A matter of simple decency, or the lack thereof

Note: the following piece was scheduled to appear as a response to Inam ul Rehman’s “DPS in Kashmir: understanding the real mission” article but due to the events of July 8 and the subsequent months, its publication was postponed.

On June 23rd, 2016, an opinion piece titled “DPS in Kashmir: understanding the real mission” by a writer named Inam ul Rehman appeared in Kashmir Dispatch in which the said writer contextualized the DPS Abaya row or issue in a historical and genealogical sense by stating that the founder of DPS along with its management have been and still are on a “mission” to exploit and subjugate a Kashmiri majority by promoting a pro-India hegemonic agenda in their institution. All sorts of citations and references were made to back up arguments and the points were conveyed quiet directly in the piece enough to be debated and disputed if necessary. However, at a certain stage Inam ul Rehman’s pen along with his common sense appeared to get out of hand and venture into language that exceeded even the extreme as he wrote the following:

“While the Brahmin Hindus became stagnated after the 90s, Muslims continue to shine in every field. Look at the difference between Muslim and the Brahmin Hindus–the latter continue to lament the loss of 18 rooms or cool shades of chinar, while the former despite suffering under the highest military occupation in the world are elevating themselves into a great race. The Brahmin Hindus have been parasite exploiter throughout the history and not surprisingly once they are deprived of these environments they cease to grow.”

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In my personal opinion, the aforementioned quote destroyed the basic formulation and thesis of the opinion piece by Rehman as the entire write-up took a seemingly communal turn that is problematic and hard to ignore at multiple levels. In the first place, it became peculiar that the writer refers to DP Dhar not as DP Dhar (as he is commonly known in Kashmir) but as “Durga Prasad Dhar” (so as to emphasize the Hindu first and middle name) and then proceeds to label DP Dhar as a “Kashmiri Brahmin Hindu” instead of simply referring to him as a Pandit or a Kashmiri Pandit, which has always been a standard. After this first reference to a Kashmiri Pandit as “Kashmiri Brahmin Hindu”, later in the remaining parts of the piece, Rehman proceeded to withdraw the “Kashmiri” from the “Brahmin Hindu” and simply referred to the Pandits as “Brahmin Hindus”. One has to wonder why this peculiar use of an appellation?

My observation that Rehman’s piece containing communal and divisive language obviously does not simply come from his use of “Brahmin Hindu” instead of “Kashmiri Pandit”, but rather from the way he states that Pandits have “throughout the history” been “parasite exploiter[s]” who “cease to grow” once “they are deprived of these [Kashmiri] environments” of power and privilege. He not only goes on to make this horrendous allegation but then continues by stating that Kashmiri Muslims are “elevating themselves into a great race”. Again, there are multiple problems with such a statement. Number one, when he refers to a Kashmiri Pandit minority as “parasite exploiter[s]” and a Kashmiri Muslim majority as a “great race”, one cannot but think of Hitler and Nazi Germany and the rhetoric that that genocidal era of European history entailed. Number two, the use of the term “race” is inaccurate as anybody who has been through high school is taught and knows that in terms of race there is only one race, the human race. One can talk of ethnicity as a more precise word, but in the context of Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims even that is problematic as Kashmiris share DNA irrespective of religion, class or creed. So a more appropriate term would have been the word “community” and even the use of such a word would not redeem the horrendous and blatantly resentful and condescending tone of the quote from Rehman’s piece.

Another problem with the said quote by Rehman is the false idea somehow Kashmiri Muslims in a comparative and competitive sense are better off than Kashmiri Pandits who according to the writer have “stagnated after the 90s”. Perhaps the writer must not have many Pandit friends in exile (it has been 26 years, one should certainly make an effort), but if one single thing can be seen as a positive from the year 1990 onwards is that around the major and minor cities of the world, in the most recondite and known places of this planet, there are Kashmiris, many of whom went to such destinations to settle new homes from a point of origin that was a dusky rabidly hot and humid tent in a refugee camp in Jammu, all in a quarter of a century.

