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Should American Muslims Reconsider the Liberal Alliance?

Can American Muslims engage in the political milieu of the modern Democratic Party while maintaining the line that they are merely electing ‘the lesser of two evils’ without inhering any of the ideological commitments concomitant with liberalism?

Background

As a result of the Bush years and a neoconservative ideology that disproportionately favored policies curtailing the rights of Muslims domestically and interventionism on the international stage, American Muslims have, for the bulk of the last decade, overwhelmingly affiliated with the Democratic Party. This affiliation came to the forefront in the 2004 Presidential Election when 76% of American Muslims supported John Kerry while only 7% supported President George W. Bush.  Having been a historically Republican voting bloc, the political realignment exhibited by American Muslims was so drastic that John Zogby characterized it as “virtually unprecedented” at the time. American Muslim support for the Democratic Party intensified during the 2008 Presidential Campaign, as 89% of American Muslims voted for then-candidate Barack Obama. Four years later, President Obama’s re-election campaign was widely supported, again, with a nominally lower 85% support from the American Muslim community, a number nearly identical to those who formally affiliated as ideologically liberal.

The Muslim community’s political realignment has not only been evident in the context of presidential elections, but is also on full display vis-à-vis contributions and volunteer hours for liberal democrats, Facebook posting and re-tweeting of liberal politician and pundit statements, along with shifting opinions within the American Muslim community on topics such as gay marriage, evolution, abortion, and related topics. This dynamic is what I have termed “the liberal alliance” which represents the political, social, and ideological commitment to liberalism, which American Muslims have and continue to make en masse.

As of late, political discussions in the American Muslim community have placed this relationship under the microscope, with critics centering on President Obama’s domestic and foreign policies that have, in large part, not been a significant departure from that of his neoconservative predecessor. In fact, a number of his policies have been systemically worse, engendering a bipartisan consensus around issues that were historically viewed as uniquely conservative. Military interventionism, curtailment of domestic freedoms, and protections for Wall Street executives and firms guilty of fiscal malfeasance stand today as the prevailing positions of both Democrats and Republicans alike, with rare exception.

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Given this reality, the question begs itself as to what American Muslims should reasonably do – if indeed the best chance for political viability is uncritical support for a party whose platform is virtually identical to its counterparts (at least in regards to core ‘Muslim’ issues such as domestic surveillance, indefinite detention, Guantanamo Bay, interventionism, Israel/Palestine, etc.) then is it really worth participating at all? Should Muslims ‘throw away their vote’ and cast ballots for third-party candidates that have no chance for victory?

Red/Blue Dichotomy

Perhaps the first component of this discussion that needs addressing is the simplistic nature of political engagement that has dominated Muslim communities for the better part of the last decade. Though not uniquely Muslim, the tendency to view politics as a blue/red proposition is, without question, problematic. In this framing, Republicans are frequently caricaturized as representing the worst that their party has to offer, whilst Democrats are brandied as ‘pro Muslim’, in seeming ambivalence to said candidates’ public statements and voting record.

Muslims need to realize that the red/blue dichotomy is a false one, and that political debates are little more than theatrics that depend on factors above and beyond substance. Journalists, political pundits, and candidates frequently employ what is termed manufactured outrage by taking a perspective that is nominally different than their opponents but presenting the two sides as being representative of a deep philosophical divide.  The utility in doing so is that it provides the illusion of real debate while implicitly structuring what constitutes politically permissive discourse.

Accordingly, the strictures of permissive political discourse work to marginalize alternative voices as fringe or otherwise eccentric while yielding a citizenry that is largely obedient, a dynamic Chomsky articulated when he said,

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

In addition, American Muslims need to view politicians for who they are – politicians, not friends, family, or community members. Politicians are rarely principled enough to be ‘pro-Muslim’ or ‘anti-Muslim’, rather they are apt to act on that which is politically expedient at a given point in time. The fact that certain members of the Democratic Party and liberal establishment advocate on behalf of Muslim causes has more to do with a shared political adversary than a common moral/ethical paradigm.

This is even more so when it comes to political commenters and satirists.  Yes, there is little question that political commentators and satirists such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and others serve as proportionately more balanced brokers of political conversation than their right-wing counterparts. That said, even the best pundits are not inherently aligned with mainstream ethical Muslim commitments (and it would be unreasonable to expect them to be such). When Stewart, Colbert, Maddow, Maher, and the many other liberal political commenters portray arguments against gay marriage as ontologically inferior and borne out of an outmoded world of theism run amuck, they critique not only the ‘religious right’, but frankly, the ethical framework outlined in the Qur’an. The secular framework wherein Muslims and fellow co-religionists are cornered into abdicating their theistic commitments in assessing what to advance in the context of positive law is a fickle distinction, one that Noah Feldman terms the “Orthodox Paradox” and Daniel Haqiqatjou wrote extensively on in this post last May.

Perhaps more problematic than the desire to consistently reformulate traditional Islamic commitments to coincide with modern secular liberal sensibilities, is the likely outcome of such a syncretic theology.  If American Muslims persistently recast Islam in light of secular liberal values, how can they expect to fend off the spread of secular liberal movements against theism? Can American Muslims engage in the political milieu of the modern Democratic Party while maintaining the line that they are merely electing ‘the lesser of two evils’ without inhering any of the ideological commitments concomitant with liberalism?

So What Should We Do?

Given the aforementioned challenges, what should be the structure of future engagement?

For one, American Muslims should reconsider the liberal alliance, at least as it is currently constructed.  This means critically addressing the areas of incongruence between liberalism and Islamic Law, as well as engaging in informed discussions concerning the range of contemporary challenges facing civic society beyond the red/blue dichotomy. American Muslim leaders cannot afford to merely parrot red/blue talking points when discussing current events without expecting that same discourse to pervade the congregation. In addition, American Muslims need to prioritize their ethical/moral commitments over the desire for acceptance, understanding that although strategic compromises need to be made in the process of political participation, not every compromise is worth making or representative of a modern ‘Hudaibiyah’ moment.

Secondly, American Muslims need to severely attenuate the current fervor tied to national elections.  There is no act of political participation less meaningful than voting in presidential elections, as the Electoral College renders 90% of the states decided well before the election date.  In a contentious year, three or four states are legitimately in play, whereas in most years the states that may actually swing one way or the other are the one or two which candidates tend to focus their efforts on.  If American Muslims find themselves residing in a swing state, then casting a ballot for president makes sense and assessing candidates electability within ones moral framework should indeed be done, even if that means relenting to the ‘lesser of two evils’.  Otherwise, American Muslims in non-swing states should consider voting for third party candidates or perhaps refraining from casting a presidential ballot.

Thirdly, American Muslims should embrace Oppositional Politics as part of a broader engagement strategy.  No one is proposing that Oppositional Politics be “the platform” for American Muslims, but it should certainly be a component of the broader strategy – you can read my earlier post on this for more details concerning it.

Cognate to Oppositional Politics is support for issues ‘uniquely Muslim’: Guantanamo Bay, interventionism, drones, Mohamed Soltan, Aafia Siddiqui, global conflicts (Syria, Gaza, etc.), and related areas of concern need to be issues that American Muslims feel no compunction advocating on behalf of.  American Muslims cannot allow intimidation or domestication to curtail their ability to advocate for policies deemed politically inconvenient, even as a beleaguered minority. A platform devoted to remaining within the safe timidity of populist liberal politics whilst circumventing politically contentious topics engenders a political climate of fear and passivity. Organizations that pursue such an approach risk alienating their constituency and losing legitimacy within the American Muslim community.

