Opinion | The Silence Is the Loudest Sound


He didn’t explain why Kashmiris needed to be locked down and put under a communications blockade while he delivered his stirring speech. He didn’t explain why the decision that supposedly benefited them so hugely was taken without consulting them. He didn’t say how the great gifts of Indian democracy could be enjoyed by a people who live under a military occupation. He remembered to greet them in advance for Eid, a few days away. But he didn’t promise that the lockdown would be lifted for the festival. It wasn’t.

The next morning, the Indian newspapers and several liberal commentators, including some of Narendra Modi’s most trenchant critics gushed over his moving speech. Like true colonials, many in India who are so alert to infringements of their own rights and liberties, have a completely different standard for Kashmiris.

On Thursday, Aug. 15, in his Independence Day speech, Narendra Modi boasted from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort that his government finally had achieved India’s dream of “One Nation, One Constitution,” with his Kashmir move. But just the previous evening, rebel groups in several troubled states in the north east of India, many of which have Special Status like the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir, announced a boycott of Independence Day. While Narendra Modi’s Red Fort audience cheered, about seven million Kashmiris remained locked down. The communication shutdown we now hear, could be extended for some time to come.

When it ends, as it must, the violence that will spiral out of Kashmir will inevitably spill into India. It will be used to further inflame the hostility against Indian Muslims who are already being demonized, ghettoized, pushed down the economic ladder, and, with terrifying regularity, lynched. The state will use it as an opportunity to close in on others, too — the activists, lawyers, artists, students, intellectuals, journalists — who have protested courageously and openly.

The danger will come from many directions. The most powerful organization in India, the far-right Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the R.S.S., with more than 600,000 members including Narendra Modi and many of his ministers, has a trained “volunteer” militia, inspired by Mussolini’s Black Shirts. With each passing day, the R.S.S. tightens its grip on every institution of the Indian state. In truth, it has reached a point when it more or less is the state.

In the benevolent shadow of such a state, numerous smaller Hindu vigilante organizations, the storm troopers of the Hindu Nation, have mushroomed across the country, and are conscientiously going about their deadly business.

Intellectuals and academics are a major preoccupation. In May, the morning after the Bharatiya Janata Party won the general elections, Ram Madhav, a general secretary of the party and a former spokesman for the R.S.S., wrote that the “remnants” of the “pseudo-secular/liberal cartels that held a disproportionate sway and stranglehold over the intellectual and policy establishment of the country … need to be discarded from the country’s academic, cultural and intellectual landscape.”



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