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, June 25, 2009

Professor Hamid Ansari Speaks at the University of Kashmir

Riyaz' commentary on the Vice President's speech followed by the text of the speech by His Excellency Hamid Ansari

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 37, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

Let’s set the clock right

“Time, regrettably, does not stand still,” said India’s Vice President M H Ansari in his fairly admired speech in University of Kashmir’s Convocation Hall on 20 June 2009. Reading out from a carefully crafted speech that featured an interesting discourse on identity, assimilation and integration, the Vice President went on to say, “We never step into the same river twice; nor can we use a time machine to re-live a gone by era. This university campus, and its endeavor in different branches of knowledge, suggests a desire to move with time (“Time”).”

Mr. Ansari remained too scholarly to elaborate his opening metaphors but the message went down without any loss of meaning. The speech has a richer subtext. The VP, it may appear in the context of Kashmir situation, was pointing to the “time” when India had a poor international clout and its 'unofficial' ally USSR was falling apart; the “time” when Kashmiri boys rose up against Indian military and the country’s growth rate was at measly five percent or less; the “time” when Pakistan had enough wherewithal to continue a 'proxy war' in Kashmir and get away with it; the “time” when India would not find a single politician or intellectual to plead her case; and the present “time” when India is China’s ‘friend-at-large’ and America’s officially stamped buddy; now Pakistan gives out signs of implosion; many layers of Kashmir’s privileged classes are serving New Delhi’s cause in the guise of ‘regionalism’ or ‘soft separatism’ and the Americans or the Europeans find it difficult to pull up India publicly over the Kashmir mess. The Vice President, unlike a rhetoric-obsessed politician, did not tell all this, he just conveyed it decently. Mr. Ansari’s urging came rather more obliquely. He appeared suggesting Kashmiri people, especially the youth that they should not “step into the same river” once more. Precisely, it was a clear conclusion on part of the Vice President that the “time” for Kashmiris to pursue special political goals, which entail the alteration in the status quo, was long over.

The emphasis over this urging is of significant note: “…nor can we use a time machine to re-live a gone by era.” And even more significant is the historical context of this remark. Recall 1974 parleys between then Indian premier Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. Abdullah told Gandhi that he wanted to begin from where he had left in 1953 and got a terse reply: “While I respect your sentiments, I must tell you that the hands of the clock cannot be turned back." Between 1974 and 2009 New Delhi’s approach toward Kashmir, as Mr. Ansari’s speech may suggest, has gone through as much evolution as can be observed in a clock (of Indira Gandhi) becoming the time machine (of M A Ansari); the expression differs, the text is same. If late Mrs. Gandhi, in her politically blunt expression, had refused to turn the clock back in 1974, Mr. Ansari, in his academically subtle style, has only reiterated her remark in a modern slang: “…nor can we use a time machine to re-live a gone by era.” Both the statements have the nuanced message, which is DENIAL in soft words.

Back to the Vice President’s speech: Following his figurative assertion was a positive hope: “This University campus, and its endeavor in different branches of knowledge, suggests a desire to move with time (“time”).”

This too is an open-ended or we can say a ‘double-edged’ remark, which can lose the real meaning if not elaborated. After all which “time” did Mr. Ansari refer to when it appeared to him that the KU campus suggested a “desire to move with time”? And if it is the same “time” as construed above, then, can we safely assume that the educated youth of Kashmir have finally decided to repulse all the notions of Azadi or separation from India and allow themselves and their future to be integrated if not assimilated, as the Vice President would prefer, within the grand Indian Union? These are some interesting questions, which need elaborate answers.

Unlike the university culture Mr. Ansari may have experienced in Aligarh, our university here is a cut-out government institution where the free expression may not be visibly curbed yet it is not sincerely promoted and is subtly discouraged. Or, certain ‘enlightened souls’ prefer security to the job rather than free speech and end up in a self-imposed intellectual exile. After all what is a university? Describing the university as a utopian state, Edward Said believes that the university should not be, and cannot be, a place where a victorious party uses the university as a place to expand its program. (Power, Politics and Culture pp 189-190).

