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Lessons from Our Past: CVE, Black American Muslims, and Social Justice

By Margari Hill

On February 5th, Muslim twitter responded to the Right Wing backlash over Obama meeting with Muslims leaders with hilarious tweets #MuslimMeeting. Although many of the tweets were light hearted, others were critical of the meeting largely due to its secrecy. “We want to know who attended the meeting?” While Dean Obeidallah released his statement right away, organizations such as American Muslim Health Professions, Muslim Advocates, and Muslim Public Affairs Council released separate statements. The White House issued a statement saying that “Among the topics of discussion were the community’s efforts and partnerships with the Administration on a range of domestic issues such as the Affordable Care Act, issues of anti-Muslim violence and discrimination, the 21st Century Policing Task Force, and the upcoming White House Summit on Countering Violence (sic) Extremism.” Despite the controversy on social media, numerous people noted the unprecedented gender and ethnic diversity of the meeting once all the attendees were identified.[1] And within that diversity, African-American or Black Muslims addressed their community’s concerns in a space where they had historically been excluded.

While diversity is often dismissed as a politically correct catchword, the lack of diversity in representation and opinion within the Muslim community when it comes to representing our collective concerns to administrative bodies has had a troubling effect on Black and Latino communities. A salient example of this is the pervasive CVE programming that has been created by Muslim organizations.This programming has ignored the complex and difficult history that Black and Latino communities have had faced with law enforcement and created a new set of mechanisms to criminalize and marginalize these communities.

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The US government has reduced its engagement with the Muslim community and increased focus on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs. By internalizing the security framework, Muslims are undermining their own empowerment and overlooking important lessons from our past. CVE programs arise from the 2007 Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States (SIP.) According to Bloomberg ”A pilot program in the Department of Justice that started in mid-2013 sought to forge links between law enforcement and Muslim communities in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. Best practices from those three cities will be discussed at the summit later this month.”[2]

While CVE programs may not be not nefarious in and of themselves, they represent many converging forces on the Muslim American community. The framing asks Muslim Americans to adopt the Islamophobic rhetoric where the good Muslims need to confront the bad Muslims. Haroon Manjlai, Public Affairs Coordinator of Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA), explains, “Given the potential of CVE program to impact first amendment freedoms and protected activities and it’s potential of criminalizing the Muslim Community as being is a cause for concern and is something that CAIR does not agree to and sign off.”Kameelah Mu’min Rashad, Founder of Muslim Wellness Foundation and University of Pennsylvania Muslim Chaplain who had attended the closed door meeting with the President discussed her concerns about the CVE programs.

Pointing to Black American Muslims distrust of these types of program, she said:

We come with more skeptical born of historical reality. We come to these programs, asking how do these programs do damage to our community. There are people who are watching and reporting back to the government, we are very ambivalent about the stated goals of these types of programs.

For many Black American Muslims, CVE programs reminds them of the actions of  COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program), a program conducted by the FBI against civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party. TIn essence, NAACP, Martin Luther King, NOI, and Black Panther Party challenged the status quo system of white supremacy. In the context of  American Muslims, Black History is our history. The intended effect of these programs included the following:

  1. Create a negative public image
  2. Break down internal organization
  3. Create dissent between groups
  4. Restrict access to organizational resources
  5. Restrict organizational capacity to protest
  6. Hinder the ability of targeted individuals to participate in group activities,[3]

As Rashad points out that organizations aligning with CVE might not “recognize how programs just like this have been used to undermine self determination and self identity of a community.” This has led to ambivalent feelings about the government and law enforcement agencies.   Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X’s FBI files provide some insight into the extent of surveillance.[4] It should be remembered that Malcolm X did not grow up in a vacuum, as his father who was a follower of Marcus Garvey met an untimely death and the US government worked to undermine Black self determination, from the time of Marcus Garvey to the Black Panther Party. Thus, these suspicions are not unwarranted. Black American Muslims have good reasons for looking at CVE programs not as partnerships between government and Muslim communities, but mechanisms of control. Yet, violent extremism seems to be the only platform that some Muslim groups are gaining traction in DC. This is causing further fragmentation within the American Muslim community along racial lines.

Muslims and non-Muslim activists and civil liberties groups are concerned about the security framework for Muslim engagement with the government. Local and Federal law enforcement agencies often do not approach the Muslim American community outside of issues of national security or foreign policy. In essence, Muslims are criminalized and deemed foreign. Such approach also marginalizes the Black Muslim community and creates a dichotomy, which was applied during the colonial period: the good Muslim versus the Bad Muslim.

