Kashmir as an allegory of pathological minorityism – Valson Thampu

Kashmiri youth displaying ISIS flags in Srinagar

Rev. Valson ThampuThe plight of religious minorities in India is a silent tragedy of vast human collectives being kept manipulated, brainwashed, backward and barricaded from the national mainstream. … I plead with the members of minority communities to emerge from their infantile tutelage to communal leaders who have a vested interest in keeping them fed on emotive, antiquated agendas and obsessions. – Rev. Valson Thampu

Between the response, broadly speaking, of the rest of India and that of the people of the Valley, to the present Kashmir gamble, there is a complete discontinuity.

When an action taken in apparent hostility to a religious minority group finds wide national endorsement, it should make members of that community, as also of other communities similarly placed, sit and reckon what it signals.

“The strength of my community,” a senior Muslim leader told me some fifteen years ago, “is that when it comes to religion, they do not think.” Developments one after another prove that this is not a strength but a terrible weakness. Those who keep their community’s thinking paralysed are wolves, even if they parade themselves in sheep’s clothing.

A religious minority, wrote Hilaire Belloc (The Jews, 1922), is apt to be perceived as a foreign body in an organism. If we would keep aside idealistic myths and notions and look reality in the face, we would agree with Belloc.

Given the problematic dynamics of majority-minority relationships, which get aggravated in tune with ongoing political power struggles, there are only three models, according to Belloc, for dealing with it: (a) extermination of minorities, say, after the fashion of Hitler (b) their exclusion, as the Jews suffered in most European societies, and (c) the coexistence of the majority and minorities in a state of tolerant acceptance of each other, which is the ideal.

The last of the three calls for adjustments from both parties. In a democracy, minorities should not, even if they legally can, live like ‘a stone in the midst of a flowing stream’ (W B Yeats).

The majority, on its part, should not treat a minority, emboldened by unbridled state power, like a mass of people to be directed and driven at will. Wholesome majority-minority coexistence is vital to constitutional, secular democracy in a religiously pluralist society. The alternative is majoritarian communalism fuelling fascism.

Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Union of India. Separatists apart, this position is axiomatic even for mainstream Kashmiri politicians, including the now maligned members of “three families”.  No self-respecting state will entertain separatists.

A state is not a saintly entity. Unlike moralists, no political thinker anywhere in the world maintains that a state should forgive a domestic agent or foreign country that destabilises its national interests or hurts its territorial integrity.

I am a Christian and I believe that enemies must be loved as mandated by biblical ethics; but I am realistic enough to know, and accept, that politics is a domain in which enemies are, if possible, eliminated. Those who maintain otherwise are wilfully blind to historical realities.

Well, what about religions? There is no religious community, including mine, that deals with freethinkers and heretics with forbearance and charity. Separatists are political heretics. Certainly so, from the perspective of the state, which is what matters in the present instance.

The Kashmir policy of the government is not an accidental outbreak, but the outcome of an electoral process in which 900 million citizens endorsed, by majority opinion, a genre of statecraft and a certain style of doing politics.

In a democracy it must prevail, even if several of the agendas pursued and the strategies adopted happen to disquiet individual citizens.

Leaving aside speculation regarding how the Kashmir gambit will play out, there is one issue that it foregrounds. That issue has ramifications for the country as a whole. Can a minority religious community seek to preserve and advocate its identity and interests in indifference to national sensitivities?

Or, can a religious minority exist as an end in itself, indifferent to the dynamics of a religiously pluralist body politic, selectively invoking the provisions of its secular constitution? If it chooses to, should it justify that option and what it entails on the plea that the majority community also does likewise?

Is it even spiritually defensible for a religious community—minority or majority—to exist only for itself, unmindful of the national totality from which it derives its rights and national identity? Isn’t spirituality, after all, a point of convergence of the political and the religious?

Religious communities have, in varying degrees, failed in this respect and done themselves and the country serious disservice over a period of time. The reason for this is fairly obvious.

Members of minority communities allow themselves to be herded together, used and politically abused by their self-seeking, feudalistic leaders who care only for the enlargement of their influence and affluence.

The plight of religious minorities in India is a silent tragedy of vast human collectives being kept manipulated, brainwashed, backward and barricaded from the national mainstream.

This has two regrettable outcomes: under-development of religious minorities (Parsis excepted), and their growing alienation and forfeiture of goodwill. The plight of average Kashmiris is not going to improve even if the autonomy they are made to die for is granted to them.

Nor is it going to be degraded any further than it already is, on account of the statehood of J&K being compromised. On the mainstream side of the divide, the national security environment is not going to be healed by the measures now undertaken. Other than sentimental highs or lows, life will remain the same for most people.

The interests of a handful could gain.

I plead with the members of minority communities to emerge from their infantile tutelage to communal leaders who have a vested interest in keeping them fed on emotive, antiquated agendas and obsessions. They need to be, if they have any common sense, as selfish for their own good as their leaders are for their own gains in inciting them the way they do.

As a rule, leaders don’t suffer; they only gain, no matter what happens. Being used as tools is detrimental to human dignity. Fools, in public life, are human beings who allow themselves to be used as tools. It doesn’t matter who, or in which camp, they are.

Fools exclude themselves from goodwill; religious fools most of all. – The New Indian Express, 18 August 2019

Rev. Valson Thampu is a CNI Christian theologian and former principal of St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi.

Modi-Kashmir Cartoon