Sunday, August 17, 2008

The hurt needs empathy, not sermons on morality

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The events of the previous one week have shattered a million myths about Jammu and Kashmir’s realpolitick. The biased depiction of the situation here has also somehow further crystallized the ‘villain image’ of the oppressed Kashmiris, who seem to have few spokespersons articulating their voice. Looking at the opinion pages and editorials of India’s leading newspapers, the message to Kashmiris seems to be unmistakably clear: we are being “communal”, “intolerant”, “unaccomodative” and increasingly “radical Islamists.”

The reason India’s political leadership, security apparatus and civil society (mainly the media) are bereft of ideas about resolving this issue is that the whole analysis surrounding the Amarnath issue is myopic in nature. A peaceful solution is very much possible provided the analysis recognizes the fact that J&K is not an ordinary state. The analysis needs to factor in many political realities, including the presence of the UN Military Observers Group (UNMOGIP) office in Srinagar.

Those who are today calling Kashmiri Muslims as “communal” are missing some very fundamental points. One, the decimation of J&K’s political authority, serious dilution of its constitution and a political onslaught seeking to divide the State into bits and pieces have generated deep disquiet over the years. Two, the economic, environmental, social, cultural and educational onslaught, seeking to dilute Kashmiri political identity over the years, have already pushed the Kashmiri people to the wall. Three, the demographic engineering, economic isolation and smart political restructuring through isolation of various regional, sub-regional, ethnic and sub-ethnic entities of J&K by closure of natural road links have created a deep sense of insecurity across these isolated geographical enclaves. Four, the recent communications revolution has made the Kashmiri youth increasingly conscious of the realities surrounding the Kashmir’s political question and is not ready to consume propaganda.

To dismiss today’s Kashmiri concerns as “paranoia” and “Islamist intolerance” – as most of India’s columnists and opinion makers are doing - would be self deceiving. Let us understand that the reason Kashmiri masses – including the new generation which was fed with a complete brain-washing diet over the years and was expected to think differently than their elders – are on the streets demanding freedom is that they have been pushed to the wall. The collective yearning for the preservation of Kashmiri identity – manifesting, inter alia, in the opposition to the land transfer – stems from the distrust of the past. For all practical reasons, the political safeguards of the Article 370 of the Indian constitution for J&K State are null and void. The 90-year lease policy for acquiring land in the state by non-state subjects has already opened the flood gates of change in the political landscape of J&K. A small patch of land, today Kashmiris believe, could open further flood gates.

To deny that this argument does not have secessionist underpinnings would be wrong. It is an organic political reality of J&K State that when Kashmiris are decimated to suffocation they take to their basic slogan of Azadi (freedom). So when people, including women and children, razed the security bunkers to the ground, tore the razor wires inhibiting their natural movement, vented anger against pro-Indian politicians, the message they were conveying was the same: it was enough of suffocation.

Seen from this perspective, Kashmiris are today being vilified clearly for wrong reasons. A lack of empathy for Kashmiri concerns among India’s civil society – barring a few individuals like Gautam Navlakha and Arundhati Roy – is shocking.

Continued . . .
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