Lastly, American Muslims should heighten their involvement in local politics. This is not only with respect to elections for local congressional candidates and state government positions (school board, etc.), but with respect to outreach, community engagement, and interfaith programming. Amaanah Refugee Services in Houston, IMAN in Chicago, and ICNA Relief represent successful models of community outreach programs, and interfaith coalitions such as Shoulder-to-Shoulder pioneered by ISNA have demonstrated what can be accomplished when we work with other faith communities to advance areas of shared values. Though it has been emphasized time and again, the imperative to support our local communities cannot be understated, and if we are to have any chance of carving out a dignified future for ourselves and our children, we must ensure that we genuinely care about those around us and wish them good.

In doing so, we pray that Allah allows us to fulfill our covenants to Him, live up to the moral responsibility concomitant with being the Best of Nations, and manifest the injunction to:

Let there be from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful.” [3:104]

Ameen.

And Allah Knows Best.

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Mobeen Vaid is an activist in his local community, regularly delivering khutbahs and volunteering with Muslim non-profits. He is a student of traditional islamic sciences, and is a contributing writer for MuslimMatters.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    September 15, 2014 at 1:10 AM

    Praise be to Allah, this is a great subject.
    Being as brief as I can. The argument that there is no difference in the two parties is an old canard. The Republicans seethe at the thought of Obama. They call him a closet Muslim and accuse him of treason and malpractice. Democracy is a process that moves incrementally. American Muslims will not reach a magical point in time where we are instantly liked and respected all at once by all of America.
    The only trap we have to be wary of is the trap we have in the black American community. We vote 93% for the Democrats and it causes our votes to be taken for granted. If there is a small difference it is that the Republicans are extremely pro-business, while the Democrats are slightly less pro-business, which means they are for more government aid for the less well off. Some argue that too much aid for a lazy national community. Others say, the fight to reduce aid represents a meanness among white America aimed at blacks and immigrants.
    Clearly the strongest anti-Muslim rhetoric comes from the right. To say that God is a choice is not a lie. God gives us a choice of if we choose to believe. The American political right means to make Christianity the only choice and to suppress alternative forms of belief. It’s why they say we are sleeper terrorists. They never want to debate the theology that tells them to worship a man. The only debate the right has about Islam is the debate where they say Islam is not a religion, but that our faith is a criminal enterprise that should be outlawed in the 50 states.
    In America, politics make strange bedfellows. Either we stand with the gays politically because America gives us the freedom to pray or be gay, or we stand with the Republicans, who say America is a Christian country founded on Christian principles. Either way, there is no Muslim party on the horizon about to take over the US political system. Today our argument is over our freedom to be Muslim. Gay is popular politics in America today.
    But I would argue that the same principle that allows gay marriage has the potential to legalize having more than one wife. This is the way it works. Back in 2000, we tried standing with the right wing moralists. We then found out that when we follow our Prophet, they consider us more immoral than the gay people.

    • Mobeen

      Mobeen

      September 15, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      Salam GregAbdul,
      I pray you are well. To respond briefly to your points:
      – Re: Difference btwn the two parties. My point was not that there is no difference, but that the difference is far greater rhetorically than at the policy level. This has been played out time and again, and you can see the article I linked to concerning the topic in my article which I think explains this dynamic well.
      – Re: Republican obduracy. I think you’ll find the voting record of Democrats under Bush, particularly when they were a congressional majority, to be remarkably similar to that of Republicans under Obama. The two parties are political adversaries, and political grandstanding, personal attacks, etc. are commonplace in Washington. Efforts to make either appear morally upright are specious at best.
      – Re: the Right and Islam. I don’t know if you are attempting to disagree with me, but this is the point I made in the first line of the article (“As a result of the Bush years and a neoconservative ideology that disproportionately favored policies curtailing the rights of Muslims domestically and interventionism on the international stage”). If not, I think we are in agreement here Alhamdulillah.
      – Re: standing with gays. I don’t think I’m following. Are you suggesting that voting down propositions to support gay marriage or otherwise opposing it will render us unable to practice our religion?
      – Re: polygyny. Though I’ve heard this argument before, to borrow your own term it is a bit of an ‘old canard’. I don’t think anyone in the Muslim community seriously views polygyny as a strategic priority, and in fact would venture to guess that an opinion poll in the community would overwhelmingly oppose polygyny. This is an extension of how it is viewed in society, and if such a situation were to change, it would have to be a result of us advocating for it, which I dont think will happen anytime soon.
      – In general, I think your points represent a larger attitude in the community which caricaturizes the right via its most vitriolic rhetoric while excusing the same from the left. As I mentioned, my personal belief is that we should engage politically as an extension of our values, and that should mean seriously looking into third parties, especially in presidential elections where the impact of our votes are nominal due to the Electoral College. Locally we can have a much greater impact if organized, and in local elections you will find the situation with politicians and their views of our community far more nuanced than what you are describing concerning Republicans, but this will require a shift in priorities for our community as local politics does not inspire the same concern at the moment.

      • Avatar

        GregAbdul

        September 15, 2014 at 1:25 PM

        May Allah reward you for your response.
        The main point I try to make about politics is that we will have to forge unsavory alliances in order to create effective coalitions. The gay marriage movement is not political process where people are using massive numbers to pass legislation. It is instead, a legal movement, where gay men and women are going into court and standing on the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. At the right time, a similar case can open the door for polygyny based on religious grounds. Properly understood, this polygamy would be used, by well-off Muslims, solely to aid women in distress, which is my understanding of the Sunnah.
        Where democracy can be corrupted, and the American corruption we see, is when politics turns into PR campaigns based on disinformation. The argument against the Democrats is that Obama as extended and enhanced Bush’s evils against Muslims. Yet the President over and over says he is not fighting Islam and seeks Muslim alliances against the enemies of Muslims. When a group of Muslims decides to be Kharajites, any enemy they have is my friend. I am not with Al Awlaki. I am not with Bin Laden. I am with those who go after such people.
        Today Muslims sit in the middle of a huge Western disinformation campaign called “the Islamic State.” To take the worst of any people and project those worst people as normative of any community is a clear act meant to promote hatred. This is being done by a white-controlled society and it is aimed at people they consider not-quite white, just as the worst black Americans are projected as showing a core within the black community that is essentially anti-social and uncivilized.
        In politics, it is about direction and small movement towards a great end. The issue of the American Muslim position politically in America will depend on where each of us sits as individuals. Those of us who are better off and run businesses will want to do sadaqa and prefer it to progressive taxation. Those of us, who are not so well off, will prefer the government coming in, taking money from the well-off and giving aid.
        Either way we should never lose site of Hate Inc. There is a Western movement, led by demagogues, out to deny Western Muslims the basic freedom of choosing our prayers as free people. Those who would deny us that freedom are overwhelmingly fundamentalist evangelicals and secularists in the conservative movement, just as most KKK members vote Republican. Each person is a composite of many competing needs. I don’t ‘mean to sound holy.
        For me, I know I get grief from Americans in general and white managers in particular because of my faith. I live in the South. I am not crying or saying I should not do a better job of managing people at work so that they are more accommodating.
        However, when I see a group consistently working to deny me my freedom to pray to God, free from coercion and compulsion, that issue by itself trumps said groups economic and foreign policy platforms. My primary concern is not Guantanamo, which does not hold even 200 people.
        In order for us to really grow Islam in America, we must first establish the legal fact of us having a right to be Muslim in America and the West. This is not a settled question. Let’s be honest. Our sisters take off hijab and brothers shave and won’t wear kufis because there are a bunch of “civilized” people out there claiming they believe in freedom, who will punish us for being open about our faith and most of those people reside in the Republican party. If I have to move one issue based on joining with someone not like me and do the mandatory compromising of my values I have to do to be a part of a larger coalition, I do so for individual freedom for Muslims. This is my primary agenda item that I choose over a group of moralists who all too often tell me that Islam is inherently immoral.
        Finally, I agree with Dove. The best action for any person in the West is to work locally. That is where you get the biggest bang for your minutes and money spent.

