White Man's Burden: What Rings Hollow in Satya Pal Malik's Goodwill Towards Kashmiris

It is doubly strange that Malik and the Centre are eager to occupy PoK, given that the latter has tried so hard to rid Assam and the northeast of the same demographic.

Governor Satya Pal Malik has made a statement, chastising sundry ministers for making war-like pronouncements about re-integrating  Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) with the Union of India.

It is his view that the best way to achieve this goal is to make our own Kashmir “prosperous.”

“If we give respect to the people of Jammu and Kashmir…make, demonstrate a bright future for the children here, bring businesses here…I guarantee that in a year there will be a revolt in PoK and you will get PoK without war; everyone in PoK will start saying I want to go to the other side”.

Rudyard Kipling, who wrote ‘White Man’s Burden’. Painting by John Collier. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Now this is truly spoken like a British resident carrying the White Man’s Burden to ‘improve’ the Orient. The assumption is that the people in question have remained deprived of the fruits of  ‘development’ and sulk for want of ‘respect’. Once other primitive neighbours see the miracles wrought in this backwater territory, the positive nature of imperial benevolence will not just become apparent and draw them into the realm.

Think how the railway and the telegraph were given to colonised India to draw recalcitrant Indians into the fold of a benevolent empire, although the induction of these technologies, as we know, had more to do with the economic interests of the British Empire than the lives of wretched Indians.

Alas, India’s freedom fighters did not buy the argument. They had other things on their mind, did they not?

The need for showing ‘respect’ of course hearkens back to much liberal British angst – expressed then by people like E.M. Forster, Edward John Thompson and others – that the innate benevolence of the empire was needlessly and foolishly being disfigured and debilitated by rude and supercilious British social behaviour with the natives. If only this lack of civil connect were to be rectified, the empire would have a longer life.

A repeat of that sort of noblesse oblige seems to be at work here. It is also of a patriarchal kind: remember, women are often to be ritually given ‘respect’ without being asked for an opinion, including in matters that most intimately concern their choices in individual and collective lives.

There were those, of course, both in England and in India who saw beyond this ideological package and underscored the rather nasty nature of  colonial rule.

Also read: Kashmir and the Changing Forms of Colonialism

Coming as the statement does in the aftermath of the reading down of Article 370, Kashmiris in PoK might well ask whether the twin circumstances of a total indifference to Kashmiri opinion in the matter which involved not only a breach of past promises but a drastically re-structured and usurped political future, and the draconian measure to put away even those mainstream political leaders who have, through thick and thin, stood with the accession of the state to the Indian dominion, tantamount to the “respect” for the people of Jammu and Kashmir which the well-meaning governor holds out to Kashmiris. Not to speak of the rude denial of all communication facilities to Kashmiris on whose behalf the governor expresses such touching solicitude.

One is reminded of a Thomas Heywood play, A Woman Killed With Kindness. Alas, how often benevolence can essentially be salt on the wound.

Many ask the question: was such denial inflicted upon recalcitrant people in, say, some part of Gujarat or Maharashtra, and for such an interminable length of time, how long might those people have stayed quietly tucked away, happy not to be out protesting the infringement of their fundamental right of expression and assembly?

And not to forget that ‘terrorism’ has often been a fact to reckon with, with respect to both states mentioned.

Nor is it less than a tragically monumental irony that a man whose commitment to the idea of India and to the Indian constitution has not been one jot less than that of the honourable governor, and who has held on to that commitment in circumstances of history that Shri Malik has never had to face should be repaid with such “respect” as to be incarcerated under the draconian Public Safety Act. And a Kashmiri leader who was deputed by the government of India in 1994 (along with the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee) is to plead India’s case on Kashmir in the United Nations.

