When I was just starting to string together full sentences, it was the delight of the dinner party to watch me haltingly babble out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or wave my chubby arms while singing about Old MacDonalds’ Farm. Another hit in my repertoire was my recitation of a Hindi rhyme frequently featured in Indian film and media: “Doodh maangoge to kheer denge, Kashmir maangoge to cheer denge.”
Ask us for milk and we will give you sweets, ask us for Kashmir and we will give you your destruction.
Even for the most progressive members of the diaspora, the debate on Kashmir is often off limits. Imagery born from the independence movement has fashioned Kashmir into the crown on the nation’s head for many Indians, and grievances over the tragic ’90s violence that drove Kashmiri Hindus out of the valley run deep. The status of the territory has been tied up in questions of patriotism, pride and what it means to be Indian or Pakistani. The deeply personal nature of the issue means that discourse is often stifled, even though the ability to discuss the Kashmir conflict is a privilege that many are actively denied.
Today, it has been over eight weeks since the Hindu nationalist government of India de-operationalized Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Article 370 was the provision that allowed Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir special status and limited autonomy under Indian law. Kashmir’s initial inclusion in the Indian union was conditional upon the continuation of this special status, barring dissolution only with the consent of the Kashmiri assembly. Unsurprisingly, its unilateral revocation has triggered mass protests of several thousand people, many of them young activists. It is equally unsurprising that the Indian security forces occupying the valley have responded with a violent crackdown and numerous human rights violations.
However, this blatant disregard for human rights is not a novelty to the operations of the Indian state in Kashmir. The valley is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world. According to the Human Rights Watch, Indian security forces in Kashmir have blinded, tortured, detained and killed protestors, perpetuated sexual violence and engineered political and civilian disappearances for years — all with impunity. Most of all, amid the “world’s largest democracy,” an entire population has continuously demanded and been denied the right to self-determination.
In fact, Narendra Modi’s most novel move amid these recent developments is the mass communications blockade — one intended to silence the voices of the Kashmiri people through obstruction of landlines, internet and communications services, all while enforcing a strict curfew. Srinagar Airport has become the site of desperate families waiting to be reunited with relatives they can’t contact, and Kashmiris continue to be billed for Eid phone calls to their loved ones that never went through. State-sponsored media in India runs images of life in the valley “continuing as normal,” while those experiencing the violence have almost no way to share their stories with the world.
The people of Kashmir are resilient and determined, and their resistance continues despite their entanglement in the center of this decades-long power struggle between India, Pakistan and China. If their resistance can persist against all odds, what excuse do we with the privilege to speak freely have to stay silent? Whether we like it or not, it falls upon the latest generations of descendants of the subcontinent to untangle the strings that have tied up Kashmir within our own national identities. If we do not talk about the 22-year-old Kashmiri who was electrocuted for hours this month, or the journalists whose evidence of the violence was repeatedly stolen by security forces, then who will? As Trump draws the United States closer to India with new bilateral trade negotiations, if Americans with platforms at universities such as Yale don’t call attention to the human rights abuses, who will?
More importantly, only open discourse can dispel the post-truth arguments used inside and outside of India to reinvent the revocation of Article 370 into a success. Those who argue this will quell terrorist insurgencies have turned a blind eye to the radicalizing effects of the current terror carried out by the government. Closed pharmacies and desperate struggles for basic medicine, shuttering of universities and schools and instability that guts tourism all prove that this policy will draw Kashmir further away from development and prosperity. Finally, the idea that Kashmiris are not ready for self-governance is paternalistic and borne largely from Hindu nationalist anxieties concerning the only Muslim-majority territory in India.
While it may not change the status of the conflict, only discourse can change the minds of the people discussing it. Along with many South Asians in the diaspora, I am choosing to build my Indian identity around solidarity with the Kashmiri right to self-determination, rather than around the BJP’s ethno-nationalist and Islamophobic rhetoric. All of us have the opportunity to stand with Kashmir on the basis of the values our liberal education espouses: self-actualization, freedom of speech and respect for all human life.
Perhaps discourse may one day change the rhyme to “Doodh maangoge to kheer denge, kashmir maangoge, phirbee kheer denge.”
Ask for just milk and we will give you sweets, ask us for Kashmir and we will still give you sweets.
Shreeya Singh is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .