How Kashmir Inspired Intellectual Pankaj Mishra To Think About Power And Injustice In The World?

SRINAGAR: Public intellectual and Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra has said that Kashmir advanced his “political and intellectual education”. In a detailed interview with Francis Wade, Mishra told the Los Angles Review of Books that his writings on Kashmir were “absolutely crucial” and “painfully isolating” experiences.

Pankaj Mishra

“In my own case, it was a journalistic assignment in Kashmir that advanced my political and intellectual education,” Mishra told Wade, in response to a question asking him about how his thinking has evolved. “I went there in 1999 with many of the prejudices of the liberal Indian “civilizer” — someone who simply assumed that Kashmiri Muslims were much better off being aligned with “secular,” “liberal,” and “democratic” India than with Pakistan because the former was better placed to advance freedom and progress for all its citizens.”

“In other words, India had a civilizing mission: it had to show Kashmir’s overwhelmingly religious Muslims the light of secular reason — by force, if necessary,” Mishra has said. “The brutal realities of India’s military occupation of Kashmir and the blatant falsehoods and deceptions that accompanied it forced me to revisit many of the old critiques of Western imperialism and its rhetoric of progress.”

Mishra was in Kashmir when the Chitisngpora massacre took place in March 2000. Slain Kashmir journalist Shujaat Bukhari accompanied him to the Sikh village. Later, he wrote extensively on Kashmir.

“When my critical articles on Kashmir — very long; nearly 25,000 words — appeared in 2000 in The Hindu and The New York Review of Books, their most vociferous critics were self-declared Indian liberals who loathed the idea that the supposedly secular and democratic Indian republic, which prided itself on its hard-won freedom from Western imperialism, could itself be a cruel imperialist regime,” Mishra has said in the interview.

Insisting that writing about Kashmir was a “strange and painfully isolating experience, but an absolutely crucial one”, Mishra has said: “It made me see that, whether you are Indian or American, black, brown, or white, it is best not to get morally intoxicated by words like “secularism” and “liberalism” or to simply assume that you stand on the right side of history after having professed allegiance to certain ideological verities. Rather one should try to perceive the scramble for power, the clash of interests, that these resonant claims to virtue conceal; one should ask who is using words like “secularism” or “liberalism” and for what purposes.”

His Kashmir lessons were key to understanding larger global processes and systems. “The mendacity and hypocrisy of Indian liberals and even some leftists about Kashmir made me better prepared for the liberal internationalists who helped adorn the Bush administration’s pre-emptive assault on Iraq with the kind of humanitarian rhetoric about freedom, democracy, and progress that we originally heard from European imperialists in the 19th century,” Pankaj has said. “It was this experience in Kashmir that eventually led me to examine figures like Niall Ferguson, who tried to persuade Anglo-Americans that the occupation and subjugation of other people’s territory and culture was a wonderful instrument of civilization and that we need more such emancipatory imperialism to bring native peoples in line with the advanced West.”

London based Indian author and novelist is the recipient of the 2014 Windham–Campbell Prize for non-fiction and has written eight books, so far. His 2012 book From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia, was hugely acclaimed for telling the history of imperialism from the point of view of those subjected to its power. Age of Anger: A History of the Present, his 2017 book explores the foundations of violent nationalism. His three-part series on Kashmir was published as part of his book Temptations of The West.

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