A Kashmir-Occupied India
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?