Becoming a Nation Unto Yourselves: Why Kashmir is Already Free

Becoming a Nation Unto Yourselves: Why Kashmir is Already Free

By Hakeem Saleem

Rupert Emerson has defined a nation as, ‘a body of people who feel that they are a nation.’

As defined by Anthony Smith, formerly Professor Emeritus at the London School of Economics, a ‘Nation’ is a large group or collective of people with common characteristics attributed to them – including language, tradition, customs, habit, and ethnicity. It is a ‘cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests.

Stalin defined a nation, ‘not as a race or tribe, but as a historically constituted, stable community of people formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.’

In the words of Smith, ‘National identity may refer to the subjective feeling one shares with a group of people about a nation, regardless of one’s legal citizenship status.’

In terms of the formation of national identity, ‘People with identification of their nation view national beliefs and values as personally meaningful, and translate these beliefs and values into daily practices,’ according to Richard Ashmore in his book on Social Identity.

A ‘National Identity’ is also based on an ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group,’ translated as ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The in-group is characterised by feelings of pride and love towards one’s nation and obligations towards it.

From the above definitions, can it not be clearly seen that the recent strife in Kashmir has seen the birth of Kashmir as a nation unto itself? A Kashmir that has now been defined by its historical struggle for justice and lasting peace? A Kashmir that has been defined by its feelings for itself and its members, and a collective sense of hurt and pain at recent sufferings? A Kashmir that takes pride in its strength to bond together in times of distress, the attempts of nefarious elements notwithstanding? A Kashmir that for the first time in recent memory, is not restricted by the boundaries of the mountains that surround it, but extends East into Kargil, South into the Chenab Valley and West into Poonch? A Kashmir whose diaspora speak in one voice when circumstances call for unity?

Have we not seen, also for the first time in recent memory, a very real schism between Kashmir and India? When the government in New Delhi, leaks out its ‘assessment’ through ‘highly-placed’ sources that the strife in Kashmir is ‘ a Wahhabi-inspired, Pakistan-sponsored, Islamic rebellion to topple an elected government,’ what exactly is the government demonstrating? First, its own failure to assimilate Kashmiris into the larger Indian nation. Second, its characterisation of all protesting Kashmiris as being ‘sponsored,’ showing that Kashmiris were not supposed to have their own political space to protest in the first place. Third, by demeaning Kashmiris as ‘terrorist-sympathisers,’ and by refusing to ‘talk to all stakeholders,’ the government is provoking the people of Kashmir into violence, by pushing them into a state of despondency and despair. With the hyper-nationalist Indian media molding public opinion strongly ‘against’ Kashmiri people courtesy of the vitriol dished out each night on TV, what is the Kashmiri to think? Is it not, ‘us’? Is it not, ‘them’?

In this toxic deluge of misinformation, the Kashmiri nation has emerged.

Like many others this author believes that the current strife has been ‘different’ from others in recent past – it is wide-based, rural and urban, largely spontaneous, and being driven by a collective sense of grief, anger, and shared goals, at tremendous social and economic cost. In the past, by now, fringe elements would have disrupted the strike, some poor urchins would have been paid to go on TV to denounce all protest leaders as, ‘having their children abroad,’ and some leaders of the State would have been paying their supporters to gather people for pointless political rallies in the middle of nowhere. The author is unaware of any such recent activity. The contrary is happening. Activists from prominent political parties are resigning, even if it is just a trickle. Transport remains off the roads for the better part of the day, despite provocative measures instituted by the government to ‘force’ people to ‘break’ the strike. Students have refused to enter schools and colleges, saying they are ready to ‘sacrifice their education for Kashmir.’

In terms of definition, Kashmir is already a free nation. Why?

If you have a flag, wave it.

Kashmiri flags (with a crescent, white bars, and an orange strip on a green background) have been seen at recent at many recent demonstrations. The State of Jammu & Kashmir already has its own flag, even though many may not agree to the red background and plough. There is no reason why the already legal flag should not be displayed prominently over shops, buildings and homes as a defiant measure. It is not illegal, and it flies in the face of the organisation behind the current ruling party in New Delhi that claims that there is, ‘only one flag in India.’ There should be a movement to petition the government of J&K to change its design to better ‘reflect’ the ‘emotions and history’ of the people of J&K. Let that be one of the collective goals of Kashmir.

If you have a song, sing it.

