On Eking out Independence from a Democratic Setup
By A.H. Cemendtaur

Yasmin Qureshi and the hostile crowd

Democracy is supposed to be a system of governance suited to the will of a politically conscious populace.  But in the Old World democracy runs into trouble where people strongly identify themselves with particular religious, linguistic, and regional groups. In those setups, whenever one group has an overwhelming majority the notion of equal representation of people in the democratic setup is compromised and minority communities feel democracy to be a garb under which the majority exploits the minority.  In cases where such a minority group occupies a geographical area where it itself is in majority, seeking secession of that geographical entity seems to be a natural way out of the sticky situation.  Attempts of such fractionations galore in the Old World -- Kashmir is a prominent example.

On October 21, around 45 people gathered at the Martin Luther King Library, San Jose State University to listen to Yasmin Qureshi's talk on " Kashmir in Conflict: Roots and Global Implications."  In her detailed presentation, Qureshi gave a historical account of the conflict and shared her personal experiences from a recent visit to Srinagar and other areas of the Indian Occupied Kashmir.  The program was arranged by the Culture & Conflict Forum.

Most Indians do not understand why Kashmir would like to break away from India, a democracy.  The reason why most Indians do not understand the aspirations of the Kahsmiris is obvious: most Indians belong to the majority community and democracy favors them.  Consequently Kahsmiris' ambition for freedom is in conflict with the will of the majority of India.  Many right-wing Hindu groups assert themselves to be speaking for the majority; they feel they are the real custodians of the state of India -- to them any talk of secession is treason.  The very reason the minority group wants to secede is turned around and used as a tool to crush the voice of the minority:  in a democratic setup majority rules and is considered to be making the right decisions -- no mater how much the minorities disagree.

Unbeknownst to the organizers of the Thursday program the news of the event had made commotion on right wing Indian online forums.   Among the audience which group was in majority became quite obvious as the presentation ended and the Q&A session started.  Pointing his finger towards the speaker the first person who was given a chance to ask question  said, "You are the precise reason why rest of the Hindus in India hate the Muslims."  That comment pretty much set up the tone for the rest of the Q&A session.   From that point on the onslaught was relentless. 

One questioner after another accused the speaker of a biased presentation, about misquoting figures, about presenting a Pakistani point of view, and everything in between.   It is doubtful if the harassers knew each other from before, but they grew an instant camaraderie and acted en masse -- they clapped on each other's comments and jeered at the presenter's response. 

But the firework had to be cut short because the library was closing.  The lesson everybody took home was obvious: the majority wins and the minority voice, no matter how righteous it might be, gets drowned.  Viva democracy!



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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