Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Imprisoned by Kashmir

"While not being forthcoming on what action the government proposed to take against the duo, Law Minister Veerappa Moily said their comments were "most unfortunate". While there is freedom of speech, "it can't violate the patriotic sentiments of the people," he said (from a report in The Times of India).

Thus spake the Indian government's Law Minister on the novelist Arundhati Roy's call for Kashmir's independence. I love the idea of 'freedom of speech' being acceptable unless it violates 'patriotic sentiments'. I cannot imagine what kind of freedom this would amount to and at what point patriotic sentiment tips the balance (and whose patriotic sentiments - presumably not that of Kashmiris). You can imagine a 'sentiment barometer' - yes you can freely criticise the failures of the Olympic Games organisation (because as it is not cricket, the vast majority of people in India are only vaguely patriotic in this instance) but not Kashmir because it sensitivity throws patriotic sentiment into overdrive (a straw poll on the Times of India website has over 80% of people wanting her tried for sedition)!

I realise the manifold complexities that attend Kashmir and how those complexities have poured disparate poisons into the body politics of both India and Pakistan (as well as more starkly affected the lives of the inhabitants of Kashmir). I am not an especial admirer of Roy - too glib as an activist, too dull as a novelist (though certainly endowed with a certain integrity and raw courage) - but here I find myself agreeing with her that the best option for extracting the poison is to venture the possibility of independence. The likelihood of this happening is nil (not least because India rightly fears other claims of sucession) but as a way of helping us think about what a just solution might look like, it ought to be an option considered and openly debated, not one simply closed down by either 'patriotic sentiment' or charges of sedition.

I suppose this is the counsel of the unaffected, distant liberal: can we not all be more reasonable? To which you are usually confounded with the loud answer, 'No'! Sadly most conflicts tend to resolve themselves either by defeat or mutual exhaustion and neither reality is yet in play in Kashmir, so the people continue to suffer and the leaders (in all three locations) locked in by patriotic settlement (far more effectively than Roy might be if convicted of sedition) stumble painfully on.

The world can truly be a depressing place.

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