ON May 6, when Kashmiri militant Riyaz Naikoo was killed by security forces, the all-enveloping Covid pandemic ensured the expected eruption of vengeful jubilation across social media didn’t reach the levels seen after Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016. Yet, he was Kashmir’s longest-surviving militant. So a more modest version of the coda duly played out: the first protests in the Valley since August 2019, and on the mainland, “nationalist” channels proclaiming that the “poster boy of terrorism”—indeed, the “virus of terrorism”—had been eliminated. This was preceded by the “martyrdom” of eight security personnel, killed by militants on May 3-4. Kashmir’s reality—for the last three decades—has been characterised by this cycle of retribution. And every time a bullet hits home, it hits a human: with a history and an alternate possible-future.
But there is a difference in the legibility, so to speak, of the kinds of violence. While the violence of militancy is easily readable, recognisable and condemnable, the nation-state’s belief in violence (internalised enthusiastically by the ‘nationalists’) remains opaque to us. We fail to read violence as the tool deployed to decide Kashmir’s future; the State stays beyond reproach. So while the call for non-violence can easily be made, the structural conditions necessary for non-violence remain absent. The events post-Article 370 are emphatic demonstrations of the fact that the Kashmiri does not figure in the Indian nationalist imagination other than as an object—our goal is precisely to render that figure a passive recipient, rather than a participant. The world’s longest internet shutdown, extending into the cruel denial of 4G even during a pandemic, passes without much comment in the mainstream. So does the preventive detention of thousands of Kashmiri citizens, including those who were pro-India or without links to militancy (and the judiciary’s shocking refusal to entertain habeas corpus petitions, the bedrock of democracy). Startling facts otherwise, we have been collectively lulled into thinking of them as normal—or as natural as sun or rain.
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August 10, 2020