A Million Mutinies

Common ground between the Kashmir and Dalit struggles

01 August 2016
Eight CRPF jawans died in the Islamist attack near Pampore in late June, including a Dalit named Vir Singh. When Singh’s body was returned to his village in Uttar Pradesh, its dominant-caste residents opposed the use of public land for his cremation.
Tauseef Mustafa / AFP / Getty Images

On 25 June, a two-member suicide squad of the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba ambushed a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, near the town of Pampore in the Kashmir valley. The attack left eight jawans dead, and over 20 injured. “I salute the courage of the CRPF personnel martyred today in J&K. They served the nation with utmost dedication. Pained by their demise,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted in response. There followed a chorus of mourning for them, on social and mainstream media.

One of the eight killed was Vir Singh, a Dalit from the village of Nagla Kewal, in Uttar Pradesh. When Singh’s body was brought home, the village’s dominant-caste residents refused to allow public land to be used for his cremation. After several hours of persuasion by district officials, they reluctantly surrendered a tiny plot for it.

In that moment in Nagla Kewal, the Kashmir and Dalit struggles overlapped. Singh was killed for upholding the dominant vision of India in the prevailing nationalist imagination. The discrimination he faced even in death exposed how strongly casteism continues to influence that imagination. This did not escape Dalit observers and activists. The “upper castes are anti-national,” one posted on Facebook. Another wrote, “Caste is bigger than the nation for them.” Some Kashmiris noted the connection too. One posted on Facebook, “The clever Brahmin will never get its feet wet. It’s the cannon fodder which it calls ‘untouchable’ or ‘lower caste’ that has to be slain in the ruggedness or to spill blood of the mountain people.”

Praveen Donthi  is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: caste nationalism Kashmir Dalit Rohith Vemula Casteism Burhan Wani anti-national Una