Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hypocrisy of Kashmir’s alcohol debate


Whether or not alcohol and cinema should be allowed in Kashmir is asking the wrong question. The appropriate question to ask, to my mind, is how Kashmiris define themselves and their struggle, and the inter-relationship between the availability of alcohol and films, and their struggle.

However, let me begin by saying that it does not take a great deal of intelligence to understand that Farooq Abdullah is clearly engaging in a customized version of ‘diversionary war tactic’ to divert the undue attention from his party’s failure at removing AFSPA from J&K in spite of being a partner of the ruling coalition in New Delhi. Moreover, liquor and cinema are not the burning problems of today’s Kashmir; there are surely other more pressing issues to be dealt with in Kashmir which his party and government have surely failed in dealing with.

And yet, I maintain that those opposing the ‘re-introduction’ of films and alcohol into the Kashmir valley are fundamentally wrong in their arguments. I realize that this is unlikely to be a popular argument in Kashmir but I believe that my job as a columnist and a University professor is to tell my readers what I think is right and why. So here it is.

Why opponents of cinema and alcohol are wrong

Some critics of the proposed re-introduction of films and liquor in Kashmir have suggested that it is a ploy of the government to push the normalcy argument about Kashmir, i.e., that popular forms of entertainment and free availability of commodities such as liquor will help create an image of Kashmir as a normal place which, consequently, will encourage the government to forget about the political resolution of the Kashmir conflict. This is a flawed argument. Consider this. After the 2008 elections, in which Kashmiris voted in large numbers, many in Srinagar and New Delhi tired to paint a picture of normalcy but the massive uprisings in Kashmir thereafter rendered such arguments about election-induced normalcy in Kashmir completely wrong. This means that trappings of externally-induced normalcy are unlikely to work in Kashmir unless and until the deep political questions are addressed. Same applies to popular forms of entertainment and availability of alcohol. The logical extension of this argument about alcohol and mass entertainment would be that they will somehow interfere with Kashmir’s struggle for azadi. That, in turn, means that the struggle for azadi stands on a very weak foundation. Hence making such arguments will give a bad name to the struggle for azadi.

When Dukhtaran-e-Millat, Hurriyat Conference (G) and Jamaat-e-Islami toe a particular political line, there is every reason to be suspicious. Look at the core argument that they seem to be making: “Kashmir is a Muslim majority state (sic), alcohol and films will hurt Muslim sentiments, encourage unislamic activities and that this is an example of cultural aggression against a muslim majority state.” Let’s face it: these are blatantly communal and majoritarian assertions. This is exactly the kind of arguments that the Hindutwa fascists use in the rest of India against minorities like Muslims since the advocates of Hindutwa speak from a majoritarian standpoint and that, by definition, is a communal position and hence reprehensible. Put simply, should the Indian Muslims accept the Bhagvad-Gita as the official document of the Indian state and Manusmriti as their rule book just because India happens to be a Hindu majority state and the Hindu fundamentalists insist so? No, I guess. In the same way, why would the non-Muslims of Kashmir be asked to abide by Islamic morals?

More so, indeed paradoxically, the Hindu communalists and upholders of the Islamic state in Kashmir are both talking about the need to create a theocratic state as well as the need to purify the society by banning bars, interaction between sexes etc. It would be engaging in plain double-speak when Kashmiri leaders to speak up against Hindu majoritarianism in India and engage in majoritarianism of a different kind in Kashmir.

More importantly, it is necessary to remember that Kashmir’s struggle for azadi is not a religious one; it is a secular, inclusive and political struggle. Hence allowing religious parties and puritan arguments to take over Kashmir’s azadi struggle would be doing a great disservice to the cause of azadi. Indeed, by coloring the struggle for azadi with Islamic formulations Kashmiris will only strengthen those who argue that Kashmir’s struggle is after all a communal one, which, to mind, it is not.

When the sale of alcohol was allowed in Kashmir during the earlier periods, there were kilometers-long queues outside alcohol shops. Were those queues formed by people coming from outside Kashmir? Of course not. That simply means that there are people who want to consume alcohol in Kashmir. Moreover, during all these years when alcohol was not sold in Kashmir, it was never impossible for anyone to get alcohol in the valley. Why deny that reality? Hence, arguing that Kashmiris would not want to have alcohol amounts to hypocrisy and by insisting on an alcohol ban we are helping in the construction of a society of hypocrites.

Moreover, in a liberal society it is impossible and undesirable to decide choices for everyone by using religious arguments or even secular arguments. All that we should do is to educate our children and instill good values in them rather than trying to make choices for them all their lives.

Finally, is it not a ridiculous argument that films represent and promote vulgarity? Some might, but most of them do not. Did 'Inshallah, football' represent vulgarity? Does interaction among sexes promote social degradation? Does the use of facebook/twitter/orkut and internet in general negatively influence people and promote vulgarity in society? They may, or may not. And at the end of the day how a medium is used, for vulgar or decent purposes, depends upon the attitudes of the person.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, 18 December, 2011. URL:

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