  2. Avatar

    Muslim Dove

    September 15, 2014 at 7:28 AM

    Great article! In terms of national election, we need to prioritize the issues that we care about, based on their relevance and significance to our lives. Does gay marriage or abortion affect my daily life or policies that single out Muslims to spy on them in their homes or mosques? While we may have some shared religious teachings in common with the conservatives, in no way those commonalities translate to any type of affinity toward the Muslim community or political policies of common interest. If they had their way, they would have no qualms about stripping Muslims from the constitutional rights that are afforded to us. If you think that is an exaggeration, just look back into Herman Cain’s (a GOP presidential candidate) views on Muslims, but more importantly the views of many GOP members in congress.

    I would’ve loved to see a bit more emphasis on local politic in this article. It is apparent to me that the most Anti-Muslim politicians come from local congressional districts. Although, Muslims are still a tiny minority of US population and we are spread out throughout the country, we should try to become active in local politics as much as we can and expose the Anti-Muslim local representatives for the voters to see.

    • Mobeen

      Mobeen

      September 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM

      Salam Muslim Dove,
      Jazakum Allah khayr for the reply. My own feedback:
      – Re: what affects ones daily life. I would argue that yes, the daily life of Muslims in America has and will continue to be affected by the gay rights movement and abortion. As for policies that single out Muslims to spy on them, you do realize that these are policies that have been championed and protected by Democrats just as much as Republicans? In fact, Obama and his administration has expanded the warrantless wiretapping programming dramatically, strong-armed telecoms that resisted, and blocked judicial conversations concerning the program under the auspices of national security.
      – I tried to emphasize the need for us shifting our priorities to local politics at the end of the article. The article was not an attempt to be definitive or exhaustive, but rather to animate the conversation on our political engagement as it has and continues to currently play out. At the moment, local politics is not given its due, and I think the recent siege on Gaza brought to the fore how many politicians from districts with significant Muslim populations sided with Israel. One can only assume this is likely because they don’t see the Muslim vote as a threat, and organizing locally to impact and affect elections where we have large Muslim concentrations would certainly be to our benefit.

  3. Avatar

    GC66

    September 15, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    I believe as Muslims in America we should refrain from voting on the national level.

    Doing so, either way, contributes to an anti-Islamic rhetoric to Muslims over all.

    The local way is the way to get “some” results to favor the Muslim community, but this still is an obstacle in many communities because many people will not vote for candidates with a foreign name other than what they recognize as to be American.

    Voting on the national level is only a ruse anyway, as the vote is meaningless and gives people a false sense of control.

  4. Avatar

    Tariq Ahmed

    September 16, 2014 at 1:47 PM

    Very timely, Mobeen. Jazakumullahu khayran. Politics governs America: it drives the mentality of the legislators (from Congress to the City Council) and the executive (from Presidents to Mayors). Politics influences at a minimum the decisions of judges who hope to advance in their careers, because federal judges are chosen by politicians and local judges are often elected by the public. So as responsible members of society, Muslims cannot afford to be naive about politics, not when critical ssues like health care reform and racial justice affect the lives of every American, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

    We also have to mature as a community, or at least our leaders do. We should not allow ourselves to be devoted to any political personality per se, whether it be the next Ronald Reagan or the next Bill Clinton. Rather we should be the voice of reason when others are willing to let a charismatic leader shred the Constitution or sacrifice the rights of any minority.

    We should realize that no political party is immune from the ills of politics, and thus we should always be the ally of those persons who strive to do what is good, to establish justice for all, to establish fairness in the marketplace, to protect the weak and the oppressed from being ravaged by the powerful. And we should support them without respect to political party as far as that is tenable.

    As for how we support them, votes, money, and manpower are the most powerful currencies of a political realm. Politicians cannot accomplish anything without votes that get them into office, nor without the votes of other legislator-policticans to advance their policies. Money pays for the campaigns that spread the politicians’ messages. But so much money floods politics now that even veteran politicians worry that displeasing the sources of money will bring on a well-funded challenger. The most underrated commodity is manpower: volunteering in campaigns, working as staff if a person chooses to dedicate themselves fully, these can be used to “get out the vote” or spread the message one block or telephone call at a time.

    A mature strategy appreciates the assets of our community, uses them in the most responsible manner, and on behalf of campaigns that truly benefit the community.

  5. Avatar

    Thaer Momani

    September 18, 2014 at 4:44 PM

    Wonderful Analysis!

  6. Avatar

    fiqhonomics

    September 20, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    “Properly understood, this polygamy would be used, by well-off Muslims, solely to aid women in distress, which is my understanding of the Sunnah”. You are naïve. Polygeny is rampant, and here in South Africa 9/10 cases result from affairs and/or in the serious deprivation and neglect of the original (if not all) households. Muslims, who enjoy considerable rights here, have actually engaged the kuffaar legislators in attempting to CURB polygeny, based on the abuse of women and children it so often entails. Considering these realities, the last thing Muslim women and children need, is laws enabling polygeny.

    • Avatar

      GregAbdul

      September 20, 2014 at 7:26 PM

      People abuse laws. The big thing I have been thinking about lately is that the private business enterprises we encourage in the name of freedom often allows merchants to practice and maintain their prejudices. The merchants are alone with customers in their shops and they, like all human beings are given wide latitude in deciding how they will treat each individual customer. Ten years ago, this caused a bunch of minorities with bad credit to get sucked into a housing bubble in which they overpaid for homes they could not afford. My point? We make laws and bad people take advantage of them all the time. Then we go back and rewrite and fine tune the laws. Polygyny is the Sunnah and the Quran allows it. So we don’t have a right as Muslims to banish it. The right approach for South Africa, I can only guess. You live there, so you are the expert on where you live, but to put in place income requirements on polygamists or heavy penalties on abusers instead of banishing behaviors are examples of fine tuning. Business facilities prejudice. However no one is saying business is evil and should be banished. we put in laws making it illegal for businesses to discriminate. In the same way, if a man wants more than one woman, irregardlesss of the law, those men usually find a way have more than one woman. Islam simply demands that the man be financially responsible for his wives and kids. If men in South Africa are not being responsible about the wives and children in their care, they are no different than the men who marry one wife and do not take care of their responsibilities and we should show them social disapproval and create laws that discourage irresponsible behavior in men. That has nothing to do with whether the man has more than one wife.

      • Avatar

        fiqhonomics

        September 27, 2014 at 5:53 AM

        Monogamy is also sunnah. In any event, polygeny is a non-issue in as much as very few men, especially in Western countries, can afford to provide nafaqah for one household, let alone more than one. Enter the fiqhi innovation of the misyaar marriage. Furthermore, in cultures where “companionate” marriage (i.e. husband and wife are “best friends”) are the cultural norm, women are simply not as likely to accept such an arrangement – and, given women’s relative financial independence, compared to “traditional Muslim societies”, they have more clout to determine the conditions under which they remain married – either by divorcing the polygynous husband, or exerting enough influence for him to divorce the additional wife. So even in your hypothetical example of wealthy men, it would be advisable to consider the status and independence of the first wife. Also, look up r-selection and k-selection.

  7. Avatar

    Hyde

    September 20, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    *sarcastic clapping* I have been saying this for past five years or so; don’t trust these liberals. They will come after you after they have their hands washed with these Evangelical/republicans. Very timely essay.

