The present government is still in a denial of the perpetual violence in Kashmir. Ironically, our Prime Minister made three contradictory statements in this regard after watching a month-long bloodshed. One, he appealed the syncretic consciousness of Kashmiriyat to resolve the crisis without appealing to the armed forces to adopt a humane face. Two, he insisted upon generic dialogue without inviting any group or organisation. Third, he strategically raised the issue of Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to contain Pakistan’s design in the valley which contrarily legitimises the Kashmiri’s claim for azadi (freedom).
Though the present crisis appears to be without a roadmap, it did not take place in a vacuum and without historical linkages. In its background lies ill-treatment, poor governance, alienation and deprivation of the Kashmiri community as compared to other citizens of India. While perusing Justice AS Anand’s book Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, we find the quotes of Sir Albion Banerjee, the Prime Minister of Kashmir who resigned in 1929 on the state of affairs of Kashmir under Maharaja Hari Singh in the following terms: "Jammu and Kashmir state is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Mohammedan population, absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages, practically governed like dumb driven cattle. There is no touch between the government and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing grievances."
The extreme frustration of people usually results into the call for ‘national self-determination’ possibly in the hope of a better life. The first organised class struggle started in Kashmir, when on 29 April 1865, Dogra forces mercilessly killed 28 Shawl workers at Zaldager, Srinagar. This ultimately resulted in the formation of the first political party in the state — All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference.
It was established on 21 June 1931 by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, Molvi Yusuf Shah, Molvi Ahmad, Saed Hassan Jalali, Saed-Ud-Din Shawl, Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, Mistri Yaqoob Ali, Mufti Shuhab-Ud-Din, Chowdhury Ghulam Abbas, Gowhar Rehman, Ghulam Nabi Gilkar, Ahmad Shah Jalali among others. Later on, Sheikh Abdullah gave secular colour to the party in 1938 by the active persuasion of Pt Prem Nath Bazaz and Muslim Conference was officially converted into National Conference on 11 June 1939. The party also became part of Maharaja’s interim government and then contested the elections in early 1950s. However, with the arrest of Shaikh Abdullah on 8 August 1953 for allegedly seeking an independent Kashmir, there developed a big gap in the relationship between the Centre and the state.
The Article 370, that guarantees a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is probably under strain for perceived reasons. Unlike the previous Congress as well as Vajpayee regime, who maintained a moderate stance on Kashmir by keeping the option of dialogue open with Pakistan, Hurriyat leaders and other stakeholders, the Modi government is maintaining a hard stand on the issue.
At the same time, both the Centre and the state government failed to deliver on the front of governance, employment, poverty alleviation, education and law and order. There is a clear absence of transparency and accountability in the governance of the state that further fuels the already growing frustration. As a result, the largest chunk of Kashmiri workforce has to depend on unorganised sector. A class struggle between rich landed class and landless class is also in the making. Apprehensions, uncertainties, deprivation and humiliation have become a part of their daily life. Similar is the case with administrative structure and public distribution mechanism.
Nothing is possible without bribing, be it getting an identity card, employment, social security benefits, contract, licenses, registering an FIRs in police stations and so on.
While Hurriyat leaders are accused of receiving monies through hawala routes, there is no concrete action to block such flows. Apparently, it looks like a ploy to keep people who matter under remote control in the backdrop of what keeps simmering beneath the fragile surface of the valley. Does it not point to some larger game being played at the cost of lives of ordinary people? Interestingly again, the major projects announced for Kashmir are not working in a transparent manner. For instance, National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) in Kashmir is notoriously referred to as East India Company. Kashmir is deprived of its own hydro resources despite having the flow of three rivers: Indus, Chenab and Jhelum. The state also witnessed natural disasters without timely help to rehabilitate the people. The growing dependency of the local youth on government for employment is another source of worry as it creates a huge competition with no substantive result. Employment is based on patron and clientele relationship than merit and fairness. Most of the benefits are appropriated by native party elites and their supporters.
The outreach initiatives recommended by Rangarajan committee failed to yield desired results. The greatest loss for a Kashmiri is not only the hate, suspicion and prejudice received from certain sections of citizens from other parts of India but also the consequent denial of choice to them to affiliate with multiple identities. That they are in many cases viewed as potential terrorists with rising incidences of cross-examination leads to greater humiliation like lynching, non-renting of houses, checking of baggage and demand for I-card from the students of Kashmir and most particularly from those who sport a beard. There is a denial of public spaces to Kashmiris where they could speak freely without any fear of persecution as fear has penetrated deep into their psyche.
