By Somok Roy
Recently, India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) made some changes in the Political Science textbook prescribed for students in the final year of high school. The revised textbook, Politics in India Since Independence, has been made available online, and its publication coincides with a 30% syllabus reduction decreed by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) as a relief measure in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although introduced as a one-time measure, it is interesting to note that themes like citizenship, secularism, and nationalism have been dropped from the Political Science curriculum. Such an effacement cannot be called random or indiscriminate, especially in a climate of heightened majoritarian violence, administrative indifference and parliamentary assaults on the marginalised in the country – migrant workers, Muslims, Dalits and indigenous peoples, just to name a few, and miss many other ‘categories’. Of the many sections revised in the textbook, is a chapter called ‘Regional Aspirations,’ outlining the trajectories of autonomous political aspirations in the regions. Certainly, this is an awkward section to write from the perspective of the sovereign nation-state, at a time when the seams in its national fabric seem to have matured into wounds. The unrevised textbook was also produced under the surveillant eye of the ruling centre, but it did not blatantly invisibilise the ‘view from the edge’. The said chapter gives an account of the many ‘areas of tension’ in the Indian nation-state, including Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Assam. Here, we shall look at the writing and rewriting of the conflict in the valley of Kashmir, and how statist metanarratives obscure the everyday experience of the political in the valley.
The revised section on Jammu and Kashmir begins with a statement on the former special status of the state guaranteed by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution – “However, in spite of it, Jammu and Kashmir experienced violence, crossborder terrorism and political instability with internal and external ramifications.” Prior to a substantial discussion on the nature of autonomy that Article 370 guaranteed in theory, or its historical contingency, its futility is spelt out for the students. While terrorism has been qualified as ‘crossborder’, and thus facilitated by entities outside the national community, we are not told about the nature of violence that the people experience. In clubbing violence with cross border terrorism, violence is reduced to a generalised homogeneity, activated through the agency of those outside the national community. However, the archive of the Kashmiri body would tell a different, more complex story. We are told that many lives are lost, including those of “innocent civilians, security personnel and militants.” While ‘security forces’ and ‘militants’ appear without any qualification, the prefix ‘innocent’ before citizens leaves us with the assumption that there are those who are not innocent, perhaps the recalcitrant ones, the ‘condemned bodies’ that exist outside the economy of lament. This is followed by an acknowledgement that there was a large-scale displacement of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley, and there is no explanation for the reasons behind this displacement in the entire chapter, which is rather unexpected from a regime that is so committed to the repatriation of the Pandits to the valley. The reduction of the trauma and suffering of the exiled Pandit community to a sigillum for instrumental use is a leitmotif in mainstream Indian politics, and is aptly echoed in the fleeting mention that the textbook accords it.
The second section in the chapter, as in the unrevised textbook, explains the historic roots of the conflict in Kashmir. Like in most standard accounts, 1947 is taken as the originary moment of the problem, with the options of joining either of the two nation-states, India and Pakistan, or remaining independent, plaguing the erstwhile Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir and the subjects of the state. This extraordinary emphasis on 1947 ignores the longer genealogies of the Kashmiri peoples’ struggles for citizenship rights, and the emergence of an ‘Islamic language’ of resistance in response to the Dogra state that explicitly fashioned itself as a Hindu ruling house. Even the unrevised textbook (2014) that I read as a high school student, did not allude to these histories, despite being authored by a credible committee constituting of secular-democratic scholars, prior to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral victory in 2014. Two excellent monographs on Kashmir’s modern history, Chitralekha Zutshi’s Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity and the Making of Kashmir, and Mridu Rai’s Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir, were published in 2003 and 2004 respectively. However, none of the complexities unpacked by Zutshi or Rai have been incorporated in our school textbooks. Take for instance the statement in the textbook that “[i]n October 1947, Pakistan sent tribal infiltrators from its side to capture Kashmir.” Zutshi writes in her book that tribesmen from the North West Frontier Province with close ties with the people of Poonch joined the revolt of the Poonchis against the Maharaja. While the Pakistani leadership took utmost advantage of the situation by channeling Pakistani military energies into the valley, “it was not a Pakistani movement against the Indian state, as the latter claims” (Zutshi, 306). By attributing the infiltration to the Pakistani nation-state, the textbook narrative refuses to acknowledge local community ties and political solidarities that get obscured by the hegemonic imagination of nationalism. The conventional emphasis on the apparatus of dominant formations rather than ‘strategies and techniques’ have successfully obscured the fragmented processes of political action from below, when they couldn’t meet the standards of glorious revolutions. One could argue that the objective is to introduce the high school student to a basic (read monolithic) political history of regions in conflict. Then it becomes imperative on our part to question the ‘political’ as envisioned by textbook committees, and if political subjectivities are only to be mentioned so as to accomplish a teleology of the integrationist nation-state.