    I am a proud Muslim, who DID NOT vote for Barack Hussein Obama and would never do. The Muslims that did, I hope they hug their children at night when they go to sleep, because they are many of their faith that can’t, because their children are dead.

  8. Avatar

    Ramy

    November 1, 2015 at 11:16 AM

    Good article brother Mobeen.
    Reposted on Muslims4Liberty just in time for election day:)
    http://www.muslims4liberty.org/should-american-muslims-reconsider-the-liberal-democrat-alliance/
    JAK

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#Current Affairs

In The Name of God: A Communal Rupture Sowed By Communal Legacy

At one point of time, there used to be a mosque in Ayodhya. It stood tall and lofty for 470 long years, until a mob of extremist Hindu fanatics came at it with axes and pickets and razed it to the ground. Stemming from the popular belief that it was the birthplace of the mythological figure of the warrior Hindu god called Ram, the act was carried out for the future construction of a temple devoted to him, and one that had to be erected at the same spot where the 16th century mosque had existed for so long. 

“All we need for the betterment of life is Lord Ram, and there is no survival without Lord Ram”.

The supporters of the Ram Janmabhoomi cause kept reiterating this loud and clear in Anand Patwardhan’s documentary film Ram ke Naam (In The Name of God), that still serves as the single-most myth busting source centred round the whole dispute. But this very claim itself is based on partial accounts that stem from loose historicity, as depicted in the footage.

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On December 22 1949, Lord Ram was said to have appeared in the dream of a priest in Ayodhya, who along with a few other men installed an idol of the god inside the mosque in the dead of night. The film tracked down one of the priests who had participated in the plan, and identified him as Mahant Ramsevak Das Shastri. He claimed that the erstwhile district magistrate K.K. Nayar was also an organiser of this act and had ensured that Shastri and the others accused were released on bail. Although generally identified as the first breach of communal trust that gradually gave rise to the whole dispute, in truth, this religious fundamentalism has its roots running deeper than most of us fully grasp or acknowledge. 

Even at present, about a dozen places in India and Nepal claim to be the potential birthplace of Ram and there is no consensus among Hindu scholars and historians regarding the same. Ayodhya has been housing many Ram temples since the 19th century, and incidentally, quite a lot of them had claimed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram at one point of time or the other. After the construction of the Babri Masjid in 1528 by the Mughal emperor Babur, historic records show that the first instance of communal riots in the area was not before 1855. Sunni Muslims clashed with Bairai Hindus in the area claiming that the temple of Hanumangarhi (for the Hindu mythological figure Lord Hanuman) was built where once stood an already demolished mosque. Nawab Wajid Ali, the then ruler of Ayodhya promptly intervened and made peace, but not before the incident caught the attention of the colonial overlords. This took place just two years prior to the Great Revolt of 1857. It was the first known pan-Indian unified struggle for independence, and one that was founded upon the Hindu-Muslim unity which had been turning into a growing threat for the ruling East India Company. And of all the temples claiming to be the holy birthplace of Lord Ram, the British chose a mosque having Mughal origins to be the designated one for spreading the rumour that Babur had constructed it after destroying what was once a temple housing Lord Ram’s original birthplace. 

As this notion started gaining momentum, the British installed a fence on the premise, which led to an arrangement that had the Muslims praying inside the inner court and the Hindus being allowed to use the outer courtyard. This communal understanding and secular practice went on and in peace till 1949, until the breach orchestrated by Nayar occurred. 

The 1949 breach then led to communal rifts, which was followed by the mosque being sealed. This marked the beginning of how those in power have been manipulating the masses for centuries, either for ensuring a vote bank, or being mostly fueled by a blind sense of religious fanaticism that made them feel empowered over other religions. 

Repeated petitions were filed to open the locks and allow namaz inside the mosque. While the inner court was kept out of bounds, puja was allowed to be carried out in the outer courtyard. As many as four suits were filed between 1950 and 1961 asking for the restoration of the Muslims’ right to pray, none of which were heeded. Twenty years later, the Sunni Waqf Board finally filed a suit for complete possession of the site, and the one which turned out to be the final blow. Hindu groups in turn formed a committee to protect their rights, and the plan to construct the Ram temple was spearheaded, causing the Ram Janmabhoomi movement gaining momentum like never before, with erstwhile Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) member L. K. Advani giving leadership to the same. 

It was no less than a “political game”, according to the court appointed priest Laldas, who was charged with tending to the Ram idol after the mosque was sealed. During his tenure from 1983 to 1992, he was known to have been critically vocal against the whole Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the premeditated conspiracy that was growing around Babri at that time. He was removed from service 9 months prior to the demolition act and was found to be shot dead a year later under mysterious circumstances. 

“BJP does not believe in Ram, only in hatred…the Hindu Parishad members have never made a single offering or prayed at the temple even once,” he had told Patwardhan during an interview clip in the documentary. 

Surprisingly, none of the subjects that Patwardhan approached in the film knew exactly when Lord Ram was born, or at least even in which century. Not the poor tanner squatting on the ground, not the first year law student brandishing a sword before the march to Ayodhya and not even the saffron clad priest inside the air conditioned Toyota van. But all of them were unwaveringly certain in their belief that Ram’s birthplace was none other than Babri, and how it has been a known fact for many years. 

It was December 6, 1992 that witnessed the right wing mobilisation movement carry out the act of political vandalism quite unparalleled in the modern world, leading to subsequent communal riots, and a massacre which the country has not completely recovered from since. Babri was destroyed. 

Twenty seven years, varying heartbeats, deadly communal violence acts and the loss of about 5,000 odd lives later, the landmark justice on the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute was delivered. 9th November 2019 was a date that meant too much to too many people. It was a day that either meant the end to so many years of rioting, divisibility and cut-throat communalism, or a further tint in the already widening secular fabric of the nation. 

2019 was also the year that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a second term and had implemented a number of administrative decisions that gave BJP’s Hindu supremacist ideology a new momentum and utmost urgency. One of the first things that he did after taking office was revoke the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 5, 2019, which had so far granted the internationally disputed Muslim dominated region of Kashmir a special status independent of Indian jurisdiction. The abrogation allowed Kashmir to be reinvaded by a strong Indian military, annexed to the Indian subcontinent and put under complete curfew with an internet blackout. And exactly one year later, Prime Minister Modi is about to lay the foundation stone for the newly constructed Ram temple in Ayodhya on the site of the demolished mosque on August 5, 2020, as thanks to the landmark verdict on the decades-spanning historic wound that has completely redefined the politics of the country, the forces responsible for the demolition had found themselves in complete legal possession of the land. 

For many blinded by irrational faith and hyper nationalism, the judgement reinstated the inherent vice of fanatic Hindutva ideology in the sense that their religion is all superior, and one that fuels the necessity to construct the Ram temple at the very spot of the Babri Masjid. But to others still believing in the idea of the independent India that awoke at the stroke of the midnight hour on 15th August 1947, the judgement could have very well been a bigger, and more dangerous rupture in the democratic and secular pillars of the country than the actual act of the demolition itself. 

The current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who was charged with overseeing the construction of the temple had gone on record as early as 2017 during a pre-election campaign to promise a Ram Mandir

Agar Samajwadi Party jeetegi to Karbala-kabristan banega, jabki Bhajapa ki Sarkar banegi toh Ayodhya mein Ram mandir banega.

30 years ago it was L.K. Advani who had promised that Mandir wahi Banega and today, it is Yogi Adityanath, the third face in line on the saffron political firmament, who is delivering on this promise.

