Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Debating an "Accidental Leftist" on Academic Freedom Versus Political Surrogacy

Junaid debates with Mridu Rai, a prominent Indian-American academic, who like all "Accidental Leftists" far removed from Kashmir and with their own children studying out of the harm's way, cheer on Kashmiri students and academia to take on the third largest military force in the world. Junaid response is followed by Prof. Mridu Rai's commentary

(Mr. Junaid Azim Mattu, 25, was born in Srinagar. He partly completed his schooling at the Burn Hall School, Srinagar, and partly at the Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. He attended college in America and graduated with a degree in Business and Finance from the Eli Broad School of Business at Michigan State University. He is a consulting financial analyst and telecom-IT entrepreneur based in Srinagar. A seeded national varsity debater throughout his school and college career (his grandfather - Khwaja Ghulam Ahmed Ashai - was one of the founding fathers of the Muslim/National Conference), Mr. Mattu also played under-19 cricket at national level for J&K. He is a founder of the World Kashmiri Students Association (WKSA), a global youth association for Kashmiris based in Srinagar, Kashmir, working on social, economic and political issues through constructive and informed activism. WKSA, as of today has 1,700+ registered members in Kashmir. He is also a nominated alumnus of the Global Young Leaders Conference. In his leisure time, Junaid likes to engage in reading, gardening, watching movies and listening to music.)

Dear Mridu,

Over the past few days I have debated with my own adamant self about the pros and cons of responding to your feedback to my article – “The dangers of politicizing exam papers!” published in this newspaper on the 16th of December. Among the various pros, the most important one, to me as a selfish person, is laying to rest this perception that I couldn’t allegedly counter your articulate, prudent argument. But the greater purpose my reply, in all humbleness, is aimed at serving is to expose the blatant irony in how leftist ideologues and journalists, from the convenience of their jobs and professional lives, cheer on the poor man’s son in Kashmir to his grave, supporting at times the most unfeasible and irrational phases of directionless anarchy, or as in this case – by summarily putting ideals of academic liberalism before concerns of denting an already bruised psyche of those young men and women who, for instance, appeared in this exam – only to be encountered by a reminder of what has haunted them for five long months. Those who accuse me of idealism in being unreasonable enough to expect stone-pelting to stay on the street and not percolate into classrooms, are ironically guilty of another form of idealism – radical, leftist idealism – as if the realities of pain and suppression in Kashmir where chapters in a book on social waivers of revolution. Irrationality is often inevitable when dealing with such sensitive issues – issues that evoke passions of dissent and resentment.

Looking at conflicts and occupations through lenses of liberal academic thought and theory makes us oblivious to certain core realities. When mobs driven by emotions do so, it’s understandable. When grieving families driven by grief do so, it’s justified but when the ideologues of chronic and default anti-statism in New Delhi, Calcutta and elsewhere cheer thirteen year old kids to face automatic weapons with stones – it’s blatant hypocrisy – the blood-fruit, shrouded in white to be borne by grieving, weeping parents, neither salaried mainstream journalists nor advocates of chronic anarchy and dissent from far-far-away lands.

Why should a tailor’s or a mason’s shining, academically brilliant son in Srinagar become revolutionary fodder in a vacuum of political strategy while Arundhati Roy’s daughter studies in sunny California? I don’t hold it against Roy that her daughter is rightfully striving for a good education. Students in Kashmir, just like Ms. Roy’s daughter, need to focus on their intellectual empowerment, polishing their analytic senses, learning to be articulate and prudent – so that this generation of oppressed, occupied Kashmiris grows up to be a generation that speaks toe-to-toe with the Manish Tiwaris and Abhishek Manusinghvis of mainstream India. So, the struggle to gain that exposure, education and articulation is a righteous battle in itself – both for Ms. Roy’s daughter and the poor man’s invisible son in Srinagar – who leaves his bed for school, only to return home as a statistic.

I have no love lost for India as a State that holds on to Kashmir by sheer military force. I have publicly spoken up unequivocally against a never-ending passive genocide of Kashmiri men and women, against the disproportionate use of brutal force, against a State government that is subservient to the Ministry of Home in Delhi. In being fair to my conscience, I also chose to speak up publicly against a very dear friend – accusing him of political incompetence and procrastination in dealing with the blood-soaked agitation we have now apparently put in seasonal abeyance till June next year.

