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India: Between Freedom and Fascism: Speech is really free only when it hurts

Friday 26 February 2016, by siawi3

Source: https://www.sabrangindia.in/article/between-freedom-and-fascism-speech-really-free-only-when-it-hurts

Written by Taveel

Published on: February 24, 2016

Amidst Hindutva’s escalating hysterical-nationalism, raising the question of Kashmir’s right to self-determination was at the same time the most radical and the most blasphemous thing to do

“We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of the majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of another country”. Quoting Jefferson in his speech on the eve of adoption of the Indian Constitution, Ambedkar went on to say that Jefferson’s observation was not “merely true, but is absolutely true”.

“I feel, however good a Constitution may be,” he argued in the same speech, “it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot.” Today Ambedkar, far more agnostic about the sacralisation of the Constitution that we are witnessing and conscious of the possibility of its abuse, would have been a disappointed man.

Any engagement with the Constitution that is critical of its nature, scope and applicability that does not conform to the standard Statist position has been turned into a taboo and a crime. That a new generation may envision a distinct nation scares those whose interests lie entrenched in the old order of things. It is not necessary that every act of dissent be progressive, but it is precisely the process and exercise of fearless dissent that creates and ensures the existence of robust democratic societies.

Today’s India is afraid of undertaking this unending, painful and arduous task of constant renegotiation and redefinition which Jefferson alluded to and Ambedkar had seconded quite passionately, which, however, is nonetheless vital for any democracy to exist.That Kashmir has once again exposed the frail and sensitive faultlines of the Indian State is not surprising at all. Quite tellingly, it was Ambedkar’s disaffection with the government’s policy on Kashmir that he cited as one of the reasons for resigning from Nehru’s Cabinet. It is pertinent to recall what he had to say.

The real issue to my mind is not who is right but what is right. Taking that to be the main question, my view has always been that the right solution is to partition Kashmir. Give the Hindu and Buddhist part to India and the Muslim part to Pakistan as we did in the case of India. We are really not concerned with the Muslim part of Kashmir. It is a matter between the Muslims of Kashmir and Pakistan. They may decide the issue as they like. Or if you like, divide into three parts; the Cease fire zone, the Valley and the Jammu-Ladhak Region and have a plebiscite only in the Valley. What I am afraid of is that in the proposed plebiscite, which is to be an overall plebiscite, the Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir are likely to be dragged into Pakistan against their wishes and we may have to face same problems as we are facing today in East Bengal.

The point here is not to go into the merits or demerits of Ambedkar’s position, quite clearly seditious today, by the standards of what is perhaps best termed as the nations’ “collective conscience”, but to insist that we have a right to have a view, on Kashmir, on the Constitution, on the idea of a nation, on everything under the sun. And that we have the right to dissent. The crime Umar Khalid and others are truly guilty of committing is to have dared to think beyond the consensus of the society they live in. As Khalid put it, quite succinctly, they are afraid of young critical minds.

The blotted argument that Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union, which the Left, expectedly, is also repeating ad nauseaum on our television screens, requires the erasure of memory, of facts, of history. It requires a quiet forgetting of massacres, rapes, torture and enforced disappearances. It requires the forgetting of the UN resolutions, the massive militarisation of the state as well as that of the unrelenting struggle of Kashmiris for Aazadi.

It requires the erasure of Kashmiris as a living, breathing people with a voice, with an agency, capable of making a choice. When it comes to Kashmir, precious little separates the Left from the Right. Everyone is on the same boat, everyone is a nationalist, everyone is more nationalist than the other. The vastly different approach taken by the Left on the question of Palestine, from that of Kashmir, betrays its hypocrisy and is explainable only by the colonial logic of mother country being above reproach.

The blotted argument that Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union, which the Left, expectedly, is also repeating ad nauseaum on our television screens, requires the erasure of memory, of facts, of history

What we must demand, nonetheless, despite its blatant betrayal of its professed universal principles, is that the Left not abandon its own conscientious dissenters at this moment. The Left, along with the progressive sections of the society, must at the very least show the political commitment to stand by those who disagree with their stated positions and uphold the right to dissent.

Vajpayee went to the extent of calling for Kashmir’s resolution, involving all the stakeholders including Pakistan, under the ‘ambit of humanity’. Would it be seditious to suggest that the ambit of humanity extend beyond the limitations of the Constitution? If the State can politically engage with the separatists, even allow them to hold dialog with Pakistan - the much maligned ‘Other’ - why should the students have no right to engage with the issue, be opinionated about it and express that opinion?