To be fair, the unrevised textbook acknowledges the divergent political aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, in three connected sections – ‘External and internal disputes,’ ‘Insurgency and after,’ and ‘Separatism and beyond.’ In the last section, it explains the various strands of Kashmiri separatism, including the demand for a separate Kashmiri nation, the bid to merge with Pakistan, and the demand for greater autonomy within the Indian nation-state. Since the authorial voice of the textbook is Delhi-centric, all of these aspirations are clubbed under ‘Separatism’ and not “Kashmiri visions of nationalism and regionalism” as Zutshi does in her book. Textbooks echo what Ranajit Guha has called the ‘prose of counter-insurgency,’ in which the logic of the state reverberates across narrative locations. This convergence of the archive of the state and historiography is of some concern because one doesn’t expect a high school student to tease out these strategies for herself. The revised textbook no longer has the last section on separatism, perhaps an erasure of illegitimate political aspirations, from the perspective of the state. Instead, a new section called ‘2002 and Beyond’ has been introduced. It highlights the 2014 state elections preceding the formation of a coalition government by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP. According to the textbook, it recorded the highest voter’s turnout in the last 25 years. With an insurmountable erosion of human rights in the valley, democracy is reduced to ‘body-count’, in which official statistics like voter’s turnout replace accounts on the quality of life and citizenship. It further records that in Mehbooba Mufti’s tenure, there were “major acts of terrorism and mounting external and internal tensions were witnessed,” following which the BJP withdrew its support from the Mufti government. The paragraph ends with the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August 2019, and the reconstitution of the former state into two union territories – Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh. This parliamentary feat is stated in the most matter-of-fact manner.
The concluding paragraph states that “Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh are living examples of plural society in India. Not only are there diversities of all kind (religious, cultural, linguistic, ethnic and tribal) but there are also divergent political and developmental aspirations, which have been sought to be achieved by the latest Act.” The reader is not told how exactly the abrogation of Article 370 seeks to ‘achieve’ the divergent aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Do the people of the erstwhile state think likewise? We do not know from the textbook. What we are left with is a veneer of ‘unity in diversity’, backed by all the major institutional edifices of a democracy. This is in tandem with the discourse of normalcy written by the Indian media when the state saw a complete lockdown following the abrogation. Yet another striking omission is that of a cartoon titled Peace in Kashmir, that depicts a bullet-struck dove over a chain of mountains, an allegory for a landscape of death and desolation. The same page (157) had a telling quote by B.K. Nehru, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir (1981-84), that has now been removed: “The Kashmiris were convinced now at the second dethronement of their elected leader that India would never permit them to rule themselves.” These words bring out the very substance of our postcolonial predicament, and delineate for us the very texture of the legal and the parliamentary. It must be remembered that erasures and effacements often unpack meanings with more clarity than inscriptions do. Textbooks, as sacred texts of the nation-state, are not merely pedagogic, they are also commemorative. The curriculum is an archive of conquest too.
Somok Roy is a Masters student of Medieval and Early Modern History at the University of Delhi. He has been previously published by The Wire, The India Forum, Cafe Dissensus and Indian Cultural Forum.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
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