[Reader-list] Reading 'A Letter from New York' for Kashmir by Mohamad Junaid

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Sat Nov 6 06:14:49 IST 2010

Dear All,

for a very long time now, I have unhesitatingly supported the demand  
that comes from within Kashmir for Azadi, or freedom, from the cruel  
occupations enacted by India, and by Pakistan. on Kashmir. At the  
same time, I have been relentless in my demand from my Kashmiri  
friends, that they substantiate their concept of Azadi to mean  
something more than the mere iteration of empty nationalism. Many  
people on this list have been familiar with my criticism of the  
Indian occupation of Kashmir, but few might be familiar with my  
(equally trenchant) critique of the vacuousness of much of  Kashmiri  
nationalism and of Islamist politics in Kashmir (which, I believe can  
very easily, over time, take a turn towards towards Islamist Fascism  
in Kashmir, just as Hindu Chauvinist politics in India is the real  
and actual kernel of a particular form of Indian Fascism).

  I have time and again spoken to my Kashmiri friends, both in  
Kashmir, and in the Kashmiri diaspora of the need for setting forth  
of a vision of the horizon of politics of a future free Kashmir, (and  
therefore in the region) that is open-ended, evolving and generous to  
the complexities of history and the present. I think that the  
document that I am forwarding below contains the foundations of  
precisely what I have been seeking. I think it lays the foundation of  
a new politics and a new ethical vision, not only for Kashmir, but  
for South Asia in general. I think that I am not wrong in saying that  
the writer of this document was once a member of this list (and  
perhaps still is.) Sometimes, when I read the utter trash that Indian  
nationalists and all those who wish to continue the cruel occupation  
of Kashmir,  write on this list, I feel depressed, exhausted and  
demoralized, because I feel nothing but fatigue in the face of the  
meanness and viciousness and pathetic falsehoods that underlie the  
premises of the occupation. And then, rarely, occasionally, along  
comes a thought, like this one, written by Mohmad Junaid,  finely  
crafted, passionate, beautifully argued and shining for its  
compassion and generosity, that can actullay in its own way shine a  
light on the path of the liberation of much more than Kashmir. It  
lifts my spirits. If there is one reason why Kashmir needs Azadi  
(liberation from the yoke of the occupation) today, it is because  
Azadi can lay the groundwork of the realization of a vision such as  
this. I hope that it can serve as a basis for a freedom charter for  
Kashmir that is a free and open space, and a bridge to a lasting  
peace that we can hope to experience, in our lifetime, in South Asia.

warm regards,




Dear fellow Kashmiris,

I’m writing this letter from New York, a place far away, yet so close  
to everything. This city can make you forget, by filching reality  
away from you. But it also reminds you perpetually, by bringing you  
close to a different reality, through the pain and suffering of  
others. There are exiled specimens from all over the world here (yes,  
mostly those permitted to come to the US). There are Irish and  
Greeks, escapees from famines and wars. There are Jews from Germany  
and Germans from Russia, ones who survived persecution. There are  
Latinos from El Salvador, Peru, Guatemala, and Bolivia, who fled  
Western-backed dictatorial regimes in their countries in the 1970s  
and 80s. There are Africans who narrowly missed genocide in Southern  
Sudan. There are Kurds from Turkey, and Berber from North Africa,  
driven out of their lands by years of conflict. And, then there are  
African Americans, who were forcibly brought hundreds of years before  
to slave for their White masters, and who, despite recent claims of  
dawning of an age of “post-racial America,” are still groveling at  
the bottom of the socio-economic heap. Their stories tell a similar  
conclusion: The world is shrinking for small nationalities and  
powerless minorities.