From a civil liberties perspective, Counter Violent Extremism programs and the Security framework is deeply troubling. The unease is especially tangible as Muslim Americans are still waiting for the decision of the appeals case is considering constitutionality of NYPD’s spying program, which targeted Muslim Americans simply for their religion. Although LAPD did not take the same measures as the NYPD in spying, the Suspicious Activities Reporting (SAR) program has raised similar concerns amongst civil liberties groups, such as the ACLU. Based on the type of activities falling under Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) individuals doing simple things such as taking pictures or asking directions can come find themselves under state surveillance.

This is exactly what happened to my husband, Marc Manley, while he was student at Temple University and Chaplain of UPenn. He took a picture for an art class, which resulted in the Philadelphia Police department and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) police de-training, searching and questioning him. A few days later two FBI came to his job. After talking with some friends, he contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which provided a lawyer who was present in the meeting with two FBI agents. and asked him questions about his ethnicity, origins, where his parents were from, notably they asked whether he was of a Middle Eastern background.   Following that initial meeting, then the FBI wanted to establish a relationship with them as a chaplain to work cooperatively as Chaplain of University of Pennsylvania. He stated, “It was never clearly stated about what that meant.”

According to the LA Times, the Obama administration has chosen LA as one of the pilot programs for CVE. I spoke with Garrison Doreck, a PhD student at Irvine who has worked on Muslim Rights, Mapping programs, and civic engagement. He attended a series of law enforcement outreach meetings as a participant observer. He explained that they were a series of public forums where the LAPD goes to different mosques to address various issues or themes. These meetings are powerful junctures where the community can voice their concerns, all the while feeling the watchful eye of the government. In October 2014, Sahar Aziz argued that these meetings could be intelligence gathering opportunities. While Aziz pointed to the profiling of Arabs and South Asians, increasingly Black American Muslims are under suspicion. Doreck pointed to the Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) audits, highlighting some of the racial disparities. Although Muslim groups in Los Angeles have pushed for more reform, the suspicions have shifted away from immigrant Muslims and increasingly towards Black Muslims, who are now disproportionately the subject of Suspicious Activity Reports.[5]

This points to several prominent Black Muslim community leaders, have called for Muslim advocacy groups in DC to be more representative of the diverse Muslim American population. So when MPAC gave Michael Downing an award, it reflected that disconnect with the Black and Latino community who were still reeling from police killing of Ezzel Ford. The petition that circulated before the event prompted MPAC to create hold a “Let’s Be Honest”panel at the MPAC 2014 conference moderated by Jihad Turk, and featuring Jihad Saafir, Hind Makki, Marwa Aly, Rami Nashashibi, and Khalid Latif. Many, have pointed to MPAC’s tone deaf choice for MPAC to name its CVE “Safe Spaces.” Safe space is a term where a marginalized group does not “face standard mainstream stereotypes and marginalization” or people with shared political and ideological stances can express themselves openly. By being asked to report “Suspicious Activities,” this means that Muslims are supposed to internalize the CVE and report on each other.

Black American Muslim leaders are asking the government to stop viewing Muslim Americans as a problem, but as partners because many Muslim communities are involved in alleviating poverty, reintegrating the formerly incarcerated, recovery programs such as Milati IIlami, which is a 12 step program to support Muslims recovering from substance abuse. Muslim advocacy groups should promote policies that reflect Muslim American interests, and not just foreign policy or counter violent extremism. One example is ILM, a human development organization focusing on building “self-worth” through various humanitarian projects. ILM’s executive director Umar Hakim told me, “If we start where Malcolm X left off and gain political voice, we are going to have to start dialoguing to begin understanding one another, we need to identify each others’ self interests”

Like others, Hakim stated that he would like to see Muslim advocacy groups engaged in law enforcement outreach programs address police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter movement was created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime. The organization works to resist the de-humanization of Black Americans. Social justice groups have pointed to the criminal justice system and the mass incarceration of Black Americans. Many have pointed to how the criminal justice system dis-empowers formerly incarcerated individuals, depriving them of rights to vote or receive assistance for education, in addition to a record that creates barriers to education.

In California, activists worked on a Proposition 47 that passed this November, which made 6 non-violent felonies into misdemeanors. In addition to alleviating barriers to reentry in society, the programs save the state approximately $150 million to $250 million per year which would go to Safe neighborhoods and school.

Marcus Allgood, a community activist who was the Proposition 47  team captain in South L.A , noted that although Black Muslims are disproportionately affected by racial and religious profiling they receive little support. He said, “The consensus is that when it comes to the issues of social justice, we don’t see the participation of Muslims at all.” Marcus explained that it was the Quran’s message of social justice that attracted him to Islam.  He noted, “Yet, the imams in the local LA community were hard pressed to show their support.” Allgood explained after a lot of phone calls and discussions, many slowly became on board. This past week, he saw some progress:

I was just dealing with CAIR, they came to ACLU and 10 organizations including members of Black Lives Matter who were interested in dealing with definition of racial profiling trying to get LAPD to have a definition aligned with DOJ on their definition. We are working on drafting a bill with Senator Weber.

