Saturday, July 6, 2013

Many shades of truth



The problem with looking for truths is not that you may not find them, but that there are too many to choose from. That’s why if you want to be careful, you should refer to them as discourses or narratives rather than truths. These narratives and discourses, in a fundamental sense, structure human societies for the character and nature of societies are also defined by what they talk, debate and ultimately consider as truths. Societies have meta-narratives and minor narratives with a clear hierarchy among them. Often, and sadly so, those sections of the society which lose out in this battle of ideas tend to suffer, in some societies more than in others. The Kashmir conflict is also, in a certain sense, a battle of ideas, of varying definitions of nationalism and political destinies. Through today’s column, I wish to explore some of those narratives about Kashmir and the subtexts within them using the selection of Parvez Rasool into the Indian cricket team as a central reference point.

The ‘feel-good’ story of Parvez Rasool
Indian media is celebrating the ‘feel-good’ story of the selection of Parvez Rasool, the first Kashmiri cricket player (born and brought up in Kashmir), into the Indian squad. How this “son of a shop owner”, coming from “humble origins” in Kashmir where there are hardly any state-of-the-art cricketing facilities, has finally made it. Even the fact that the Bangalore police had once detained him, making a claim as bizarre as “Though we have not found any explosives in the bag, we suspect that some residue of explosive material may be in it as the bag may have been used in the past for carrying such materials elsewhere”, is being seen as the triumph of the youngster against all odds and, of course, how justice-conscious the Bangalore police is for letting him go after finding no evidence against him!

The subtext
This larger narrative about the selection of Rasool into the Indian team shouldn’t prevent us from ignoring the subtext of the story, less visible and even less attractive to the mainstream Indian media that it may be. The structuring of this narrative would have us believe that Rasool’s detention by the Bangalore police was an exception and he came out with flying colours from this agnipariksha! Rasool is one of the few Kashmiri youngsters who have survived the deep-seated prejudice and bias that most Kashmiri Muslims face in many Indian cities. 

Indeed, news reports quoted Rasool say after his selection “I had to prove that I am a cricketer and not a terrorist, which I had to show with my bat.” The onus, in other words, is on the Kashmiri to prove he is not a terrorist but someone concerned with doing his/her studies, business etc. And each one of them is seen as guilty until proven otherwise. Our media, our narratives and our criminal justice system have ingrained this metanarrative about Kashmiris as the standard operating principle in dealing with them. Having been working in New Delhi for many years, I often come across Kashmiri youngsters who share their tales of ‘encountering India’, of having to prove their innocence, of having to get ‘responsible people’ vouch for their character. Unfortunately, not every Kashmir gets a chance to play for the Indian cricket team to prove that he is not a terrorist, and hence is under a constant cloud of suspicion. This subtext of the story about Rasool’s entry into the Indian cricket team, for many Kashmiri youngsters, is the real story. A story that plays out in their daily lives.

And the other story in Kashmir Two Kashmiri youngsters were killed on the 30th of June this year when the 13th battalion of the Rashtriya Rifles fired at them in the Bandipora district of Kashmir. It was not even covered most Indian newspapers unlike the news of army men getting killed in Srinagar by militants on the eve of the Prime Minister’s visit to the Kashmir valley. The NC-Congress government in Srinagar is outraged at the killing, the J&K police have filed an FIR, and the Indian army has ordered an inquiry into the incident, as usual. The dead are dead and will be forgotten soon but no one believes that those responsible will be prosecuted, let alone awarded punishment for manslaughter. Of course, Kashmiris are happy about Rasool’s selection into the Indian team and are celebrating, but then that’s just an occasional distraction from the ordinary Kashmiri’s daily struggle for civilized existence, without humiliation.

The final story
In the previous story, Indian army was the villain and the J&K government was the savior and the saint. The narrative changes and ‘truth’ becomes complicated when you look closely at Kashmir and start asking further questions. Consider this: J&K police flouts all notions of justice when it arrests Kashmiri minors for petty (alleged) ‘crimes’, impose the dreaded Public Safety Act, and throw them behind bars for prolonged periods, away from their families, at a point of time in their lives when these children should be with their parents, at home. A report “Juveniles of Jammu and Kashmir: Unequal before the law & denied justice in custody”, published by the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights describes chilling details of how minors are often thrown into prisons by J&K police.  The villain in this story is the savior form the previous story. 

Parvez Rasool is lucky: the Bangalore police spared him as no one had plated any explosives in his bag at the Chinnaswamy stadium. He was not shot by the security forces in Kashmir for some petty crime nor was he thrown into the KotBalwal jail during his school days for throwing stones at policemen. Not every Kashmiri youngster is that lucky. 
(Source: Greater Kashmir, July 7, 2013. URL: )

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