Thursday, July 29, 2010

Descent into Radical Islamism

(My first Op Ed published in The Pioneer)

Kashmir and Kerala. One, paradise on earth, and the other, in its much-touted words, god’s own country. One defining the northern frontier of the Indian state, the other its southern end. Both identified strongly with their culture.

Kashmir stands defined by its Kashmiriyat and Kerala by virtue of its unique language and culture regardless of religion. Both, in their own respects, are among the oldest outposts of Islam. Sufism in Kashmir was as syncretic as Islam could get. And in Kerala, Hindus on pilgrimage to this day pay homage to Vavar at Erumeli before they embark for Sabarimala. Islam in both these States was anything but similar to its original West Asian version. That is as far as history goes.

Nobody would have ever thought that a similar tale could potentially weave together these two distant States. Until the fateful day when a handful of Malayali-speaking persons were apprehended trying to cross the border into Pakistan to wage jihad against the Indian republic.

Kashmir’s descent into fundamentalist oblivion is well known. Somewhere in the 90s, Pakistan-sponsored ideologues wrecked the idea of Kashmiriyat after driving the Kashmiri Pandits out of the Valley. Slowly but surely, Kashmir Valley was converted into an outpost of their degraded idea of Islam. Shrines began to be wrecked, houses of those driven out occupied and, slowly but surely, Kashmiriyat was replaced by ‘Islamiyat’.

The Amarnath pilgrimage - an important pilgrimage for the Hindu community — was stopped for a few years in the 1990s and started again in 1996 after the militants assured the Government that the yatris would not be targeted. Today stone-pelters and separatist ideologues rule the roost. One would barely recognise the Kashmir romanticised in many movies. (Much of this is due to the inaction of both the State and the Union Governments as much as due to external influence and interference.)

Today the idea of studying the trajectory of one and trying to predict that of the other might seem absurd, but it is worth taking a look at what Kerala might become 50 years down the line.

The history of the two States is anything but the same. Kerala was ruled by Communists (who got into bed with monotheistic religions). It had a highly educated population. It sent workers to Dubai and other West Asian countries and came to be known as the famed Gulf economy. As we saw a few weeks ago, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Many of those who returned came back with more than just money. They came back with a renewed zeal for imposing the version of Islam they learned back in the Gulf on their fellow citizens. And the cycle of events that has followed cannot be recounted in a single feature. A few weeks ago, a professor had his hand chopped off by a couple of fanatics for a question in an exam paper that allegedly insulted the Prophet. This is a small example of the radicalisation that has taken place. From here to destroying the idea of Kerala that one has today may seem far-fetched, but in 50 years, it is entirely possible that it may not exist.

The transition will not be sudden: It will have its cycles of violence, driving out of non-believers and the creation of Hindu and Christian enclaves much like the State of Jammu & Kashmir with its nearly three distinct regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. And then a day will dawn when the Sabarimala pilgrimage will have to be conducted under heavy security cover thanks to the looming threat of militants.

Between Kerala today and the coming true of this grim prediction stand the State and Union Governments and the steps that they take to prevent the latter from taking place. Otherwise, at the current rate of degradation, the day our fears become reality is not far away.


NC said...

While it might be good to compare kerala and kashmir, i feel the scenarios in the 2 states are wide apart and very different. Kashmir for one is a cause that India has not been able to handle well. Pkstn was not intially inclined to support the cause with the kind of support it now provides the militants, india should hav seized the moment when the problem was still in the budding stage. we lost time in our own political and bureaucratic ways. We now also need to understand that we are UNABLE to "sell" the idea of a democratic free liberal society to a bunch of people who want the alternative of no progress, stone age era! How bad a salesman is India?

ecophilo said...

NC, thats a wonderful thought. We have failed as a salesman to sell the idea of India to Kashmiris. But then again, perhaps we were outsold by those who want to create a desert in paradise.