The Vice President candidly explained that the convocations are to academic life what festivals are to social life. Given the immediate context in which this convocation was held Mr. Ansari’s insightful comment pales before a massive security restriction on the eve. The students as well as the scholars were asked to leave the campus in order to organize the “festival” smoothly. It is not yet clear if the visiting dignitary knew all of this, but the sanctity and the grandeur of the convocation was all too smeared in the wake of irritating security curbs put in place days in advance.

Mr. Ansari’s incisive take on “assimilation” (fusing of a culture or civilization into another dominant one) and integration Which implies the coexistence of a weaker cultural group alongside a dominant one. It’s a huge debate for which intellectual heavyweights such as Late Edward Said, Chomsky and Late Eqbal Ahmad have produced enough material. But Mr. Ansari’s attempt to deconstruct the broader concept of civilization identity in case of Kashmir seems inspired by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence –The Illusion of Destiny. Without going too deep into a weighty philosophical discourse, one can afford to assume that Mr. Ansari has attempted to view Kashmir situation as an extension of Indian Muslim problem, which it is not. That is, perhaps, why a 'generous' integrative enterprise from India has not paid off since 1947. True, the clock cannot be turned back. What if the clock were terribly wrong? Yes, we readjust our clock when it doesn’t show the right time. And the “time” has come to set the clock right so that the Kashmiris “move with the new times”. Time here, Mr. Vice President, has regrettably stood still for 62 years.

Following is the text of the Vice President, M Hamid Ansari’s, speech delivered at Kashmir University on the occasion of 17th Annual Convocation on 20th June:

“B’ naam-e-khuda-vand jaan aafarin
Hakim-e-sukhan dar zubaan aafarin

It is difficult to come to Kashmir and not be reminded of an admiring visitor’s
penned many centuries back:

‘Kashmir is a garden of eternal spring. Its pleasant meads and enchanting cascades are beyond all description. There are running streams and fountains beyond all count. Wherever the eye reaches, there are verdure and running water.’

Time does not dent the beauty of nature. Time does allow humans to enhance the benefits they derive from it. Time, regrettably, does not stand still. We never step into the same river twice; nor can we use a time machine to re-live a gone by era. This university campus, and its endeavour in different branches of knowledge, suggests a desire to move with time. It would undoubtedly please the spirit of saints and rishis who inhabited this land in yesteryears and imparted so much of wisdom and spiritual solace to the people.

I am happy to participate in today’s ceremony. Convocations are to academic life what festivals are to social life; they signify rites of passage, the passing of seasons, a celebration of achievement and benediction for facing the harsh world beyond the somewhat sheltered academic environment. The motto of the University –– From Darkness to Light – exemplifies the transition that graduating students undergo.

Convocations are also occasions to draw lessons from the experience of life. I too may be permitted to do so. Let me begin by recalling a couplet addressed to students of my own alma mater a long time back by a poet very well known to you:

Auron ka hai payam aur, mera payaam aur hai
Ishq ke dard mand ka tarz-e-kalaam aur hai

My message today pertains to the world of tomorrow. We live in an era of rapid change. A quarter of a century back an eminent historian wrote on the need to prepare for the twenty first century; he offered the prognosis that instead of a ‘new world order’ we confront ‘a troubled and fractured planet whose problems deserve the serious attention of politicians and public alike.’ The man and woman in the street, he added, know that their world is changing; they demand political responses in addition to technological ones.

I venture to suggest that these matters are of critical relevance to a society like ours. India is engrossed in challenges of development and political empowerment. It is one-sixth of the world in terms of population and is a microcosm of the diversities that characterise our world. It has been rightly called ‘the largest multicultural society in the world.’ The accommodation of diversity has been an Indian trait down the ages, made possible by an innate capacity for synthesis. How do we use this asset in the future? In what manner can we harness it for accommodating the competing demands of identity, autonomy and integration in a world that is perennially shrinking and inter-dependent?

How would this translate into institutions and practices? How would it impact on the daily lives of citizens? What may be the pitfalls that need to be avoided? What, in concrete terms, should be expectations of youth from society? A healthy society faces these, and related questions, and responds to them meaningfully.