G. G. Otto, Der Jude als Weltparasit (The Jew as World Parasite) (Munich: Eher Verlag, 1943).

At the same time, there are Kashmiris who never left Kashmiri since 1990, mainly because they could not and perhaps simply would not, who also traveled the world through academic and professional merit and above all hard work in trying to get an education amidst continuous crackdowns, curfews, hartals, war, conflict, violence and scarce electricity. As such, in a broader sense, there is much to be celebrated in terms of individual and collective accomplishments of Kashmiris as a whole, be they of any religion, class or creed. But the writer of the piece on DPS would have none of that and instead sets Muslims and Pandits against each other as if they were in direct competition with one another, when in fact all Kashmiris are trying to do is to live in a dignified manner in a Kashmir where they do not feel oppressed. Instead there is the “elevated race” reference and the “stagnated” “parasite exploiter[s]” in Rehman’s writing that is acutely troubling. Mind you again that these are Hitler’s words against the Jews where he refers to them as “Jewish virus” (“How many diseases have their origin in the Jewish virus!”, Adolf Hitler). In the September 12, 1938 Speech to Party Congress at Nuremberg, Hitler referring to the Jews says “But now… when the nation is no longer willing to be sucked dry by these parasites, on every side one hears nothing but laments.” So if Inam ul Rehman can call the Kashmiri Pandits as Brahmin Hindus who are “parasite exploiter[s]”, then there should be no issue with me calling Inam ul Rehman “Hitler ul Junior” (since somehow name-calling is apparently acceptable). But then where does this take us? Nowhere concretely pleasant (far from it). So in my view, this type of vitriolic discourse cannot be allowed to roam freely in a public forum, especially in the contemporary world, and that too without contestation and if need be protest, which is primarily the reason I have taken the time to bring this to the attention of readers. Needless to say, this type of rhetoric is parallel to the one Donald Trump is using by equating Mexicans immigrants in the US to rapists and criminals, and American Muslims to potential terrorists.

And then there is that mocking tone in Inam ul Rehman’s piece where he claims that the “stagnated” Pandits, or “Brahmin Hindus”, only “lament the loss of 18 rooms or cool shades of chinar” (the reference to a certain book by a Pandit is there), as if that is all Pandits have been doing for the last 26 years. Again, it would be intellectually therapeutic perhaps for certain writers to make more exiled Pandit friends, or to even reach out to those Pandits who did not have an opportunity to escape from the circumstances of the 90s, to see how much they have progressed regardless of the colossal challenges of being from a war-torn place. Anyone would realize we are not that different after all, that there is no “parasite exploiter[s]” and “elevated race” among ordinary Kashmiris and that we are above all simply people trying to move forward and survive day by day.

As for the institutional critique of DPS and its management regarding the Abaya issue that Inam ul Rehman offers, that is clearly up for debate and can be discussed back and forth through writing and counter-writing, just as any other ongoing issue or topic. But the basic need to respect Kashmiri people and not to propagate divisive, sectarian and communal rhetoric must be countered and exposed for what it is, regardless of the (even opposing) political and ideological inclinations of Kashmiris in the broader spectrum as well as their religious variations, which in my view are completely irrelevant, unless of course like Inam ul Rehman you reduce Kashmiris to a competing “Brahmin Hindu/Kashmiri Muslim” binary. Also, I must add that referring to Kashmiri Pandits as “Brahmin Hindus” instead only allows a certain depersonalization and dispossession of their Kashmiri identity, to create distance, so as to make them appear to be external to Kashmir, when in fact they are as native as anyone born on Kashmiri soil and into a Kashmiri family.

Lastly, a common occurrence in the writings and ideas of some Kashmiris is the ‘universalizing the particular’ syndrome. They grab a particular issue, situation, person or thing and then come up with some master theory or grand narrative as if that particular issue, situation, person, or thing explains some greater whole, system, paradigm, process, trend or totality. In the case of the writer of the piece I am contesting it is no different. It is a classic example of synecdochic fallacy, which by definition “is a deceptive, misleading, erroneous, or false notion, belief, idea, or statement where a part is substituted for a whole, a whole for a part, cause for effect, effect for cause, container for thing contained, and so on”, Weinstock). And the clear case here is to take an Abaya issue and then by blowing it out of proportion reformulate it as the Kashmiri Pandits (in their entirety, as a whole) as “Brahmin Hindus” dispossessed even of their Kashmiri identity, as “parasite exploiter[s]” who thrive in subjugating “the great race” of the Kashmiri Muslims. The same type of synecdochic fallacy is then seen when another part is seen as a whole, a fragment as a totality, when on social media certain Kashmiris then share Inam ul Rehman’s piece, in particular the quote I found troubling, and denounce Kashmiri Muslims as communal, divisive, sectarian, etc. in a ‘see-I-told-you-so’ sort of way, all because one writer chose to frame an issue in a blatantly medieval and asinine way in a failed attempt to present a bigger theoretical picture. All this can be avoided and it requires no master theory, or grand narrative. In fact, it is a matter of simple decency.