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Mainstream, VOL LV No 18, New Delhi, April 22, 2017

Kashmir Needs a Healing Touch Today

Monday 24 April 2017, by Vidya Bhushan Rawat


What is the meaning of victory of Farooq Abdullah from the Srinagar constituency where not even seven per cent votes were polled? In many of the booths merely two per cent votes were polled. I know there are past precedences of such a situation in at least three Indian States when people boycotted and the government determinedly went for polls and was áble to form ministries. But when the world is watching and we claim to be the biggest democracy of the world, shouldn’t it be a matter of deep concern? Can any democracy legitimise seven per cent votes cast? Farooq Abdullah may enjoy the Lutyens housing complex as a senior leader but the credibility of the political parties is at an all-time low in Kashmir. You may win elections but you are losing the people. How to win over the people? Has there been any credible attempt by the government? Kashmir seeks serious answers from us all.

The outrageous video of a Kashmiri youth being taken as hostage or human shield by the armed forces is a dangerous act and will further alienate the people in the Valley. We know the forces are under deep stress and so are the people of Kashmir who have been facing deep insecurities and all kind of difficulties for the past so many months. I am happy that Lt General H.S. Panag, a highly decorated officer of the Indian Army, who has retired now, expressed deep shock and anguish over it. Let us acknowledge that life is not normal in Kashmir despite a ‘civilian’ government.

It is easy to blame the Army but the fact is that they are just doing their job. Their problem is that when they are sent to Kashmir or the North-East, most of them go with a mind as if they are entering into a ‘dushman ki territory’ or ‘énemy territory’. Most of them do not have any understanding of the Kashmir conflict or the issue of aadivasis or the North-East. As they enter into these areas, every dissent or protest becomes anti-national, inspired by the ‘foreign agent’. In terms of Kashmir, anti-national has a direct connotation which means pro-Pakistani and the result is well known to us. Without understanding the deeper political issues of the region, the forces will not be able to control the situation.

One needs to realise that these are not the old age wars where you can conquer everything by guns and ammunition; that is only possible by winning over the hearts of the people. These days it has become more so because of the uncontrolled tongue of the political leadership. It is the failure of the civil administration and political leadership of the country which continue to treat the Kashmir issue as an administrative one ignoring the historic reality of the entire problem. Political rhetorics and jargons will not take Kashmir far. The unfortunate part is that the politicians of the day have used Kashmir as a political tool to create hatred and phobia among their respective constituents without understanding the complex issue in all sincerity.

The PDP-BJP Government in Kashmir today has no control over the situation. They remain a government on paper as violence continues. Mehbooba Mufti does not have the stature of her father who could have definitely spoken to all the groups. We do not have a Sheikh Abdullah who was a power-house and had credibility among the people. The other leaders, including his son and grandson Omar Abdullah, remain isolated today. The entire situation seems to be looked after by a set of “éxperts” who perhaps despise any political person of the State. This has resulted in the entire issue being discussed and decided by the self-proclaimed anti-terrorism experts and those who want to discuss the entire problem in the Indian-Pakistan binary without speaking to the local Kashmiri civil society and political leadership. The problem with the Kashmir experts is that they want to isolate all others and address only the non-Kashmiri population from the India-Pakistan perspective. They have little time for introspection and the only thing they advise is more arms, more forces and more power to the military. None of them is ever bothered about how to initiate a political process. Though there is a civilian government there but its credibility is the lowest and it is also totally isolated. Delhi’s media and experts look down in suspicion on every political person and civil society activist, media in the State, Once the political parties and civil government fail, who does the government initiate negotiations with? It is here that the maturity of a political leadership comes into focus on how to meet such a situation. In the age of whatsapp and internet when everything is now coming out in the open, it is important for political leaders to show their better side but for the Hindutva supporters, Kashmir is just a political agenda for elections. The ranting over Kashmir is so high-pitched only to highlight how the Pandits were forced to migrate, how their women were molested and raped by the Jehadis. The emotions on Kashmir in the rest of country are too high and help in consolidating some sections against the minorities known as Muslims.