The process of social cohesion proceeds from small groups to larger ones; each step enlarges the common agenda and reveals points of convergence and divergence; each divergence necessitates a choice: rejection or adjustment in the wider framework. In this manner rights and duties, as also adjustment and accommodation become integral to social life. The process also reveals a desire to distinguish between what is shared and what is held close to the chest. The latter generates the impulse for self-management or autonomy, to the exclusion of those who participate in managing the realm of what is shared. It thus becomes an essential characteristic of identity and reflects on patterns of governance. When transferred to the sphere of public life, it takes the shape of several autonomies – horizontal, vertical, political, fiscal and cultural - that may be sought. In this sense, autonomy ceases to be an exceptional principle in a democracy and, instead, becomes one of its essential ingredients functioning, in the words of one scholar, as ‘autonomies in perpetual dialogue among themselves, linked by respective

It needs to be admitted straight away that the question of identity, integration and social cohesion is complex and necessitates conscious and continuous efforts at calibration of challenges and responses. It requires identification and justification of areas of autonomy and integration.

Two other terms, deprivation and alienation, are contextually relevant in relation to groups. The former signifies persons who find themselves disadvantaged or lacking for reasons beyond their control; the latter denotes estrangement, social isolation and powerlessness. Both impact on social cohesion.

A clear distinction is to be made between assimilation and integration. The former implies the blending or fusing of minority groups or cultures into the dominant society or culture. It is usually reflective of the desire of the dominant group on grounds of cultural nationalism and is resented and resisted by minority ones. Integration, on the other hand, implies the movement of minority groups and the underprivileged sections of a society, without erasing their identity, into the mainstream of the society to give them full access to the opportunities, rights and services available to the members of the mainstream. It is always a two-way street and thus goes hand in hand with social solidarity.

The debate on identity, autonomy and integration was part of the Indian discourse in the Freedom Movement and in the formative period of the Constitution. In the words of a distinguished academic, ‘the Indian Constitution was well ahead of its time not only in recognizing diversities but also in providing for representation of the collectivities in the formal democratic structures.’ The special provisions for guarantees or affirmative action in six broad categories – caste, class, backwardness, religion, region, sex and language – is evidence of this approach for securing justice and ensuring cultural autonomy in a composite culture within a framework of a quasi-federal structure driven by an overriding imperative of maintaining territorial integrity.

Closer scrutiny shows that the multiple identities so recognized are amplified in our Constitution for legal and operative purposes and total as many as thirteen - identities grounded in religion; identities grounded in language; caste identities; tribal identities; community identities, such as in the case of the Anglo-Indian community; class identities, such as in the case of the socially and educationally backward classes; racial identities, notably prohibiting discrimination on grounds of race and permitting notification of specific races or groups within races to be deemed to be Scheduled Castes; gender identities; identities grounded in region, place of birth or residence, especially in the context of prohibition of discrimination and provisions contained in Part XXI of the Constitution; identities based on age, such as those provisions relating to children and the aged; minority identities, whether based on religion, language, script or culture; identities grounded in descent, especially in the context of non-discrimination on grounds of descent; and identities based on occupation, such as agricultural or industrial workers, defence personnel or civil servants etc.

Accommodation of diversity has thus been consciously incorporated as a distinctive feature of the Indian state. It implies that a standardized image of an Indian cannot be constructed; if presented, it is partial, incomplete, misleading. Despite this accommodative framework, there have been acts of omission and commission impacting on identity and integration issues.

Perceptions have evolved nationally and globally and highlight areas that remain to be addressed. Democratic politics and economic liberalisation has also strengthened regionalist trends. Linguistic reorganization has ceased to be the culmination of the process of expression of identities. Linguistically homogenous states have been subdivided over grievances of development. New demands for statehood continue to be made on grounds of ethnicity, culture or regional grievances. The imperative of better governance adds a sense of urgency to these.

These impulses of identity assertion and recognition confront two contradictory trends at the micro and macro levels. On the one hand, forms of identity assertion at national and state levels combined with existing patterns of political mobilisation have been perceived as thwarting the impulses towards internal integration and consolidation. A modern market economy does not coexist with autarky. On the contrary, societal transformation resulting from economic growth and urbanization has erased or downplayed certain identities while emphasizing new ones. Each of these impacts the political agenda at local, regional and national levels.

At the other end of the spectrum, we are living in a global village where new integrating impulses have gone beyond national boundaries weaving nations into a common fabric of economic and financial architecture, shared membership of multi-lateral institutions and common value systems governing individual and state behaviour. Countervailing forces have also emerged. Thus, globalization has produced a counter trend of resurgence of nationalism and of an emphasis on national and cultural identities.

