How would you feel if your Cell phone network is deliberately put off on your own nation’s Republic or Independence Day? How will you feel if your contact to outer world via internet is blocked for weeks together, in the name of security or law and order measures? How will you feel when you are always given a feeling of being a second class citizen in your own country? How will you feel, if you miss your very important events, deadlines, submissions, appointments, trips, family events, or festive occasions just because of the State, system and its security impasse? Who will reimburse you for all the losses you met because of the repressive state apparatus? How will you feel if you fear to be booked for even a simple analytical post on social media? Who actually pays the cost of chaos in conflict zones and who gets benefitted in such chaotic geographies? What does state mean by collective conscience? All these subjects haunt us and divulge the pain of suppressed existence here in Indian Kashmir.”
Kashmir Valley-the bruised paradise is again on boil and as usual unpredictable, peace deficit and active on the volcano of hostility. The fallouts of the mass unrest and shaping up of the geography of anger have finally set the peace process ablaze by clouding the paltry gains secured after enormous and all-round painstaking efforts of over last two years, that too in a blink of eye. Also, it will not be wrong to argue that even the shocking Khanyar Shrine burning incident in the last summer (Dastgeer Sahab shrine’s mysterious ablaze episode on June 25, 2012), or later the protests over the blasphemous and anti-Islamic American video or the most recent incident of the Rock Band row (cry over the Kashmiri Muslim girls’ only Rock band- ‘Pragaash’ and Grand Mufti’s Fatwa against it) though gave some jolts to the fragile peace here but generally speaking, all the three incidents were not too severe, affecting and upsetting. However, the blistering and perhaps much grave issue is the secret execution of the Parliament attack case convict, Mohamad Afzal Guru (on February 9, 2013 in Tihar Jail) and later a plethora of moral and agonizing questions about his undisclosed/hasty hanging even without letting the executed see his family for the last time or at least to inform them in time about the date of the hanging decision, that was done after his hanging only (letter posted by jail authorities informing about Guru to be executed was received after two days of his execution on 11 February, 2013 posing certain moral questions and revealing the kind of democracy we are). Not only this, even the burial of Afzal Guru’s body (that is still a much contested debate) in the jail premises with hardly any intentions of returning it (the body) to his family living in a remote hamlet (Seer Jageer) of north Kashmir’s Sopore area, sent a strong shiver in the collective spine of Kashmiri’s.
Afzal’s hanging, without keeping in view the solid efforts made with great resilience and difficulties by a few peace mongers like Gh. Nabi Azad, Mufti Mohamad Sayeed, former GOC 15 Corps Gen Ata Hasnain and few others, proved too costly for Kashmir peace and again brought the Valley back to the violent Summers of the recent past. The peace efforts made earlier were brutally wasted and vanished in seconds after Afzal’s hanging news reached the conflict ridden valley and with it returned the feeling of being discriminated and alienated in India for Afzal was hanged even before the former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s and Beant Singh’s assassins. Thus the feeling of and the gulf between “They and Us” (Indians & Kashmiri’s) appeared again and the utter brutality that even before the execution news, the restrictions on the streets (indefinite curfew along with virtual siege imposed round the valley by the State) also reappeared throwing everybody into sheer disenchantment, pain, discomfort and confusion. Afzal’s execution in such a fashion badly hit the collective conscience here in the valley though they say it satisfied the same outside Kashmir. One wonders how do they define collective conscience and does the collective conscience really cherish capital punishment in the world’s largest democracy? The situation today is testimony to the fact that hardly anybody cares about peace, return of normalcy and sensitivities of masses here.
Even today much seems to be done practically on the ground in many respects, though the Centre has been flowing ample funds/packages for general welfare, employment, etc, from time to time, but still we see a considerable gulf even in the developmental face and security situation among the three divisions of the State not to talk of other States in India. The Valley suffered and still suffers to the worst be that life security, dignified living, peaceful atmosphere, developmental works, unemployment, etc,. Also the centre has still not been able to understand the local sensitivities and collective psyche in this part of the country. Perhaps the reach out has not been adequate (though substantial) and that is why the vulnerable and the most estranged section of the Kashmiri society today, i.e. the youth feel highly alienated, labeled, discriminated, ignored, impoverished and restricted , thus react with violence whenever the circumstances turn extremely unbearable or sensitive.
