Kashmir: Where raising a Pakistani flag is a criminal offence

On March 23rd, a Kashmiri woman publicly displayed a Pakistani flag and sang our national anthem in Srinagar.

Faraz Talat March 28, 2015
On March 23rd, a Kashmiri woman publicly displayed a Pakistani flag and sang our national anthem in Srinagar. Judging from the swift and furious response by the authorities, she may well have been brandishing a swastika.

I do not believe I would be able to mount a perfect defence, especially to Indian readers, of Asiya Andrabi – a somewhat intimidating niqabi separatist leader commonly photographed with a ceremonial dagger in hand. And that’s fine because who Andrabi is and what she personally stands for is irrelevant to this case.

What I do believe is that no person should have to face prosecution for brandishing another country’s banner or singing their national anthem. I should be the right person to say that, for the following reason:

Several years ago – in happier times when YouTube was still accessible in Pakistan – I uploaded a series of videos of myself singing the national anthems of Pakistan’s neighbours – a personal gesture of goodwill towards them, from a proud Pakistani citizen. That series, of course, included a video of me singing Jana Gana Mananational anthem of India, whose lyrics I still remember by heart. I fearfully wonder if my Indian friends cheering the case against Andrabi, in the spirit of consistency, would have endorsed the same action against me too here in Pakistan.

I would not accept a ‘contextual’ argument on this, alluding to Andrabi’s questionable history as the chief of Dukhtaran-e-Millat, an all-women organisation associated with the Hurriyat. What matters is the reason for which the authorities had her booked, and that is hoisting the Pakistani flag.

Photo: Steve McCurry/National Geographic

It’s a frightening thought. And an accidental nod to Nasiruddin Shah’s contentious theory that Indians are “brainwashed” into seeing Pakistan as the enemy state. At this point, I would not challenge the claim, but regretfully add that the inverse is true as well. And that there is much animosity against Indians in Pakistan, which we didn’t develop through careful research and contemplation, but simply inherited from our ancestors.

This piece is not about Pakistan though. So I would appreciate focus on the topic at hand, without allowing ourselves to be derailed by wanton “whataboutism” concerning Pakistan.

I would not have penned my concerns had this been a sporadic ‘whoopsie’ by over-exuberant police officials. This is, lamentably, part of a culture of jingoistic chest-thumping and intense xenophobia that throttles any hope of a rational solution to Indo-Pak strife.

Last year in March, 67 Kashmiri students were expelled by the Swami Vivekanand Subharti University (SVSU) for cheering for Pakistan’s cricket team, and that was after many of them were brutally beaten by fellow students.

Meanwhile in Pondicherry, a Pakistani student was beaten with iron rods, ostensibly because of his nationality. The incident set a tremendous example that even a grand total of, say, six Pakistani students who get the visa clearance to enter India with their heads low and ears raised, cannot expect to be protected; forget what would happen if the student exchange policy were liberalised.

Dear Indians, place yourselves in an average Pakistani’s shoe to feel his disappointment, though not necessarily ‘shock’, in discovering that his beloved flag is being treated as contraband by his neighbouring state; and the singing of his anthem, being deemed a criminal offence. I would not be so naive as to question why such activity is generally frowned upon, but I would confidently state that criminalising this activity indicates pettiness.

And do not assume for a minute that I would not complain if the situation were the other way around.
Faraz Talat

The writer is a doctor based in Rawalpindi and writes about current affairs and societal issues.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


mikeeady77 | 7 years ago | Reply Hi i really like this post very much something has to share of Kashmir that is Kashmir Tour Packages
abhi | 7 years ago | Reply There is a differene in raising the flag as goodwill gesture and raising a flag for claiming to be part of another country.
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