Hakim, Allgood and Rashad point to the need to address the conditions that cause the radicalization or destructive patterns in multiple groups. While people have looked to Islam as the problem or Black and Latinos as a problem, the very same conditions cause disaffected white men to join hate groups or become involved in drugs and gangs as well.

The PhD student, Doreck explains, “ the Muslim community has been put in a security box since the mid 90s with the 1996 secret evidence act and of course after 9/11. How do you break out of that box? Or, how do you broaden the discussion? There are muslims interested in education and health care that affect their lives more.”

Kameelah Mu’min Rashad hoped that Muslim national organizations followed Black American Muslim approaches to civic engagement and social justice work. She explained “The government engagement, civic work, and community involvement is different, the reach of Black Muslims usually extends to the community regardless of faith,” Umar Hakim affirmed this sentiment, pointing out that he is not just concerned about social justice as it relates to Muslims, but to the broader society. In other words, Muslim social justice issues should broaden to not just focus on Muslim specific issues, but issues that improve the overall conditions in society.

Manjlai of CAIR stated based on previous CVE discussions, meetings with Secretary Johnson, Department of Homeland Security and FBI, CAIR anticipates that the program which will be announced on February 18 CVE summit to have the same problematic aspects, exemplified by the infamous questionnaire which asks Muslims to rate families at risk of raising extremists. He said, “we are going to be proactive with masjid boards and community leaders to educate them on what CVE is and its potential impact on our community.”

The most important lesson learned from the Muslim meeting is that the Black American participants pointed to ways in which the government can engage with Muslims as partners in addressing social justice issues. Focusing on local efforts, Muslims have the most potential for change. Also centering Black/African American Muslims in this conversation is also critical to achieving a shift in civic engagement. One such issue is racial profiling, police brutality, and the Prison Industrial Complex. Muslim Americans must come together and take a stand, make a statement about 21st century policing in support of #BlackLivesMatter. We need our Muslim stakeholders, including imams, grassroots organizers, concerned citizens, community leaders, and civil service workers, to come together, create a roadmap, build coalitions and engage in a meaningful way. As national organizations such as CAIR and Muslim Advocates become more aligned with grassroots work against racial and religious profiling, they can become more inclusive, effective, and responsive to our community’s needs.

[1] http://www.isna.net/isna-president-at-the-white-house.html ISNA writes that the members who attended inclued: Dr. Sherman Jackson, the King Faisal Chair of Islamic Thought and Culture and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California (USC), Farhana Khera, president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, Imam Mohamed Magid from All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and former president of ISNA, Arshia Wajid, founder and president of American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP), Hoda Elshishtawy, the national policy analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Farhan Latif, chief operating officer and director of policy impact with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute (AAI), Palestinian-American comedian Dean Obeidallah, Rahat Hussain, director of legal and policy Affairs with Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA), Diego Arancibia, Board Member and Associate Director of Ta’Leef Collective, Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad, Muslim Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania and Founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation,and Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a graduate assistant with Indiana State University’s women’s basketball team who played basketball while wearing the Islamic headscarf.?

[1] http://www.isna.net/isna-president-at-the-white-house.html ISNA writes that the members who attended inclued: Dr. Sherman Jackson, the King Faisal Chair of Islamic Thought and Culture and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California (USC), Farhana Khera, president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, Imam Mohamed Magid from All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and former president of ISNA, Arshia Wajid, founder and president of American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP), Hoda Elshishtawy, the national policy analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Farhan Latif, chief operating officer and director of policy impact with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute (AAI), Palestinian-American comedian Dean Obeidallah, Rahat Hussain, director of legal and policy Affairs with Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA), Diego Arancibia, Board Member and Associate Director of Ta’Leef Collective, Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad, Muslim Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania and Founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation,and Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a graduate assistant with Indiana State University’s women’s basketball team who played basketball while wearing the Islamic headscarf.?

[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-05/white-house-woos-american-muslims-as-obama-hardens-stance

[3] Mathieu Deflam (2008). Surveillance and governance: crime control and beyond. Emerald Publishing Group. pp. 184–185

[4] With the controversial claims that law enforcement agencies knew of the plot to assisiinate Malcolm X, but did not intervene, there is a petition to open his FBI files and remove redactions. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2000-05-14/news/0005140182_1_malcolm-x-kill-malcolm-muhammad; http://baltimoretimes-online.com/news/2014/dec/26/petition-launched-open-federal-files-malcolm-x/

[5] http://www.lapdpolicecom.lacity.org/031913/BPC_13-0097.pdf

Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and Programming of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and (February 2014- current) and Muslims Make it Plain (December 2014-current). She is also a volunteer at ICIE, an adjunct professor, blogger, editor, and freelance writer. After converting to Islam in 1993, her life experiences as a Black American woman have informed her research and writing on Islam, education, race, and gender. She has nearly a decade of teaching experiences at all levels from elementary, secondary, college level, to adult education.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in History from Santa Clara University in 2003 and master’s in History of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006.

