The turmoil since 1989 has established uncertainty and chaos as the new normal in the valley of Kashmir. Undoubtedly, Kashmir that was once so proudly called as a paradise on earth is now full of inconveniences. It is the place where everything is now politicized, but never resolved.
The decades of mass alienation and unaccounted violence has shaped up mass anger and that collective rage has slowly led to distrust against the government and also torn the social fabric. Amid the suffering masses, the constant blame game and labeling is the norm and those who talk of oppressors forget that they have themselves been guilty of committing the same atrocities when in power. The masses have always felt suppressed and the prolonged conflict has thus shaped a gory history, a bitter memory and a life of indignity, hopelessness, and exploitation. Standing witness to half-revolutions, vested interests and unmet promises, the state of Jammu and Kashmir seems to be reeling under a severe crisis, collective anomie and alienation. Thanks to the leadership crisis and lack of vision of the contemporary power regime.
It is not that Kashmiris don’t want peace, today every Kashmiri cries for peace and calm and the whole valley is yearning to grow and longing for Peace but instead of building peace and displaying practical seriousness and interest in peace process, ‘Give a damn policy’ continues and delaying tactics prevails. Consequently, normalcy is a luxury and peace is fragile, the calm is a deceptive calm which keeps waiting for a trigger to blow up every summer. The governance is not treated by masses as pro-Kashmir and there still exists a major sustained lack of effort towards enhancing credibility and social justice on the ground. Whereas, every committee or Human rights group suggests restoration of social justice but till date no report has been respected or paid any serious heed to.
The feeling of a secure psyche has vanished long before and getting rid of ambiguous and invisible control seems an impossible task. Amid a plethora of suppliers of instability, there exists an urgent need for a leadership that fully comprehends the Kashmir case and understands that there invariably exists a relationship between the equations of peace building and the forces of the sustenance of uncertainty which needs serious intervention. Akin to the nature of politics, where one party’s action invokes a quick reaction from the opposition, every action today in Kashmir has a reaction purely because of the prevailing dichotomous social realities and massive enemy perception!
From the governance side, the constant crisis mishandling and bad conflict management besides violent crimes against the civilians have shattered people’s faith in the concept of democracy and the trust deficit is too high to be abridged now. The inhuman incarcerations have inevitably become the order of the day and the bitter and painful past and narratives of torture and suffering are becoming the motivating reasons behind young Kashmiris’ choosing the path of violence.
On the social intervention front, the chief stake holders need to see whether the target population interfaces well with the problems addressed in the programmes launched for them or is there an acute sense of discredit due to the political nature of the Kashmir problem. Why does this discredit exist and how can it be addressed in the first place remains a big question and simultaneously a big task to accomplish? The answer is simple, address Jammu and Kashmir politically first and foremost and the development and all other discourses will follow and will definitely get mass recognition later. This is what people in power though know but never acknowledge. It is also important to make a note of those still left out and understand why, with regard to the overall welfare interventions, much still remains undone despite tall claims to the contrary, since 1947.
The single most significant prerequisite to overall development is the restoration of human dignity and safety in Kashmir, the rest can come later but the power elite always talks about the rest and ignores the fundamental. An empathetic approach therefore needs to be incorporated in a broader perspective, realizing the grave magnitude of the prevailing situation and that primarily needs willingness to deliver justice and restore Kashmir’s lost glory, without further delay.
On the security front, there is a dire need of strict discipline, human sensitivity and especially gender sensitivity while tackling the conflict. The important is to see to what extent working ethic or SOPs while operating are maintained and why have lapses continued for so long? What is the actual work done through WHAM (winning hearts and minds doctrine) and beyond encounters or killings what are the genuine peace efforts in-built into the existing system, what are the new peace friendly and mass friendly models of peace-building developed and most importantly to what extent is the Soldier-Civilian gap abridged over the years, etc,. Why is the enemy perception graph so all time high in the valley now? Why are even cops not safe? Unfortunately, policy and planning on Kashmir seems to be dismally lacking in vision and practicality so far resulting in civilian killings in every major or small uprising whereas the tactics to handle uprisings outside Kashmir are always different. The enemy perception continues to grow and peace building as a project continues to remain as a mere idea. Whose fault is this and who will take the responsibility? Who is responsible for pellet killings and pellet blinded victims?
Also the security apparatus has to ensure principles like honesty, transparency, quick action against HR violations, internal transformation of the Jawan, understanding the local ethos, sensitivities and vulnerabilities are taken care of and followed with due respect and regard to maintaining their sanctity. However, from a mass perspective, the whole security apparatus resorts to putting things only in black and white as far as probes are concerned. What is clearly visible is the lack of strong evaluations, decentralisation in judgements, lack of clear statements and open documentation of their and others operations. The security apparatus including the local police in today’s Kashmir needs to think beyond the big brotherly attitude that has actually contributed to alienation and unrest, even the young and educated home-grown militancy.