Domestically, one notices certain unhealthy trends towards a homogenising nationalism that flattens diversities, and has little respect for local cultures, value systems and ways of life.

What do these developments mean to common citizens? What indeed is our vision of the interplay between identity and integration in the 21st century?

First, it is clear that living in isolation is not an option. It is nevertheless essential to realize that there are many ways of living together. Integration is necessary and desirable; assimilation is neither desirable nor practical. Throughout our history, we have seen identities being built on a series of inclusions and exclusions reflective of ground realities. The challenge in the future, as in the past, would be to maintain a balance in favour of inclusions.

Second, political management of identities and ethnicities has tended to vary between accommodation, polarization and manipulation. The only workable arrangement for a country of our diversity is accommodation in a constitutional and democratic framework. This necessitates negotiations with the state, and by the state. The politics of polarization and manipulation practices should have no place in our country.

Third, in an evolving polity and a developing economy, institutional dynamism plays an important role in making the conceptual transition from plurality to multiculturalism. The latter ‘is concerned with issues of equality: it asks, whether the different communities living together peacefully, co-exist as equals in the public arena.’ Such an approach would result in ‘a form of citizenship that is marked neither by a universalism generated by complete homogenisation, nor by the particularism of self-denial and closed communities.’ Such a vision of society would be contingent on the citizen body imbibing a new set of values.

Fourth, the youth in the age group of 15-35 years constitutes nearly 40 per cent of the total population of India. It is the same in the case of Jammu and Kashmir. This group represents the most vibrant and dynamic demographic segment and constitutes potentially a most valuable human resource. Youth empowerment would mean effective participation in decision making processes, with requisite knowledge, skills and capabilities. It is premised on attainment of higher educational levels and expertise by our young citizens, in line with their abilities and aptitudes, and access to employment opportunities.

How is it possible?

Two years ago I had, as the Chairman of the Working Group constituted by the Prime Minister on Confidence Building Measures, submitted a set of recommendations which also focussed on the Kashmiri youth. The issue was also addressed in the Report of the Working Group on Economic Development of J&K. The Prime Minister had expressed complete agreement with the view that implementation of the Working Group recommendations was the key to retaining the confidence of the people.

There is no option but to reconstruct the economy of the state ravaged by two decades of militancy. The potential of youth must be utilised to get out of the ‘backwardness trap’ of low economic activity, low employment and low income generation. Better education and health for the youth lead to inclusive growth where the poor continue to grow and benefit from it.

The graduating students today represent a minuscule and fortunate elite among youth having obtained tertiary education. We need to focus on creating adequate facilities for technical and vocational education, for skill up-gradation and improving employability of youth. New opportunities in services sector, including in the IT industry, must be made available to the youth of Jammu & Kashmir.

The youth of Jammu & Kashmir, like in the rest of the country, want to fulfil their potential, lead lives with dignity and honour and contribute to their communities and the nation. The Government is committed to enable this and thus herald a new future for the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

How realistic is such an approach? The answer seems to lie in our experience with other innovative norms that challenged orthodoxy. The processes of devolution of power to Panchayats and Nagar Palikas, the acceptance of the need for transparency in governance, the insistence on fundamental rights and observance of human rights norms, are instances of new perceptions impacting on state practice. Each proclaims a new beginning; none can yet claim perfection; all need to be pursued vigorously. The challenge, as Richard Falk would put it, is for ‘morally sensitive and forward-looking political forces’ to ‘seek unexplored normative potential.’ No segment of public is better qualified to do it than the youth. For them immobility, retreat, or disinterest is not an option.

I felicitate the students graduating today and wish them success in life. They would, I venture to hope, hold aloft the banner of the University and adhere to its motto. As citizens they should remember Edmund Burke’s dictum that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ To do so meaningfully, they need to heed Allama Iqbal’s advice:

Jab tak na zindagi ke haqaiq pe ho nazar
Tera zajaj ho na sake ga hareef-e-sang.

The focus, above all, has to be on self development:

Taamir-e-khudi kar, asar aahe rasa daikh.

I am grateful to the Chancellor of the University for inviting me to participate in the Convocation today”.

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