Mridu, the larger debate – one that you have gracefully maintained the focus on for a significant part of your article – is about politically neutralizing academic curricula – not just the syllabi but the teaching and learning experience – in conflict zones where education is the first casualty of strife. Had this been New Delhi and had Gandhi College of Srinagar been Jawaharlal Nehru University of Delhi, I would have welcomed academic liberalism – in talking about the political ramifications of an unsettled dispute, that has lingered on primarily due to Delhi’s egoistic refusal to budge but also partly due to the ineptness and salability of our own leaders – about their investment in the status-quo. The English language paper for the students of first-year undergrad is not quite as same as a Social Science paper for a graduate program at JNU for instance. The contention is that our administration has exhibited and exercised an anachronistic style of interference into the academy. It is not my battle to accuse or defend how the administration has reacted – although I have unambiguously opposed Mr. Bhat’s arrest in my first column on this issue. My battle lies in calling a spade, a spade on the other side of the argument – is our academy or rather are our academics sensitized and emancipated enough to talk about such evocative issues in classrooms? Are they dispassionate in their analysis – or their intellectual investigation for that matter? And most importantly – what do they aim to achieve – do they intend to use the academy as a battlefield for their own ideological assertions or do they want to stir a debate about the moral and realistic dimensions and delusions of stone pelting as a long-term substitute for political strategy or stone-pelting as an alternative to phased institutionalization of the sentiment?

Our academy reflects on our society and vice-versa. We are liberal by convenience, “practical” by season. Had Mr. Bhat asked a question about the moral and ethical grounds on which Geelani Sahib boycotts elections after fighting EIGHT elections under the same constitution, he would have been ostracized by the same ‘liberal’ academy and society that is apparently up in arms to defend his right to politicize an exam paper. The same self-righteous journalists of the Hindustan Times who are out to legalize stone-pelting in the minds of Kashmiri children would have gone on an all-out witch-hunt against Mr. Bhat, accusing him of being on the ‘payrolls’ of intelligence agencies and of ‘pandering’ to the ‘rulers’ for personal gains. Such, my dear Mridu, has become of Kashmir – a society in a perpetual state of selective moral application – choosing to be anarchists for six months a year and hibernating in their hamaams for the other six months. The valiant soldiers of fanaticism and chauvinism, who have chosen to flood social networking sites with naked abuse and calls of violence against my person, are the most cancerous lobes of fascism in Kashmir – more fatal, abhorable and destructive than any army or paramilitary force that can occupy them.

What Mr. Bhat has done might be a heroic action of dissent. It might also be inspiring for journalists and theorists in Delhi, who come to Kashmir once a couple years to pelt a symbolic stone – leaving the poor man’s disillusioned son to fight for their bit of freedom while they resume their careers working for mainstream media houses in India. I would have perhaps been Mr. Bhat’s fan too had he chosen to risk his job by using a newspaper to ask the same question. Mr. Bhat’s action is not the problem; the medium he chose to hijack to vent out his feelings is the issue. A medium that he didn’t own and one he shouldn’t have infringed on for such personal statements – if for nothing else – but the welfare of our students – who have lost five precious months from their academic year in this back and forth war of stones, government curfews and ‘civil’ curfews!

How is it possible, you say, to separate academics from politics in an atmosphere of such violence and oppression? I counter that question by wondering how is it possible for Kashmiris to line up for police and paramilitary recruitments in an atmosphere of such anarchy and occupational, institutionalized violence from forces of the State? How is it possible for us to divorce the question of our livelihood and survival from our quest for freedom – as hundreds and thousands of Kashmiris continue to be on the rolls of the State government? The answer lies, not in idealism or rhetoric, but in the realistic preservation of life in battling a long drawn conflict – not a war. In the realism of maintaining sanity and some basic amount of social and institutional normality to whatever extent possible in a conflict zone like Kashmir – a conflict that will take time to be resolve, one that is mired by enormous geo-strategic vectors. The answer lies in realism, Mridu – in the guilt laden dream of a poor man to see his son grow up as an opinionated and educated young man, not just another willing and subservient foot soldier for proxy ideologues of Azadi who have afforded their own selves and their children the luxuries of professions and careers. A dream that a poor carpenter’s son would grow up to be an opinionated, educated and articulate young man of integrity who can answer the question on stone pelting eventually – it’s validity, alleged heroism and glorified effectiveness – through his quest in being an asset to ‘Kashmir’ – the nation before ‘Kashmir’ – the slogan, for there can be no nation-states without strong, underlying nations.