Today, Khalid and the other organisers of the Cultural Event at JNU are the face of that dissent. So far no proof has emerged that any of them raised the condemnable slogans calling for India’s destruction. Their only fault is to have raised the question of Kashmir’s right to self-determination. But if speaking on, arguing for and debating this question is seditious than the state should perhaps look into its own closets as well.

Nehru himself not only debated this question in Parliament, but publicly promised to hold the plebiscite. The present government may wish to dump the likes of Nehru and Ambedkar in the dustbin of history, but we must ask on what grounds then can the government of India, under Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh’s rule sit across the table with the Hurriyat and JKLF who openly call for Kashmir’s freedom from the Indian State, instead of booking them for sedition. That should have been more straightforward, given that both these parties, the Hurriyat and the JKLF, are not merely debating this question but are active political entities whose programmes revolve solely around this central axis.

Vajpayee went to the extent of calling for Kashmir’s resolution, involving all the stakeholders including Pakistan, under the ‘ambit of humanity’. Would it be seditious to suggest that the ambit of humanity extend beyond the limitations of the Constitution? If the State can politically engage with the separatists, even allow them to hold dialog with Pakistan - the much maligned ‘Other’ - why should the students have no right to engage with the issue, be opinionated about it and express that opinion? By cracking down on the students the government has sent the message that in India, Kashmir must not be spoken of.

Kashmir, however, is not the endgame here; it has only provided the government with the easiest way with which to break the backbone of an increasingly assertive students’ movement that has been spreading across the country. From IIT Madras to FTII, from OccupyUGC to UoH the students have consistently resisted the government’s cocktail of neoliberal-Hindutvavadi fascism.

Repeatedly, the dissenting students have been labelled as ‘anti-national’ by the members of the ruling BJP and its students’ wing, the ABVP. Action against these ‘anti-national’ student groups has been initiated directly under orders from the central government, violating the autonomous space of the university in the process. The same hysteria of being labelled ‘anti-national’ which contributed to Rohith’s suicide has been raised many decibels in the case of Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, mostly through a pliant media.

In such a scenario as this, where protesting beef bans and forming Ambedkar study groups, where protesting fund-cuts and even conducting movie-screenings has repeatedly been branded as anti-national activities by the apparatchiks of the ruling class, raising the question of Kashmir’s right to self-determination was at the same time the most radical and the most blasphemous thing to do.

The response it has elicited from the government on the one hand betrays the State’s vulnerability over its claim to Kashmir being an integral part of the Union, has also on the other hand opened a wider battlefront between the fascist regime and its opponents. Kashmir, having seen and suffered the worse at the hands of the Indian State, has now exposed the worse face of the fascist regime yet.

At this crucial juncture it is the minimal necessary political obligation of the students and the Left to stand by the organisers of the event and safeguard the right to freedom of expression and dissent. But that’s only half the task. The true political transformation lies elsewhere. The choice between fascism and freedom that we face today couldn’t be starker. As the counter-movement against fascism grows, by ignoring the question of Kashmir, it will only retain the aporia at the heart of Indian democracy. The struggle for democracy has to be twin with the struggle for independence.

In redefining India’s relation with Kashmir, the counter-movement has to re-imagine India, moving away from the discourses of nationalism; community must take precedence over territory and people over country. Not so long ago Perry Anderson had criticised the Indian intellectual class for placing Kashmir in footnotes, ‘between delicate parentheses, to be discussed elsewhere’. Given the state of affairs, it might take the parliamentary Left a bare few centuries more in coming to terms with its intellectual dishonesty and criminal complicity when it comes to Kashmir, yet the turn of events has produced the fervent in which the possibility of freeing Kashmir from those delicate parenthesis and footnotes comes to fore, yet again.

Fidelity at this time is not to ask the question, ‘what is nationalism?’, but to radically invert the gaze and ask instead, ‘what is it to be independent?’ Fidelity at this point is not to ask ‘what is the idea of India?’ but to ask ‘what is Kashmir’s call on that idea?’ To do so would be to truly stand in solidarity with the organisers of the event, and the oppressed people of Kashmir. To free Kashmir from the footnotes and the parenthesis is to foreground it, is to speak more and more about it, and to speak freely. To free Kashmir is to listen to the disappeared and to talk to the dead. In India, Kashmir must echo.