Vikas Pathak, who is a professor at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, said that this is Hindutva’s true and unalloyed form, one that was supposedly hidden beneath layers of political exigencies for so many years leading up to this. This claim is further supported by an independent multimedia journalist in Kashmir, who said he feels the same due to the obvious choice of the date of inauguration. Requesting to be anonymous, he expressed his thoughts on how this is more of a planned move than a mere coincidence, and one which gives out a clear message.

The fact that it’s happening on the anniversary of the repeal of Kashmir’s autonomy, accentuates the importance that the Modi government places on its aggressive pursuit of a Hindu nationalist agenda”, also augmented Michael Kugelman in his comment on the matter. He is senior associate of the Wilson Center and the deputy director of its Asia Program. 

Just like Jai Shree Ram, this Mandir agenda too had been normalised into one which sounded like a clarion call for battle. In Patwardhan’s film, an unnamed Congress politician held a campaign where he asked the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that if indeed a Ram temple should be built, why could it not be anywhere else in the city, as Ayodhya is such a large place. 

“I am amazed at this stubbornness that they will build the temple at the very same spot! And that too, only after destroying the mosque… He (Advani) can easily build a temple anywhere in Ayodhya, but please do not insist that this can only be possible by demolishing an existing mosque. I want to promise that the temple will most definitely be built, but the mosque must also remain.”

As we went on to see in the film, and even twenty seven years down the line, it was firmly decided that Mandir wahi banega, and one existing holy site was destroyed to give rise to another. Come November 2019,  the temple plan gets sanctioned by the Supreme Court of India as well, ironically granting the Sunni Waqf board an alternate piece of land to construct their mosque instead.

While the 5-judge bench lay claim to the demolishing act accepting it as a crime, and while they also accepted that the installation of the idols inside the mosque was an act of desecration, it also gave the land over to those who desecrated it at the same time. A judge on the bench had called it “one of the most important cases in the world,” but when the perpetrators of what the Supreme Court has openly identified as a crime find themselves to be the main beneficiaries of the judgement, it brings to question how just the verdict actually is.

Quite bizarrely, the court had declared that while there was some evidence of Hindus worshipping on the disputed site, no such documentary evidence could be found in the case of Muslims until before 1857. 

“The mosque was built in 1528, and the area was under Mughal occupation till 1722. Then it was ruled by Nawabs, and finally annexed by the British in 1856. It must be self-evident that during this entire period of being under Muslim rule, Muslims were offering namaz inside the mosque and not the other way round”, said a Kashmiri student currently studying at Jadavpur University in Kolkata on the condition of anonymity, adding how such a reasoning based on “balance of probabilities” as one of the reasons to give it to the Hindu side is itself one of inequality. 

On the other hand, the judgement also referred to a 574 pages long report published by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) 15 years ago, which claimed that Babri Masjid was not built on vacant land. Reading the unanimous judgement and considering the report valid on the assurance of being scientifically tested, Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi who was leading the bench said: 

“There was a structure underlying the disputed structure. The underlying structure was not an Islamic structure.”

While the court relied heavily on this ASI report, independent archaeologists who observed the site on behalf of the Sunni Waqf board differed entirely with the ASI findings. While the six month long court ordered investigation did reveal the existence of an underlying structure beneath the mosque, eminent archaeologists Supriya Varma and Jaya Menon believe that the evidence collected on their part do not support the claims made by ASI. 

Their report read: “underneath the Babri, there existed older mosques.” 

They further added that even if the underlying structures were not of Islamic origin, they closely resembled Buddhist stupas at the most, and in no way anything remotely close to a Hindu temple. This particular claim is in turn also supported by the archaeological surveyor Alexander Cunningham, who was the first individual to survey Ayodhya (around 1862-63), and was known for his interest in tracking down and identifying places associated with Buddhism.

Had India as a country boasted of a very robust and strong judicial institution, such an incident would not have been dragged all the way from 1949 to 2019, let alone pave the way to constructing a temple on the disputed land. December 6, 1992 should have been permanently brought an end to it with strict actions being taken against the perpetrators. While the B.J.P. indeed is directly linked to the whole incident, the Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi allowed the locks to be opened in the 1980s. Following the demolition, the Congress Prime Minister Narsimha Rao allowed them to get away with the violence in 1992. And in 2019, the Supreme Court judges have done the same. 

Ayodhya, for more than a quarter of a century, had been turned into a place of cynical and political revanchism. And thrust between this politics of a loosely manufactured historicity aiming to upend the Republic of secularism by replacing it with a system running on Hindutva ideology, were those that represented what India truly stands for. Of the numerous subjects that Patwardhan interviewed, both Hindus and Muslims, most of them unanimously awaited, and wanted peace. Something that was so easy to understand for someone who lived a simple life of an ironmonger, belonging to the low Bishkarma caste, was at the same time completely unimaginable to those amassing trucks and weapons to demolish the mosque:

“Once it exists, it is wrong to break. If someone tried to break our temple, would we allow it? We’d say go build your mosque elsewhere.”

Zahir Adil, the lead on Save India From Fascism Project of the human rights organization Justice For All also expressed a similar sentiment, saying how he would have actually welcomed it if the temple was not built after illegally destroying a historic mosque. 

“Apart from being a day that RSS criminals are rewarded with a new temple after perpetuating systemic violence in India, 5th August 2020 also goes down in history as the day that the words Jai Shree Ram will be displayed in the iconic Times Square as the Prime Minister will lay the foundation stone for a Ram Temple on the site of the demolished mosque”, informed Masood Rab, spokesperson of Coalition of Americans for Pluralism in India (CAPI). It is one among the coalition of organizations that  have refused to carry forward the programming by the pro-Modi group in Times Square. 

The RSS, or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, being the parent organization of the current ruling party in India has its roots in pre-Independence times and were also known for openly supporting Hitler’s Nazi agenda. They were banned as many as four times when India was ruled by the national Congress, but it has now become the de-facto power under BJP rule, with Modi himself being a known RSS member. 

Indian American Muslim leaders, as well as human rights organizations, having categorically denounced this display of religious bigotry has called for a day long protest in the iconic Times Square from 8 AM, asking for this display of vehement arrogance to be stopped. Those like Adil and Dr. Shaik Ubaid (President of the Indian Minorities Advocacy Network) have also expressed concern on how the proponents of this fascist ideology have become so confident that they are celebrating an illegal and bloody act in the middle of Times Square, and for the entire world to see. But others like Kugelman expect, and have pointed out that while there will be messages in Times Square blaring out communal rhetoric, there may also be messages expressing solidarity for Kashmiris.

“It is perhaps fitting, in this globalized era, if the incredibly polarizing Kashmir issue plays out under the bright lights of Times Square”, said Kugelman over a brief electronic conversation, but added how this juxtaposition is also extremely divisive within the country on the whole.

The mandatory in this case seems more like a political campaign trick than anything to do with actual Hinduism, and essentially a symbiotic Displace perpetrated by a fascist government.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this could be the rise of divisive Hindu supremacy as never seen before. In all its entirety, the day of August 5, 2020 marks the end of an era and the possible beginning of a new one. It detriments the idea that our founding forefathers had envisioned for the nation, and while we may not like it at the same time, this is essentially a new India that is emerging for everyone to see – one that is a land of strident Hindutva and religious dissonance at the forefront. 

LINK to the documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMT18TMNQbY

 

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The Perennial Siege: Kashmir’s Tense Lockdown Anniversary

A year after the revocation of Article 370—special status of the valley, Kashmir continues to be under security lockdown, intermittent internet restrictions, almost negligible functioning of education system, amid reports of continuous detentions and across-the-board human rights violations.

Two-day curfew has been imposed in Indian-administered Kashmir in anticipation of containing any form of dissent ahead of the 5 August anniversary—the day Indian government stripped Kashmir of its special status. Officials say the curfew is meant to prevent violence by groups planning to observe 5 August as “black day”.

