to quote the constitution of India in response:
Article 370 with respect to state of Jammu and Kashmir:
In the interest of space, it is perhaps best that I refer you the complete text of 370.
But I don’t think that this is good way to discuss this. Just because the constitution of India is the basis of our democracy it does not mean that we do not question it. It is not a religion. I think both Article 370 and the other text should be questioned by us. Just like there is a thrust from some sections in India to shelve Article 370, there could be a thrust for other constitutional amendments as well. But that is a separate discussion.
What is more interesting right now is the presumption of Ambedkar’s text that a just state is in place. That “constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives” are functioning in India. Are they? You know just as well as I do that this is not the case, not only with J&K but with so many issues. If you want I can list thousands of stories but I need not point them out to you. I’m sure you’re just as aware as the rest of us in India are about the apathy of the Indian State. What guidance does our constitution offer in a situation where the State declares war on its people?
About your other point regarding China. You are absolutely right in saying that a “single-party Communist dictatorship” is not the same as “an (albeit imperfect) constitutional democracy” like India. But Kashmir has not been enjoying Indian Democracy. They have a heavy Indian military regime installed all around them. And that too for over 20 years. I’m sure you are aware of this that the streets of Srinagar are not like the streets of the rest of India. If we in Delhi or Bombay would have a 24 hour military siege with 8’o clock curfews everyday, pretty soon, this imperfect constitutional democracy will start looking like a dictatorship to us as well. So I hope you can see that there is no ill-intent in my comparison with China. I’m trying to show it to you like a Kashmiri sees it. You are seeing India from the way you enjoy its accorded freedoms. Most of those freedoms are not available to the people of Kashmir. Once you empathize with that, India does not seem like a democracy anymore. And since we are talking about real people, their future and their lives, it is rather important to see it from their point of view first.
B.O.K, there’s nothing I can say in response to your point. I must have taken your head for a spin there by saying “that’s exactly my point”. I overshot my typing ahead of my thinking. – sorry to confuse you. peace.
Ambedkar’s speech is not from the constitution. He merely says you must use constitutional means to effect change. He doesn’t say you must not question it, merely that if you wish to change it, you must use constitutional means. Are you suggesting that Article 370 makes it legal to use mobs, strikes and public protests to make political decisions if you are in J&K?
That “constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives” are functioning in India. Are they? You know just as well as I do that this is not the case, not only with J&K but with so many issues.
Yes. I think they are. But let’s say we accept what you “know” as correct. Is taking to the streets the solution? What if two groups with opposing aims who both think that the constitution has failed them meet on the streets? You know just as well as I do what happens next. Like Ambedkar, I think that’s not a smart way to go about it. You think otherwise?
I’m not impressed by polemic such as a “State that declares war on the people”. If anything you use the phrase too flippantly.
But Kashmir has not been enjoying Indian Democracy.
So that validates a comparison with China? Why is it necessary for you to make a wrong analogy in order to communicate the fact that people in Kashmir need more freedom? Note that the two are not linked. You can very well make your point—and reasonable people will accept it—without making facile comparisons.
Few will disagree that there is an affective divide. The question then is not to run away with absurd similes and claim that we must accept demands made by mobs. Has the Hurriyat even tried democracy first? If not, how do you know that it is the “Indian State” and not the Hurriyat that is responsible for Kashmir not enjoying Indian Democracy?
Thanks Nitin. If by “taking to the streets” you mean violence, then I agree that it cannot be justified. And yes, I also agree with you that Article 370 does not give anyone the right to take up violent means to any end. But mobs, strikes and public protests, like I said in my first reply as well, are very different from each other. I am all for “taking to the streets” for “non-violent” public protests. The Kashmiris have tried both violent and non-violent means to act against the Indian State. None seems to be effective.
I do not take the words “State that declares war on the people” lightly and mean it literally. The Indian Armed Forces Special Powers Act applicable in Kashmir and the North-eastern states is declaring war on the people… very literally and explicitly. It is not polemic, even if you’re not impressed by it.
According to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), in an area that is proclaimed as “disturbed”, an officer of the armed forces has powers to:
fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death;
to arrest without a warrant and with the use of “necessary” force anyone who has committed certain offences or is suspected of having done so;
to enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests. Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government’s judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review.
Does that sound like democracy to you? Does that not validate a comparison with China or even worse? If this is not the State declaring war, I don’t know what is. You either don’t know about the AFSPA, or if you do then your accusation that I use the phrase fippantly is disturbing. I hope you will reconsider your presumption that democracy exists in Kashmir. It is too easy to blame the Hurriyat as the reason why Kashmir does not enjoy Indian Democracy. Such draconian laws were not passed by the Hurriyat but the Indian Government.
As far as violence is concerned, Kashmiris are wrong and foolish to take up violence against the Indian State. I mean who can be more violent than the State?
@Navneet: Thanks for that admission of mistake. We all make mistakes, but it is rare on the internet to find someone admitting it.
Incidentally, it is not nitpicking on every line that makes arguments go circular. The culprit for that would be circular logic. Nitpicking serves the useful purpose of making people think ahead of typing, and has the overall effect of saving time by forcing people to write what they intend to convey instead of indulging in rhetoric.
Also, apologies for using the term “illogical moron” in my comment. I sincerely did not intend to apply it to you (and said as much right there), but I can see now that it is likely to be taken as sarcasm. Perhaps I should type a bit slowly as well.
