This refers to “Dear Kashmir, what about my freedom to go on a pilgrimage?” by Raju Moza (9 August 2014); this article was recently (23 January 2016) tweeted by Scroll on its official twitter handle. The author is purportedly talking about the controversy over a proposed pilgrimage to a pristine waterbody called Kausar Nag, which is located in an environmentally fragile area in South Kashmir. He points out two reasons why this move has been opposed by the locals: environmental degradation and fear of demographic change.
On the first reason, he writes, “There is no merit to the argument that the pilgrims would harm the environment because local people don’t seem to care much about their environment to begin with”. This statement is problematic on two counts. First, by saying that since other water bodies have been polluted, people’s opposition to opening up environmentally fragile Kausar Nagar to increased human footfall does not stand. The argument is problematic simply because two wrongs don’t make a right. That already lot of water bodies, which provide drinking water to lakhs of households, in Kashmir are polluted, it makes all the more sense to preserve whatever is left unpolluted and expedite the conservation and clean up work on those water bodies which are highly polluted. In the wake of wide scale and precarious weather changes due to the climate change the water body conservation and clean up policies need urgent execution more now then ever.
Second, by saying local people don’t care about their environment, the author demonstrates an implicit bias against ethnic Kashmiri Muslims and attaches a negative attribute to a social group. According to Carlos Hoyt (2012:225), racism is traditionally understood “as a particular form of prejudice defined by preconceived erroneous beliefs about race and members of racial groups”. However, there are other scholars (revisionists like Wellman 1993 and Tatum 1997) who argue that in order for a person to be racist he or she must posses power and be dominant. Given that the author comes from a privileged upper caste Hindu section (Pandit) and by extension holds a considerable degree of cultural and political capital, especially in the present political context where a Hindu supremacist establishment is in power in India, it is reasonable to argue that his sweeping generalisation and description of locals qualifies for a racist statement. He only reiterates this implicit racism in the latter part of the article where he says, “This opposition is not merely against the pilgrimage. It reflects, by and large, the attitude of the majority community to the Pandits”. Here again, the author is making a sweeping generalisation about a community and attaching negative attributes to it. As a counter argument, one can cite numerous statements from the influential civil society members of Kashmir who have called for the Pandit community’s return to Kashmir, and one can also cite several reports in the mainstream Indian press to demonstrate that members of the majority Muslim community, by and large, has displayed welcoming attitude both towards returning Pandits and as well as Amarnath pilgrims from mainland India. So, his framing of Kashmiri Muslims as essentially anti-Hindu is misleading and erroneous.
Historically speaking, the author also makes few incorrect claims. For example he says, “…the case could be made that the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, after the onset of separatist insurgency in the region, was the event that distorted the state’s demography”. Although, the statement is not incorrect in itself, but its presentation is biased as it ignores, wittingly or unwittingly, the fact that the demography of the state was actually hugely distorted way earlier in November 1947 after, by some reports, around 200,000 to 237,000 Muslims were killed in the Dogra state-backed anti-Muslim pogroms in the Jammu province, forcing nearly 200,000 of them to take shelter either in Pakistani Punjab or in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the latter also witnessing anti-Hindu mass killings (for references, see Christopher Snedden 2013 and Ian Stephen’s Horned Moon 1953). In the wake of 1965 war, thousands of Muslims from Jammu again migrated to Pakistani side. Therefore, the November 1947 ethnic cleansing, large scale violence, and forced migrations changed the demographic proportion of Jammu region, reducing Muslim population from 61.19% in 1941 to around 31% currently.
The author’s second claim that the Hindu population in Poonch district of Jammu has dwindled since 1990’s is not backed by any evidence or reference to any proper scientific study. Even if his claim is right for argument’s sake, yet why this phenomenon has occurred and what is its relevance to the article is not clear.
The author picks up Syed Ali Geelani’s stance on the Kashmir conflict as the representative sample of pro-freedom sentiment in Kashmir. This is a misrepresentation. Because while the different surveys (like Centre for the Study of Developing Studies 2007 and Chattam House 2009) so far conducted to assess the people’s political aspirations shows that majority of Kashmiris in the Kashmir valley prefer independence over merger with Pakistan, there hasn’t been any survey yet which shows that the people in Kashmir prefer a theocratic state. Moreover, Geelani favours merger with Pakistan not independence. Therefore, his argument based on a hypothetical scenario is not valid enough, and at best it is an ad hominem.
As far as fear of demographic change among Kashmiris is concerned, it has to be contextualised. The fear is not entirely misplaced if we take into account the highly provocative and inflammatory right wing discourse on Kashmir. The prominent right wingers like Subramaniyam Swami has been constantly advocating demographic reengineering in Kashmir. In fact, on 2 November 2014 RSS’s official mouthpiece Organiser reprinted a November 1947 editorial “Importance of Kashmir” in which its advocacy of demographic reengineering was more than evident. BJP’s consistent call for abrogation of Article 370 and recent RSS affiliated think tank’s challenge to Article 35A in the Indian Supreme court only reinforces this perception among Kashmiris. Therefore, saying Indian government has no intention to change the Kashmiri demography is not going to dispel the fear, especially not now when BJP is in power with absolute majority.
In the overall analysis, Raja Moza’s article is factually misleading, its arguments largely unsubstantiated, and its tone patently biased and defamatory against Kashmiri Muslims. One would have expected from Scroll a judicious editorial discretion and robust scrutiny of facts and claims before giving his article privilege to be published on its website. Now that they have done it, i hope this response of mine will clear the misinformation and factual distortions.