Farooq Abdullah with Narendra Modi, whom he met shortly before the Centre’s August 5 decision. Photo: PTI

 I know of few Indians whose faith in the republican promise of India has been as unshakeable as that of Farooq Abdullah. Indeed, when I met him last, in June, at his house on Gupkar Road, days prior to the beginning of the parliamentary session, his buoyancy of mood at what he believed to be the lasting and transcendental value of Indian pluralism and syncretism enshrined in a constitutional democracy, was infectious. As was his pity at what the Pakistanis had done to themselves.

 And over a two-hour-long interaction, this faith was studded by a deeply affecting enumeration of the history of social enlightenment in Jammu and Kashmir over centuries of composite living, notwithstanding episodes of cruelty.

And now look what he has got for his desert.

His incarceration sends a clear enough message: no matter how good and true an Indian you are, your right — fundamental right — to any opinion that contradicts official wisdom on practically any issue, including one that may be most intimate to you, will be held against you, not just as a point of discourse or argument, but with punitive consequence.

Also read: By Detaining Farooq, the Centre Signals its Contempt for Kashmiri Representation

Here is a question that  Kashmiris — common voters and leaders — might ask:  should elections be again held to a new assembly in Jammu and Kashmir, will the government at the Centre and/or the Election Commission decree that no candidate will be allowed to campaign against the revocation of Article 370, or to seek its reinstatement? Will the courts also hold such an agenda illegal and ultra vires of nationalism?

If so, god help Indian democracy. And, if not, where was the point in preventing any debate on the issue by gagging a whole state?

Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, in red. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Had this been the story of the conduct of the state over seven long decades, think how many leaders protesting genuine causes against the will of the executive might have been held captive. Leaders seeking new statehoods, or opposing the bifurcation of existing states, or protesting draconian laws may all have been inmates of prisons, without charge and without the right to express their opinion, for fear that somebody somewhere might hear them.

It must come as an instructive instance as to how much better a totalitarian state like China has been doing vis-à-vis the protests in Hong Kong. Nor may one lose sight of the irony that the current executive’s justifications on behalf of its draconian conduct in Kashmir lend such merry support to what Mrs Indira Gandhi said and did in 1975. After all, she had her own view, shared by many, that forces were afoot to dislodge a duly elected government through extra-constitutional means.

Surely, the example of how even a Farooq Abdullah, who is hated in PoK and Pakistan, is treated in ‘Indian Kashmir’ will enthuse few in PoK to say, “We are going to the other side.”

As to bringing prosperity to the state’s people, would it not rather be a better thing  to take the stipulations of the Naya Kashmir manifesto of 1944 to the rest of the country? Believe me, if there is one thing India beyond Kashmir needs it is that.

And if Kashmir today already scores over a majority of Indian states in the matter of ‘development’ indices, it is in large measure owing to the implementation of that programme, made possible by that ‘special status’ which the Centre has thought fit to revoke for reasons that have little to do either with the economic betterment of Kashmiris or the bestowing of greater ‘respect’ upon them.

Although it may have everything to do with making available Kashmir’s abundant natural resources to cronies whose thirst for profit-making remains insatiable and wholly indifferent to the lives of those regions that they exploit.

Also read: Modi and Shah Forget that Kashmir is No Tibet, India is No China

Note that none of the ‘arguments’ that the Centre has sought to trot out in an incrementally unconvincing sequence of justifications seem to apply to those other states in the northeast where the honourable home minister has vowed not to touch time-honoured commitments. And who is foolish enough not to understand the why and how of that position, especially when it is recognised that ‘terrorism’ has been and remains as much an aspect of those states’ conditions as is relentlessly touted about Kashmir.

A final thought: is it not curious that so much brouhaha has been raised with respect to acquiring PoK, when its demographic profile goes so much against the exertions that have been afoot to correct demographies in the northeast, be it through the National Register of Citizens or the desired Citizenship Amendment Bill?

Does the present regime truly expect anyone to believe that they look forward, delightedly, to re-integrating PoK with India?

In the meanwhile, the honourable prime minister has been pleased to say that the reading down of Article 370 has troubled those who “support terrorism.”

An alternate view may be permitted: Only they who support constitutional democracy are troubled by the said reading down.