On August 5 2019, the state was split into two federally administered regions and its semi-autonomous status was revoked. The decision to revoke article 370—part of Indian constitution that guaranteed Kashmir special status—an action with potentially devastating consequences for Kashmiri identity and community was met with anger and feeling of betrayal in the region although it was widely welcomed in the rest of the country. In preparation for this, it put Kashmir into a complete lockdown at midnight on Aug. 4, 2019. Eight million Kashmiris were restricted in their homes. In-an-effort to impose a complete communication blockade, internet connections were cut, and phone connections were terminated.

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Everything seems to have come to a halt, and the past experiences have begun to conjure the images of unprecedented violence. Since the revocation or illegal annexation of Kashmir on August 5, the betrayed and besieged population, including me, treated like a prisoner in a forsaken paradise on earth, continue to mourn India’s deceptively organized virulent manifestation of democracy. The fact-finding report, Women’s Voice, counters the state narrative of “return to normalcy,” indicating that 13,000 boys and young men were detained illegally after August 5, including some as young as 14, with some imprisoned for up to 45 days, and with families paying as much as 60,000 rupees ($850) for their release

Kashmiris, however, saw their integration as a threat to the state’s ethnic character, and a milestone on the road to the realization of the BJP’s dream of a fundamentally Hindu nation. Many legal commentators decried the Indian government’s unilateral abrogation as “illegal,” calling it an “unconstitutional deed,” which was “accomplished by deceitful means” (Noorani 2019). 

The Problem oF Kashmir

A brief context of the conflict offers a perspective to understand the problem of Kashmir. “The world is reaping the chaos the British Empire sowed,” Amy Hawkins wrote in Foreign Policy, and “local populace is still paying for the mess the British left behind in Hong Kong and Kashmir.” The anti-colonial uprisings in the Indian subcontinent, China, the Arab world and elsewhere did not result in freedom or democracy for the nations ruled by the British Empire”. In Kashmir, the British left a bleeding wound amid the partition of colonial India. Kashmir in post-partition and to be more succinct, post-1947 emerged as a boiling pot from the cultivation uterus of the two-nation theory.

Since then, Kashmir is known to be the most heavily militarized zones in the world. More than 7 million soldiers have been deployed, as per the reports, to counter what the Indian army itself claims as “cross-border terrorism”. This myth has been busted time and again because of the actions of the Indian government in the last three decades. If there were any doubts earlier, they should have cleared by now. Their real enemy is the Kashmiri people, especially “Kashmiri Muslims”, the hindrance in the way of turning India into a “Hindutva nation” claims Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2019 U.N. general assembly speech.

India’s decision to abolish the state’s nominal autonomy last year is the most far-reaching move in the region in the last 70 years and has been pushed by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) as a development-focused action to “mainstream” the only Muslim-majority state in the subcontinent. While the government —which justified the shutdown as “preventive” — and the leading Indian media outlets are propagating an image of the region as slowly returning to “normalcy”, the reality on the ground, as documented by the New York Times, is very different. 

Kashmir continues to simmer under the siege.

Post 5—August SiegeAnd  Defiance

This season’s siege is more crushing than ever, possibly the worst since the first one nearly 30 years ago, a stratagem designed carefully to humiliate an entire population. There is also an unwavering manifestation of defiance, as by now the Kashmir street is sufficiently educated politically to not pin its hopes on an infusion of benevolence in the government’s Kashmir policy or any practical outcome from the partial solidarity from the international community. The mass arrests, in thousands, including minors and pellet victims [including a cancer patient] holding 7 million populations under eight hundred thousand jackboots has unveiled the façade of Indian democracy. 

“No government in the world has blocked Internet access as frequently as India. An incredible 213 times in just three years”, reports Time Magazine, “which is far more than Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt together”. And more than half of those shutdowns have been enforced on Kashmir—is that because, questions Abid (PhD scholar, Dept. of political science department, Kashmir University) “of the special (autonomous) status Kashmir “enjoyed” in the larger Indian union? Will they also ban clean air, now that the special status has been erased?” 

Picking out promising adolescents; sometimes old men and even women, they branded them, as with batons and red-hot irons, to forcefully teach them how to behave. Abid Khan, 28, and Idrees, 29 from Shopian district in South Kashmir were raided in the middle of the night, tortured for hours by dozens of army men. Khan says he was dragged out and blindfolded along with his brother, who has learning difficulties, on August 14. “They gave electric shocks to my brother on the road outside our home. I heard him scream painfully,” quoted in AFP story, showing marks on his arms, legs and buttocks. Khan said. “Then they gave me electric shocks again on my genitals and wounds. One of them said ‘I will make you impotent’.” On September 13, Irshad Ahmed, a 12-year-old boy from neighboring Buchpora, Srinagar, suffered a serious head injury. His hospital registration card noted that it was a ‘fire-arm injury’, adding the word “alleged”. Those accompanying him said he had been hit by a cluster of pellets in his head. The bar has been raised so high for all forms of political dissent, and the detentions, numbering in thousands have choked any form of political activity on the ground. What remains still is an unwavering manifestation of the overarching defiance against the government-enforced execution of oppression. 

Pandemic Lockdown- In and Out of Kashmir

Since the world has now entered the sixth month of Covid-19 restrictions. With self-isolation, physical-distancing and e-learning online education, for most populations the robust internet and phone service has still provided a lifeline to let them work and be engaged and entertained. But in the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, the repression and militaristic method in the latest indignity in a 73-year cycle of oppression, militarization and scarcity especially since last year August in Kashmir has intensified: communications were completely cut in August 2019 and were only beginning, even after weeks pandemic broke out. Since March, only 2G is available, and only sporadically. As Waheed Mirza, novelist and political commentator on Kashmir asserts “A military siege is like a chokehold on an entire people”.  

For the world, asserts Arundhati Roy:

“Kashmir and Kashmiris signify as a prototype to learn the craft of surviving under a lockdown. For the former, it is a self-imposed precautionary measure experienced for the first time in the recent history by the world to fight against an unseen disease; as for the latter, it is the endless fight against the continuation of a seven month long enforced siege against their will.”

 This reality soon turned into a buzzword “the world is turning into Kashmir”. Azad Kashmir President Sardar Masood Khan asserted India has been using the “cover of the coronavirus” to “mow down” Kashmiri youth and change the Muslim-majority character of the disputed region.  

According to news reports on Kashmir, anyone who violates curfew–even those with valid passes allowing them to leave their homes–risks being detained by soldiers or police and possibly beaten. Even doctors, who’ve been celebrated as heroes elsewhere in the world, report being harassed on their way to work in Kashmir, which already suffers an acute lack of medical resources and staff. Limited access to information has also obstructed Kashmir’s coronavirus fight. The region uses 2G internet, an online connection so slow that it is nonexistent elsewhere in the world. Indian authorities have cut online access in Kashmir 55 times since it was restored in March 2020. According to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies, a local group that documents and litigates human rights abuses “this has delayed doctors’ ability to read emerging treatment guidelines and new research on the disease”.

For some, the repressive methods allude to the fact that the Indian government’s priorities in Kashmir have not been changed by the pandemic. “Any administration that is willing to impose the longest Internet shutdown in history only believes in the right of censorship and surveillance,” says Mishi Choudhary, the legal director at the Software Freedom Law Center, a group that campaigns for Internet freedoms. The period post 5 August 2019 has changed the whole political landscape of the region. This season’s siege is more crushing than ever, possibly the worst since that first one nearly 30 years ago, a stratagem designed carefully to humiliate an entire people. 

