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Searching For Voices Of Sanity In Kashmir – OpEd

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Kashmiri youth continue to die needlessly one after the other – either as militants in encounters with the security forces or die as Zahid Bhat, a 19-year-old boy who was recently set ablaze by a mob in Udhampur and thus became the victim of a hate crime and beef politics. There are also thousands of other youth who have been killed in one way or another. Amid this never ending chaos, communal politics — and now especially cow politics — the people have lost hope in the system to do anything worthwhile and stem this needless loss of young and vibrant lives.

Deep frustration – especially frustration among the youth – has reached a new zenith and is in imminent danger of exploding! Today, in contemporary Kashmir, what youth from any section, class or educational background of Kashmiri society have in common is their horrible experiences and pathetic lived realities, as well as a distrust in and hopelessness with the system. Given such a dismal state of affairs prevailing in the Kashmir Valley and belonging to the same context, I too was greatly upset after the unruly mob attacked the truck in Udhampur and burned two youth mercilessly – one of whom succumbed to his severe burn injuries later. With never-ceasing civilian killings, regular encounters especially in south Kashmir, rising communal hatred in Jammu, the monster of hopelessness stalks every right thinking individual; with the uncalled for beef violence, every sane person feels disgusted. In utter despair I sent a text message to my teacher and the message read thus: “Sir, Kashmir is again, predictably enough, on the boil and it is really getting worse day by day. Zahid’s killing will further instigate violence and motivate the already inflamed youth, towards counter violence. What do you surmise is the way out to this terrible situation of uncertainty and cycle of violence?” After a moment I received a terse one liner which succinctly read as, “Voices of Sanity!”

In search of Sane Voices

Although this was an unexpected rejoinder, being a student of sociology, I started conceptualizing the translation of this phrase into a practical reality and paraphrasing the same in the context of Kashmir. The immediate questions that came to mind were as to what could be the voices of sanity in Kashmir that is literally burning in the fire of conflict, despair, violence, crime and hatred? Whose voices can be treated authentically as the voices of sanity? There are motivators, radicals, violent brigades, political leaders, religious leaders, academia, media, writers, artists, etc, but among these, who are the voices of sanity? I also began to cogitate as to whether there are there any voices of sanity that have been trying peace building so far in a practical way and has there been any effort to sustain peace by anyone so far? The next question was, whether after all, is there anybody interested in the return of peace beyond the victimized and traumatized common man?

Mass Perceptions

On the subject, I interacted with about thirty fellow Kashmiri youths in my search for voices of sanity in Kashmir. There were strange answers, some believe that the youth are the sane voices, some believe it is the separatist leadership, yet others believe it is the ruling PDP, some argue opposition, some even say foreign agencies and some say Amnesty International and a few surprisingly claim AIP firebrand leader Er Rashid!

Some argue that there cannot possibly be any such voices in such uncertain times as everyone is confused with what is going on in the state, where Ladakh feels dejected and neglected and Jammu hates Kashmir and vice versa! Some go on to maintain that the intellectual class could have been considered the sane voice, but they have either taken sides or are morally corrupt or are afraid of articulating the truth in the public sphere and are thereby shaping a moral bankruptcy. Yet others argue that it is the local media that can legitimately be the sane voice, as Indian media (Delhi based) has altogether been presenting a different picture of Kashmir and outsiders who even abuse us and treat us anti-national, anti-social, terrorists, etc, hardly know the reality on the ground amid a plethora of self appointed Kashmir experts.

However, the local media too suffers from various pressures and there are a plethora of agencies that influence the media and there is always counter literature to rebut the local literature. There are media persons, but simultaneously there are media vultures whose businesses thrive on a prolonged conflict situation. There is literature regarding human rights abuse, but simultaneously there has evolved the literature of the perception management. Such a state of affairs has flabbergasted the sane voices of right thinking, socially conscious and justice-oriented people. Mostly thinking and conscious beings prefer to keep quite in today’s uncertain Kashmir. The question is who will make these people open their mouths?

The Collective Anxiety

Amid these discourses, the question that still haunts me is the search for the sane voices.

If it is Kashmir’s intellectual class, then what role have they played to build peace and what is the impact on the ground when bloodshed continues unabated, when young and educated militancy is at its peak and when encounters continue day in and day out without any sanity prevailing on the ground.

