Indian empire and its ideologues: A response to Ashis Nandy

By Amit Kumar for

Sanjay Subrahmanyam once wrote about Ashis Nandy as being ‘dazzling clever as he is tiresomely repetitive and profoundly ill-informed… Armed with blissful innocence, he can then brilliantly develop paradox after paradox.’ Subrahmanyam ended his piece with calling Nandy as ‘our only true colonial thinker’. In a different time and in an absolutely different context, Nandy has again shown his ignorance and his ‘colonial mentality’ by picking up his pen to think and write about the current assertion of Kashmiris for Azaadi. His ideas and assertions I will highlight below are deeply flawed as they were when he discussed ‘Secularism’ in Indian context.

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Nandy, in his recent article on Kashmir in Outlook starts his analysis by comparing current Kashmir situation, with that of Palestine. In both cases he asserts teenagers pelt stones and state and its machinery is busy dubbing these protestors as ‘terrorists’. So far so good. Nothing objectionable here. Later he goes on to assert that Kashmiri elite which doesn’t support ‘terrorism’ is saddened by the ‘cruelty and the surplus violence that our politicians and army have produced.’

Oxford dictionary defines ‘surplus’ as ‘an amount of something left over when requirements have been met; an excess of production or supply’. That way ‘surplus violence’ will mean something more than required or violence which is ‘in excess’. So is this great Indian scholar saying that a certain amount of ‘violence’ is necessary and its problematic only when it’s in ‘excess’ or when the requirement of the Indian nation-state is met i.e. when a Kashmiri is finally maimed, raped, repressed to such an extent that he/she decides to join India?

Journalists covering protest in Downtown area of Srinagar (Photo by_ Raqib Hameed Naik).JPG

After justifying ‘just violence’ of the state, Nandy creates another dichotomy of militants on one sides and Army-police on another side. For him Kashmiri community is caught in between the two warring factions. What a tribute to the ‘agency of subalterns’! Reminds me of that old imperial school of thought which systematically denied ‘agency’ to the ‘colonial subjects’, and always portrayed them as voiceless, immobile subjects manipulated by the bourgeois nationalist leadership.

To then further stretch argument of Sanjay Subrahmanyam the question becomes, Is Kashmir an Indian colony and Ashis Nandy the ‘imperial ideologue’ defending the Indian empire by rendering Kashmiri assertion of Azaadi as manipulation of few indigenous elites. If it is so, Nandy should not feel alone, there are many from the great Indian elite circus from Tavleen Singh to Swapan Dasgupta doing the same.

Nandy also is at pains for what Indian army is doing in Kashmir. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t worried much about the death toll in Kashmir, or about those who are blinded forever by the pellet injurious. (He makes a fleeting reference to the pellet bullets that have blinded more than fifty teenagers in Kashmir). Rather his heart bleeds for the ‘credibility and image of Indian army’ and it irks him so much that Indian army is finally ‘apologetic’. He is sincerely worried about all this and very innocently argues, ‘we shall soon find out that we have paid a heavy price, internationally and in India itself, by trying to emulate Israel.’ Who is ‘we’ in this assertion? Why should a scholar who never gets tired of criticizing ‘nation-state’ align himself with a murderous history of Indian nation-state? Is Nandy then a closet ‘nationalist’ critiquing nation-state because it sells or because it is glamorous these days? Whatever way one may take it; I don’t think many radical movements within India despite sharing the same national boundaries as Nandy does associate with this ‘we’ – the upper caste masculine nation-state. It will be hard to assume that Ashis Nandy has not heard about the long history of ‘Pledge of Resistance’ started by leading American intellectuals against the ‘American war on terror’. It read something like this, ‘We believe that as people living in the United States it is our responsibility to resist the injustices done by our government, in our names… Not in our name will you wage endless war’.

There are many within India who hold this position and they not only dissociate themselves from the actions of the Indian army and Indian state, but severely criticize both these entities from streets to universities. But love for someone/something is hard to hide. The thick jargon coated veil which Nandy has always used to hide his love for Indian army and Indian state is finally slipping. The emperor is naked!

This convoluted understanding of Kashmir which Ashis Nandy shares with majority of his countrymen emerges from a more horrible understanding of Kashmir history. For Nandy the date of the present crisis in Kashmir is from the time when ‘New Delhi cleverly began to nibble at Kashmir’s autonomy.’ Can someone please give him a good history book on Kashmir to read! Can someone tell him that historians of Kashmir trace the alienation of Kashmiris back to the sale of Kashmir to the Dogra Maharaja in 1846. Has he heard of something like ‘Treaty of Amritsar’? I am seriously curious to know. Anyway history was never his forte as Subrahmanyam had noted long back. But it does not stop him from garnering some facts to get an authenticity for his verbal diarrhea.

Of all people he quotes a former police officer K.F Rustamji who started his career as a British colonial officer and a Times of India journalist who was also a sympathizer of Hindu Nationalism. He remembers them telling him how much popularity Indian Army had among Kashmiris around 1948 and how Kashmiris are ‘difficult people to live with’. Had Ashis Nandy ever had a conversation about Indian Army with anyone from my grandfather’s generation he would not have made such a grandiose claim and would have seriously questioned what Rustamji had informed him about. Also had he often met Kashmiris he would not have taken the role of ‘colonial judge’ to call Kashmiris – whose homes and fields have been trampled by the jackboots of Indian Army – as cussed. I don’t know what Indian intellectuals expect Kashmiris to do. The Indian state can go on killing, raping and torturing Kashmiris and Kashmiris are expected to welcome their killers with open arms. This absurd logic betrays all levels of humility and shame.

As someone who by ‘forced circumstances’ is a part of Indian academia, I take it upon myself to make a few suggestions to my fellow colleagues. First suggestion will be to stop writing these absurd, derogatory and vile commentaries about Kashmir. In order to sound very humane and radical intellectual, you endlessly keep exposing your latent ‘Indian empire project’. Your articles and commentaries put in shame those colleagues of yours and mine who have much more important and genuine ideas and critiques to offer to the Kashmiri movement. Second, if you have an intense urge to tick one more progressive box and write or say something about Kashmir – which of course no Kashmiri will stop you to – then you need to go back to the basic lessons of research. Revising your own yellow colored notes on ‘research methodologies’ won’t be a bad idea.

As someone like M.N. Srinivas or contemporary James C. Scott would have told you, please spend a couple of years in the field, listen, learn and assimilate. After two years of ‘field work’ I am sure your palace of dubious assertions will crumble and you will some new found truth. You may still not able to appreciate what Kashmiri movement is about, but still you will be readable. Lastly if you are not ready to devote some serious time to understand Kashmir, better go back to your ‘intimate enemy’ and look for your ‘losses and recoveries’ there.

Let Kashmiris talk and write their own stories.

The author is a Doctoral candidate at the Department of History, Delhi University