Kashmir: A Colossal Challenge – OpEd


Common sense dictates one thing, but Kashmir moves in the other direction. Research, commission reports and articles, along with a plethora of propaganda (by media vultures), keep piling up on the human or social fallout of the K-issue. Plenty of discourses remain on the assaults (sexual or physical) on the vulnerable, the monster of women issues, the unaccounted killings from the past, the plight of the widows/half-widows, the disappeared, the continuing human rights abuses, the plight of people in border areas, the excessive military adventurism, etc. The main problem found in most of the above list is the problem of generality in conceptualizing the lack of consideration of communal, territorial and community identities. Specifically, the lack of political will to reach out for adequate redressel, as reports gather dust.

The illusory peace (peace maintained and understood by the power elite) actually has proven a deterrent to reach any positive solution so far (nonetheless, elections every six years continue the old agendas of Bijli, Pani and Sadak). While the perception of discrimination, or alienation, at the hands of the establishments and armed forces, the conflict and bloodshed doesn’t harm Kashmiriyat – or the politically defined secular identity and the unitarian ethos.

In this light, the Pandit exodus can be understood as a collateral damage of the conflict situation. The Pandits equally love their motherland and would love to live with Kashmiri Muslims and vice versa, politics apart. Thus disproving the much exaggerated claim that the conflict has uprooted our age-old social and cultural ethos – literally it has not. Kashmiriyat is intact despite a plethora of fissures.

The dominant discourses on K-Issue

The notion of Azadi (freedom), which was much stronger in the first decade of the conflict, commonly understood as secession from the Indian Union lost sheen when the public got fed up with the prolonged bloodshed and suffering at the hands of both the state and non-state actors. Now there is a resurgence in Kashmir’s new militancy. It is often observed by the media as led by Kashmir’s young rebels; or educated young militants, mostly local youth operating in South Kashmir. The idea of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan was never subscribed by the sane masses, except for a few slogans during peak of the conflict. These were slogans such as “Rawaan Dawaan hai karvaan – Kashmir banega Pakistan,” “Kashmir ki Mandi – Rawalpandi,” “Pakistan se Rishta kya – La illa ha ilal lah” and many more.

The idea of autonomy, backed by some political establishments, is still considered a feasible option (the pre-1953 position). However, it is barely entertained by the Centre any more. The idea of dual currency like General Musharraf’s four-point formula erupted in the recent past. It was never hailed or even understood by the general public. While the Armed Forces kept working for Kashmir’s integrity with India, the opposing forces (armed guerrillas, both local and from outside) tried their best to destroy the integrity. These opposing forces operated with huge infiltration, encounters within the valley, attacks on Panchayat members, etc. They did so to make the secession possible, but failed due to tight security situation, the Mukhbiri (practice of secret informers of security forces), and, decline of people’s faith in militancy. For it was found that some among the militancy had started meddling with the domestic trifles of the people.

The new militancy is different. Today’s militant are aware of the failures of the previous militants. He is educated, active on social networking sites and much hailed by the masses. In early Nineties, some of the locals settled their personal scores with neighbors and others, by using militancy as their backup. Then after, the rise of infighting among militant groups, resulted in mutual killings. Soon the militant infighting peaked. But the story today is altogether different. The new militant youth brigade clicks pictures and shoots videos to reach the public and the media. They are more organized, integrated and prepared, than their previous generation.

Kashmir’s Perpetual Leadership Crisis

The problems of leadership in Kashmir, with legitimacy crisis of the public leaders, has taken a big toll. Those who represent the voice of the masses hardly come in talking terms. They hardly speak for the suffering masses; instead they throw their diktats from their castles. The firm stance maintained by the political establishment has proven a deterrent. For, it has led to ego clashes among the opponent leaderships. That is why talks never turn successful. The recent NSA level talks were yet another misadventure by both the countries, India and Pakistan, at the cost of people, who continue to die in border areas due to cease-fire violations.  Apart from the disturbed socio-political matrix, Pakistan’s consistent internal instability along with the lack of a sincere will over Kashmir has delayed Kashmir’s resolution.