Though People’s reactions or protests are crushed most of the times now but the dissent continues rather shows an increasing trend be that people’s protest marches, out bursts via social networking sites or their urging on Kashmir’s plight in gatherings, meetings, seminars, etc,. However, the pity is that the conscious section of the society (especially in power) is still to ponder over the situation seriously, resulting in the statusquo of an acute socio-political chaos. Also there seems no one really bothered or in any haste (India, Pakistan ,UN, Kashmiri leadership) to look for the ways, by which Kashmir issue can be tackled within a diplomatic, mature and sustained way as per the people’s aspirations here. The current public rage or violent scenario or the collective dismay over prevailing uncertainty is the story/fallout of a collective battered psyche which unless and until not comprehended, empathized and treated pertinently by keeping in view the contextual sensitivities or people’s anger or panic (not fulfilling even the Afzal’s last wish of meeting his family) will never be leading to peace on its own, in this part of the censored India where SMS ban still continues and even cell phones turn abruptly dysfunctional on important national celebrations or in sensitive times, giving people a sense of being treated as enemy by their own State.
Also the issue of real and grass root level empowerment and mass emancipation is still not visible. The blots of human rights violations accompanied by the issues of bad governance have actually impoverished the feel secure psyche and peace building over here. Public is embittered as nameless mass graves issue is still unanswered, fake encounters are still to be responded and disappeared and displaced populace is still to return home.
On the developmental front, we have examples from other States like M.P, U.P, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, etc, where despite political upheavals, corruption or riots empowerment is coming to surface gradually in terms of growth, power decentralization at grass root level and the kind of power which common masses enjoy or feel by themselves. But such a growth story or situation is not witnessed in this part of India still. On priority basis, there is a need to adopt policies which suit this landscape of conflict and start from security to private sector growth. People here demand peace and urge Centre to deliver first the feel secure psyche to common Kashmiri’s and then talk about MNERGA or Panchayati Raj or inclusive growth programmes.
First revoke the controversial security laws (PSA, AFSPA) and then expect voter turn outs. First bring a common Indian and an oppressed Kashmiri on an equal plane and treatment/opportunity and then think of uprooting the secessionist tendencies over here. First keep a human heart while dealing with Kashmiri’s and then expect people eulogizing the world’s largest democracy or be a part of it by heart.
Despite the much hyped Panchayati Raj elections, there is hardly any actual power at grass roots. Even these Panchs and Sarpanches elected have strong (clear) political affiliations and have been merely elected for they belong to mainstream political parties. Even these Panchayat members live in fear as their security and issues of safety is yet another unresolved dilemma that has been haunting the government but without any practical solution so far. The power decentralization here has proved nothing but a simple rhetoric of a successful Panchayati Raj system but actually a futile exercise and yet other inter-party war of indigenous power hungry cluster.
The major impediment to development and progress is the lack of the sense of security, ample sources of livelihood, developed private sector, right to expression and right to protest for ones rights and above all good governance that could have brought all those culprits to book who are responsible for massive human rights violations in the State since 1989 and rehabilitating those who lost their property (Pandits community) or dear ones in bloodshed(common Kashmiri’s) and delivering justice to one and all and creating transparency in every sense (corruption free State). The matter of the fact is that everything lies with the Centre that needs to address the public grievances here, if it is really sincere on Kashmir.
On one hand, the suppression and subjugation has to be understood in terms of the brutal atrocities on unarmed civilians, rampant, unaccountable and rage growing arrests, mishandling of crisis every time and lack of addressing the sensitivities of different sections of the society, especially youths who are never listened to and above all the lack of development in the State.
On the other hand, the incessant demand for Azadi (freedom sentiment) whose graph was declining till the recent past but the three summer unrests (Amarnath Land Row in 2008, Shopian Double rape and Murder case row in 2009 and The Machil Fake Encounter Row in 2010) including the current myopic vision displayed by the government in Afzal’s case has started yet another period of uncertainty and siege times for the fate bitten Kashmir Valley. Azadi has, candidly speaking, multiple dimensions and interpretations here, though to hardliners it simply means freedom from India or to be completely independent and to a few fools it means even annexing to Pakistan but to the larger reasonable section it means the genuine autonomy to be granted to the State, keeping the State’s vulnerable geography in view and treating autonomy as a tangible possibility rather than thinking of bifurcation or trifurcation of the pluralistic State of Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately the steps to build peace in the region are not keeping the pace which the situation demands at the moment. Merely engaging people in commissions, house arrests of the separatist camp day in and day out, politics of submitting reports, demanding probes, establishing different committees or the much hyped and delaying tactic of employing the interlocutors (led by Dilip Padgonkar) to assess the grass root situation and to engage with Kashmiri leadership for talks and to understand the whims and aspirations of J&K’s diverse ethnic communities, etc, all proved nothing but purely a series of delaying stunts. The history is testimony to the fact that so far many probes and round tables have yielded nothing but talks or conferences or newspaper articles only. The delaying politics even could have been a fertile tactic but the distressing panic and violence, targeting innocent masses and continuing bloodshed has turned the State into a Police state or a chaotic military zone and more deadlier than the Auschwitz of Hitler, where every Kashmiri feels himself as the inmate of an endless chaos. The continuing tumultuous situation has brought the State on the brink of devastation, trust deficit and general hatred for policy makers, commissions, dialogues, etc,. Such a situation calls for an immediate but serious intervention without any more deliberate delays.
