Guest post by REKHA CHOWDHARY
What went wrong in Kashmir? This is one pertinent question that needs to be addressed seriously before any corrective measures can be applied. Situation would certainly normalise after some time, but apparently ‘normal’ situation in case of Kashmir does not indicate anything. The vibrancy of ordinary life and the day-to-day routine followed for days and even months, takes only moments to break. Underneath the normalcy, the turbulence is ever present and can surface at any point of time. Every turbulent period however provides clues to the real problem, and one should hold on to these clues, if one really wants to do something about it.
So what do we see in the present turbulence? Firstly, though the crisis revolves around the stone-pelting youth, one can clearly say that the real problem is not that of the stone-pelters. Neither the theory of LeT being responsible for it, nor the issue of money being paid to stone pelters, nor the vested interests making the most of the situation explains the crisis.
Though the situation has come to a stage where even the management of law and order has become difficult, it is certainly not a law and order problem. It is not about few police stations in Kashmir, seven or thirteen whatever number is quoted, which is problematic. It is much more deep-rooted problem than that. Though lot is being said about the angry youth, for a generation which has grown in the situation of violence, the problem is not confined to the anger of the youth; it is much larger than that. Behind the youth in the streets, there is Kashmiri society, which is quietly involved in the whole situation. The very
phenomenon of stone pelting has evoked all kinds of responses and there is an ongoing debate about the religious and moral basis of stone pelting. There are many who have reservations about the stone pelting. And despite this reservation, one can feel a general sense of empathy for the stone pelters. Explanations are provided and justifications are given and even those who do not appreciate the act, support the cause. All this reflects a widespread sense of alienation, going much beyond the anger of teenagers.
Secondly, the present situation cannot be seen in isolation. It is not a sudden eruption. The situation has been brewing for quite some time and one could catch enough signs for that. It is another matter that those concerned ignored the signals. In fact, when one sees the present situation in the context of past few instances of unrest in Kashmir during last few years, one can not only see a continuity but also a pattern. Since 2007 one can see the recurrence of the same phenomenon. It is the same sense of anger mixed with disillusionment and hopelessness that is reflecting in one form or the other. In the celebration of normalcy in Kashmir, one did not catch the symptoms in 2007 but if one goes back to that year, one can see small and big protests taking place in different parts of the Valley. These responses over varying issues, but mostly on the issue of Human Rights violations, reflected a sense of unease which came to be expressed in more explicit manner during the 2008
Amarnath land row. That the unease continued, despite the massive participation of people in 2008 Assembly elections, became clear in 2009 – a year consumed by the Shopian episode and the passions raised by it. Before the present build up, the year 2010 had already witnessed the mass response in case of innocent killings and fake encounters.
Third, it is not difficult to see the where the anger is aimed at. It is aimed not against the paramilitary forces who are facing the brunt of every thing. It is aimed against the Indian State. And though reflected by the anger in the streets, it is basically a feeling of hopelessness. A visit to Valley will clearly reveal a shared sense of disillusionment with the Indian state. There is a complete trust deficit and no amounts of promises whether of ‘zero toleration of violation of human rights’ or of ‘quiet diplomacy’ or of initiation of dialogue are taken seriously. On the contrary, people talk of lack of sincerity of the Indian state about resolving conflict or the peace process. The visits of senior functionaries of government, including that of the Home Minister and even of the Prime Minister are taken at best in indifferent manner. The last visit of Prime Minister was seen more in the light of creating inconvenience to citizens rather than building a bridge with the Kashmiris. One can see that the days of expectation are over. No more there is trust in the capacity of the Central government in politically resolving the conflict. The euphoria of early years of millennium when the peace process was initiated and things were moving forward, is long over. No one believes in the peace process. The major concern therefore remains the Human Rights violations. And when there are repeated cases of killings of innocent people, the feeling of hopelessness gets converted into the feeling of acute anger.
Unfortunately, this is not all. The restlessness of Kashmiris does not emanate only from the indifference of Delhi towards Kashmir and its utter insensitivity to the ground realities therein, but also from the direction of the movement, or rather the lack of it. The separatist leadership, divided as it has been, has ceased to lead the people and is rather following them. It is the response of the people, spontaneous most of the time, which is giving relevance to the separatist leadership, at least for last few years. Whether it was the Amarnath agitation, or the Shopian episode, or the present day crisis, it is the streets of Kashmir which have given life to the separatist politics. It is not only the lack of the unity but also lack of imagination of the leadership which has made them static. With the movement going adrift in the absence of the direction from above, there is a strong sense of apprehension in the Valley that if people do not assert their separatist sentiments in a forceful manner, they will be taken for granted and the ‘sacrifices’ of thousands of lives during the last two decades of the conflict will be wasted. That is the reason that it does not raise many brows in the valley that the burden of leading the movement is now borne by the teenagers.
Unfortunately, the movement is not only being defined through the ‘agency’ of teenagers, but also through their dead bodies. It reflects a very deep rooted crisis of the movement, especially of the leadership, but also of the political and civil society.
Rekha Chowdhary is Professor of Political Science at Jammu University and can be contacted at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org