What, to the coolie, is the Kashmir crisis?
An East Indian from Trinidad or Guyana or Mauritius or Fiji knows very little of contemporary Indian politics. We’re exposed to it much in the way that anyone not directly from the subcontinent might be exposed to it. If we happen to be attuned to history and (anti)colonial politics, then we might know more than the average interloper – might have thoughts on which sources to trust and which to disdain. If we’re of the small but growing population of people who are half subcontinent Desi and half Indo-Caribbean, then we might have heard from one half of our family tree about what, exactly, is unfolding there, as biased or unbiased as that might be. But for the overwhelming majority of us in the ‘double diaspora’, the crisis in Kashmir – both the Modi government’s politcking and the Kashmiri people’s advocacy – takes a different and more abstract form.
Truly, I’m not informed enough to tell you precisely what is happening point-to-point and moment-to-moment on the ground in Kashmir. But from where I stand as Indo-Trinidadian who’s spent his life on the US East Coast, there’s a Kashmir in every neighborhood, on every block, and in every ethnic household.
Kashmir is my Puerto Rican friend, born on the mainland, who spends every cent of her disposable income on island-born Puerto Ricans resettled on the mainland after Hurricane Maria. Kashmir is thousands of dollars of donations for the Puerto Rican people sitting idle and left to rot in a parking lot. Kashmir is Puerto Rico’s lack of formal vote in Congress and lack of organizing artifice among its diaspora in the mainland. Kashmir is every crust of scorched rice at the bottom of an elderly woman’s pan, left for her to eat after giving away the tender rice to her grandchildren.
Kashmir is my Palestinian classmate, born in Staten Island, who cannot go back to her ancestral village without severe diplomatic consequences. Kashmir is my classmate’s classmate, an American Jew, who could go to that very same ancestral village, volunteer, plant an olive tree, and pose for a souvenir photo with the same ease as a Miami spring breaker jetting to the Bahamas for the day. Kashmir is the sound of every rock reverberating off the side of an Israeli tank and every mortar shell fired out from the tank in response.
Kashmir is my Russian comrade — though he’d hate if I called him that — who lives in exile in the United States because of his activism against the dominant regime back home. Kashmir is every conversation that springs up on his Facebook timeline about the alleged or purported righteousness of what Putin does or says, whether by people who’ve spent their life in Russia or who’ve barely set foot in it. Kashmir is the bitter taste of kvas or homemade okroshka that will never taste as good as like the one from his auntie’s or the café around the corner from his flat in Saint Petersburg. Kashmir is the bitter taste of American imperialist democracy that would jettison him just as easily as it would shelter him. Kashmir is the disappearance of pro-democracy activists and an unmarked mass grave of homosexual Chechens in a remote nature preserve.
Kashmir is my roommate who’s from Hong Kong by way of Boston. Kashmir is her agonizing over the news broadcast while simultaneously lauding the tenacity and nimbleness of the street protestors there. Kashmir is the encroaching Chinese state which has perforated the independent society much as the tallest buildings there have openings for spirits and dragons. Kashmir is Hong Kongese in Boston being pushed further and further out of Chinatown because the land is too valuable for poor immigrants to live in anymore. Kashmir is a sachet of precious jasmine tea splashed ignorantly into boiling hot water with no regard for the optimal brewing temperature of the leaf.
Kashmir is my father’s native Trinidad and Tobago, which was occupied by the United States during the 1940s. Kashmir is the hordes of police vans that round up Trinis and Guyanese in Queens for deportation. Kashmir is Australia’s offshore detention centers – some would say concentration camps – that persist across Oceania. Kashmir is the depopulation of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to make way for a military base. Kashmir is the murder of Rohingya Muslims in Burma and the trafficking of Burmese in Thailand. Kashmir is a scar of British colonialism that every former colony still feels in some nerve or phantom limb. Kashmir is every abstract dehumanization which has been given a rota and taken an institutional form.
This is not to distract from the very real and unique human rights abuses happening in Kashmiri territory right now. But it is to say that even for us indenture descendants — who are decades removed from Partition, about whom your average Kashmiri national knows nothing about — our waywardness has exposed us to state-sponsored atrocities from every continent and the world over. Moreover, we’ve experienced our own crises — ask the Indo-Caribbeans in Grenada or the indenture descendants in South Africa about a rogue regime and they’ll have plenty to tell you over a cup of chai.
So for the few that ask me – what’s really going on in Kashmir?
I won’t have words for them – but I’ll know.