It’s time we gave Kashmiris the space, hope and let them have their say
The spike in civilian killings have woken up the nation to a new reality in Kashmir. Jolted by the target killings, everybody is asking: Why are things suddenly going wrong in Kashmir?
The spike in civilian killings have woken up the nation to a new reality in Kashmir. Jolted by killings of three minority community members in an evident case of selective targeting, everybody have begun asking: Why are things suddenly going wrong in Kashmir?
Those living in Kashmir, however, are also shocked but not surprised. This was anticipated, they say. Were things ever going right in Kashmir, they ask, followed by a sharper question. Is your government feeding you lies on Kashmir?
Since August 2019, the Narendra Modi led BJP government has been spinning a normalization narrative and linking it to the scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A, which ushered in an an era of development, peace and progress in J&K.
The normalcy narrative was peddled even when Kashmir was under a physical and cyber siege for months. It continues to be peddled even as voices from Kashmir are heard less and less.
For over two years journalists have been prevented from asking questions. Instead, electronic media’s opinionated news programs and screaming panelists magnified the hallucination of the BJP government. When it comes to Kashmir, the government’s word is deemed to be unquestionably final, damn the Truth.
Beneath the surface calm in Kashmir, what has been missed are lives, already reeling under years of oppression and trauma, turned upside down since August 2019. While the rest of the nation exulted over the ‘complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir’, Kashmiris were deprived of basic civil liberties.
While the government began laying the building blocks of the new laws, policies and structures of governance, Kashmiris were ignored again and not consulted. Could this have empowered Kashmiris or could this have added to their humiliation? It is not rocket science to figure out the answers.
As for Article 370, though hollowed out decades ago, it was much more than just an emotional connect for the people. Its fallout has left an indelible imprint and its final erosion has given New Delhi unhindered power to take unilateral decisions with respect to Jammu and Kashmir without consulting the stakeholders.
Are people happy with those decisions? The teeming majority of India has been officially told they are and that people of J&K, ethnic Kashmiris included, are looking forward to a ‘future of development and peace’.
The real import of how abrogation is impacting the lives of people individually and collectively has not been reported by the Indian media. Besides, the louder reportage of ‘normalcy’ and ‘peace’ completely dwarfed and overwhelmed voice of the people, fooling even liberals and some intellectuals.
Almost total absence of street protests and stone pelting have been cited as evidence of normalcy. Surfaces can be deceptive though. Deepening alienation and discontent are not always reflected in protests and violence. What also remains invisible to anybody outside the state is the unending tyranny of the state’s agencies.
The oppression in the heavily militarised zone now takes newer forms. New laws that engender fears of demographic change and monopolistic control of resources by big businesses from outside; service rules that enable arbitrary termination of employees, slapping of criminal cases, summons to police stations, crackdowns, raids, threats and intimidations to silence civil society, media and any form of dissent. The oppressive climate in Jammu and Kashmir, whose natural fallout is distress and violent reaction by some, is visible if one just scratches the surface.
Some weeks ago, in a social media chat, when I mentioned Kashmir was turning into a nightmare, a friend from Delhi pointed to tourists thronging the Valley to suggest that the situation in Kashmir is actually getting better. The economy would look up and at least “people from the plains are getting to enjoy this heaven,” she consoled.
It is not the first time that tourism, which comprises a very small component of Kashmir’s economy, has seen a spike. But it is interesting to note the transition.
In the imagination of mainstream India, integration of Jammu & Kashmir is deemed as a spoil of conquest and weighed in terms of benefits people outside J & K can reap. Jammu & Kashmir’s own people do not even figure in that imagination.
The inability of Indian liberals and media to understand the malaise, their gullibility and silence have also emboldened the government to accelerate strong-arm tactics in Kashmir.
While a section, albeit a very small one, of the population in Kashmir is being pushed towards extreme radicalization and the gun, there is not even an acknowledgement of the wrongs committed by the Indian state in Kashmir.
Viewers of the 24x7 TV channels that peddle falsehood and opinion in the name of news have been fed the fodder of ‘normalcy’ and ‘development’ for two years. After the killings of civilians and new trends in militancy, they are now being conveniently offered a staple of ‘Afghanistan impact’, Pakistan and cross-border terrorism.
The emerging geopolitical scenario and churnings in Afghanistan will undoubtedly cast their shadow on Kashmir. But the real danger is posed by internal weaknesses. The militants and their active sympathisers or overground workers today do not even comprise one percent of the population but in the name of fighting terrorism, an entire population has been painted as the enemy.
Continuation of this policy is likely to enlarge the constituency of the radicalized. While all stakeholders need to do their bit in dousing the fire, it is primarily the obligation of the Indian government to pause and rethink its strategies in Kashmir.
It has celebrated the full integration of Jammu and Kashmir by dismembering and demoting it. Now, it must integrate the hearts and minds of the people by listening to them. The beginning should be made by some plain speaking about Kashmir. That is the only way forward.
In a recent Indian Air Force airshow, one of the several events that was used to project Kashmir’s normalcy, the tagline was ‘Give wings to your dreams’. It’s time they give Kashmiris the space, if not wings, to dream, hope and have their say.
(The author is Executive Editor, 'Kashmir Times'. Views are personal)