Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

When an inconvenient truth is obfuscated by harsh polemics

Rekha Chowdhary explains how Jammu and Kashmir differs from Northern Ireland and in the process brings some hidden truths to light

(Prof. Rekha Chowdhary, 55, was born in Jammu and has been a university teacher for the past 30 years. She is currently the Professor of Political Science, University of Jammu. During her distinguished teaching career, she was the visiting Fellow under a Ford Foundation grant at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, in 1992-1993; winner of the Commonwealth Award availed at the University of Oxford, 1997-1998; and the Fulbright Fellow availed at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, in 2005.)

Pluralism in the State has survived the conflict situation

While presenting a paper in a conference I talked about the plurality of Jammu and Kashmir and how it has survived despite all the provocations during last two decades of conflict. As soon as my presentation ended I got quite a few comments, of which I will be quoting and analyzing some. 'It was a wonderful story' was one comment. 'Is your presentation not loaded with optimism on the higher side? - was the other comment. 'If pluralism still survives in Jammu and Kashmir, why is it so? Can one not draw lessons from here for other conflict-ridden situations - like in Rwanda?' This was the most thought provoking comment.

'It was a wonderful story!' The very comment made me realize that what I am saying about Jammu and Kashmir is not believed or is not believable. People think that it cannot be a reality, but a 'story'. That is the reason that the other comment also referred to my high level of 'optimism'! For those who were listening to me talking about pluralism as a surviving value in Jammu and Kashmir - this was not the reality, but a 'make-believe' narrative deliberately made to appear pleasant. My academic training put me to the task of analyzing as to what all this means. Firstly, I needed to check my own facts. Am I presenting the facts as they are or I am exaggerating? No, I am sure I am not exaggerating when I say that pluralism has survived in our State even when there have been all kinds of provocations. Whatever else may be said about the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir no one can say that it has led to communal tensions. Hardly there has been any time when even the severe-most situation has led to a sustained communal response. There are certainly all kinds of political divergence and political divides - there are different kinds of aspirations and claims many of which are conflicting and contradictory to each other. But all these differences at the political level have not made us enter into a 'hate politics', the kind of which is to be witnessed in many other parts of the country or at the global level. We have survived lots of provocations. We have survived the worst kinds of selective killings - in the district of Doda, where a number of times the selective killings have been aimed at provoking a backlash, which did not happen. The massacres in Kashmir - the Chattisinghpora, Nadimarg,Wandhama, Sangrama and many more - were meant to create a permanent tension on community basis - (or the shootout in the Raghunath temple, in Jammu) thankfully none of such situations led to communal tensions. In fact, the very purpose of these selective killings was defeated as these situations were not seen in a 'Black and White' manner. The political maturity of the people was enough to make them understand that these killings were not at all linked with the popular responses of the community and that the local community was as much a prisoner of the situation as the victims were. Even in the worst case so far - the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits which has generated many other kinds of responses - there has not been a communal response. With all the kinds of political wedge that may have been drawn in this case, and whatever kinds of issues that may have arisen - one cannot say that the bond that the Kashmiri Pandits have with the Kashmiri Muslims is totally broken. And certainly, there is not a communal strife between the two communities. So when I make a statement that pluralism in Jammu Kashmir has survived the conflict situation, I am not exaggerating. So why am I seen to be 'narrating a story' or being 'highly optimistic'.

There may be two reasons for that. Firstly, there is ignorance about Jammu and Kashmir and people outside the State are not properly informed about the situation within the State. In many ways, the conflict is seen to be induced by the factor of religion and people of the State are seen to be divided on communal basis. There is no real understanding about the internal heterogeneity, plurality and complexity of the society.

The second reason is that there are not many living examples of the conflicts at the global level where the presence of different communities has not led to the communal divide. The Irish example, about which I would like to talk at length in my later writings, is a case in point. Irish case is presented before us as one comparable to out situation. However, at the societal level there could not have been a bigger contrast. It is a highly divided society - with people following Catholic and Protestant faith totally segregated and having no space for inter-community trust or faith. So institutionalized is the segregation between the two communities that they do not virtually have any space for common interaction. They get educated in segregated schools, they follow segregated politics and as for as possible they remain away from each other. It is a situation unlike us - where we may fight at the political levels, but at the community level, there is no stopping us for showing our love and affection for each other. We meet each other on everyday basis. Ours is so mixed a society that it is not possible to mark any kind of division. We are forced to bump into each other and hence no lines like the one drawn in Northern Ireland can be drawn here. There the political arrangement of power sharing between the two communities, has actually widened the gulf between the communities and the demands are being articulated to divide everything - even the playgrounds!

For us the playgrounds, the educational institutions, the shops, the offices, the neighborhood (and many other such places) are the places where we shed our political divide to meet each other on cultural basis and make friends with each other. Not only that we share so much of history and culture that we cannot stop being a part of each other. So much so, we have our folk practices which overlap the religious boundaries and we even have shared religious spaces. One has to visit a 'Peer Baba' in Jammu on Thursday to understand the concept of shared religious spaces! Plural society of Jammu and Kashmir is not an exaggeration. It is a fact of life here. Plurality is a lived experience and not an 'ideological' or 'text-bookish' principle. It is the way we are living for long time. Certainly, the conflict situation in Jammu and Kashmir can be quoted in positive terms when seen in the context of the inter-community relations and in terms of maintaining the plurality of the society. However, that depends on the proper representation of the reality of the State to the outside world. We have failed in projecting the plurality of our society as our lasting strength. We need to tell our 'story' to the rest of the world.

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