The blinding spiral in Kashmir

THE murderous attack on Indian soldiers in Uri offers one more sample of the bloodthirst infusing India-Pakistan rivalry over Kashmir. No one seems to want the simpler, obvious ways to tackle the tendency. There were resolutions between the two sides, at the highest level, no less, that aimed to undermine terrorism completely.

Was it Manmohan Singh and Musharraf, or was it Vajpayee, who signed the pact to not let terrorism stall the dialogue between the two countries? Both sides opted out of that resolve and now the terrorists who are setting the agenda are leading both. And terrorists traditionally pander to an old structural malaise stalking us from the beginning of society.

Far from being nonviolent, our early ancestors, in all probability were cannibals. Our language too, as Prof Kailash Nath Kaul would say, reflects the fact. The Old Testament decreed an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Jesus subsequently softened God’s command. He advised offering the other cheek. Gandhi favoured the dictum as much as he could, but the extremist Hindus for all their loathing of the Christian faith settled for the Old Testament.

Thus it was not a surprising reaction to the terror attack that came from Ram Madhav, an RSS-loaned trouble-shooter for the Hindutva establishment in Delhi. He promptly called for a jaw for each tooth, whatever that means in a region crawling with nuclear weapons. The formulation sounds bewildering though familiar. A previous advocate of Hindutva had used a similar phrase apropos of an attack that actually took place a day after he published the maximum ratio of revenge in the Indian Express. Read Arun Shourie’s prescient piece on how to deal with Muslim terror. His demand was more ambitious than Madhav’s: two eyes for an eye, and a whole jaw for a tooth. The parliament attack came a day after the thesis was published. Intriguing.

For all the flaunting of Mahatma Gandhi’s name, India has revealed a gargantuan appetite for inflicting violence.

In Urdu-Hindi idioms, Professor Kaul’s argument is clear. I shall drink your blood and eat your flesh if you annoy me. Tera khoon pi jaaonga. Tujhe kachcha chaba jaaoonga. If you want to thwart someone’s irritating persistence, you have a cannibalistic reprimand. Mera bheja mat khao, or don’t chew my brains. Prof Kaul was a man of science and had set up India’s premier botanical gardens in Lucknow. With Jawaharlal Nehru for a brother-in-law, he had engaging political insights. Yet he was essentially a masterly raconteur. Languages evolve from our social experiences, he would say. They are thus one more proof of our gory past, and in clear ways the present too.

People have cited religious texts to inflict barbarism be it as the Crusaders or the Jewish Haganah or Muslim conquerors. As luck would have it, people have used the same method to critique the barbarians too.

The Taliban and the so-called militant Islamic State group have revelled in beheading their rivals in recent days. There were gory images of militants eating the bleeding heart of a Syrian soldier they had just killed.

In Kashmir, a shadowy group called Al Faran decapitated a Norwegian hostage in the mid-1990s at the start of a violent upsurge against India. It has been suggested that Al Faran’s brutality came handy for India, which went to town against the entire Kashmiri resistance as a reckless enterprise. The event may have signalled the shift from early Western support to the resistance. Pakistani and Indian soldiers have been accused of cutting off each other’s heads as trophies. British soldiers did much the same with Malayan communists.

For all the flaunting of Mahatma Gandhi’s name to appear in public view as a nonviolent polity, independent India has revealed a gargantuan appetite for inflicting violence, most of all on its own people. Doodh mangogey to kheer denge. Kashmir mangogey to cheer dengey. (You ask for milk, I’ll give you pudding. You ask for Kashmir I’ll rip you apart.)

The aphorism, carried often enough on the back of auto rickshaws and private cars could not have been addressed to the chief sponsor of Kashmir’s independence quest, the nuclear-armed Pakistan. There have been severe reprisals, on the other hand, on the common Kashmiris, the assaults not far removed from the scriptural dictums. Many have been blinded for throwing stones at Indian troopers, a new way to look at the eye for an eye bloodthirst. Far more have been killed, however, on both sides, mostly the civilians, in a spiral laced with mistrust and accusations in recent decades.

While Indian leftists have condemned the murderous attack in which at least 17 soldiers perished, they have urged the government to not submit to those seeking to subvert prospects of dialogue between the “stakeholders” in Kashmir.

Most others have indented for unspecified action, not always in a veiled way, against Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has declared that the culprits will be hunted down. His advisers seem to favour a cross-border raid. That’s what Israel does with neighbours it doesn’t like. But they have no nuclear weapons. Those sceptical of the Modi government believe the tragedy that befell the hapless soldiers in Kashmir serves Delhi’s agenda and that of the militant groups it accuses of staging such attacks. Will voters in Punjab swing BJP’s way with the militarist rhetoric? Significantly, The Telegraph of Kolkata reported how the US feared something like Uri happening with both sides jostling for attention at the UN and Non-Aligned meetings. Now they are accusing each other of being the villain of the piece.

History wears tragic and farcical garbs. What could be more ironical in this tragedy of the tooth and the jaw than the story of the man who authored the current spiral in Kashmir? His denouement was imprinted in the DNA of the jaw after his plane exploded with a crateful of mangoes.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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