(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf Bhat, 34, was born in village (Hutmarah) of of the District Anantnag of South Kashmir. He completed his graduation from the University of Kashmir in 1999 and Masters’ degree from the Aligarh Muslim University in 2002 and pursued the doctorate (PhD) in Linguistics from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur-India. His research mainly focused on Kashmir specifically language identity discourses and attrition of the Kashmiri speech community. Though his primary research mainly focuses on Linguistic Studies, nevertheless, he has been actively involved on the research concerning the grand narratives of Kashmir. He was associated with the Central Institute of Indian Languages Mysore (Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India) at various capacities. Under the Cognitive Science Research Initiative, he has been awarded a prestigious competitive fellowship by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Govt. of India. Presently, he is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT New Delhi. He has presented/published various papers at several national and international platforms.)
(Mis)understanding the Kashmir Predicament
This is in response of the several articles specifically Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor’s “Kashmir. What next,” Happymon Jacob’s “New Delhi’s forgetfulness,” Prof. Rattan Lal Hangloo’s “Let it be Kashmir first” mentioning a few published in the English daily Greater Kashmir dated 25th, 18th and 16th March 2012 respectively. The crux of the predicament needs to be understood in a wider perspective. On 11 April 1996, I boarded a bus from Srinagar bound for Anantnag (also called Islamabad). Army personnel stopped the bus for a routine check and asked a middle-aged man: ‘where are you going?’ ‘Anantnag’, was the scared reply. A moment ago, however, the man had fearlessly asserted ‘Islamabad’ to the bus conductor. Islamabad and Anantnag, are merely contextually constructed alternatives. Paradoxically, security forces in Kashmir get angry for using the word Islamabad (probably because it is the name of the capital of the neighboring country! Or perhaps it is an assertion of the religious identity).
The dynamics of such a dilemma plays out among the main stakeholders here: the Kashmiri people, India, and Pakistan. The Kashmiri people include the common masses, the separatist camp (popularly called the Hurriyat Conference), the mainstream political parties, and the migrant Kashmiri Pandits. Within the common masses—who actually experienced the destruction, sufferings and pain—there are varying narratives and opinions. A larger section would advocate azadi (freedom) and some, Nehru’s proposed ‘plebiscite’. Even among the azadi fans, the understanding varies. For some, it entails the end of the entire Indian presence while for others, it implies Kashmir minus armed forces. ‘Most of the young people in Kashmir want azadi, but no two persons have the uniform opinion when asked what azadi is’ asserts Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, Chairman of National Minority Commission.
In summer 2008, hundreds were injured and killed; huge rallies supported the azadi slogan. The influence of these protests across the valley persuaded Vir Sanghvi, Subramanian Swamy and Arundhati Roy to suggest a referendum in Kashmir – ‘thinking the unthinkable’. However, shortly, the people of the valley proved such presumptions false by participating in the Assembly elections with almost a 70% turnout. Mr. Arun Jaitley, in a television debate, then called the volatile incidents of 2008 and 2010 in Kashmir as temporary aberrations. However, a common genuine concern, as Mr. Habibullah articulates is that ‘most of the people opine that New Delhi treats all the people of Kashmir as potential threats [… and] that New Delhi will never treat them as equal citizens.’ The only shared concern, one can notice within the common mass that conjoins their voice is that they all have suffered at every front.
Similarly, among the separatists, there are at least three diverse opinions: Pakistan, azadi and plebiscite. Among the two major factions of the separatists, one is willing to participate in a dialogue with the Indian government; the other faction utterly refuses dialogue, considering it futile and without tangible outputs. However, the only unity in their tones is the perception of a common challenge: New Delhi.
The mainstream parties are no exception and are equally divided. The National Conference advocates autonomy; the People’s Democratic Party campaigns for self-rule; and the Congress Party affirms the status quo. However, they have some common characteristics, which presumably unite them and distinguish them from the separatist groups. They all consent to the accession of Kashmir with India as final, blame each other for the plight of the Kashmiri people and irrespective of which party rules, the state retains its very high levels of corruption.
Similarly, there are confused theories about the migration of Kashmiri Pandits. Kashmiri Muslims presume that the Pandit community migrated purposely. The Indian government holds the militants responsible for displacing the Pandits. Two common concerns, which unite the Pandits, include the threat of losing their linguistic and cultural identity and the strong opposition to any compromise on Kashmir including the demand for referendum or azadi.
The voices from New Delhi endorse dialogue as the only solution. Nevertheless, the tones vary: some suggest a dialogue with Pakistan and some with Kashmiris alone. Occasionally, the offer for a dialogue is unconditional with any group, whether within our outside the jurisdiction of the Indian constitution. Others (specifically the right wing) strongly warn that Kashmir is an internal problem, irresolvable by dialogue, considering the accession of Kashmir unquestionable and perceiving the conflict as a proxy war by Pakistan and ‘cross-border terrorism’. They seem over-obsessed with the semantics of separatism, thereby pressing the state to be hard on separatists and anybody who seeks or supports azadi in any form. Within the stakeholders of the India, this wave of bewilderment travels across the range of narratives, be it the perceptions about the disappeared persons from Kashmir, or the recent discourses concerning the handling of stone-palters, protests, revocation of AFSPA and the most recent issue of the mass graves. However, the unifying oblige for New Delhi is that Kashmir is an integral part of India; the accession of Kashmir is unquestionable.
Another concerned party is the Indian public. The majority has little or no knowledge about the Kashmir issue. ‘People actually don’t know about Kashmir’ points out Rukmini Bhaya Nair (professor, poet and writer) at IIT Delhi. People conceptualize Kashmir through Bollywood movies like Mission Kashmir and Roja, and the sometimes-biased local print and electronic media. The other considerably smaller group with a better understanding of Kashmir constitutes persons from the Indian intelligentsia who often criticize New Delhi responsible for holding Kashmir forcefully with the help of 700,000 troops. The right-wing has ever so often threatened them for making ‘antinational’ pro-Kashmir statements.
Pakistan, once an essential stakeholder, is currently struggling with its internal troubles and the reputation of a failed state. The current situation has disheartened a handful voices from Kashmir that once favored Pakistan. It would thus be prejudice to consider Pakistan still as a stakeholder, apart from the part of Kashmir they administer, which they call ‘azad Kashmir’.
Finally, the least anxious and non-stakeholders, comprising the international community and organizations (including UN, EU, the US, OIC and the Muslim states) are again in a quandary when it comes to Kashmir. Occasionally, they show concern for human rights violations in Kashmir by the Indian state, and equally randomly consider it India’s internal matter. Seldom, they advocate a dialogue between India and Pakistan, perceiving the Kashmir-solution essential for South Asian peace.
There seems no visionary, pragmatic and sincere policy regarding Kashmir. When a problem is offered diverse perplexing solutions from several parties, it will certainly never be resolved.
Tail piece: One of my friends from IIT Mumbai recently visited Kashmir. On reaching at the Srinagar airport when his wife wondered why her mobile wasn’t working and why the weather was different in Kashmir; he replied humorously “do you think you are still in India?”