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Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), assistant editor at AltM, co-founder of Muslims Make it Plain, and columnist at MuslimMatters. She is on the Advisory Council of Islam, Social Justice & Interreligious Engagement Program at the Union Theological Seminary and winner of the 2015 MPAC Change Maker Award. She has nearly a decade of teaching experiences at all levels from elementary, secondary, college level, to adult education. She earned her master’s in History of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006. Her research includes colonial surveillance in Northern Nigeria, anti-colonial resistance among West Africans in Sudan during the early 20th century, and race in Muslim communities. She is also a freelance writer with articles published in Time, SISTERS, Islamic Monthly, Al Jazeera English, Virtual Mosque (formerly Suhaibwebb.com), and Spice Digest. She has given talks and lectures in various universities and Muslim communities.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abdulhaleem Rasheed

    March 2, 2015 at 6:13 PM

    SubhanaAllah, very informative and uplifting. Your professionalism and Quranic guidance are excellent combinations.

  2. Avatar

    zaigham majeed

    March 3, 2015 at 8:21 AM

    aslam o alikum
    Dear Sisters/Brothers we teach holy Quran online with expert Quran tutors if any one want to take Free Trial classes with our expert male/female tutors Register freely at http://www.peaceQuran.com

  3. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    March 6, 2015 at 6:24 AM

    This article is too long. It has grammar errors. I am not a perfect writer, but if Muslim Matters is going to give someone space, first the person needs to be concise and no grammar errors. Then there’s the substance….
    (and my turn to be too long)

    I spoke to a kid recently who told me he hates the police. He hates America. He is a warrior and it is his intention to drive the police out of the county where we live. He is unstable. He’s already been kicked out of another masjid in our area. There are unstable Muslim boys out there. We have had a generation of Muslims who are now elders who have gamed this religion and treated it like a joke and now are starting to reap the whirlwind. You want to hide and treat your religion like a secret cult, so as not to offend non Muslims. You don’t want to wear hijab, beard or come to the mosque, except for Eid.

    If the police want to spy on Muslims, they do not need our permission. They have done it before and they will probably do it again. We know the game.
    They walk up to you and say, “let’s go blow up something…” and if you are fool enough to say, “let’s go!” They will pull out handcuffs and away you go. Now if you are that foolish, I really want them to get you. That’s not our religion. The only way to reduce such spying is for our leaders to work with law enforcement to identity the problems in our masjid. We need to self-identify the radicals. This is not COINTELPRO. This is not the 60s.

    Further, we really need to get real when we talk about Black American Muslims. The Panthers read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and the last thing they did, after all the shootouts with the cops and death, were to become Muslims as older men.

    Malcolm X is the greatest black theologian in American History. His impact was so great that we confuse his legacy. He taught black liberation theology from a Muslim perspective. Today we have black American mosques in the heart of America’s ghetto’s and they have become castles and the drawbridge is up. They do almost no outreach, at least not the one in my area. They refuse to compete with churches, even in areas where the churches are failing black people.

    If you live in an area where blacks are killing each other at a high rate, the police are not the number one problem. Black on black crime is the real plague on black people. There is no epidemic of white policemen shooting black boys. You can’t count ten. Yet hundreds of crimes against blacks occur on a daily basis and no one cares because the criminal is not a white man in authority. This is not Islamic justice.

    Blacks do need more of a voice in the American Muslim discourse, but then organizations like the Muslim American Society have to get serious and stop the closed minded thinking. CAIR only wants to fight with the federal government (only the FBI). Many modern black American organizations only want to fight with the police. We need to stop with the old school politics and work for our young people. First on the list is we do all we can to make sure they do not end up in Syria fighting for Da’esh. A big reason this happens is because our boys see too much watered down Islam coming from the parents, so they end up going overboard, trying go beyond the lip service some of us give the great gift God has given us.

    If blacks American Muslims were not in the Obama meeting, it is because we don’t have black kids going overseas to fight in Syria and that is the way it should be seen by black American Muslim leadership. Blacks and immigrants need to have more unity. But more important is that we unite on what is right.

    We need to focus on our youth, purifying our religious practice and standing up for who we are as we partner with law enforcement, rather than the present norm where we use our cross cultural experiences as an opportunity to talk down to one another with the same old tired cultural agendas.

    May Allah guide us.

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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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