The othering of Kashmiris in mainstream discourse is vital to suppressing their self-determination.
During the introduction of a day-long seminar held at SOAS, the University of London titled “Resisting Fascism building Solidarities: India: Kashmir and beyond” five masked individuals forced their way into the room where the event was being held, aggressively shouting “gay for J&K!”.
The “protestors” intended to brandish anyone present at the event speaking against the occupation of Kashmir, the amendment of Article 370 and the ongoing 60-day-long siege in Kashmir, as the 'Regressive Left' and homophobic with links to what they call 'Islamists' who want to persecute the LGBTQ+ community.
This event is a great example of why it is essential to examine how many Indians manipulate language to control perceptions surrounding challenges to its authority in Kashmir. Kashmir is stereotypically portrayed as an issue of anti-Hindu violence triggered by radical Islamisation.
At the international level, are we now witnessing the emergence of a coercive sexual politics on Kashmir? Something similar to the pinkwashing and racist stereotyping of Arabs by Israelis to imply that Israelis are “civilised” whereas Arabs or Muslims and their supporters are violently homophobic? Substitute Indians for Israelis and Kashmiris for Arabs above, and you get the point.
In the case of Kashmir, this position is neither substantiated in law nor political history.
On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India decriminalised sexual relations between consenting adults by decriminalising section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
Within a day of this judgment, the Times of India published a poorly researched claim that the LGBT community will have to wait for decriminalisation in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) since this judgment did not extend to J&K as the state had its constitution and legal system.
The report also made unsubstantiated claims of Kashmir’s “religious and cultural orthodoxy” and “Islamist militancy”. Such terms have become increasingly interwoven into the language used by India to describe Kashmir since it gives India ostensible ‘superiority’ to inflict war not just on the aberrant Kashmiri subject but also on the presumed moral directives of Islam.
Such a narrative seeks to paint Kashmiris as people who require subordination for emancipation, thereby justifying coercive and oppressive policies and actions. Most importantly, the narrative is based on an incorrect position of law.
Position of law
The Constitution of India envisages that the law declared by the Supreme Court of India shall be binding on all courts within the territorial control of India, including courts in Jammu & Kashmir. The J&K High Court has already pronounced this position after the 1995 case of Jankar Singh vs State And Ors.
Legal experts such as former chief justice of J&K High Court Bashir Ahmad Khan and former J&K high court judge Justice Hasnain Masoodi have already opined that the Indian Supreme Court’s judgment on decriminalising homosexuality is already implementable in Jammu & Kashmir.
Evidently, the masked persons who barged in to disrupt the event at SOAS seemed especially pained over a position of law that does not exist. In any case, even if they feel that any law in Kashmir is discriminatory, they are free to file a petition before the relevant court to have an order passed to this effect.
It is pertinent to note that BJP leaders like Subramanyam Swamy, Yogi Adityanath, Rajnath Singh and Ram Madhav have openly made homophobic remarks and even the Indian government made its stance on the matter official at the UN.
As speakers at the SOAS University reiterated, the track record of the Hindu Right is regressive when it comes to rights for women as well as sexual minorities.
The instrumentalisation of queer rights by Indians is the exploitation of LGBTQ+ identity to pinkwash a systemic and structural denial of Kashmiri rights while being oblivious to India’s toxic masculinity and homophobia.
This is a form of violence against Kashmiris to render progressive voices invisible and normalise the imposition of brutal oppression which subjugates all Kashmiris, including those who are queer.
It seems that some Indians are attempting to appear progressive, modern and tolerant by posturing a Hindu nationalist ruled India as gay-friendly – supposedly unlike Kashmir. This is quite reminiscent of 2005, when American marketing executives helped the Israeli government launch a marketing campaign, “Brand Israel,” to depict Israel as “modern” by harnessing the LGBTQ+ identities to reposition its global image.
In 2011, the Israeli Government was accused of advertising and exaggerating its record on LGBTQ+ rights “to cover up on-going human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Even if one were to incorrectly assume that India’s LGBTQ+ policies are more progressive than Kashmir’s, India’s violation of human rights and illegal annexation of Kashmir cannot be ignored. And specifically with respect to justifying the amendment of article 370, there is also a logical fallacy in defending freedom for one oppressed group by taking it away from another.
The rights of marginalised people should not be used as a bargaining chip - they cannot be ensured to anyone by suspending them to another group. No one will deny that homophobia is real in Kashmir as it is in India and many other countries, despite decriminalisation. The struggle is to speak for the rights of all and not to pit one against another.
Borrowing from the concepts elaborated by Judith Butler in her writing on sexual politics, it can be said that India’s “civilisational mission” in Kashmir implies that India has now undergone modernisation and is thus qualified for democratic deliberation on behalf of the supposedly regressive Kashmiris.
This discourse is on the verge of articulating a differential value of Kashmiri lives since these lives are a threat to the rational, modern Indian whose life is precious, worthy of public grief and thus necessitates safeguarding against the violently homophobic Kashmiri.
From such a perspective, it naturally follows that the destruction of Kashmiri populations, infrastructure and thought process, is merely the destruction of the irrational and regressive mind that threatens India’s emerging modernity.
No liberation needed
The future for Kashmir lies in secular and progressive politics that began with the Naya Kashmir manifesto in 1944 and was abruptly ended in 1953 with the arrest of Kashmir’s prime minister and members of his cabinet.
If given a chance to re-assert itself without interference from the nation-states that surround it, the arc of Kashmiri political thought will always bend towards progressive positions that stand for all oppressed communities including those who are LGBTQ+.
India, with its entrenched caste system, Hindu chauvinism, misogyny and systemic homophobia, in addition to being a denier of rights of Kashmiri people, cannot pass itself off as liberator of anyone.
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