If it is Kashmiri women, how far is their activism successful or any focus on peace building? Where are these sane voices when on one hand militant recruitments continue and on the other, encounters are routine? Can such a state of affairs be the march towards peace building or will such an atmosphere shape a beautiful future for Kashmir?

Further, the vital unanswered question of the state losing or winning in Kashmir remains a painful reality. If they are winning, then why are educated youth embracing militancy, and if they are losing then have they fully comprehended this sense of loss?

Also, what are the multiple think-tanks around the country doing for the last three decades when Kashmir loses its calm almost every day now? What is the vision of the Centre for today’s Kashmir that is nothing but a pool of blood? Has anybody in the corridors of power some sympathy for this impoverished and sensitive state?

Frankly speaking, when it comes to peace building in the context of Kashmir, there have been more discourses on peace building rather than any actions on building peace itself. To me, the common man is an exploited man and therefore is the only sane voice as his actions or thinking are not planned. But who is the common man of Kashmir today, isn’t that a bit difficult to answer? In Kashmir things are always situational; a militant’s father feels proud of his son and therefore has a different viewpoint about the conflict in the region and altogether a different idea of peace (only war can shape peace) whereas a police man’s father has an altogether different opinion on the same subject. Those who lie somewhere midway within these two groups, are confused which way to go and what opinion to espouse. Therefore who is the common man in such circumstances when everybody claims to be the common man, even the Delhi’s CM?

The Truth Inside

Sociologically speaking, since the 1990’s in Kashmir, there is a separate self and simultaneously a collective self where views of the same individual differ drastically when he is at home and when he is outside. What people feel inside the secure four walls of their home, is not necessarily reflected outside and there are obvious reasons for that. Amid this scenario, there is always an illusion of interconnectedness and the fake idea of unity that is solely political in nature. What prevails is a fake concept of Biradiri (brotherhood), which is always subject to the idea of either safety or vested interest amid such uncertainty. Though there are people who recognize the insane nature of Kashmir’s situation today they often remain quiet given the vulnerabilities, simultaneously there are manipulators and amateurs who take advantage of such an intellectual calm and such a disaster has actually resulted in the rise of a new class who know nothing but how to cash in on such a situation and see their interests materialize. Therefore, recognizing the responsibility for the collective anomic situation becomes difficult and the prevailing darkness and enormous social pathology due to the absence of a sane ideology, is manifesting itself repeatedly, despite so much of state, military and legal apparatus at place.

Peripherals in periphery: Looking for Sane Voices

Sane voices are of the unimportant individuals in conflict zones. People who were never heard and people who feel victimized in one way or the other and represent no side, can be the sane voices. This may appear hypothetical but I am sure if we let the state listen to the common voices and translate their collective vision into reality, sanity will get re-shaped into a positive reality.

Recording and recalling the sane voices has increasingly become important in today’s Kashmir where sanity has lost its existence and common man has lost his space, the women hardly count anywhere or their voices hardly reach the power elite. In the glamour of the leadership theater, common people have never been heard and their voices for peace building have never been taken into account. The State has to mainstream the voices of peace which it has never done so far resulting in the declining graph of normalcy and increasing peace and trust deficit in the state. What they show as their progress after every six years is some roads, some electricity and some buildings. Has the state ever engaged with youth in the literal sense? Has the State or Centre really ever approached the angry youth in a spirit of sincerely wishing to ameliorate their misery and stem the tide of misery? Has the state ever bothered about PSA’s and AFSPA or tried to talk to young Kashmiri and educated militants? Has the state really bothered about the killing unemployment in the region where suicides have a high record? Has the state done anything practical to address the venom of polarization and sense of disparity round the state in terms of Jammu vs Kashmir vs Ladakh, where people from one region differentiate and hate each other on the grounds of religion, local development and locale? There are endless questions but, unfortunately, without any satisfactory answers.

Last Word

My teacher is right for voices of sanity can only shape a peaceful Kashmir but what remains to be done is to discover those sane voices with a sense of urgency and without further loss of valuable time!

[This article has been edited from the version that appeared in Kashmir Times]

Dr. Adfer Shah

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)].. Reach him at [email protected]

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