Large and powerful nations in their desire for control over more  
territory and unchallenged right to inflict violence run roughshod  
over legitimate rights of smaller and weaker peoples. Those who claim  
a permanent “state of exception” have shred international law, which  
is supposed to guarantee the right of self-determination of nations  
both “big and small,” to pieces. Persecution of minorities all over  
the world continues in spite of numerous declarations to uphold human  
rights. Powerful countries use these declarations selectively, and  
instrumentally to pursue their parochial goals. Europe, which has  
been claiming to be the flag-bearer of universal human civilization  
for centuries, is again in the grip of hatred, readying itself for  
yet another sacrificial genocide; so is America, whose citizens are  
being whipped into frenzy by racist, xenophobic, and ignorant  
politicians. Meanwhile, the Muslim world is hurtled from one crisis  
to another. Already an object of global misunderstanding and hatred,  
it continues to fail to produce an enlightened, effective, and  
coherent response. It either produces nihilistic violence of  
extremist groups like Al-Qaeda, or builds examples par excellence of  
vulgar exploitation like Dubai; both based in one way or other on a  
bastardized, logical extreme of Western rationality, and both far  
from the lived experience of most Muslims and the spirit of their  
faith. Amidst all this, where do the founts of hope lie? As  
Kashmiris, one of these numerous, struggling, small nationalities,  
caught in the whirlpool of forces of imperialist domination and  
religio-nationalist chauvinisms of recently formed states—while the  
grinding machine of military oppression keeps adding to the long  
history of our suffering—where must we situate ourselves? How must we  
imagine, think, and plan a new life?

First, let me say this: the continued existence, persistence, and  
resilience of Kashmiris, and of other oppressed peoples around the  
world, is itself indicative of the fact that the struggle is on:  
between the coercive, militarized reality and the power of free  
imagination, between the drudgery of dominating others and the beauty  
of resistance, between the technologies of power and the critical  
practices of the subject, between calculation and compassion, between  
the patriarchal, paternalistic hatred and the love for justice,  
between national fascism and national liberation, between metal and  
heart, bullet and wound, between the shadow of death and the canopy  
of life. The hope first springs from the existence of this struggle;  
and this struggle, lets keep in mind, is happening not between  
nations, cultures, or civilizations, but within them.

Given this, I would suggest then that we rethink our struggle, and  
posit it not in terms of Kashmir and India—as territorial entities,  
with settled national identities (and obviously not in terms of  
Muslim and non-Muslim, or for that matter, East and West), but as  
between the opaque rationale that leads to militarized brutalization  
of the other, and the moral reasoning that necessitates resistance.  
This reconstitution of our struggle opens us up comprehensively: it  
leads to openness toward the unknown, and the unknowable others, to  
radical new ideas and life, to an un-predetermined future. It evokes  
the obligation to build alliances of solidarity with those others  
whose suffering is invisible to us, and whose tortured voice we are  
unable to listen. It demands that the plan for a new life not be  
based on, or become, a model. The un-predetermined future, however,  
does not mean an unplanned, chaotic path into the future either. It  
would be logically challenging (and useless), in any case, to plan an  
unplanned, chaotic path. What it means is that the future free and  
independent Kashmir, to continue to remain free and independent, and  
to continuously live the moment of freedom, should not replicate any  
socio-economic blueprints (especially the ones handed out by  
institutions of the hegemonic global economic order), nor should it  
accept the kind of modular democracy a tragicomic version of which  
Indian government makes us Kashmiris suffer every few years. It also  
means that we challenge those who vacuously exhort us toward setting  
up of an “Islamic state.” We must renounce these imposters for their  
historically and logically unsound claims, and constructively  
dislodge the formalistic aspects of their thinking, while, if  
possible, retrieve the (deeply buried, and often turned- 
insignificant) ethical core of Islam, which calls for universal  
solidarity and social justice.

Instead of seeking to build a state based on religious ideology  
(which in essence would not look much different from India, Pakistan,  
Iran, Israel, or the US and would always be exclusivist) we must  
build an independent, free society based on faith—faith and trust in  
each other. This confidence in each other would mean getting rid of  
the fear of the other, and of mutual suspicion; and in consequence it  
would mean a society that doesn’t feel a need to keep an eye on each  
other, that renounces surveillance, and its executing spies. We must  
keep in mind though that this mutual confidence cannot be grounded in  
our sameness, but in the unreservedly given acceptance to the  
uniqueness of our separate beings as individuals and cultural groups,  
brought together through a freely chosen fellowship, as full and  
meaningful participants in the society that is always fluid and  
becoming. We must not think like the Indian nationalists do: that we  
are one as Kashmiris; that there is something called “Kashmiriness,”  
which like some sort of genetic or chemical substance, or blood, we  
all have in our bodies. Instead of oneness, we must think in terms of  

The basis of our togetherness is freedom, democracy and dignity. I  
often think of the three ideas together: there can be no democracy  
without freedom and dignity, nor can there be freedom without  
democracy and dignity, and obviously freedom and democracy is  
dignity. Only such society which freely allows and appreciates  
criticism, and not in an empty, meaningless fashion, as is the trend  
in the West these days, but keeps itself open to progressive  
transformation through critique (progressive: what continuously  
expands the horizon of freedom and rights), is worthy of being called  
truly democratic. And dignity arises from freedom from suspicion and  
stereotype, and therefore from a positive trust that the society  
places in its fellow citizens and cultural groups. When I think of  
Azadi I see freedom, democracy, and dignity as its inseparable core.

