A Dedication to Kashmir

While many of us are facing woes about lockdowns and inability to meet loved ones, it is painful to think that much more drastic militarized and blacked-out lockdowns are not uncommon for Kashmiri citizens.

This piece is dedicated to the Kashmiri citizens who bear the brunt of the conflict, who are the most powerless yet the most impacted. The song ‘Aaj Ke Naam’ is adapted from Faiz’s poetry (Intesaab) and translates to “A Dedication”. The part that I have chosen to perform to is dedicated to the widowed women, the motherless children, and the ruined streets.

The full poem and its translation can be found here.

A brief timeline about the Kashmir conflict is linked here, and a more in-depth analysis of the global consequences one year on is linked here.

Kashmir is located in the Northeast region of India and has been subject of dispute between India, Pakistan and China since the subcontinent’s partition in 1947. On 5th August 2019, the Indian government revoked Article 370, which previously gave the Indian-controlled state of Jammu and Kashmir, “special status” for the past seven decades. Article 370 gave Kashmir the right to make its own laws. It is a clause in the Indian constitution that had given Kashmir levels of autonomy that included a sovereign constitution, an independent flag, and liberty on all state matters excluding foreign affairs, defense, and communications.

The revocation of the article by the Indian government has heightened concerns of increased armed conflicts as a result of political and religious tensions between India and Pakistan. measures between the mentioned nations. Human rights organizations around the world have labeled the region as one of the most militarized zones in the world, which is evident today with persistent and frequent clashes along the border.

The decision to revoke the article was made by the governing party, the BJP which has long opposed the article and has called for its abolishment repeatedly including via their 2019 election manifesto. They have cited security concerns, economic rationale, and legislative reasons as motives behind their action. One of the most consequential effects of the Indian government’s recent actions is that it effectively removed the ability of Kashmiri legislatures to form residency rules as well. This means that non-residents are able to purchase property in the region.

Currently, Jammu and Kashmir is the only Indian state with a Muslim majority. Allowing non-residents to own property in the region essentially clears the path for Hindu settlers to create a foothold in the area, which could weigh down on regional demographics and worsen religious tensions. Considering the Hindu nationalism aspects of the BJP, critics of the party are inclined to believe that the party does have religious motives behind their actions.

There are thoughts on whether Kashmir would receive independence, whether war will break out, and ultimately how the citizens of Kashmir will react once the lockdown is eventually lifted. It is important for India and Pakistan to work collaboratively in order to protect the interest and livelihood of the region. Furthermore, international organizations must play a more pressing and firmer role in aiding India and Pakistan to eradicate this violation of human rights. There is no clear answer to what the “right” consensus should be, primarily because there is an abundance of information missing regarding India’s motives, both nation’s intentions and capacity of war, and the reasons behind the sheer lack of obvious communication that needs to occur between all stakeholders involved in the issue.

Eat More Palak (Eid Mubarak)

I have been celebrating Eid for as long as I can remember celebrating Diwali. Every year, on the morning of Eid, I would jump out of bed to wear the shining salwar outfit that my mum had laid out for me. I would sit patiently while she carefully put sparkly butterfly shaped clips in my hair, and then I would grab the box of sweets and make a dash for the door.

First stop, me and my brother would go to Nasim aunty’s house and ring her bell. We would exclaim “eat more palak!” when the door was answered. For quite some time I thought that when everyone was wishing each other “Eid Mubarak”, sounded like they were actually saying “Eat more palak”, and my brother had let me embarrass myself with that for many years while he giggled away.

Next stop, Neeta aunty’s house. By the time we got there to wish her, she had already prepared my favorite biryani and we could smell the fresh waft as we approached her floor travelling up in the elevator. That was enough to get us past our fear of her cat.

To celebrate the Hari Raya holiday in primary school, we would have little workstations with some of the Malay teachers showing us how to make ketupat palm leaf pouches. I loved the colors and it was so exciting to me to bring them home for my mother to proudly hang up outside the house.

These were my simple Eid and Hari Raya traditions that I have followed throughout my childhood. Once I went to California for college, the semester timing always worked out well for me that I would be home for the summer just in time to celebrate with my GuruJi and go to Jawed Uncle’s house for our Eid feast.

This year in May, when there were restrictions on meeting neighbors and relatives for Hari Raya because of COVID-19, I found that something felt very amiss. It was only over the last five years maybe that I really understood what different religions were, how they were celebrated, and what traditions were observed. So, what difference did it make to me, a Hindu Indian-Singaporean, that Eid wasn’t being celebrated in full form this year?

Over the past couple of years, I had been studying South Asian politics, and specifically socio-religious hostilities. I had realized that a lot of my other Hindu-Indian friends did not have Eid as such a big part of their lives as I did. I realized that even to my relatives in India, it wasn’t as big of a deal, despite the national holiday.

Last year I was in India for Eid. Specifically, in Amritsar at the Attari-Wagah India-Pakistan border. That was such an exciting moment for me to be amongst all the hype of the border ceremony and to observe so much patriotism. That was just one week after the revocation of Article 370 in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

I didn’t see any exchange of sweets at the border as per usual customs. Pakistan was celebrating Eid at home with their families and had a comparatively very empty side of citizens to watch the ceremony. I heard shouts from the packed India side commenting on how the “other” side was weak due to less people. I heard boos against each other, and I heard slurs about disputed territory. I saw angry competition rather than neighborly friendship.