Dear Mridu, I conclude with an excerpt from Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech on his maiden visit to Kashmir – “You must first organize your nation; you have to improve the educational, economic and social condition of Muslims. Almighty has given you everything. Kashmir, which is known as a paradise; the gem in the ring as the world is, and an unparalleled country, what such a country does not possess? But what you have you done? Oh Muslims! Awake, stand up and work hard and bring life to this!”

It’s time to build a nation.

Junaid Azim Mattu

What is ‘Criminal’ About it?

For Mridu Rai, the author of "Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects," Kashmir is a convenient testing ground for her political ideology at the expense of Kashmiris caught between poor governance and growing religious radicalism

My dear Junaid,

A few days ago, you wrote an eloquent article that appeared in the pages of this newspaper disapproving of the actions of Dr. Noor Mohammed Bhat (See the Blog, dated 27 December 2010). I gather the latter had used the occasion of a college examination to set two exercises, inter alia, that not only tested students on their proficiency in the English language, the discipline of examination, but also extended the opportunity to them to exercise their political, and perhaps also their moral, judgement. Your apprehension, as I understand it, is about how such individual initiatives of insinuating an extraneous political element into academic contexts might affect the strength of what is one of the essential pillars of any modern nation; its educational institutions. You were kind enough to include some of my own musings on the subject. As an educator, I appreciate your caution about the implications of an unbridled politicization of academic institutions and agree that it is irresponsible to brush consideration of this aside cavalierly. I would add that anyone with a similar concern to yours about nation-building in Kashmir would do well to read your article with the care and conscientious deliberation it deserves.

Having said this, however, I wonder whether you might not be defining nation building too narrowly? I will not speculate on Dr. Bhat’s intentions or motives, as I have no way of knowing what they might have been. But I think we must ask whether the treatment meted out to him is appropriate or legitimate. Indeed, this is a question that cannot be made secondary to the questions that concern you, because it touches vitally upon them; it is squarely about the relationship between politics and institutions of learning. If Dr. Bhat has breached academic ethics then why is it not his academic institution that is punishing him? Is a violation of professional norms validly a concern of the state in a presumably democratic polity? May I submit that, as someone concerned about keeping politics out of the academy, you must perforce also confront this question and with the full understanding of its seriousness.

The state has deemed Dr. Bhat’s breach of professional norms a crime that it must punish by arresting him. I hope it is not engaging in sensationalizing to ask how the state’s claim is justified. Since it is not the state’s competence or business to set examination papers, then how can it assess the crime for which Dr. Bhat has been incarcerated? What were the specific offenses in his examination paper that have drawn state retribution? One was an invitation to discuss the question whether Kashmir’s “stone pelters are real heroes”. The second consisted in translating into English the following passage: “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.”

It would be ludicrous to deny that students choosing to answer either or both questions were asked to exercise their critical faculties about political developments in Kashmir. But how does that constitute a crime? In fact, I am at a loss to understand how this even amounts to an academic infringement. Were his students coerced into participating in these two specific testing exercises? As the young student who took the examination we both ‘spoke’ with told us, he and his colleagues had the option to ignore both and answer other questions instead to fulfil their requirements. Were these questions inappropriate for an English language examination? I cannot imagine why we should deem them so unless we decide arbitrarily that only politically anodyne essays are able to test English language proficiency. In any case, as the young student mentioned above has also shared with me, the question he did answer in lieu of the offending one posed by Dr. Bhat asked for a note on Maulana Azad as an educationist, discussing his contribution as an Education Minister. How is this essay topic any less politically inflected? As for the passage assigned for translation, Dr. Bhat can certainly be held guilty of the linguistic and stylistic felony of rhetorical excess unbecoming of a teacher of the English language, but I believe that is the extent of his crime as an academic.