You and I know that we have been regularly asked, both by those who  
oppose us and those who support us, to explicitly state what we mean  
when we ‘demand’ Azadi. We have often articulated it only in formal  
terms: that we want independence from India—a freedom from its  
illegitimate sovereignty over our lives (and yes, those who sit at  
the helm of coercive power, have refused even to hear this clear  
statement of our Azadi). But we know that Azadi goes far beyond this  
voluntary separation from a forced union. It touches upon the core of  
what it means to live as a small, but dignified nationality in a  
world where the global leviathan of big capital and its associated  
uneven crises meets, in a violent orgy, the international space  
saturated with muscular, bellicose, (often nuclear armed) nation- 
states. Our search for Azadi is in reality the only choice left in  
this din. Not that we can compete with big nations in their pursuit  
of dominance (I see desire for dominance as a sort of death-wish,  
madness—a mutually-assured destruction), but we truly don’t want to,  
even if we could. We don’t demand to create just another state in the  
world; that wouldn’t make any sense. Our demand for Azadi is a clear  
need and aspiration—and a last, desperate wish, if you will; so that  
when the big states would have mutually assured our collective  
destruction, we could know that we at least lived a better life, and  
it will be sweeter because we would have done it without brawn,  
bruises, or too much money. That is what we mean when we say we have  
a right to decide our own future (path, if not destination). Big  
bully states have decided their and our future, and we can’t escape  
the moment when it all vanishes—this Utopia that things will always  
remain the same, but we demand that till that time is upon us let’s  
find our own way in this world. We will go down with you, but we  
can’t be forced to walk along with you all the way to that final  
burial ground.

My fellow Kashmiris, we have borne the wounds of our collective  
suffering on our bodies. And yes for the Azadi that we talk about it  
is a price absolutely worth paying. Our bodies are testament enough  
that we deserve Azadi. We, however, don’t demand our own Azadi only,  
but Azadi for all the suffering, small nations and minorities with  
whom we stand in moral solidarity—a principle we derive equally from  
Islam and other faiths, and from the universal norm of just  
coexistence that underlie our collective life on planet earth.

If our Azadi has the moral content that it has, it would not be so  
difficult to answer the questions that will unquestionably face us in  
the future, after (and before) our inevitable independence. Since we  
can’t deny that we live in that coercive, real world which we want to  
cast off to build a new Kashmiri society, we will have to engage with  
it, but on our own terms, in the spirit of Azadi—Azadi as a living  
principle. What will be our relationship with the states of India,  
Pakistan, or China? And, what will be our relationship with the  
peoples of these countries and the world? Azadi demands unconditional  
friendship with our neighbors. We must offer this unconditional  
friendship, an offer that will never be withdrawn, to both the big  
and small states in our neighborhood. It would mean never to harm  
them, or their mutual relations, but to actively foster healthy  
relations in South and Greater Asia, to infuse in them a spirit of  
mutual cooperation. For the peoples of these neighboring, and other  
countries, it would mean unrestricted access to Kashmir and its sites  
of pilgrimage; except for those whose visits are proven to have a  
violent intent: that would lead to violence against humans and  
nature. In the same spirit of Azadi wouldn’t Kashmiris happily accept  
the presence of those whose safety is threatened in their own  
countries of origin for speaking for justice and truth? Who wouldn’t  
offer with gratitude Arundhati Roy a Kashmiri citizenship?

Over many years, and perhaps centuries now, Kashmir’s Muslims have  
had a fractured relationship with Kashmir’s Hindus. The relationship  
between Muslims and Sikhs, if not so laden with power, coercion, and  
retribution, has remained fraught with potential violence. The same  
has been the case within Kashmir’s various Muslim communities and  
social groups. I don’t suggest that all these fractures can be easily  
sutured, but it is incumbent upon all of us, and comparatively  
easier, to remove violence from these relationships. A new life  
deserves a chance. History must not be allowed to come in the way of  
building a shared future. Within Kashmir our society requires  
gestures of friendship not only between communities that will  
constitute the Kashmiri nation, but also among individuals, from  
within their own and other groups. It is much more an obligation upon  
Kashmir’s Muslim majority to extend a hand of true and everlasting  
friendship to Kashmir’s minorities.

