Kashmir unrest: As the Valley loses the perception battle, it's time for Kashmiris to introspect
More than a military problem, or an emotional question, Kashmir has become a battle of perceptions.
Kashmiriyat, jamhooriyat and insaniyat are some of the most abused words in the context of the conflict-torn Valley. The appropriate word, to describe the three-decade long Pakistan-sponsored armed conflict and religious extremism in Kashmir, is haivaniyat (barbarism).
The day the Kashmiri Pandits – who once comprised the foundation of the society – were driven out of their ancestral homeland, kashmiriyat (a term used for indigenous secularism of Kashmir) died.
Insaniyat (humanity) is battered and bruised with every bullet fired in the name of 'azaadi' by Pakistan-sponsored religious extremists. And jamhooriyat (democracy), though embraced by the people of Kashmir, has not delivered the desired results.
This vocabulary may sound cruel to idealists but, when looked through the prism of realpolitik, is the harsh reality of Kashmir; where the society has all along preferred to live like an ostrich – allowing their land to become a fertile breeding ground for extremism.
The Pandits were driven out of their homes; Afghan Mujahideen, who were jobless after defeating the Soviets, were transported into the Valley by Pakistan; Kashmiri youth crossed the border to become self-proclaimed ‘freedom fighters’; the unbridled growth of Salafi and Wahhabi ideology; and now, the mellowed-down reactions to an army officer’s murder.
Blame New Delhi for all its commissions and omissions, but there is always another side to the story. And tragedy after tragedy that has unfolded in Kashmir since the late 1980s, lays bare the other side of Kashmir’s story – that the state has failed to recognise the problems within its own society.
Adoption of gun culture to resolve political problems was the first big mistake committed by Kashmiri Muslims, which also resulted in a catastrophic human tragedy for the Pandits. The signs were clear that Islamophobia had started to make inroads into the Valley, but the political leadership failed to recognise the scale of the problem and the locals fell prey to the popular method of fighting against their own government i.e. through the barrel of the gun.
By the time New Delhi could recognise the nature of the problem, Pakistan was successful in radicalising the Kashmiri society. Kashmir was high on religious extremism; as a result, Hindu Pandits were outcast and the Indian state and security forces became the prime enemy.
Those fighting against the Indian state could not have asked for more. More than a military problem, or an emotional question, Kashmir has now become a battle of perceptions.
'Partial journalism' has contributed to the worsening of the situation in the Valley. It has hyphenated Kashmiri society and mainstream India. The difference in the front page coverage given to the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani and the murder of Lt Fayaz in the local papers speak volumes about the mindset of the press and the sentiments it seeks to invoke.
Several local media houses portrayed Wani as a local hero and some even played up the news across eight columns on the front page. In contrast, the coverage on Fayaz was modest at best.
Recently, the narrative drawn by former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, that "stone pelters are fighting for the nation", was just one of the preposterous examples of foul play in the perception management game.
His vocabulary was no different from what Pakistan has preached and the Hurriyat has adopted. Such irresponsible statements – in the backdrop of thousands turning out for a terrorist’s funeral but a thin presence in support for a slain army hero – suggest a total lack of will in the Valley, to find any solution to the problem within the realms of Kashmiriyat, jamhooriyat and insaniyat.
It’s not the stones that are hurled at the security forces, but the ideology and the societal mindset behind this madness that is more of a concern for India’s national security and integration. It is a dangerous scenario when the young Kashmiris shout slogans like 'the only solution is gun solution' and ‘Burhanwali azaadi’.
The audacity and defiance of the youth in going against their own country shows where the state’s political leadership and community wisdom has erred. It also indicates a clear disconnect between the power centres and the ground reality.
Today, Kashmir is in the news not only because of the failure of New Delhi to resolve the ‘Kashmir problem’ or because Pakistan has successfully radicalised it but also because the successive governments at the Centre and in Srinagar have allowed an erosion of all psychological and emotional ties between Kashmir and mainland India.
The Kashmiri society is equally at fault as it chose to perennially remain within the comfort zone provided by Article 370. One may term Article 370 as part of New Delhi’s perception management game, but what has it yielded? The gulf between the Valley and mainland India has only widened.
Born during the 1990s and 2000s, when cross-border militancy was at its peak, young Kashmiri Muslims grew up under the shadow of guns, curfews and religious extremism – instead of getting introduced to the rich tradition of Kashmiri Shaivism and merging with mainstream India.
The fear is not cross-border terrorism, which our security forces are well-prepared to deal with. The fear is the consequent influence of political Islam, brought in by the Salafi-Wahhabi ideologies on the Kashmiri society, which has resulted in the widespread radicalisation of its youth.
According to media reports, there are more than 700 Wahhabi/Salafi mosques and madrassas across the Valley, with over 15 lakh followers. This is the death knell for the remnants of Kashmiriyat. The Wahhabi/Salafi culture, that seeks to establish a global Caliphate, are very attractive – especially to those fighting the might of a nation and other cultures.
However, Kashmiris need to realise that this imported radicalism has no racial fraternity with Kashmir’s original Islamic thought, which shares deep cultural roots with Shaivism.
The author is a research fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai.
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