It also needs to be seen to what extent poor local participation, randomisation and generalisations destroy security calculations that got reflected so vividly in the 2016 uprising once again seeing slain militant commander Wani’s Funeral. It is also important to know that perspectives on peace practice and strategy need some theoretical frameworks and know-how, which demands vision and able leadership. Further understanding Kashmir’s changing society, social and political preferences, emerging new social dimensions and extent of social inequality amid the conflicting situation, etc, needs to be understood by all the significant stake holders properly and strategies to be framed accordingly. An effective social participation will go a long way in building a new political consciousness and ultimately a new peaceful Kashmir. Is anybody really interested in Peaceful Kashmir?
Another question that has to be answered satisfactorily, is to evaluate how well do the masses understand what they are consenting to or what they are heading towards, what principles and precepts they are following and why? Why are stone throwers even attacking vehicles and why mob violence and mentality has become a new craze and so much of legitimacy? In the recent past my vehicle was almost destroyed completely at Mochu-Budgam despite being a media person. The same Kashmiri youth were abusing us and hitting our vehicle all around. I am still wondering what our fault was and how will such treatments and violence against same Kashmiris or anyone else contribute to Azaadi? Sane Kashmiri minds especially youth have to disown such violent groups who attack even people for fun and see stone pelting at vehicles as a fight for freedom. Even the local community where such miscreants create such horror scenes have to intervene to discourage such rowdy behaviour.
It needs to be found as to why even the effective and intelligent change makers couldn’t completely curb the volatility and transform Kashmir into a peace zone? Why every Kashmiri feels demonized and insecure outside the valley and why still Kashmiri students are beaten even in universities and colleges in the country? The nation has to embrace Kashmiri if it loves Kashmir.
The need of the hour is to develop effective and functional links between local sentiments, embedded social problems and governance via policy-making in a range of contexts. Just continuing with and extending the learning summaries of key issues, closed door discourses, back door diplomacy channels, futile interlocutions, delaying tactics, ego clashes, oft repeated useless strategies, irresponsible political statements, insecurity hype for politics, and political provocations are not going to work, especially in today’s Kashmir which has a youth bulge that is highly aware, articulate and living amid a high political culture. At this juncture when so much of waywardness prevails, the desired actions and good and visible governance is much needed to make intervention efforts more inclusive. Actions which are politico-military and environmentally conscious need to be designed and made public friendly and practical.
For instance, fair and faster probes in all past human rights abuse cases, issuing clear statements on sensitive issues from local/regional security headquarters unlike the central hegemony, a people friendly stand of AFSPA, immediate steps to heal the bruised environment of Kashmir valley, addressing water issues, power projects and financial loss of the J&K, respecting the resilience and suffering of innocent Kashmiris’ and fast delivery of justice in pending cases and innocent killings, etc,. It is important to rehabilitate the victims and deliver justice in a fair manner and is quite possible.
Kashmir obviously and altogether needs a different policy and sensitive tackling at the central level along with a media that represents true Kashmir and only then peace in the region can be aspired. In addition, the task of sociological or psychological handling as well, needs to be assigned to good brains and astute minds. Kashmiris’ need space of all kinds and a friendly platform to give vent to their suppression and unheard grievances. In Kashmir the desired social change can be achieved if Kashmiris are empowered to exert influence and make decisions about their own social collective without any fear.
The time has definitely come when the Centre needs to think out of the box for a new Kashmir! Time has come when the half-widows of Dardpora and the rape victims of Kunan-Poshpora and parents/kins of the disappeared need to be given justice. The time has also come when the Gawkadal,Kupwara, Pathribal, Chhatisingpora and Wandhama massacre culprits need to be suitably punished for their crimes and firmly put behind bars.
The time has come to love the Kashmiri first and then Kashmir! Time has come, above all, to negotiate the venomous dichotomies of Us vs Them, skilfully and in a manner commensurate with the prevailing situation, so as to ensure a progressive way forward rather than talking rising wahabism, radicalism, ummah vs nationalism as responsible for all the mess in Kashmir! I also do not buy the argument that the discourse in Kashmir is shifting to primacy of Islam also. It is definitely shifting to more resolve for Azadi and the graph of dissent is constantly increasing. It is adding more young angry minds and it is not just the spirit of jihad but in most cases the hunger for revenge and resistance against the unaccounted atrocities. There has to be some end to this chain reaction. So far, hardly a serious debate has been initiated by the institution of politics on such issues baring a few useless interlocutions. Kashmir needs to be delivered with humanity, democracy and Kashmiriyat what has so far only been a slogan.
Understanding Kashmir requires an in-depth and empathetic understanding of its sociology, history-a history of suffering, deceit, oppression and continuing conflict. The fact remains, that peace can be achieved in Kashmir by understanding Kashmir and going through the path of social justice and political solution.
[A version of this article first appeared in Kashmir Pen-A prestigious weekly based in Srinagar]