The Conscious Cluelessness

The burden of the conscious cluelessness, i.e. letting the things go as such, along with the lack of intellectual framework, i.e. lack of solutions by think tanks, to resolve the conflict situation has painfully prolonged the Kashmir situation today. The fatalistic anxieties, extending beyond politics, have led to a social breakdown and an identity crisis. Today, among the masses, everyone is a leader for him or herself. A deep unease among the masses is visible. There is no loud cries for violent dissent, but the masses are still scared. There are a plethora of moral disagreements within. Whose Kashmir do they want to snatch from India? Where are the Kashmiris in this whole rights game? Who governs Kashmir in the true sense? Why does the centre delay the redressal of public grievances, time and again? Who are the youth of Kashmir?  And, are the youth a problem or an asset for the nation? Kashmir currently is nothing but a land of mass confusion and a saga of injustice. It is the social injustice, along with the insensitivities of past crisis mishandlings that have resulted in the new militancy.

Emotions and Inculcations

There prevails a lot of misunderstanding and miscalculation among the masses. For instance, rhetoric such as:

  • Kashmir is governed by the military,
  • The cultivable lands are grabbed by security forces,
  • Pandits will never return home,
  • Pakistan can liberate Kashmir within minutes,
  • Autonomy is useless,
  • Article 370 will be abrogated by BJP,
  • The draconian laws (AFSPA and PSA) cannot be revoked at all,
  • AFSPA is a holy book for armed forces,
  • Infiltration cannot be stopped because of the LoC situation,
  • Policing cannot be public friendly,
  • Kashmiri youth bulge is the big problem,
  • International community is seriously thinking about the Kashmir problem,
  • The World is only looking at Kashmir,
  • The United Nations is pressuring India to solve the Kashmir issue,
  • The US will finally favour Pakistan in solving the K-Issue.

Such ideas have gone penetrated deep down into the mass psyche. It is due to the constant propagation by vested interests along with ignorance, presentation of distorted facts, and arm chair sermons by so called “K-experts.”

The problems with political commands

The major political establishments have failed to show clarity, consistency, proper public-centered agenda and a clear resolve towards the Kashmir issue. Even the so called peace initiatives are not always aimed at peace. Besides the constant mishandling of the public aspirations, along with a plethora of broken promises by the political class; better governance, transparency, employment, development, safety and security, have so far failed to translate on the ground. Once elected, they fail to put the lingering K-issue to limelight. Bijli, Pani and Sadak are always the recycled issues on their agenda. Also those – the people of the government, activists and alike – who represent Kashmir on TV channels or debates are themselves a big embarrassment to Kashmiris and the K-Issue. For, they only talk emotions rather than facts. Some even abuse the anchors, reflecting their frustration, political immaturity, volatility and lack of knowledge.

Social Collective Gone Mishandled

Kashmir’s holistic social collective has gone mishandled since the conflict started. Due to institutional collapse during the peak of the conflict, along with fear and chaos, much went wrong. It was done by both the state and the non-state actors. Ideologically, there has hardly been any functional consensus among the stakeholders, be that from the separatist brigade or from the mainstream political players. It is primarily due to the power seeking greed. There exist a plethora of groups who claim to be working for the people. But they project narrow ideologies, non-feasible goals and pure economic self-interests. To further the ideological divide, visionless leadership, corrupt politics, biased media and lack of social justice, have collectively marred the possibility of peace.

Further disturbing the life of the common man there are the self-centered political philosophies, power hungry stakeholders, verbal diarrhea of issuing trivial statements, exhausting oppositions, and a practice of painting everything with religion, by vested interests and amateurs. Amid the collateral damage and the perpetual loss, every Kashmiri grieves at the surrounding destruction. They are currently in utter confusion about which brigade to follow or whom to avoid, in order to find a peaceful life. In addition, everyday issues such as sustenance, growing criminality, poverty and livelihood, encircles the people’s mind. They are fed up with the unceasing bloodshed and the uncertainty.

