Fahad Shah and a parable for Kashmir – and the wider world

Each time Fahad Shah would make bail, he would be immediately rearrested on a new charge. Now, he's in jail under under “preventive detention."

Dar Yasin/AP/File
Fahad Shah (second from right) and other Kashmiri journalists prep for a meeting about the Kashmir Press Club’s closure, Jan. 20, 2022.

Four times in 40 days, Fahad Shah was close to coming home. The Monitor contributor from Kashmir had been arrested as part of the Indian government’s effort to tamp down on dissent in the majority-Muslim state; his colleagues worked tirelessly to get him out on bail. Each time, he would make bail, only to be rearrested on a new charge. Now, the Indian government has decided to put him in jail under the designation of “preventive detention,” which allows it to detain someone for up to two years without formal charges.

Fahad’s story is a personal one – of a man of principle determined to continue responsible journalism even amid a police crackdown. Of a breadwinner now with no way to support his family. Of an inquisitive mind who engaged with books, as I had learned earlier, like the collected writings of Ernest Hemingway and even “The Trial” by Franz Kafka.

But Fahad’s story is also a story of Kashmir – a window into a state that has long had an uneasy relationship with India and now has essentially been put under martial law. Unrest and insurgency there have always created legitimate challenges for the Indian government in New Delhi. But India’s answer since it imposed direct rule on Kashmir in 2019 has been to essentially disenfranchise and censor an entire population, turning them into prisoners in their own homeland.

But in addition to being a personal ordeal and a parable of Kashmir, Fahad’s story is also one for the wider world. This is a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin is prosecuting a wholly unjust war against Ukraine and lying about it. When anti-democratic forces are seeking to roll back freedoms across the globe.

Where will we stand?

On the day that Fahad was returned to jail, potentially for two years, I was reminded of the importance of the work he and his colleagues have done through their publication. The Kashmir Walla gives people a voice and stands fast against unjust laws. For that, he was arrested. 

In a globalized world where every atrocity is brought to our phones with a ping and devastating clarity, the overwhelming feeling can be impotence. Though I cannot ask him, I do not think Fahad would agree. The good we do is bound only by our conviction to do it.

Fahad’s professional lifework, The Kashmir Walla, is under tremendous strain simply to exist. Fahad has had his freedom taken away for his unshakable faith that the publication must exist, must raise its voice, for Kashmir to find a way forward. But Fahad also had the foresight to establish a funding mechanism that allows supporters from across the globe to fund it. The website can be found at www.TheKashmirWalla.com. The entire operation can be sustainably funded for a few thousand dollars a month.

But beyond individual acts of support, Fahad’s story bespeaks a need for the free world to awake. 

The post-World War II period saw an expansion of freedom unprecedented in human history. But that freedom was dearly bought, the product of witnessing unimaginable horror. Divisions are natural in politics. But when they usurp our determination and curtail rather than expand freedom, when they eclipse our love for our neighbor, they replace progress with the cold calculations of personal will.

Fahad’s story exhorts us all to remember that freedom never lives long in ungenerous hearts. 

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