There was a national song written in the 1940’s that officiated as the State anthem for some time, to the best of the author’s knowledge. It has been lost since then, very few know its lines or music. There is nothing to stop its re-emergence. There is no need for official sanction to sing a song in a school, college, or public meetings. The author is aware of universities of India where a ‘University anthem’ is sung during meetings – why cannot a public initiative be taken to produce a similar song for Kashmiri institutions? Let it be sung by people on the streets during protests – as long as it preaches non-violence and pride in Kashmir, it is nothing but defiance.

What worse advertisement for the security establishment than to arrest children for singing a song?

If you have heroes, honour them.

The strife has brought to the fore countless stories of struggle and courage in the face of adversity. Who were these people? Should Kashmir not honour them? Should Kashmir not honour the sacrifices of its ambulance drivers who were beaten up for ferrying patients? Why not name ambulances after such drivers? Or wards, blocks, and buildings in various hospitals after health employees who were killed or injured in the recent strife? Wouldn’t that be defiance? What about the silent few who have established kitchens in hospitals to tend to the attendants of patients living away from their families? What about the journalist who quit his job because he refused directions to tell incorrect stories? Let the treatment and rehabilitation of the injured and the care of the families of the dead, become a ‘national’ goal of Kashmir.

If you have a story, tell it.

Kashmiri history is replete with stories of courage against all odds. The recent past has been a disparate string of stories – it is time to bring them together. The Kashmiri press, which has stood by the people of Kashmir like a rock, can do this. A collection of stories about all those who died, or were injured in the current strife can be brought out – not only to remind Kashmiris about the recent strife, but to serve as a reference for those who desire to know about Kashmir. There is no law which prevents authors from writing books about other people. Would that not be defiance? How disgraceful for a country like India, if it has to arrest an author for collecting and writing stories about events that actually happened.

If you have a history, preserve it.

The recent onslaught of modern technology has seen a lot of Kashmiri culture eroded. A lot of this is inevitable – few would like to go back to the days of no power, and no running water. But what has Kashmir lost? This author grew up in Kashmir and knew nothing about Kashmiri history, except for the recent past. Children in Kashmir know very little about the ancient Kingdoms in Kashmir, or how Kashmir was a learning centre, and a melting pot where sages would discuss ideology. They know little also about how Kashmir was a seat of learning, and remained so till very recent. Would it not be defiance to show that, despite being ruled by powers elsewhere, Kashmiris preserve and remain proud of their history?

If you want a future, get it.

Nations survive because the people want them to survive. They have a future because the people want a future for their children. Does Kashmir want a future? What kind of a future should it be? Will it be one where Kashmiris are held as prisoners of conscience? Where the government of the day can impose its will as it likes without question? Where the security  establishment can get away with the worst atrocities? Probably not. But in my humble opinion, by surrendering available political and economic space to leaders who have proven to be incompetent and disconnected, Kashmiris have blundered away a part of that future. Unfortunately, Kashmiris cannot choose their battles, that position of strength has been taken away. And the future should focus on how to win back a position of strength, moral, political, and economic.

‘Enforced Governance’ is a form of Colonialism:

When the government of India needs to send 3 additional Army brigades, with 102 CRPF companies, and an already stationed force of more than 600,000 armed troops, to quell mass protests which had been on-going for weeks, what does that say about the governance machinery? The internet is shut, mobile phones have been rendered useless, and social media has become the ‘ number one threat to security and peace in J&K,’ and this comes during the tenure of a Prime Minister who prides himself on his ability to communicate with the masses through the Internet, and calls for ‘all Indians’ to take part in ‘Start-up India’ and ‘Stand-up India.’ Did the Prime Minister mention that this does not apply to people living in Kashmir? No doubt, security agencies have the ability to block websites that have objectionable material, but to ‘ collectively punish’ an entire population for three months is unheard of. It begs the question, who is the threat to Indian sovereignty in Kashmir? If the people of Kashmir are being governed by a law that they have no power to change, is that not a form of colonialism?


The recent strife has seen the beginning of a unified, ‘Free Kashmiri’ nation emerge, where the previous divisive political lines have been blurred by a common feeling of hurt and anger. Unlike in the past, this strife has not been driven by a particular political ideology. The social contracts Kashmiris make with themselves over the next few months will have crucial implications for the future. Legal symbols of unity and defiance have emerged and need to be preserved. ‘Enforced governance,’ is not going to outlive the current feelings of national identity in Kashmir, and the divisive politics of New Delhi have served to endorse the feelings of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The outcome will depend on how much effort Kashmiris make in developing and nurturing Kashmiri ‘national’ institutions that will carry forward the struggle for a peaceful, permanent settlement.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of Kashmir Narrator.

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