Mahnoor Chaudhry, BSc Hons Economics and Politics
Modi’s racist and narcissist policies have led to such a lack of intolerance, and extremist tendencies in his followers that they now fear even intellectual discourse and discussion, what is most alarming is that they have now even reached the UK.
On 5th October, demonstrators stormed the event holding a rainbow flag that read ‘Gay for [Jammu and Kashmir]’ and ‘[Article] 370 is homophobic.’ The event marked sixty days since an increased military presence and barbed wires around the Kashmir valley, rendering the region incommunicado from the rest of the world.
The South Asia Solidarity Group held the event to discuss the current conflict in Kashmir which began on August 5, when Hindu nationalist Prime Minister, Narendra Modi unilaterally revoked Article 370 of India’s constitution. This ended Kashmir’s autonomous status and downgraded the valley to a federally administered enclave.
As part of the conflict, 900,000 Indian soldiers were sent to Kashmir to impose a siege on eight million Kashmiris and to quell potential unrest. Phone and internet services were cut off, tourists and Hindu pundits were evacuated, and thousands of Kashmiri political leaders, academics and activists remain imprisoned. Even movement is limited in the valley.
The Modi government also published the National Register of Citizens on August 31 in Assam. This led to the exclusion of 1.9 million people from the National Register, thereby facing the possibility of statelessness, a number thought to be larger than that of the Rohingya in Myanmar, which signals towards a larger crisis.
The event at SOAS, entitled ‘Resisting Fascism, Building Solidarities, India, Kashmir and Beyond,’ discussed these developments, along with strategies for resistance against the Modi government.
According to Armit Wilson, one of the organisers, ‘the Hindu supremacist far-right government’s goal is to turn India into a Hindu state. Modi has overseen an epidemic of horrific mob-lynchings of Muslims and Christians, an escalation of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis, and arrests and assassinations of those who have dared to dissent’ and the revocation of Article 370 is yet another testament to this ideology. The organisers believe that Kashmir now faces Israeli-style settler colonisation and mass plunder of its resources.
When the demonstrators entered, panellists requested them to listen to the discussion. Nonetheless, the masked group of five, one of whom was a woman, illegally set off the fire alarm to disrupt the event, after which the entire SOAS building was evacuated.
The South Asia Solidarity Group saw this disruption as an attempt to ‘pinkwash’ the occupation of Kashmir, as protestors claimed to be defenders of LGBTQ+ rights. ‘This is all the more ridiculous given the acute and open homophobia and misogyny of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s leaders, and the particularly acute impacts of the lockdown in Kashmir (which the disrupters were defending) for sexual minorities.’
Professor Dibyesh Anand also said, ‘I can bet these disruptors are not [part of the LGBTQ+ community]; if they were, they would be in solidarity with all oppressed.’
According to Kavita Krishnan who was speaking when the mask-clad people disrupted her speech, the demonstrators were from a Hindu nationalist group ‘masquerading as LGBTQ activists. This is proved by the fact that their leaflet attacks the Left.’
Some students amongst the audience echoed Krishnan’s comments: ‘Modi’s racist and narcissist policies have led to such a lack of intolerance, and extremist tendencies in his followers that they now fear even intellectual discourse and discussion, what is most alarming is that they have now even reached the UK.’
SOAS confirmed that an incident took place at the event. A spokesperson told the Spirit: “this was not a SOAS event, but one held on the SOAS premises by the South Asia Solidarity Group.SOAS supports open dialogue and debate on issues and does not endorse any attempts to disrupt events that are legitimately held on SOAS premises.”
Rochna Bajpai, a reader of modern Indian politics at SOAS, explained how this phenomenon is more of a systematically exploited, political tool in India rather than a one time incident. Her research paper, “What do descriptive representatives describe? Minority representative claims and the limits of shape-shifting” explains how majoritarian nationalisms can strategically include some marginalised groups in order to legitimise the exclusion of other minorities, in order to keep existing power hierarchies intact.
This has been used to discriminate against the Muslim minority in India in order to advocate India’s Hindu nationaism, by partially accomodating Dalits and Parsis. Clear parallels can be drawn from this phenomenon to the event where once again brutal bigotry, and exclusion of the Kashmiri Muslims is being justified through propagation of LGBTQ+ rights.