Mental health workers say “Kashmir is witnessing an alarming increase in instances of depression, anxiety and psychotic events”.  Doctors Without Borders estimated after surveying 5,600 households in 2015. Nine of 10 have experienced conflict-related traumas. The figures are much higher than in India, according to other surveys.

Education: The Perennial Casualty

Ten months after India unilaterally revoked Kashmir’s autonomy, reports New York Times, “education stands as one of the crisis’s most glaring casualties”. Previously, Kashmiri Valley in particular suffered huge education losses as the students were forcibly kept away from schools and colleges by frequent official curfews and restrictions, shutdowns, incidents of violence and prolonged political unrest stretching for months, the worst of these witnessed in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016. “The long school closures in the valley cause major disruptions in young people’s educational and professional development, producing feelings of insecurity, helplessness, and demoralization,” said Haley Duschinski, an anthropologist at Ohio University specializing in Kashmir.

Around 1.5 million Kashmiri students remain out of school. All educational institutions are closed, and most government and private schools are shut—except for few intermittent opening of educational institutions for some weeks, one of the clearest signs of the fear that has gripped Kashmir since the Indian government locked down the disputed territory. Parents in the Kashmir Valley also show this fear that “they are terrified of sending their children out with any exception reaction from the public amid troops deployed everywhere and on the prowl for trouble”. 

“What if the school or a bus carrying children is attacked?” asked Saqib Mushtaq Bhat, a father worried about violence by Indian troops or militants. “What if there are protests and their faces get shot by pellets?’’ Amid only 2G internet services working in the valley, G.N. Var, chairman of Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) which has 2,200 schools associated with it, termed it ‘denial of right to education’. The research scholars across the valley have equally suffered due to low speed internet and hugely affected the mental stability of people across the spectrum of the society. 

He said, “The restrictions on high speed internet are making it difficult for our students to avail online courses and access information which is vital in their career-building. We see it as a denial of the right to education.”  Reports suggest “no government in the world has blocked Internet access as frequently as India with 55 Internet blackouts in 2019 alone, including the longest in recorded history, 213 days, when Delhi put the valley on lockdown last year August.

Settler Colonialism

So far, anti-insurgency operations have proved equally devastating for Kashmiris amid the pandemic. As of June 30, 229 killings, 107 CASO’s (cordon and search operation), 55 internet shutdowns, 48 properties destroyed in the first half of 2020. Children and women continued to be victims of violence in J&K as 3 children and 2 women were killed in the first half of 2020. India continues to take possession of Kashmir despite being hit ever harder by the pandemic.

With all the constitutional amendments and new laws India has instituted in Kashmir especially since 5 August last year, the Palestinian case is often invoked to find the parallelism of how this sounds like the beginning of settler colonialism. The recent developments that highlight this process are, on the contrary, a further deepening and expansion of a matrix of control characteristic of such a project, duly aided through laws, to ensure the eventual elimination of the native.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration’s order to withdraw a 1971 circular that made it mandatory for the Indian Army, the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force to obtain a “no objection certificate” to acquire land in the region is also seen as part of a settler colonial project. Not only has the decrees evoked a sharp reaction among locals, which have long feared Delhi’s forceful integration of the restive region with the Indian union, but observers are also accusing Modi’s right-wing dispensation of using the Covid-19 pandemic to advance its Hindu settler colonial enterprise in the region, saying it is a page right out of the Israeli playbook to transform the region’s demographics. United Kingdom-based Kashmiri lawyer Mirza Saaib Bég argues that “J&K’s demography is bound to be altered beyond belief. And at a speed so astonishing that the procedure for issuing a domicile certificate will seem, unfortunately, a quasi-colonial project”.

Around 400 thousand people have been granted domicile certificates in Indian-administered Kashmir till July, 2020 proving right the fears of the beginning of demographic changes in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region. The certificate, a sort of citizenship right, entitles a person to residency and government jobs in the region, which till last year was reserved only for the local population. “The whole purpose of revoking Article 370 was to settle outsiders here and change the demography of the state. Now this provides the modalities and entitles so many categories of Indians whose settlement will be legalised over here.” – Kashmiri law professor and legal scholar Sheikh Showkat Hussain (Al Jazeera, April 1, 2020).

Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said, “India should take all necessary steps to restore the rights of all the people of Kashmir.” He also asserts “Restrictions on dissent, such as peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the internet weakens democracy,” in a policy paper posted on his website. Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement that India’s latest step was a vindication of the country’s “consistent stance that the major intention behind the Indian Government’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August 2019 was to change the demographic structure of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and turn Kashmiris into a minority in their own land”.

“This has long been part of the RSS-BJP’s ‘Hindutva’ agenda,” the statement added.

An  Indian Consul General in New York, Sandeep Chakraborty’s recent call for the ‘Israel model’ in Kashmir should ring alarm bells for the Muslim world. He flagrantly asserted “I don’t know why we don’t follow it. It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it,” Chakravorty said.

Kashmiris on Twitter were quick to call out Al-Jazeera, accusing them of “promoting settler colonialism”. The social media users were mainly drawing a parallel with expansionist or colonial settlements of Israeli Jews in Palestine or of Han Chinese in Xinjiag to forcibly settle and diffuse indigenous identity.

Tailpiece:

Kashmir is transformed into an open prison where the state works with a self-proscribed impunity to confiscate or mitigate basic universal rights, while the Indian state is trying to entice assimilatory participation of the common people. That territory-wide control by the state and its various institutions is countered through years of survival, persistence and resistance against the state’s operations over Kashmiri lives.

One inevitable fact that successive union governments since India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru have arrogantly with military highhandedness ignored is the political question of Kashmir. The recent political expedition of the Indian government in Kashmir paradigmatically problematized the political destiny of Kashmir and future of Kashmiris. Even in the 21st century globalized world, in the middle of a global pandemic, 8 million people are denied access to education, livelihood, entertainment, and health respite via a medium that has become an essential service for the rest of the world.

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Indian Myths Channel Genocide in Kashmir

India is a land and society of myths. More so now than ever before, under the Hindutva-inspired Bharatiya Janata Party government led by the claim of the myth manufacturer Modi: “India is a democracy; it is in our DNA.”

A much talked about myth has been that India is a secular state, and in the light of the post August 5 2019 developments in Kashmir and the Indian mainland, much sighing is being aired that Indian secularism is endangered.

However, the question arises, when was India secular? Was India “secular,” when it invaded Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) on October 26, 1947 on the pretext that a non-Muslim should rule a Muslim-majority state, or was it “secular” when Hyderabad Deccan was invaded and annexed on September 23, 1948 on the pretext that a Muslim could not rule over a Hindu majority?

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Based on a myth about the birthplace of the mythical “Lord Rama,” the 600-year old Babri Mosque was attacked and demolished on December 6, 1992. India’s Supreme Court validated the goon squad’s action on November 9, 2019. Today, the mosque’s attackers rule India.

Even the national anthem ‘Vande Matram’ is not secular, where Muslims object to its idolatrous aspects. For instance, the fourth stanza, addresses motherland India as, “Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned…”

When a Muslim sings these words, he is forced to equate his country with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Lakshmi, thereby deifying the land of India. This goes against the concept of tawheed (the Absolute Oneness of God), according to which a Muslim cannot supplicate to anyone except God.

The other long-standing myth, which India validated through a presidential fiat last year, is that J&K are its “integral” part – a territory it has occupied since September 1947 with a million-man force. In doing so, it served up another myth: the constitutional relationship between J&K and India.

