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The Indian nation is alienated from Kashmir

by Ashok Mitra, 27 August 2010

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(The Telegraph, 27 August 2010)

NO TIME FOR THE VALLEY

Alienation has three facets: (a) I feel alienated from you, but you do not feel alienated from me; (b) you are disenchanted with me, I do not however reciprocate your feelings; and, finally, ( c) it is a case of mutual alienation, you dislike me, I too hate you like poison.

Over the years we have been asserting with some vehemence that none of these three species of alienation applies in the relationship between India and Kashmir; not only are we enamoured of Kashmir and its people, but the Kashmiris — the overwhelming majority of them — are also equally warm-hearted towards us, and there is no question at all of any mutual alienation. Perhaps this claim was not altogether wide of the mark in 1947 when Sheikh Abdullah, a great admirer of India’s freedom movement, had emerged as Sher-e-Kashmir and his National Conference was the jewel in the eyes of the Kashmiris. The Sheikh’s passionate love affair with India infected his followers as well.

Those idyllic days did not last long. Sheikh Abdullah had, by 1953, got so alienated from New Delhi — or it could have been the other way round — that he was dislodged from the chief ministerial slot and clamped into prison. The story has been full of tension and confusion since then. Indian leaders have continued to describe Kashmir as an inalienable part of the country and Kashmiris as flesh of our flesh. They have, besides, kept up the pretence of Kashmiris feeling the same way towards us.

In terms of the contemporary reality, this is sheer bunkum. The valley is now reduced to a sullen tract. Anger and resentment against India have accumulated over a hundred issues. Sometimes these explode in sporadic bursts of violence, including destruction of public property and incessant stone-pelting of police and security personnel. Phases of such violence have a cycle of their own. After a while, the riots die down and relative quiet descends on the valley. But dissatisfaction with the state of things does not abate.

The Indian establishment has a handy explanation for these occasional uprisings: every time infiltration and instigation intensify across the border, there is a fresh bout of mass agitation, accompanied by renewed violence. This rigmarole has persisted for more or less the past two-and-a-half decades. The situation had taken a slightly different turn when a truce was signed with the Sheikh in the mid-1970s. The fat, though, was again in the fire following the ejection of the Sheikh’s son and successor, Farooq Abdullah, from the post of chief minister in the summer of 1984, the same fate that visited the Sheikh himself 31 years ago. Farooq and his family might have subsequently reconciled themselves with the powers-that-be in New Delhi, but the valley people have not, most of the flock constituting the rock solid base of the National Conference crossed over to alienation.
It has been a ceaseless restlessness ever since. Kashmiris have pursued their day-to-day avocations hemmed in by security forces and constantly under alarm that their claustrophobic way of life might never end. New Delhi has stubbornly kept silent on Kashmir’s demand for recognition of its distinct ethos, a demand Article 370 has failed to satisfy. The valley people aspire for much more. What this additionality is, or could be, is a matter of discord, but the urge for something extra has been pretty widespread. Occasional elections and their outcome do not tell even part of the story. Behind the façade of the constitutional apparatus rests the nitty-gritty of rude fact: the valley is an occupied territory; remove for a day India’s army and security forces and it is impossible to gauge what might transpire at the next instant. Some of the stone-pelters may nurse illusions about Pakistan, some may think in terms of a sovereign, self-governing Kashmir, but they certainly do not want to be any part of India.

After an uneasy interregnum of sorts, the valley is once more on the boil. Almost every day, crowds assemble in different street corners of Srinagar and the smaller towns, and target with abuses and stones the police and security personnel. Housewives, whose only weaponry are kitchen utensils and their bare hands, scream slogans protesting against this or that reported act of infamy committed by the army or the Central Reserve Police Force. It could be the allegation of a fake encounter killing where the victims have been young people from their immediate neighbourhood, or the whisking away of a couple of school children for interrogation while they were frolicking in the playground, or an incident where several houses have been ransacked in the name of search-and-comb operations, or a report of outraging the modesty of a nubile girl while she was out shopping.
Discontent, howsoever diverse in its source, is out. It is an aesthetically obscene daily sight on the television screen: women of various age-groups and backgrounds, fury and agony writ on their faces, confronting the forces of law and order equipped with AK rifles. Some of the women even dare to try to snatch away the arms from the clutches of this or that security man. The rifles suddenly roar, a few women are injured on a stray day even as killings take place on a regular basis resulting from encounters between the rampaging youth and the forces.

This has been, and is, the ground reality in Kashmir. There is no report of any perceptible reaction in the rest of the Union of India. Forget the political or legal disputations, it is the ungainly asymmetry of the spectacle that should wound human sensitivity: this battle line of security forces armed to the hilt on one side and weaponless housewives, young and old, on the other. The issue of ethics apart, it is aesthetically an atrocious asymmetry. But while some airy-fairy concern is expressed by individual politicians — and there is cursory talk of a multi-party delegation to be sent to Srinagar — the great Indian nation, with its load of civilization stretching 5,000 years, is extraordinarily mum.

The media can afford to be full of narratives of sickeningly shady deals linked to the preparatory arrangements for the impending Commonwealth Games. But the debauching of civilization in Kashmir, no matter what its underlying reason, creates no ripples. One is suddenly hit by a fearsome realization: Indians by and large do not perhaps feel at all, this way or that, about the valley’s people; in other words, the Indian nation is alienated from Kashmir.

The onus suddenly shifts to India. We have till now, at best, conceded that while we consider Kashmir to be inalienable from the rest of the land, some Kashmiris, led astray by outsiders, might feel distant from us. Our other-worldliness with respect to current events in the valley evokes the suspicion that we could not care less about Kashmiris or, for that matter, what troubles their womenfolk. This indifference is accompanied by a reluctance to face facts. A handful of Kashmiris, for instance, those close to the Abdullah clan, might still nurture affection towards India. But an incomparably larger number do not.

The fatuity of the prime minister’s so-called all-party conference notwithstanding, even those considered Mehbooba Mufti’s camp-followers are having intense second thoughts in view of New Delhi’s obstinate persistence with the line that, but for Pakistani machinations, everything would be fine and excellent in Kashmir. In any case, if the media and the mood of a large cross-section of practising politicians are taken, India has other priorities, Kashmir occupies a low position in the agenda.

A postscript seems called for. Activist women’s groups are a dime a dozen in the country. They are a determined lot, always on the prowl, no infringement of women’s rights escapes their attention. Official commissions at both Central and state levels also act as watchdogs to protect and expand the space for women. A proliferation of non-governmental organizations are equally active purportedly to serve the same mission. Moreover, quite a number of political parties have separate women’s cells to strengthen their base among women and, in the process, further the cause of women’s liberation. Hardly any of them has, however, bothered to speak up on what afflicts the battling women of Srinagar or bothered to travel to Kashmir to study the problem at first hand. No statement concerning the developing situation in the valley in which women are so transparently involved has been forthcoming from any of them. It is as if they have collectively decided to put across the message that India has no time for Kashmir; India’s women, too, have excluded the women of Kashmir from their agenda.