Last year on Eid, I felt that my excitement of being so close to the border that my T-Mobile International plan gave me a “Welcome to Pakistan” text, was out of place.

Perhaps growing up outside of India, I don’t fully understand all of this. But it has been something that has bothered me a lot over the past couple of years and something that I feel really strongly about because I wish more of the people that I knew were raised with the same emphasis that my mum raised me with – of loving our neighbors in Singapore and celebrating their festivals with them, and of loving our nation’s neighbors in the South Asian diaspora world.

What I can say though, is that religion or nations aside, a lot of the time we are told at a young age who our enemies are by those higher up, or even by our relatives, without even knowing who those people are. We then grow up to group and divide people by religion, nationality, race, caste, disability or wealth. Meanwhile, those who ride on the power of a fractured society get to paint images in our minds that those who are different from us are difficult to live with peacefully.

We can blame events from almost a century ago, we can ignore these issues completely, and we can pass bitter thoughts onto the next generation. But in that, we choose to put control in the hands of those who thrive off of the marginalization of others. Or, we can choose to make active efforts in unlearning and relearning how our differences should initiate appreciation rather than discrimination.

This year on Eid, me having to tone down celebrations to a socially-distance sweets delivery with a mask on instead of my butterfly clips might not be important. But my heart goes out to those in Kashmir who are separated from loved ones, those who suffered in the Delhi riots, and those who want to celebrate with their loved ones in the “other” group but are expected not to.

Selamat Hari Raya, Eid Mubarak, and eat more palak!

To my Family and Friends of Indian Descent:

I see you speaking up to show solidarity with the black community, and I am proud of you. I see you passionately voicing issues that you feel strongly about, and I am happy that you are doing so. But why is it that it takes outrage in the United States for you to understand the need to address systematic oppression?

Have you asked yourself why this is the case?

The protests upon the death of George Floyd in the United States, and the anti-CAA protests that occurred in India through the winter share some dark parallels. Both revolved around the killing of minority groups, both suffered from police brutality, and both had state-ordered military deployment to put down protestors. Videos and images from India were also widely circulated but did not seem to spark the same level of pain.

Like racism in the United States, islamophobia, caste violence, and queer-phobia are prevalent in India as institutionalised flaws. Systematic oppression is deeply rooted in India’s colonial history and exists today in 2020 because of the enablement of its citizens.

When you repost valuable resources on your social media, participate in blackouts, and hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, your solidarity is greatly needed and appreciated. But where is this same level of activism when your voice, understanding, and awareness is required for your fellow Indian citizens with no voices? Why was it so convenient to overlook the Indian Parliament passing an act that banned millions of Muslims from their homes in India, the silencing of Kashmiri citizens, and the brutal killings of protesting students?

How did you manage to unintentionally play into this hypocrisy?

Urban India has an infatuation with Western life and pop culture. For our entire lives we have fed into the idea of assimilating as much as possible into a Western world, because that defines social success in comparison to our own poverty-stricken communities. Without even realising, we dismiss the mirroring events in India because it has been embedded that “these things happen in India”. With that thought process, we ourselves justify oppression by staying rooted in the colonial thought of South Asian communities being backwards communities.

How did you become an oppressor?

There is a simple answer. Being in a position where you have a personal inclination to comment on the Black Lives Matter movement because you have either attended university in the United States, you have friends in the United States, or your go-to news sources are full of the events in the United States, is a position of high privilege.

It means that you received higher education, have had access to an international community, and that the events of the Western world are the most relevant to your life.

It means that you are most likely not on the blood-stained end of the stick that beats minorities on the streets of India. It means that you are not threatened by islamophobia, queer-phobia and the caste system in India. It means that in most cases, neither are the people in your close circles.

As people of colour in the United States, we experience life as minorities and as outsiders. We then fail to remember these same experiences when we find ourselves high up on the social scale in our Indian communities. Speaking as a middle minority does not directly interfere with your own lived privilege. It is less threatening to stand in solidarity when you can be distanced from the role of perpetrating oppression.

It is easy for us to participate in being the oppressors, if not by directly perpetrating violence, then by standing by and watching it.

When I was deeply disturbed about the events of Kashmir last August, angry about the police brutality upon students protesting against CAA in December, and completely torn up about the religious riots on the streets of Delhi in February, I did not find very many South Asian peers to share my thoughts and concerns with. I noticed a deafening silence, an embarrassing sense of unawareness instead, and a lacking sense of urgency to understand the problem.

Today, being aware of, posting about, and speaking up about the #BlackLivesMatter movement makes you a part of a modern Western world. We need to make sure that we do not fall victim to double-standards, performative activism and the appropriation of cultural movements. Convenience cannot be a factor when choosing to stand against discrimination.

This is not written to make you feel guilty, but rather as a wake-up call to the western-centric world that we have been raised to prioritise. I have not written this to call you out, but rather from a place of love. I hope that you continue to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and I request that you please share that same passion with addressing injustices at your own doorstep. If you don’t, nobody else will.