There was an uneasy calm between 2002 and 2006 that got ravaged in 2007 by the fake encounter expose in Ganderbal area, in which naive civilians were allegedly killed by security forces, dubbed as foreign mercenaries. It got worsened in 2008 over the Amarnath land row. In 2009, a strong mass uprising was seen in the state over the Shopian rape and murder case. Then in 2010 came the Machil fake encounter case allowing peace a little chance in the state. At the core of these protests was an emotional anger of the civilian against the arbitrary use of power by the army under Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA).
Come what may, the draconian loyalty test mechanism through the use of sedition laws and anti-national yardstick against those who wish to look at the Kashmir problem from the angle of rationality and secularism is not only unethical but also politically unjustifiable. These tools only perpetuate separateness and fear psychosis not only among secular nationalists but also between other Indian citizens and Kashmiris, Kashmiri Muslims and Muslims from other parts in India, between Kashmiri Hindus and Kashmiri Muslims, between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Buddhists, and Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Sikhs.
Strangely, attempts have also been made to vitiate the intra-social atmosphere by encouraging the ethnic cleavages between groups like Dogras, Gujjars, Paharis, Pathans and so on. It is reflected in the formation of regional councils like Doda Hill Valley Council, Poonch-Rajouri Hill Council and Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.
Be that as it may, the recent uprising is different from earlier movements in multiple senses. First, this movement is led by the fourth generation youth who were born after 1989, having first-hand experience of militancy, humiliation, military brutalities and thus, leading the movement with utmost heroic romance. Second, most of the youth taking part in processions are those who participated in 2014 election campaigns for PDP to defeat the BJP as well as National Conference. However, they later got frustrated with PDP’s alliance with BJP and thus felt heavily cheated. Third, the present crisis unlike the past is of uniform civil character spread both vertically and horizontally across the cities, towns and villages. Fourth, there is an approximate defragmentation and manufactured convergence of separatists, civil society activists, pro-Indian workers including PDP, NC and Congress, native political and business elites, contractors, liaison agents, Ulema and disgruntled adolescents either because of fear or their conscientious response. Sixth, unlike the past, there is a greater defiance of curfew with new heroism of ‘do or die, as final situation’.
The protesters are more violent than before. There also appears to be an involvement of secret agencies from across the border which not only provide huge fund to active agents but also recruit young villagers, street children, poorly educated and unemployed youth to the militant ‘club of Burhan’. Even in sloganeering, a charm for the ‘new wave’ of militants including Abu Dujana, Saddam Paddar, Zakir Musa Waseem, Waseem Malla could be seen from the slogans like ‘Waseem lega Aazadi’, ‘Saddam Bhai qadam badao- hum tumhare saath hain’. The names of top separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Ashraf Sehrai, Azam Inqilabi and Shabir Ahmed Shah were at low ebbs. Ironically, Hurriyat continues to lead the protest programme by announcing weekly protest calendars.
The religious symbols are also constantly deployed. It can be seen in the use of shrines, mosque and madrasas as a mobilisational tool. These platforms are used for freedom-songs and jihadi speeches by the Ulema, local Imams and youth leaders. Religious sloganeering is very much in use like ‘Naara-e-Takbeer, Allah-o-Akbar’ and jingles ‘Aazadi Ka Matlab Kya, La IIlaha Illalaha’. Separatist but secular slogans and jingles are also chanted in chorus like ‘Asalam-o-Asalam’, ‘Aye Shaheedo Asalam’, ‘Hum Kya Chaahte Azaadi’, ‘Burhan Tere Khoon Se Inqlaab Aayega’, and ‘Behane Maange Azaadi, Bachhi Maange Azaadi’, Buday Maange Azaadi, Is Paar Maange Azaadi, Us Paar Maange Azaadi,’ to keep the momentum of the protesters high.
But does the solution to the Kashmir lie in independence? In all probabilities, the demand for azadi would be a total disaster. The pertinent question is what other solution be most acceptable to majority of the Kashmiris if not independence? Here it must be acknowledged that the mere appeal to syncretic tradition of Kashmir to maintain peace by the central government appears meaningless in the wake of the failure of both the Centre and state to connect with the people at grassroots level. The Central government in partnership with state government should ensure a life high on human development index without compromising the aspirational and emotional need of the younger generation. There is also a need of inter-faith dialogue to strengthen communal harmony and to avoid communal violence.
The crises in Kashmir, past and present is an outcome of failed promises, poor governance, treatment of Kashmiris as ‘the other’, death of party politics, AFSPA and its arbitrary use by armed personnel, and finally the conspicuous absence of genuine representative government.
The author is associate professor and head, Department of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Hyderabad. He can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views are personal.