Subodh Varma (“Some Myths About Article 370, 35A and Kashmir”, Sabrang India August 8, 2019) explains that in the process of effectively scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution through a presidential order supported by a Lok Sabha (lower house) resolution, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters regurgitated a slew of myths, half-truths and sleights of hand that have been part of its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) propaganda for decades. Ironically, many parties and opinion leaders who do not subscribe to the RSS ideology also repeated them, which show how far these myths have traveled. Meanwhile, social media went ballistic with RSS/BJP supporters posting bizarre claims while others started offering land for sale in Kashmir.

Arun Jaitley (d. August 24, 2019), who served as finance minister from 2014 to 2019, had tweeted on August 4, “J&K integration with India took place in October 1947. Article 370 came into force in 1952, Article 35A came in 1954, four and seven years later respectively. How can Articles 370 and 35A be a condition precedent to merger?”

He had sought to prove that Articles 370 and 35A were somehow unrelated to J&K’s “joining” [albeit perforce] the Indian Union implying that they are unnecessary and also that they were the result of some [past] Congress governments’ stupidity.

This is a lie.

On October 26, 1947, India invaded J&K, obliging its ruler, Raja Hari Singh, to sign the Instrument of Accession (IOA); the Dogra ruler’s ancestor having purchased the territory and its citizen from the British. However, this document states that the Indian parliament could only legislate on the state’s defense, external affairs, communications and some ancillary subjects. The agreement’s Clause 5 reads: “The terms of this my Instrument of Accession cannot be varied by any amendment of the Act or of Indian Independence Act unless such amendment is accepted by me by an Instrument supplementary to this Instrument.” Clause 7 says: “Nothing in this Instrument shall be deemed to commit me in any way to acceptance of any future constitution of India or to fetter my discretion to enter into arrangements with the Government of India under any such future constitution.”

Simply stated, it says that many things left pending in the IOA were to be settled later through negotiations. After its invasion, India, which faced the Kashmiri resistance till 1949, finally seeking a UN-negotiated armistice, has yet to lay out the laws and governance mechanism. Accordingly, the UN Security Council adopted successive resolutions call for a plebiscite where the Kashmiris would vote freely to decide their future.

The UN continues to recognize Kashmir as a disputed territory.

The 1947 partition agreed upon by Muslim and Hindu leaders with Britain, the departing colonial ruler, reads that Muslim majority states would merge with Pakistan. Kashmir is a clear case.

To preserve the IOA’s spirit and to reassure the Raja, Article 370 was moved in India’s Constituent Assembly in May 1949, which was voted to be part of the Indian Constitution in October 1949. Consequently, Presidential Orders were issued in 1950, 1952 and 1954 to settle various issues. Jawaharlal Nehru  -India’s first prime minister- and his interior minister Vallabhbhai Patel (d. 1950) were part of these negotiations, which negates the RSS myth that Patel opposed Article 370.

The RSS propped up the full integration bogey to stir up agitation against the land reforms initiated by the Raja-appointed Sheikh Abdullah government. The RSS gave it a communal hue as the landowners were mostly Dogras and Pandits and most peasants were Muslims.

The RSS/BJP propaganda about Article 35A hides the fact that Raja Hari Singh had proclaimed the Hereditary State Subject Order in 1927, which allowed only the state’s residents to own land and to government jobs. The state’s assembly voted to include this order in the J&K Constitution. In keeping with the IOA terms regarding the preservation of rights of state’s residents, Article 35A was added to the Constitution through the Presidential Order of 1954.

Kashmir’s annexation falls under RSS ambition of a pure Hindu India.

The RSS states that J&K, with its “oppressive Muslim-majority character, has been a headache for our country ever since Independence.”

RSS alleges that forces “inimical to Bharat never wanted Kashmir to integrate itself with Bharat …  and in October 1947, these elements conspired with the enemy to defeat every move to save the situation from our [Indian] side.” While, India continues to loudly claim that it was Pakistani tribal fighters and not Kashmiri freedom-fighters who confronted the Indian invading army, RSS claims that it was its fighters who fought alongside Indian troops, adding that if a ceasefire had not been agreed upon, its fighters would have helped completely conquer J&K.

RSS blames the large Muslim presence for J&K being conferred a special status under Article 370, even after its total “accession.”

On December 11, 1991, BJP president Dr. Murli Manohar and Narendra Modi, and also, the now interior minister Amit Shah, led the 15,000 mile “Ekta Yatra” (Unity March) from Kanyakumari -a Tamil Nadu coastal town, the southernmost town in mainland India- which culminated in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on January 26, 1992 to hoist the Indian flag, signaling that they had “arrived to settle the account.”

RSS claims: “The endless appeasement of the Muslim population, especially in Kashmir, practiced by the successive governments at Delhi, has been the bane of our government’s Kashmir policy. Just as too much mollycoddling and lack of discipline spoil the child, so has been Kashmir, a problem created out of our own folly.” RSS alleges that Pakistan arms militants for armed revolt from within India.

Amit Shah has harped the long-repeated party line that Article 370 is the root cause of spread of terrorism. As a corollary, it is also said that the article was the source of sentimental belief in a separate Kashmir, providing ground to cross-border terrorists to exploit.

However, it is the erosion of Article 370 that has led to increasing disenchantment of Kashmiris and their search for a way out. For instance, Article 370 provided for extending provisions of law to J&K through Presidential Orders, issued after concurrence of the state assembly. However, the 1954 Order has extended almost the entire Constitution to J&K. Out of the 97 entries in the Union List, 94 have been made applicable to the state and out of the 47 entries in the Concurrent List, 26 have been extended to the state. This has largely reduced the state’s powers. Overall, Article 370’s provisions were used at least 45 times to extend Constitution’s provisions to J&K.

Not only have the J&K rights been increasingly restricted, but also the spirit of the section has been violated by simply getting the state government to rubber stamp such extensions.

Also, the J&K Constitution was amended several times using Article 370. For instance, Article 356 was extended removing a similar provision in the J&K Constitution (Article 92), which called for President’s concurrence for imposing President’s rule. Article 370 was used for the extension of President’s rule. Even Article 249 (parliament’s power to make laws on State List entries) was extended to J&K through a recommendation of the governor, bypassing the state legislature.

In the past, Congress governments and later BJP, used these measures to manipulate the politics of the state to install ministries or impose President’s Rule.

Another myth, really a blatant lie, proffered by BJP, is that development was not possible because Article 370 didn’t allow it. Post-August 5, Indian politicians and opinion leaders continue to harp that with the removal of special status, including J&K will now become part of global India. Seriously, how Article 370 stopped any government from providing or encouraging more investment and industry in the state when most provisions of the Constitution, including Union list entries were extended to the state. The Union governments could have undertaken any economic measures or programs they wanted in J&K. In fact, there was nothing except unkempt promises of colossal special packages. No Indian government undertook any economic or political measures that would provide sustainable and long-term benefits to J&K.

Simply, the removal of Article 35A will now free real estate sharks to gobble up properties and use it for setting up private businesses including private schools. It is difficult to believe that private investment will flow into J&K, when an occupied people there are discontented and uncertain.

Indian propagandists in and out of government harp on the myth Articles 370 and 35A, and the arrangements they enshrine, were unique to J&K. In fact, Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Goa enjoy similar provisions. In other states too, there are laws preventing non-domiciliary persons from owning land.

The Narendra Modi-led central government had, after the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, recently announced that people will now be able to buy land in Kashmir. As a result, the 1971 circular, which restricted land acquisition and requisition without a ‘No Objection Certificate (NOC)” from the Home Department, has now been replaced by the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. And, the displacement of Kashmiris with the replacement of Indians has begun the process of ethnic cleansing, leading to a genocide of the Kashmiri people.

Citizens of India ought not to live by the myth of living in the largest democracy and in greatness but instead should heed to Gandhi, “as human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”

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