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What Went Wrong in Kashmir? Rekha Chowdhary

July 22, 2010
Guest post by REKHA CHOWDHARY

This article was also published in Kashmir Times
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: rekchowdhary@gmail.com
6 Comments leave one →
  1. Vittal permalink
    July 22, 2010 10:31 PM

    Please tell me something new. Feeling of hopelessness, alienation, injustice, human rights violations – we have heard all these phrases a million times over.

    I am not sure I understand this talk of political stagnation, “lack of imagination”, etc. What exactly is it that you expect politicians to do? If a resolution of the Kashmir issue is what you refer to, you know as well as I do that it is not going to happen without Pakistan’s buy in, something that is considered improbable at the moment. AFSPA is the result of their own doing – if Kashmir is no longer “disturbed” and the prospect of violence disappears for good, the Center will have no reason to apply the AFSPA either.

    Every state has had its share of injustice even if they are qualitatively different from that of Kashmir. Every state has issues with youth unemployment; yet, people put their heads together and try to work solutions out unlike Kashmiris who seem to prefer to whine incessantly. To put it bluntly, if there is anyone to blame for the daily troubles of their lives, it is themselves. The fact that so many Kashmiri families want to send their kids outside the state tells you how their own folks recognize that they are a failed society, unable to either advance themselves or to contribute anything significant to progress of humanity. If Kashmiris feel hopeless about their situation, they should get off the streets and try to do something productive for a change instead of wasting their time and energy stoning people.

  2. Amit S permalink
    July 23, 2010 1:58 AM

    Here is what the Indian state needs say and do:

    “Dear Kashmiris,

    In spite of the turn of events in the last 20 years, we are hopeful for a better tomorrow. Remember a time when Kashmir was paradise on earth? Well, it still can be. It can be a land with rule of law, where the law applies as much to the agents of the State as it does to Kashmiris. Where the State acts as an enabler, and not an obstacle, in the path of personal progress for Kashmiris. Where the Kashmiris enjoy access to the larger Indian market. Where economic development in Kashmir is driven by investment from investors whose interest are mutually tied with those of Kashmiris. Where the peaceful coexistence with the Pundit minority is a reflection of the peaceful coexistence with the Muslim minority in the larger India. Most certainly, the Indian State needs to be better at respecting human life in Kashmir and in the rest of India.

    However, any good thing comes with a price. The price is to give up the pipe dream of Azadi or integration with Pakistan. You have to become part of India, where Tamilians can be Tamilians, Punjabis can be Punjabis, and Kashmiris can be Kashmiris. Because, even if you achieve that Azadi, Kashmir will most certainly be meddled with by State agents of Pakistan, which are never even owned up by that country. With military muscle and economic backing from the Wahabi world, and your own who side with their ideology, you will certainly not be able to resist further radicalization and Talibanization of this blessed land.

    You have a choice to make.”

    • Vijay permalink
      July 23, 2010 12:12 PM

      Excellent points to be reflected by the state, and right as well . But flawed when it comes to implementation. It sounds like the promises “leaders” make during elections. If you read the shivam vij articles and the discussions u could see the obstacles in your ideas becoming reality. May god help us see a day when Kashmiris will not only call themselves Kashmiris but Indians, and until that day Kashmir’s innocence could not possibly stop burning.

    • Amit S permalink
      July 23, 2010 7:47 PM

      Dear Vijay,

      Indeed what I wrote sounds like a political promise. However, it is a promise that no political leader has made, much less kept. This message requires a certain thing called spine. To announce that the only possible solution is integration with India as a regular state (no 370) and enjoy the fruits of being a part of a better governed country, with no BS about carving a solution with “all parties” (read separatists and Pakistan). Also it requires the Indian state to become better at dispensing justice and creating economic opportunity.

      If you look elsewhere in the country, the same problems such as no rule of law, state agents (police & politicians) being above the law, state getting in the way of economic development etc remain. Look at the Maoist problems. Not that any Maoist murderer should be spared the oron hand of justice, but that hand should also apply to police etc. The problem gets magnified in Kashmir a there are more state agents there. No doubt when the neighboring country is hell bent upon breaking India apart especially after 1971, we need state agents to keep infiltrators at bay. So it is a chicken an egg problem: less police first or peace first? Leftist assume that police is cause behind lack of peace and discount the power of islamist ideology in the affairs. the Right tends to forgive police brutality.  

      Implementation is of course not easy but devil is always in the details. But once a coherent policy is announced and implemented, the hue and cry (“what? No azadi?”) will die down in a few years if not months. When aam admi starts to understand that resistance if futile, and especially if ( a big if) rest of india reaps dividends of economic development, Kashmiris will also want to be a part of it. Right now, the rest of India is not a model either. 

      • sadman2901 permalink
        October 29, 2010 4:51 PM

        A good suggestion for the Kashmiris. Just be martyrs at the cause of Indain Nationalism.

  3. Manash permalink
    July 23, 2010 3:04 AM

    Three cheers for Vittal Bhai – Hip Hip Hurray! Hip Hip Hurray! Hip Hip Hurray!

    We need people like you Vittal Bhai, to make complex problems appear so simple. I suspect you were a brilliant student of Mathematics and Civics in school. You have an uncanny ability to address complex social problems by making mathematically precise arguments and make extremely civic conclusions from them.

    But Vittal Bhai, however carried away I am in my admiration of you, I cannot suppress a gnawing curiosity:

    Have you always blamed yourself – always – yourself and yourself alone – for EACH AND EVERY trouble that you have faced in life so far? If yes, can you swear it by the Gita, or God, or any thing or person you hold in the highest esteem?

    I am sure a person of your moral standards can’t lie in public. If indeed you have lived your life without EVER blaming a single human being or a single circumstance for any unwanted event, you are a rare and elevated soul.

    However, if all this be true, I would still have a last question for you Vittal Bhai.

    It just occurred to me, if a person blames himself so uprightly for all the troubles in life, without blaming anything or anyone outside himself, his own self might be very unhappy with him having had to undergo constant accusations of being in the wrong. I wonder if such people suffer from an unhappy consciousness.

    You know Vittal Bhai, for a long time the British for example made educated Indians believe that every problem the country was facing was not because the Britishers were treating us as inferior people but because we Indians were deserving of their low opinion of us and so we were incapable of inspiring good treatment. Your logic seems to be dangerously similar to the logic of those Britishers and those Indian colonialists who believed them.

    Maybe I am wrong. Vittal Bhai ki Jai Ho!

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