Sometimes one wonders whether anybody is virtually interested in peace over here or does anybody wish to see Kashmir happy, prosperous and progressive. One wonders for how long will the darkness stay and who actually benefits from the prevailing chaos. A practical and a stern way-out is still a utopia and no one really cares about the coming summer, pilgrimage, tourism or of normalcy here. This reflects the centre’s casual and narrow-minded stance at the State, its people and upon the problems Kashmiri’s face every day for none of their faults.
Talking to a larger chunk of well educated youth in the valley, almost all of them feel that behind every commission, report, talks, interlocutors, are vested interests. Whether it is PDP’s self rule or dual currency slogan or Omar’s, even saying that ‘Kashmir is a dispute’ and centre’s subscribing to it or NC’s autonomy slogan or routine hartals calls (shut downs) and frequent bandh’s (civil curfews) announced by pro-freedom camp, all is nothing but a plethora of varied and ambiguous dimensions/discourses on Kashmir as a problem but with no solution till date and there seems hardly any serious concern of helmsmen to solve it once and for all for everybody has developed his own interests in Kashmir valley. People also blame Indian media of bias and feel that media has not revealed the actual truth about Kashmir sufferings to outsiders. Also majority of the people in the valley believe that centre too wants to keep the issue lingering, seeing Pakistan’s political and internal instabilities and India seems unwilling to talk on Kashmir issue to them for both the nations share a bitter history, adding to the prolonging and complexity of the problem of Kashmir issue and sustaining the collective suffering of Kashmiri’s.
Kashmiri’s have utterly lost the feel secure psyche and the Afzal’s execution has destabilized Kashmir once again. The people here feel that the lid (of uncertainty & violence) has been kept open by immature and tricky statements on Kashmir as a political issue. Moreover, the negative stereotyping about Kashmiri’s, that is almost a culture in India at the moment has widened the gap between the Kashmiri’s and the rest of the Indians. Further the politics over AFSPA (Armed forces Special Powers Act) or upon the troop cut dilemma or the Centre’s delaying tactics by a plethora of commissions, enquires, etc, has led to a considerable trust deficit and disbelief in social justice. Also the Centre is not prone to acknowledge and not at all apologetic for the all the atrocities and moral travesties committed against Kashmiri’s since 1947, especially from 1989 when armed insurgency started.
The gospel truth of State’s shunning the responsibilities towards its people, has yielded distaste in the feeling of being a part of the world’s largest democracy. Has the centre really lost its vision on Kashmir and its complex socio-political problem or the local sensitivities of Kashmir do not matter to it (centre) at all?
Though many people believe that the calm will prevail again after this shocking wave will go, however, I am of a firm belief that the deceptive calm will prevail, which is perhaps now the routine and has become the destiny of this fate bitten Valley. Afzal’s hanging proved a hasty decision and his burial in jail without informing the family and not handing over the body has proved too inhuman, immoral and heart breaking. The bitter fact remains that mass sentiments of Kashmiri’s have never been respected so far. Such an incident will further lead to the sense of alienation among Kashmiris especially youth. First Afzal and then Afzal’s hanging and finally now even his body return has been highly politicized, which is quite unfortunate. Now when Afzal has been sent to gallows, his body should have been returned to his family as they are too the citizens of this nation. While I am writing this narrative of Kashmir’s suffering and sensitivities, the pseudo-political analysts and so called Kashmir experts outside Kashmir will spare no opportunity in politicizing the execution row or for that matter delegitimizing the dissent voices in Kashmir. The kins of the parliament attack (December13,2001) victims might have solaced their hearts after Afzal’s execution but, the question which stares us directly on our face is, “Was the preamble to the constitution any way respected in finalizing the discourse in Afzal Guru’s case”? No wonder, political ideals might have finally celebrated their triumph over the democratic ideals. But, then, by awarding capital punishment to a human soul, has the nation really satisfied its collective conscience? As death is never the end of life, the quest remains that, Is India really winning the fourth generation war in Kashmir? I am doubtful.
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