Our Azadi, the basis of our new life as a nation and society, is  
deeply connected with Kashmir as a place. This place, however, is a  
place of generosity and hospitality, and not of exclusion or  
hostility. Our ties to Kashmir are not natural, but of nature. And by  
that, my friends, I mean we have a strong obligation as grateful  
residents of Kashmir to prevent relations of exploitation between  
humans and nature. Nature is not a natural resource. It is a  
collective gift, which has to be judiciously shared with, and  
protected for, humans and non-human forms of life, now and for  
future. What would Azadi be worth for Kashmir if its trees were gone;  
if its rivers and lakes dried out and its mountains were dug up; if  
its air was polluted and the soil was full of chemicals; if its bears  
and snow leopards, those other proud residents of Kashmir, were  
forced to come down, or hunted out of their natural habitats? What  
forms would our sources of sustenance—our economy—take in terms of an  
Azadi that is in a respectful relationship with nature? What would we  
produce, and how would we consume? How would a balance be struck  
between production and consumption, which is in ethical alignment  
with our obligation towards nature as well as our principles of  
justified needs? Must we not do away with economic rationalism,  
industrial overproduction, and runaway consumerism? And how would we  
exchange our goods and services? Shouldn’t small-scale business  
become a principle and normative mode of exchange in our society, one  
that will remain ever watchful against predatory corporatization?

My friends, our journey towards freedom began the day we realized  
that we need to be free. As time has gone by, more and more of us  
have understood that it is only by struggling and achieving freedom  
for Kashmir and its residents that we can truly and authentically  
live our lives. Our work of construction has, accordingly, long  
begun, and it will require an extraordinary effort of will and  
tremendous endurance to create a sort of society that is really worth  
living in. We wouldn’t have succeeded in achieving our true freedom  
if we don’t expunge from our hearts and minds the last traces of  
hatred and violent anger toward others, including those who oppress  
us. We must remember that we are fighting against ideologies and  
processes that legitimize, and lead to, the domination of others, not  
those who execute it, especially not the foot soldiers of occupation.  
We must become what we want to be, not what our oppressor wants to  
turn us into. I don’t advocate sterile processes of “dialogue” as an  
alternative to the methods we adopt in our everyday resistance— 
especially the “dialogue” where one side is backed by military power.  
Dialogue can happen only in a free and fair atmosphere of mutual  
comprehension. What sort of a dialogue can take place when one side  
denies the other the right to be free? What sort of a meeting place  
can there be between justice and injustice? We must, however, not  
close our ears and eyes to what the other is saying or showing us.  
Listening is a great gesture of friendship. We must politely refuse  
to accept what is fundamentally unjust.

In this moment of suffering, our fundamental duty is toward our own  
people, toward those who are hit the most every time our society  
protests, the poor and the weak. My thoughts go to that one Kashmiri  
mother in a picture I saw recently who was being violently pushed  
around by a cop, an ignorant man, who could be her neighbor. And I  
still can’t get the image of a little boy weeping over the body of  
his dead brother out of my head. His scream of pain, draining all the  
blood from his face, cut through the picture and hit me like a shell.  
No freedom is worth an innocent life. Our occupiers tell us the same,  
while they continue to feed innocent Kashmiri lives to the fires of  
occupation. Our occupiers tell us to send our children to schools,  
where they could learn how Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chander Bose  
fought for India’s freedom, but they don’t want our children to learn  
about their own long overdue freedoms, far from enjoy them. They  
urge, and even force, us to vote in their form of democracy, a  
democracy stripped down to the barren and inconsequential act of  
voting, a democracy designed not to empower our voice but to inflate  
turnouts. My friends, we are through with it. Our imagination is more  
powerful than their military. They have been proven wrong over and  
over again. We must keep the spirit of Azadi alive, because that is  
the only way it can be. That is the only way we can be.


October 31, 2010

Shuddhabrata Sengupta
The Sarai Programme at CSDS
Raqs Media Collective
shuddha at sarai.net

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