It is sad to see authors, celebrities, diplomats joining debates on Kashmir in a very parochial way. It looks as if we are more worried about a geographical landscape without an inch of sensitivity or feeling towards the fellow Kashmiris. We talk of Kashmiri Pandits but completely forget the Muslims in Kashmir who have faced harassment and intimidation all their lives. Why is it politically correct to speak of Kashmiri Pandits while completely ignoring the issue of Kashmiri Muslims? The whole propaganda and perception developed outside Kashmir is that Muslims are not pro-Indian and the only people defending India are Hindus, particularly the Kashmiri Pandits. This happens when we build our perceptions from those for whom the land mass is more important then the people in the region. When you want to know about Kashmir, you cannot ignore the past, the history and crime perpetrated on Kashmiri subjects by different rulers including the Dogra regimes.

For years, we have been told how much subsidies the Indian Government is providing to Kashmiris and how everything is so cheap and easy in Kashmir and how each one of the Kashmiris is a traitor, a Pakistani agent. In the 1990s when the Ram Mandir movement grew and we had a few high-decibel ‘loudspeakers’ who became the ‘heart-throb’ of the people—they used to describe the Kashmir situation only in terms of the “atrocities” committed on Hindu families in general and women in particular. Kashmir became a hell-hole in the perceptional ideas of middle-class Hindus where everything is anti-Indian and our forces are there to defend the people.

Such issues cannot be handled in a surcharged atmosphere but with a cool mind and acknowledging that the history of Kashmir is complex and needs careful understanding. That nothing can be resolved in the region without taking into account the people which means inclusion of the leadership of the Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley. It cannot be just political leadership but also academics, civil society and other actors. By terming everyone as anti-national we are pushing the whole Valley into the brink of disaster. If the political leadership is discredited, then whom are you going to talk to?

The role of the armed forces is to protect our borders. They cannot be used for day-to-day administrative work which is the job of the civil administration. The Army jawans come from diverse socio-cultural background and live in deep stress. For them obeying orders from the higher-ups is the most important thing and therefore J&K for them becomes an alien area. Most of them come with their own understanding and follow the orders. With active militancy in the region, it becomes difficult for them to manage things. Whatever is happening today in J&K is the extensive use of the Army which is not advisable in the long term. Unfortunately, there are many self-proclaimed nationalist experts who want to make us believe that we should do what Donald Trump did in Afghanistan. How can you not feel offended when someone wants to suggest that the hapless man who was taken as human shield by the forces in Kashmir was not the first of its kind incident and Israel has been doing it for long? Is it not surprising when we hear people spreading the message to send Yogi Adityanath to Kashmir? The connotation of such messages is clear: that Kashmir is a Muslim problem and it needs to be handled with an iron hand. It is with that idea that the government knows well that whatever the armed forces are doing, has got ‘support’ from the ordinary masses. It looks as if the government is acting ‘decisive’ in Kashmir because it is not ‘allowing’ secessionists to stand. But if these issues were that simple, the problems would not have been there.

I would not blame the Army for the disturbing situation in Kashmir. The blame is on the political leadership which continues to ignore the need of a political dialogue. Can we rise to the occasion and engage with the Kashmiri people and all the stakeholders including those in Ladakh, Jammu as well as other parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir? We must remember that Kashmiris have been a peace-loving people but the antipathy of our civilian administration and lack of will among the political leadership has created such a situation today that most of the youth in the Valley seem to be completely alienated. The government needs to think beyond the adminis-trative mechanism. Farooq Abdullah’s win may not bring any result as at the moment both the parties of Kashmir, the PDP and National Conference, are at the lowest level of their credibility and there are no other political groups in the Valley with whom the government can engage in negotiations.

It will be good if the political parties think about this seriously and not use the Kashmir issue as a political plank to enhance their domestic TRP ratings. If the government is serious it must start to work; otherwise it will be too late for any negotiation. Let the government talk to Kashmiris as it is time to heal the scars and build confidence among the people so that peace and normalcy returns. We know that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence and military leadership will always play the religious card and try to exploit the sentiments, but for us it is important to show our sincerity and discuss the issue on the table with all the stakeholders. There is proof of direct involvement of the Islamic groups too and this needs to be handled in the administrative way by the police and paramilitary. But all our efforts to win over Kashmir will be of no use if ordinary Kashmiri’s faith in the civil administration is not restored and the political leadership is not made accountable towards the people. You can win the people with sincere efforts and healing touch and not through highhandedness. Let us hope that good sense will prevail and there will be a genuine political effort to bring normalcy in the region

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