Pain of being a Kashmiri Muslim
Shahira Naim
Manufacturing Terrorism: Kashmiri Encounters with Media and the Law
by Syed Bismillah Geelani,
Promilla & Co publishers in association with Bibliophile South Asia and
Poles Apart
Pages 234. Rs 450.

Most of us read about the mid-air drama where 12 passengers, all Indian businessmen, every single one of them a Muslim, 10 from Mumbai alone, were singled out, handcuffed and detained on flight no. 42, in front of 149 other passengers. They had to suffer such humiliation as the crew had reported "suspicious behavior". Responding promptly, the pilot of the Mumbai-bound Northwest Airlines cut short its scheduled flight and returned to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport with US sky marshals on board and escorted by Dutch F-16 jetfighters.

Finally, after two days the Dutch prosecution spokesman Ed Hartjes said, "From the statements of suspects and witnesses, no evidence could be brought forward that these men were about to commit an act of violence. Therefore the decision has been made to release the men tonight," The acute physical and mental trauma leave alone grave human rights violation that the Indian passengers suffered is perhaps an example of how ethnic profiling works.

While the nightmare of the airline passengers fortunately came to an end after the Indian Embassy intervened, Syed Bismillah Geelani’s book shares the trauma of the many Kashmiri Muslims living outside Kashmir for whom the nightmare continues.

A rare combination of biography, scholarship and political commitment – the book explores the lives of many ordinary Kashmiris—students, living in Delhi who similarly get caught in the web of distorted images constructed by the media which is first created and then used by the law enforcers.

The book is neatly divided into three parts. The first called Delhi Encounters is rich in empirical details of Bismillah’s personal description of state violence against Kashmiris living and working in Delhi.

As the author explains in his first chapter that he tries to "document how the media constructs image of Kashmiri Muslim as ‘terrorist’ or’ISI’ agent, and how these constructions impact the life of Kashmiris living in Delhi, making them targets of hate in society and vulnerable to state violence".

Who knows better than Geelani whose life and that of his family went topsy- turvy when one fine day on December 14, 2001 his elder brother Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, was picked up by the Special Cell of the Delhi police on the charge of conspiring to attack the Indian Parliament a day earlier.

The author shows how overnight an overzealous media, aided and abetted by the law enforcers, indulged in factually incorrect and journalistically unethical reporting to turn a ordinary college lecturer into a dreaded international terrorist having links with organisations across the globe.

The main piece of evidence against S.A.R. Geelani was a 2.16-minute telephone conversation with his youngest brother who had called from Baramulla on December 14, asking for the syllabus and prospectus of the medical entrance examination.

The poignant account is a revealing case study showing virtually frame-by-frame how the state, its law-enforcing agency and the media work in tandem to build or demolish any theory which suits their interest.

The methodology used to deconstruct the trial by the media in the S.A.R. Geelnai case is simple and without any rhetoric. The author reproduces verbatim news stories from various newspapers. It is followed by bullet points of the factual inaccuracies the report carries. He shows how report by inaccurate report constructed an imaginary terrorist who was then condemned to death by the designated Sessions Court in Delhi on December 18, 2002. His brother spent two years on death row before the Delhi High Court acquitted him on October 29 and the Supreme Court confirmed the acquittal on August 4, 2005.

The second part of the book chapter explores the concept of Kashmiriyat and its relevance to present-day Kashmir. In this more reflective section as the author places this phenomenon in a wider socio-political context through interviews with ordinary Kashmiris living in Delhi who suffer quietly in their day-to-day lives. It also has an extremely informative conversation with Sampat Prakash, a Kashmiri Pandit and a veteran trade union leader who continues to live and work in the valley.

The old-timer provides a ringside view of the dismantling of Kashmiriyat. The conversation not only critically examines the sequence of events that led to the fleeing of the Kashmiri Pundits from the valley but also indicates possibilities of a political solution based on a truly democratic politics.

Logically the chapter on "Kashmir, Kashmiris and Kashmiriyat’ belongs more to this section than the first part of the book where it is placed.
Taking a striking example of how the author draws a parallel between the image of a Kashmiri hero in Hindi cinema and the Kashmir’s political context the. He traces how the archetypical Kashmiri hero, a poor shikarawala called Rajah, of the mega-hit Jab Jab Phool Khile of the late 1970s gets replaced by the Kashmiri Islamic terrorist of Roja, Sarfarosh and a host of other popular Hindi movies.

Most distressing are the many incidents of the humiliation that the Kashmiri Muslims face not only at the hands of the law enforcers, non-Muslims but even non-Kashmiri Muslims.