Of Myths, Tags and Blames

The dread of “agencies are after Kashmiris” is prevalent in Kashmir. The perception is that Kashmiris are unsafe outside Kashmir and that every Kashmiri is being spied or monitored by lots of security agencies, both inside and outside of the Valley. Another myth is that the international community thinks seriously on and about Kashmir. People living in their imaginary world believe the astrological predictions about the certain coming of Azadi. As for tags, Kashmiris are quick to attach tags to fellow Kashmiris. For instance, many rationalist and balanced writers are being branded as [Indian] agents of various agencies. The label of pro-Indian is directly understood as anti-Kashmiri. To them one can be either a Kashmiri or Indian. Another tag is the Qoum kay Gaddar, a treacher, for the persons who either support the status quo or believes in rationality.

There are many other tags. People who bore the brunt of the conflict castigate and ridicule the prime instigators who recruited the youth to cross the border for training as Jihadis in early nineties. The main indoctrinators motivated the youth to cross the border, but spared their own sons and relatives. Instead, they sent their young sons outside the Valley for education and good jobs. (In the local lexicon they say – Gareeban Hiend/Lukkhend Maarnavekk, Pannen Soozekk Nebarr; – idiomatic translation – they sent the sons of the poor across the border to die but retained their wards/relatives for higher studies outside the Valley). The scene has altogether changed now. Today, youngsters from well off families are also joining militant ranks.

Post Script

There is a dire need to resist negative transformation and emerging violent youth sub-cultures. It has to be done through perception management and sincere work on the ground. The working groups must not be blind to the social domain. They should stop seeing Kashmir exclusively through a security prism, which always projects it as a monster of terrorism, which it never was.  Instead, the friends of Kashmir must increase interaction with public and relevant stakeholders, to devise paths to sustainable peace. We also have to stop eulogizing counterinsurgency successes and narratives at LoC. We have to focus on internal issues vis-à-vis crime and disorder, to produce actual successes. The focus is important for the sake of masses, particularly the people who are trying to lower the trust deficit between the system and the masses. Ideologies that are inconsistent and self-destructive, need to be expelled. If we want Kashmiri youth to grow and prosper then we need to stop using them as smart gadgets for disposal, whereby they can be used for indoctrination, provocation, religious manipulation, to distort facts and history, to label and to stereotype.

Kashmiris must realize that they cannot change the grand political narratives merely by provoking emotions. They must prefer peace over chaos. They must bid adieu to indoctrination industry and let the people’s choices prevail; instead of the blind following that is mere personality based. The governing establishment has to refrain from spreading terror in the name of law and order, by over regulating the masses, which causes social strain. The labeling of people must end. Developing a strong social cohesiveness must be the agenda of priority. Finally, a politically feasible solution of the K-Issue must be given due attention. For, political stability is a must precondition to social development. The lack of social justice has to be seriously addressed. Otherwise the common man will be further ostracized, and may keep attempting to shake the very bases of the issues at hand.

This article appeared at South Asia Journal and has been slightly edited.

Dr. Adfer Shah

Dr. Adfer Shah, (Adfer Rashid Shah, PhD) is a New Delhi-based Sociologist and Social and Political analyst.He writes his columns for various reputed international and national media groups. He has been writing on South Asia's Socio-political realities especially on Kashmir sociology and Conflict Situation at Eurasia Review since 2012, where he is a Special Correspondent for South Asia Affairs and Associate Editor since January 2014. His recent publications include his three books (1)"Kashmir-Yearning for Peace: A Socio-Political history of Uncertainty and Chaos,2016" (ISSN: 978-3-659-55971-6), (2)'Social Science Research in Conflict Zones,2017' (ISBN: 978-620-2-47937- 0) and (3)'Tibetan Refugees in India: Struggle to Survive,2018' ( ISBN 81-8324-919-1)]..

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