What Kashmir Wants
Healing the state means reducing security presence and delivering genuine democracy
This has been a summer of discontent for the Kashmir valley. The death of the 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo, fatally hit by a teargas shell, and the drowning of two young women in Shopian became rallying grounds against an insensitive state apparatus. The home minister has acknowledged that the nature and intensity of the current agitation are different from the past. This is the first acknowledgement of the ground realities by the government of India.
Over the past 60 years, India has adopted an ostrichlike approach denying acceptance of the truth that, emotionally, Kashmir was rarely with it. Commencing with Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest in 1953, the systematic “management” of successive elections, the heavy presence of the Indian army, the absence of real development and the lacklustre performance of Kashmiri politicians present an amalgam that lies at the heart of the disturbances today.
But perceptions outside Kashmir often belie the truth. While the flawed development paradigm largely implied food and grain subsidies, the rest of India thinks that it is a pampered state, treated with kid gloves because of its geographical and emotional proximity to Pakistan. Article 370 guarantees Kashmiris special privileges. Over decades they received subsidies, their lands have been unjustifiably protected under the Constitution prohibiting the rest of India to buy land or invest in parts of Jammu & Kashmir. They can never be allowed a plebiscite for their loyalty is suspect. It is generally accepted that they harbour terrorists who attack India, and were actively involved in pushing the Pandits out of their homes to become refugees in their own country. Therefore, it is time for the government to get its act together and clean up the Valley. To many, being Kashmiri means being anti-India.
Over the past six decades, no government has sensitised India to the unique situation of Kashmir. There is no sensitisation to affirmative action and no dissemination of information that, if there is Article 370
in Kashmir, there is also Article 371-A for Nagaland, 371-B for Assam, 371-C for Manipur, 371-D for Andhra Pradesh, 371-F for Sikkim, 371-G for Mizoram, 371-H for Arunachal Pradesh and 371-I for Goa. All these Articles grant special rights and privileges to these states depending on their culture, society and history. But society has not been adequately sensitised, with the result that now governments are concerned that any special package offered to Kashmir will be perceived as weakness and, therefore, have a political fallout.
But the fallout is now before us. The central and state governments are scampering for solutions. Curfew, the last resort for any good administration, is for the past two months a way of life. In this holy month of Ramadan when people fast and pray, fasting students are confronting the Indian military. There are no medicines for the old, no milk for babies, no food for the ordinary person. Mothers deliver babies at home, there is no emergency aid for the critically ill, no business and work for the daily artisan, the weaver, the ordinary Indian Kashmiri, no birthday celebrations, no weddings. There is no politically effective party left in Kashmir and each party is perceived as opportunist.
My students tell me that a major of the army has greater powers than the chief minister who flies off to New Delhi to get clearances. The home office in Delhi dictates the civil administration in Kashmir. These may be perceptions but they must be corrected. The government, however, is doing little to create an atmosphere conducive for peace talks.
So, what is required to rebuild peace in this land of Sufis, mystics, farmers and rabaab players? What is the deeper meaning behind the cry for azadi? Does the Kashmiri really expect azadi? Does any right-thinking person actually wish to associate with a failed state like Pakistan? Or is it that in the garb of this exaggerated cry, the Kashmiri actually wishes to use it as a bargaining chip to extract the maximum autonomy that the government of India can concede, perhaps go close to the Agreement of 1952 signed with Sheikh Abdullah? He is keen for restoration of normalcy and true democracy but will not let this movement die till he gains major concessions. He seeks freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom from the awesome presence of the army and its pickets. He does not wish the next generation to grow up under the shadow of the gun. This is his azadi.
It is, therefore, incumbent on the governments in New Delhi and the state to create an atmosphere conducive to talks. This arguably will not be easy. It will involve the withdrawal of the armed forces either back to their barracks or to borders. It will certainly mean the revocation of the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It will mean release of political prisoners – despite the risk this entails – and it will mean a reluctant chief minister stepping out from the protected walls of his residence to face the anger of the young and old for acts of omission and commission over the past two months. All this requires courage and conviction. Should this happen, we may hope for talks to resume. Should it not, this summer of discontent will be a bitter winter of despair.
The writer is vice-chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.
Curfew in Srinagar: Barbed wire won't bring normalcy
In a recent survey conducted by TOI it had come to know that about 90% of kashmir people wanted to be a part of India and wanted the Govt. Of India to restore peace back in Kashmir.