Kashmir, once christened as paradise on earth is now a crown of militarization from last three decades where Kashmiris are paralyzed in conflict molded battleground resulting in generations growing up with disruption and conflict way of life. The burgeoning crisis in Kashmir is tantamount to a powderkeg and could bring two nuclear-armed neighbors to the brink of war, as was recently witnessed after Pulwama suicide attack.
Post-Pulwama carnage, Kashmiri diaspora was criminalized and targeted at many places in Jammu and mainland India. Kashmiris are demonized, and slurs passed at them. They are jibed at with innuendos: “Ye jis thali mein khaate hein, usi mein chaid karte hein” (Kashmiris chop off the hand that feeds them). This contemptuous cliché is used for Kashmiris having never shied away when it comes to availing subsidies, jobs, and scholarships from New Delhi, still not being thankful to the country which bestows them these economic doles. However, liberal Indians demonstrate a certain degree of empathy while discussing Kashmir. Yet a hard question comes from them: “Why you people can’t just forget and move on? Let bygones be bygones. What issue you have in being a part of India which offers you a plethora of opportunities?”
For the sake of India and Kashmir, people of India deserve to be told the truth. The people of Kashmir have been unwilling to identify themselves with the idea of India. The obfuscatory narrative peddled by New Delhi about Kashmir needs to be countered which it has been able to sustain using Machiavellian tactics, a ‘prostitute’ electoral process, and brutal military repression. The mainstream Indian media which has been brazenly complicit in this manipulative and dishonest account of Kashmir has trivialized Kashmir dispute to a mere ‘Kashmir problem,’ a mere security-related problem. No! Kashmir issue has historicity, a context and a memory attached to it. This issue falls within the realm of UN Security Council-mandated right to self-determination (RSD) to the people of Kashmir.
For people of Kashmir, bygones cannot be bygones. For a nation which has lost thousands of its people to the monster of oppression unleashed by the State in response to assertion of this right, it is nigh impossible for them to move forward and bury their gory past to be part of ‘Emerging India.’ It is difficult because it takes a Kashmiri (Afzal Guru) to be sent to the gallows to satisfy the collective conscience of a “bloodthirsty nation” when death row convicts from other Indian states were granted amnesty, and their sentences commuted.
How can one expect Kashmiris to identify themselves with the nation; maimed, brutalized and dispossessed by the armed forces commissioned by the same nation? Someday, the people of India may have to pause for a moment and ask one genuine question to them – “why do we need to take along those people who do not want to be part of us?” Kashmiris have witnessed the pillages of massacres; mass rapes, catch and kill operations, choking off their political space and decimation of Kashmiri voices harboring ideological and political antagonism to the state narrative. They cannot be kind enough to bear allegiance to a country whose political leadership, institutions and armed forces have been instrumental in the bloodletting and persecution of Kashmiris. Unfortunately, India’s track record in Kashmir is abysmal.
This argument gets bolstered by a recent statement from India’s former finance minister, Yashwant Sinha who also had a brief stint as the Home Minister in the Vajpayee led NDA regime. His statement ‘today India holds Kashmir by dint of its military presence and New Delhi has already lost Kashmir’ was in response to the belligerent attitude and machismo of Modi-led BJP government towards Kashmir to crush the guerrillas and dissenters resulting in more civilian killings and further disenchantment of Kashmiri youth.
The sentiment for the right to self-determination is entrenched in the political landscape of Kashmir that even if New Delhi occasionally succeeds in bringing enforced calm on the streets of Kashmir, the larger aspiration has maintained its subterranean presence and manifested in the next bout of rebellion. A case in point is ‘intifadas’ of 2008, 2010 and 2016. New Delhi in the past has attempted to douse the flames in the valley by sending its emissaries and interlocutors from time to time as the situation warranted, to reach out to the people. However, the cynicism of the people of the Vale vis-à-vis such representations appointed by North Block has been genuine. The larger motive behind the arrival of these firefighting teams from New Delhi has been to fizzle out the momentum of these popular uprisings.
The alienation and disgruntlement of Kashmiri youth have been exacerbated by the rising tide of majoritarian nationalism synonymous with Hindu nationalism which has squeezed and choked the sense of security of the Muslims in mainland India. The public discourse in the last five years has been imbued with a bigoted view of Indian history with anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan rhetoric been shored up. If Muslims pray in the open, this assertiveness of religious obligation by Muslims is being perceived as a threat to the dominant Hindu culture and a land-grabbing act. Attempts have been made to paint certain Muslim practices as regressive and instill it into the impressionable conscience of Indian masses. The bogus of “love jihad” is being fed to the gullible minds that Muslim youngsters are out there to lure in Hindu girls with a sinister design to convert them to the Muslim faith. Add to this the recent trend of changing the names of places explicitly with historical Muslim names. All these things feed into a larger Islamophobic and Muslimophobic narrative which has come handy in rightwing politics pan-globally. This rising majoritarian nationalism and toxic communal polarization have had a definite bearing on the psyche of Kashmiri youth.
Several vision documents have been floated for resolution of Kashmir issue by local mainstream parties which have been instrumental in this flawed project of New Delhi in Kashmir. The ‘Self-rule document’ of Peoples Democratic Party, ‘autonomy resolutions’ of National conference or ‘Achievable Nationhood’ of Peoples conference. All of these proposals essentially envisage any possible resolution of ‘K’ issue within the ambit of the Indian Constitution, without any territorial rearrangement. However, a larger question arises. Even if Delhi someday gets ready to concede these demands, can such concessions satiate the youngsters of Kashmir out on the streets with a ‘radical’ and ‘unpalatable’ demand of ‘Azadi’? Why do we tend to evade the larger reality of Kashmir conflict? Isn’t there an overwhelming social sanctity of sorts to militancy? Don’t youngsters throng the encounter sites to salvage the trapped guerillas, and their funeral grounds becoming festive spots? People there are dying for sentiment, for an aspiration. Any solution which even remotely looks like a compromise with the basic right and aspirations of Kashmiris will be perceived as the ‘sell out’ of the thousands of ‘sacrifices’ rendered by Kashmiris. So, what do you do to such people? A compelling reason to be cynical here is that any offer that does not address the larger sentiment cannot probably assuage the bruised Kashmiris even till the kingdom come. Kashmiris perhaps will never settle for anything which conveys them a sense of defeat.
Dr Raees ul Hamid Paul, presently based in Chandigarh where he works as a postdoctoral research scholar.