As I understand it from one newspaper report, the police arrested Dr. Bhat for “spreading disaffection against the state” and “he was also accused of promoting secession”, a charge punishable by “a seven year prison sentence”. Since the first offending question about the stone pelters was an open-ended one and could be answered in the negative, the charge of promoting secession and spreading disaffection must apply really only to the translation exercise. Given the content of the passage, it would be pointless to deny that it discusses lapses of governance. But technically that passage nowhere promotes disaffection against the state; it only accuses its current rulers of shirking their responsibilities. Are a democratic state’s rulers above the censure of its citizens? I could also insist that we recognize that nowhere does the passage discuss let alone call for secession.

But, Junaid, I would like instead to ask you to help me think through another, to my mind, graver set of issues. May I ask, given your concern for protecting academic institutions from political contamination, whether you think it legitimate for the state to exercise academic censorship in this way? You are concerned that in “a strong nation that could take on greater political responsibility in the near future, it’s imperative that our students study science in science classes and language in language classes”. But should not this concern with respecting and protecting boundaries also be extended to asking what is the appropriate realm of state intervention? Academic integrity cannot be discussed in a vacuum; nor can it be privileged in any way above equally serious concerns about the integrity of the other institutions of any nation. If Dr. Bhat has muddled boundaries, has the state done any less? One cannot sort these violations into some hierarchy of legitimate acts without damaging the fabric of the entire nation that you are seeking to build or protect in Kashmir; surely the important virtues of freedom of thought and expression are also at issue here.

Also, should you not consider more weightily the fact that Kashmir today presents dilemmas specific to it that it would be perilous to subsume within some universalized judgment? While it is important to speak without “emotion” about objective ethical and professional standards, it is equally worthwhile to weigh dispassionately the very real costs Of ignoring context-specificity. Turning a Nelson’s eye on the latter carries the danger of building institutions that while they may carry the imprimatur of a “sacrosanct code of objectivity and impartiality” may also be socially out of tune and as such become tyrannical purveyors of rigidly enforced norms with no popular purchase. This has been a particularly bloody and tragic summer in Kashmir. Is it so very surprising that some of this noxious political atmosphere should have wafted into classrooms? Are you being just in holding Kashmir’s people to a higher standard than any other? I agree with you when you say “politicized curricula have brought undesirable consequences for nations striving for peace, resolution and growth”. But can that statement carry its full weight in the absence of an acknowledgment that the curriculum is already politicized?

In your letter you suggested that my example of the essay competition at Presidency College, Calcutta, was not a relevant reference point here since this is about an examination paper. Let me reiterate here what I said to you in our exchange on Facebook. The “example of the essay competition … is only the tip of the iceberg. I have no doubt—although I can't give you evidence as I don't work on the subject—but I have no doubt that the examination questions at Presidency College, Calcutta, and many other British Indian institutions would have been similarly politically tilted.” Paraphrasing Homi Bhabha’s words I also invited you to consider his statement that the education designed by the government of the time was to produce “mimic men” and as such was meant to impart the education of a servant not that of the master to its colonial subjects.

My intention neither there nor here is to suggest that we draw all our lessons from history but to point out the importance of carefully considering how the entire field of education can be, perhaps imperceptibly, widely politically compromised. Even if only using the Presidency College example as an exercise in analogical reasoning then, and keeping the “gauge even”, may I ask why it is alright to engage in “debates on much more contentious issues” in competitions but not in examinations if the academy that is the aegis for both is already politicized?

I do not know enough about the current curriculum of Kashmir’s educational institutions to speculate on whether the expression of political dissent to it constitutes the first offense or merely a response to a prior interference of politics in the academy. But I do think it is important to ponder carefully whether condemning only Dr. Bhat’s actions without subjecting those of the state to an equal rigorous scrutiny for the sins of politicization might not lead inadvertently to the injustice of conflating Goliaths and Davids. Please believe that I write this in full acknowledgment of the integrity of your intentions and with greatest respect for your aims of building a robust society in your nation.

Yours truly,
Mridu Rai
Historian and currently
Visiting Research Fellow
The Davis Center for Historical Studies
Princeton University

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