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Response to ‘Call for a balanced narrative’: A no-nonsense narrative on Kashmir

By Daanish Sheikh     10/29/19 9:12pm

Three weeks ago, President Donald Trump attended Houston’s “Howdy, Modi!” event at NRG Stadium to advocate for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration in India behind the facade of cultural celebration. Yet, outside the stadium, thousands of people of every race, religion, age, family background and political affiliation stood in the blistering heat to protest Modi’s administration and policy towards Kashmir. With a protesting body that diverse, it is a gross misrepresentation to represent the protest as focusing solely on the abrogation of Article 370, the subject of the opinion piece “Call for a balanced narrative on Kashmir”. The opinion piece is anything but balanced, so let’s take some time to analyze the causes and implications of the protest.

Let’s start with Modi, the epicenter of controversy surrounding the event. Representing the Bharatiya Janata Party, which holds an overwhelming majority of seats in both of India’s legislative bodies, Modi has indeed championed health and sanitation in rural India and supported initiatives that could be considered environmentally progressive. Yet, despite the minuscule benefits of Modi’s reign, the defining characteristic of his administration is the principle of “Hindutva”, a primary tenet of the BJP’s political platform that is best described as Hindu nationalism. With policies such as constructing a temple on the ruins of the Babri mosque razed to the ground in mass anti-Muslim riots during the early 1990s, it’s no wonder that news outlets ranging from the BBC to Time report a massive increase in hate crimes against Muslims since Modi took power.

As it turns out, this is just the tip of the iceberg. While Chief Minister (similar to an American state governor) of Gujarat, Modi remained complicit during the 2002 Gujurat riots and during a surge of anti-Muslim violence that led to the deaths of thousands and displacement of hundreds of thousands. Now with Modi as prime minister, discrimination has become codified. A few months ago, the BJP instituted a mass citizenship check in the Indian state of Assam that aimed to deport Indians who cannot prove citizenship, primarily targeting Muslims. The abrogation of Article 370 opens the door for the same forms of religious persecution to take place in Kashmir.

It seems obvious why we as Rice students should have an issue with Modi’s government, even before considering the question of Kashmir. Despite the multitudes of homicides, gang rapes, cripplings and forced expulsions throughout India (that Kashmir is now at risk for), abrogation itself remains contentious. Cutting down to the basics of the question, the abrogation of Article 370 without the consent of the majority in Kashmir is a clear violation of democracy, the imprisonment of Kashmiri intellectuals is a clear violation of human rights and the blackout of communications across the state is a clear violation of basic personal freedoms. If anything can be agreed upon, it is that the sudden annexation of Kashmir is indicative of a dangerous government with unchecked power. The fact remains that benefits brought about by abrogation were not the intended effects of the policy; the same benefits could have been achieved hundreds of other ways.

And how significant are the benefits that come out of abrogation? Although abrogation coincidentally does dispose of a certain discriminatory law, it’s hard to believe the argument that annexation by India will help Kashmiri women, especially seeing that India, infamous for female infanticide, child marriage, marginalization, and every type of abuse, remains the worst place to be a woman among G-20 nations. Opposing abrogation isn’t supporting the oppression of women, but advocating for a government that continually fails to rectify this problem might be.

On the subject of Kashmiri Pandits, let me express my unconditional sympathy for the victims of ethnic cleansing. I had the opportunity to listen to the story of a Kashmiri Pandit last week at the South Asian Society Town Hall regarding the Modi-Trump rally and was incredibly moved. By no means was the killing of Kashmiri Pandits justified, and I offer my condolences to any member of the Rice community who was personally affected. At the same time, I would like to emphasize that the elimination of Kashmiri autonomy is not the solution. The problem would be better addressed by specifically combating the few extremists in the region who were responsible for said killings.

As a Rice community, we need to take a moment to recognize the validity of the protests at the Modi-Trump rally. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs regarding abrogation, the current Indian government remains an oppressive regime that has shown its capability for the persecution of Muslims. As staunch believers in human rights and democracy, it’s time we take a stance against Modi’s administration.

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