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Language Of Politics

By Nawaz Gul Qanungo

21 December, 2010
Kashmir Times

Is there any scope for comparison between an individual like Noor Muhammed Bhat and a state that by definition is infinitely more powerful than the individuals it is supposed to represent? If there is an element of protest and dissent in Bhat's conduct, there is also a background of the reality of Kashmir's unending suppression

“Mujhe koi afsos nahi hai ki aaj mere aate hi yahaan peechhe se ek aadmi khada hua aur us ne naara diya... I have no regret that as soon as I came here, someone behind got up and shouted a slogan.” It was Omar Abdullah speaking at the official function on India's independence day in a garrisoned Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar on August 15, 2010. He had just been graced with a pair of shining brown leather shoes while he had begun taking salute. “Agar haath me joota raha – patthar nahi – to mujhe lagta hai is se behter ehtitaaj ka koi tareeka ho hi nahi sakta... If it was a shoe in his hands – not a stone – then I don't think there's a better way of protesting.” Behind him at the third row of the VIP enclosure, Abdul Ahad Jan, the shoe thrower, had by this time been pounced upon by the police and beaten until he started throwing up blood through his mouth. Security for the function was so high that no civilians – not even school children, who once used to be trained by their school games teachers to march for the day at the same stadium – were allowed at the venue. Fifteen policemen were suspended for what was considered a major security lapse.

All this, however, is beside the point, here. The point is what Omar Abdullah went on to say further in his speech: “Lekin Jammu Kashmir ka masla buniyadi ek siyasi masla hai. Aur us ka siyaasi hal khoj ke nikaalna aap ka aur hamara farz hai ... But the problem of J&K is basically a political one. And finding a political solution to this problem is the duty of both you and me .” (Emphasis added.) He even went on to pledge on his part: “To aaj kyun na hum ye tai karen ki kamaskam is Ramzaan ke paak maheene ke liye dono taraf se hum ehtitaaj ya taakat ka silsila band karen – patthar na chale, goli na chale, tear gas na chale, lathi na chale... So, at least in this holy month of Ramzaan, why not resolve that both the sides stop this cycle of agitations and force – let no stones fly, no bullets, no tear gas, no batons.”

There could hardly be a protest more purely political – aur us ka siyaasi hal khoj ke nikaalna – than what Noor Mohammed Bhat did in setting a BSc exam paper. Why then is he rotting in a jail, like a criminal? “Are the stone pelters real heroes? Discuss,” he asked candidates appearing for their English examination. He then asked students to translate an Urdu-language text into English: “Kashmir is burning once again. The warm blood of youth is being spilled like water. Police and soldiers are beating even small children to death. Bullets are being pumped into the chests of even girls and women. People in villages and towns are crying in pain. Rulers continue to be in a deep slumber. It appears they've turned dumb, deaf and blind.”

If this were “spreading disaffection against the state” as Shiv Murari Sahai, the inspector general of police, Kashmir, said on what Bhat was accused of and arrested for, the whole population of Kashmir should be behind bars. Why an examination question paper, one may ask. But then, why not? “Are the stone pelters real heroes?” Well, the students could argue they were not if they so believed. They had a choice of answering alternative questions so they could skip such questions if they so desired. Why bring politics in a language subject? Well, what subject can deal with politics if not the languages? What language of Faiz, Shakespeare, Iqbal or anyone is not politics? Are these not the luminaries of prose and poetry in Urdu and English? Are BSc first year students fit for such questions? Well, they have to be – in all the simplicity and in all the complexity of the questions – if they are already eligible by law to vote for electing not just a state government but even the central government of India.

Above all, if the state comes to regulate the politics of question papers in our examinations, does it then have a license to regulate the students' answers, too? Had Bhat asked his students to “describe a cow,” there could still be enough politics to discuss for students.

Moreover, such students and such spaces as University of Kashmir are also the ones that are barred by the state from not just practising but even talking politics. Is it a wonder that politics has reared its head through an examination question paper in this unusual manner? One may of course argue about the wisdom of Bhat's action. But the paper – and Bhat's subsequent arrest, rejection of his bail appeal and probably the loss forever of his job – raises far more important questions than the ones that appeared in its print.

To begin with is the overarching presence and interference by the state in people's lives that has literally made it difficult for them to breath, let alone setting examination and education standards. Banning of students' unions and campus politics is simply the most glaring example of concern. Kashmiri students are being taught a history of Kashmir that knows no relation with truth. Is not Bhat as an individual invoking history and politics in a system where the state is hell bent up on negating and erasing it?

Neutrality would be to judge Bhat's professional conduct purely on the merit of the paper he set. The state administration decided to take up the matter in its own hands and arrest him, when there is nothing so complicated in the paper that couldn't be dealt with by the university management itself, if at all there was a need.

If there is an element of protest and dissent in Bhat's conduct, there is also a background of the reality of Kashmir's unending suppression. At the cost of sounding repetitive – for having used this passage in this space twice already – here is what Tilak, in 1909, had to say to the judge who was trying him for sedition for justifying in his newspaper a bomb attack by militants against the British:

“This, no doubt, will inspire many with hatred against the people belonging to the party of rebels. It is not possible to cause British rule to disappear from this country by such monstrous deeds. But rulers who exercise unrestricted power must always remember that there is also a limit to the patience of humanity… True statesmanship consists in not allowing things to reach such an extreme stage… Where government neglect their duties towards their subjects, the occurrence of [such] calamities is inevitable… The authorities have falsely spread the report that [these] bombs… are subversive of society. There is an excess of patriotism at the root of the bomb… If bombs are to be stopped, government should act in such a way that no ‘turn-headed' man should feel any necessity at all for throwing bombs. When do people who are engaged in political agitation become ‘turn-headed'? …The real and lasting means of stopping the bombs consists in making a beginning to grant the important rights of Swarajya to the people…”

Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik, at the peak of this year's agitations, said, “Let me warn you that your state [India] is once again pushing the Kashmiri youth towards the gun.” Bhat is only a symptom of this reality. The treatment he's being given vindicates Malik even further.

What precedent does Bhat's action set? Will Hitler's inheritors, too, come out with their own set of question papers now? Let them. Is any right wing rant on a par with what Kashmiris – or any person, people or group including Hitler's – are demanding? Is it not about the legitimacy, or otherwise, of a people's – any people – demands that should be the real concern?

At the time of Omar Abdullah's August 15 shoe-gate speech – patthar na chale, goli na chale, tear gas na chale, lathi na chale – 57 young innocent Kashmiris beginning June 11 had been killed by the state police and the troops during unarmed public protests. At the time of Bhat's setting of the English language examination paper, the toll had crossed 110. We are obviously not counting the dead since 1989. Is there any scope for comparison between an individual like Bhat and a state that by definition is infinitely more powerful than the individuals it is supposed to represent? It is precisely for this reason that young men and women's stones do not, and cannot, justify in return the killing bullets of the state.

Malcolm X, the African American rights activist, talking about the discrimination and injustices perpetrated against the African community in the US said in the Oxford Union Debate of 1964, “ Those people [African Americans] are justified to resort to any means necessary to bring about justice where the government can't give them justice. I don't believe in any form of unjustified form of extremism... [but] I, for one, will join in with anyone... as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.” It is this “miserable condition” in Kashmir that needs to be brought to an end before any Noor Muhammed Bhat can be at peace in this world.

The writer was formerly based in New Delhi with Business Standard. Follow him at www.drqanungo.blogspot.com