In J&K, so long as leaders continue to push for secession and refuse to denounce violence, people like me are going to view them very suspiciously. One week of violence-free protests does not make a peaceful movement out of a two decade-old militant insurgency (with infiltration continuing to this date). In addition, a couple of recent peaceful protests are no guarantee of the latest protest being peaceful. News sources are reporting that empty AK-47 shells were recovered from the places where firing took place – which corroborates the Police version which says they were fired upon first (and there are injured policemen to prove it) by terrorist elements present in the “peaceful” crowd (CRPF uses SLRs, not AKs). Of course, one could always concoct a conspiracy theory.. but we should just agree to disagree in that case.
That’s cool B.O.K. No offense taken 🙂 But I cannot let you off so easily for saying:
One week of violence-free protests does not make a peaceful movement out of a two decade-old militant insurgency
What are you talking about? That is insulting to the memory of so many non-violent movements that have been butchered in Kashmir under Indian bullets. The Kashmiri struggle has been violent and non-violent from the very beginning. Its just that the Indian Media talks and shows you more of the violent parts. Please understand that I am not over-looking or condoning the barbaric nature of violence that the Kashmiri militancy has put not just Kashmiris but Indians too. It has to be accounted for. Just like I am unwilling to over-look the pillage and rape that the Indian Army has done to the Kashmiris. That too has to be accounted for. It has been cannibalistic and the Kashmiris have been foolish in fighting back with violence. They can never win a violent war against the Indian Army because they will never have the same number of guns, the same number of tanks, the same amount of money that the Indian State can pump in to kill them. The Indian Government has one of the world’s largest army in numbers and it can afford to let go of thousands of lives in the name of “Patriotism”. And it has. The Kashmiris are simply out-numbered and will always fail if they choose violence.
But their peace movement is not a week old! Have you forgotten Yasin Malik? He gave up arms and surrendered in 1995 choosing a secularist struggle instead. He even clearly stated that Kashmiri Pundits were an integral part of Kashmiri Society. 13 years later you call that a week of violence-free protests! Then there was Javid Ahmad Zargar, Javed Mir, Farooq Siddiqi, Salim Nannaji, Iqbal Gundroo. Look them up. I can provide a pretty long list if you are really interested in learning about the Kashmir non-violent struggle before you pass judgment on those people.
Because non-violent voices for freedom have never been allowed access in the media, the violent movements have always gained the upper hand in Kashmir. But non-violent civil disobedience is not a new concept and I suggest that you think about people and their lives before proclaiming ownership over a land that you’d promised would get its plebscite 60 years ago.
@Navneet: I was talking in the present context of protests and the police action. The boots on the ground have every reason to be suspicious of protesters and exercise extreme caution, regardless of Yasin Malik’s change of heart 13 years ago. Terrorists mingling with peaceful protesters isn’t a new tactic.
You are right in stating that there have been both non-violent and violent forms of agitation over the years. But, as you stated, the character has been largely violent. You blame such characterization of the struggle on the Indian media. Trust me, that is not the case for me. I have some first-hand experience on the issue, and tonnes of second-hand exposure, without any intervention by the media (speaking of which, I have been a regular reader of the Pakistani media as well). I do not claim to be an expert, or to have some cut-and-dried solutions to the problems in the region, but I am not clueless about the events either. It is my own understanding that the non-violent voices in J&K have always been marginal players at best. Sure, there are individual examples, but they have failed to have a sizeable impact. The reduction in violence in recent years has several factors behind it (better governance, changed geopolitical environment, better vigilance at the LoC, and yes, some violence-fatigue among the local populace as well).
I’d expressed my views on plebiscite in another thread:
In short: the “promise” of plebiscite was conditional. I am sure you know the history.
the “promise” of plebiscite was conditional.
B.O.K the condition which India has clung on to is that Pakistan should withdraw all Military forces from the region of Kashmir before a plebiscite is conducted. Are you suggesting that this condition is the reason we have occupied Kashmir for 60 years? Because Pakistan is not leaving.
Hence by implication we are protecting them. But hey, they are begging, screaming, kicking and yelling at us to leave, to get the hell out. But we refuse, because we are protecting them.
Do you think India’s occupation of Kashmir against that condition and refusing a plebiscite is moral? Please don’t hold the instrument of accession by a king as moral justification for a democracy (if we really are one) to take over a land where its people don’t want us. They don’t want our protection.
One of the commenter mentioned the the sacrifices of blood by Indian security forces. Yes it is really sad that so many people, from the Indian Army and Kashmir have been killed there. How many more must die to carry on this charade? Isn’t it obvious by now (as it should have been years ago) that we are not welcome there. They don’t want our protection and we cannot keep using Pakistan as an excuse for not leaving ourselves.
I would recommend that you travel to Kashmir to see that this policy has ruined generations. We can keep discussing who is to blame. We can blame the Hurriyat, the L.E.T, the Indian Army, Pakistan, ISI but all this just leads to extending our stay there without any form of justice for the people of Kashmir. If you really care about the Kashmiri people and not their land, then you must accept that this policy has to change. It is immoral for the status-quo of occupation to remain.
Be it Kashmiris or Indians, I believe in people before policy. That is not rhetoric but an achievable goal. I think it is immoral to care about a few thousand acres of land but not about the people who live on it. I am ashamed to read another missing person’s story from Kashmir, another soldier killed by what we call terrorists, another woman disappears and found raped by the Army. No one is innocent in this. All parties, have escalated to unspeakable barbaric acts. If we live in a democracy and claim to be moral, we cannot let another generation be wasted to status-quo and myths that both sides have created to justify their actions. Indian people have to act and it cannot be with the gun again.
@Navneet: Now you are clearly in rhetoric-land, where I usually do not venture. So, I’ll stop here and wish you a safe journey. Except this one last thing:
I would recommend that you travel to Kashmir to see that this policy has ruined generations.
I would instead recommend that you shouldn’t make such incorrect presumptions in future.
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