A Kash­mir-Oc­cu­pied In­dia

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas - Sameer Ar­shad

Ear­lier this month, four Kash­miri stu­dents gath­ered at a hos­tel room of Me­war Univer­sity in Ra­jasthan for some­thing that is an ev­ery­day af­fair back home in Kash­mir. But given the sen­si­bil­i­ties of their veg­e­tar­ian fel­low stu­dents, they se­cretly sourced mut­ton and cooked their sta­ple diet sur­rep­ti­tiously with­out cook­ing up too much of a noise.

De­spite their at­tempts to keep things out of sight, so as to not of­fend any­one who finds the cook­ing and con­sump­tion of meat of­fen­sive, they could not con­ceal the aroma of the dish they had cooked.

Soon enough, all hell broke loose as some ‘out­raged’ stu­dents barged into the room and clicked pic­tures of the dish on their phones. The four were ac­cused of cook­ing ‘beef ’, while the pic­tures were im­me­di­ately cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia as an in­stant recipe to whip up yet an­other Dadri-like anti-Mus­lim frenzy.

A mob of rul­ing BJP af­fil­i­ates soon gath­ered out­side the univer­sity bay­ing for the Kash­miri stu­dents’ blood. Some of them scaled the univer­sity walls and as­saulted the stu­dents for the blas­phe­mous act of ‘beef-eat­ing’. The police were called in and asked to book the stu­dents un­der Ra­jasthan’s strict anti-cow slaugh­ter law that places the bur­den of prov- ing one’s in­no­cence on the ac­cused.

The four stu­dents were as­saulted in the pres­ence of po­lice­men as well as while they were asked to iden­tify the place from where they had sourced the meat. The Hin­dutva vig­i­lantes re­port­edly torched the mut­ton shop as the four ‘ac­cused’ took the police there for ‘iden­ti­fi­ca­tion’.

Get­ting mut­ton con­fused with beef was just an­other ex­cuse to tar­get Kash­miri stu­dents — who num­ber over 700 at the Me­war Univer­sity — as it is im­pos­si­ble to source cat­tle meat in Ra­jasthan, where cow slaugh­ter has been banned since 1995. Even pos­ses­sion and trans­porta­tion of beef can lead up to 10-year im­pris­on­ment in the state.

Ra­jasthan amended the cow pro­tec­tion law to in­clude pro­vi­sions for ar­rest­ing driv­ers and seiz­ing ve­hi­cles car­ry­ing calves last year. This made the law one of the most strin­gent in the coun­try and vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to find beef in the state.

But to pur­sue the mat­ter of slaugh­ter of cat­tle and con­sump­tion of beef in Ra­jasthan is an­other mat­ter al­to­gether, a ver­i­ta­ble straw man ar­gu­ment, con­sid­er­ing that the stu­dents were cook­ing mut­ton and not beef, and the shop set on fire was sell­ing mut­ton, not beef.

The four stu­dents were taken into pre­ven­tive cus­tody — and then booked un­der Sec­tion 151 of the IPC (dis­turb­ing the peace) be­fore get­ting bail — even as the police had prima fa­cie con­cluded the meat was not beef. But be­fore the four were re­leased, they were forced to is­sue an apol­ogy for cook­ing meat. No ac­tion against their at­tack­ers was taken.

The rea­son for go­ing into con­sid­er­able de­tail into this case is that this was not the first time a flimsy ex­cuse was used to tar­get Kash­miris in par­tic­u­lar and Mus­lims in general. The coun­try­wide at­tacks on Mus­lims af­ter the Babri Masjid de­mo­li­tion in De­cem­ber 1992 were not the first time com­mu­nal vi­o­lence in the form of ‘Hin­dutva’ in what­ever way reared its ugly head in post-In­de­pen­dence In­dia. In 2003, the Pun­jab Police, who have gained no­to­ri­ety for ha­rass­ing Kash­miris, hur­riedly cre­mated the body of the iconic Kash­miri Mus­lim folk singer Ghu­lam Nabi Sheikh to de­stroy ev­i­dence af­ter he was al­legedly thrown out of a train.

Sep­a­rately, hun­dreds of Kash­miris have been rou­tinely framed on flimsy charges over the years. In one such case, a Delhi court ac­quit­ted seven Kash­miris in Fe­bru­ary 2011 and slammed the police for im­pli­cat­ing them af­ter con­coct­ing a fake shoot-out story. The court said that four police of­fi­cers had care­fully scripted the ‘en­counter’ story. The guilty po­lice­men went un­pun­ished.

Kash­miris have be­come par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble over the last decade, with their reg­u­lar de­mon­i­sa­tion on prime-time tele­vi­sion tar­get­ing their ‘na­tional loy­alty’. While the me­dia has al­ways treated news from Kash­mir from a no-ques­tions-asked ‘na­tional in­ter­est’ point of view, the cherry-pick­ing of news from the state has wors­ened. Hyphen­at­ing any ‘Kash­mir story’ with a ‘Pak­istan story’ has be­come not just a cliché but an es­tab­lished con­tent model.

The re­cent ruckus at Delhi’s Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity (JNU) row is in­struc­tive in this re­gard. Some me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions fu­elled ru­mours that Umar Khalid, one of the JNU stu­dents ac­cused of rais­ing anti­na­tional slo­gans, was a Kash­miri. It seemed the at­tempt was to make the case against him wa­ter­tight by em­pha­sis­ing not just his Mus­lim but Kash­miri cre­den­tials as well.

All this strength­ens the be­lief that the rhetoric about Kash­mir be­ing an ‘in­te­gral part of In­dia’ is just about land and real estate — and, dare one say, hege­mony — and not about be­ing in­clu­sive to its peo­ple.

But are you wel­come?

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