Anuradha Bhasin’s A Dismantled State is a powerful rebuttal of the Central government’s normalcy narrative in Kashmir that is peddled on television and social media while ignoring, and in many instances legitimising, the brick-by-brick removal of basic civil liberties of Kashmiris.
The book delves deep into what various observers have described as the “Israeli model of suppression” in Kashmir. This suppression relies as much on inflicting physical injury to those deemed a threat to the state as on assaulting the psyche, be it by way of denying fallen insurgents the basic right of a funeral by their kin, random termination of suspect government officials, or pressuring local scribes with detentions and trials.
Television recurringly credits the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with ending the culture of stone throwing and street protests, but Bhasin says: “protests in Kashmir have become impossible amidst an oppressive climate, restrictions and the constant targeting of select individuals with a slew of criminal and terror charges. For a Muslim, particularly a Kashmiri Muslim, his or her very identity is enough to justify such charges.”
While the book does not mention it in as many words, its pages do make it clear that the Ajit Doval doctrine draws its strength from the exploitation of the widespread approval already present among the population, clandestine and open, for use of force against Kashmiris and not by convincing the Indian public at large that all is well in Kashmir—and that this was achieved by doing away with an obstructive special status. If that is true, it is doubtful if Bhasin’s moving chronicle will appeal to many consciences in the country.
However, a book’s readership comprises not just the present generation that may have opted to support the government’s policies and means of enforcing them, but future generations too that may be willing to put that very regime under the microscope and give those despised as “the other” a patient and fair hearing.
To that end, this book has pieced together what transpired on and after August 5, 2019, with a series of anecdotes that capture the injustices perpetrated as security measures.
A Dismantled State argues that militancy thrives with local support and to reduce that support, engagement with the people and their representatives is essential.
The book graphs the scale of militancy, using statistics to underline that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s policy of dialogue and deliberation sharply brought down the number of local militants, and led to a boom in tourism. This is an important point to make as the current government and supportive media use increased tourist footfalls in Kashmir in the last two years to vindicate everything done there.
There is a detailed description of the government’s designs in Kashmir vis-a-vis its salient Muslim majority demographics and its vast lands that are increasingly being encroached upon by the state and the armed forces.
However, the book is not only about the government’s policies in Kashmir. It serves as a warning of a similar fate in the making for the rest of the country. The book adds to the current debates on the role of judiciary and the Central government’s relentless assaults on the country’s federal structure.
Although the author touches upon the subject of China’s aggression, the reader is left wishing for a more candid assessment of the impact an increasingly assertive China will have on the power dynamic in South Asia.
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