By Ram Puniyani
30 May 2012
TIME AND again, interacting with youth from Kashmir, what comes strikingly forth is their pain and anguish, their frustration, their realisation of the brutality of the system in which they live. They have a high level of understanding of the issues involved and are restless about their present and future. What have we done to be labelled as terrorists, is one of the questions on their mind and lips. Why do we in Kashmir have to face torture from different quarters, including from the Indian army?
The government is non-committal about the recommendations by the group of interlocutors — Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and MM Ansari — while the BJP has rejected them on the ground that they would dilute the accession of Kashmir to India. The separatists find it insufficient as there is no political settlement. Essentially, while the team has rejected the return to the pre-1953 position, it asks for movement in the direction of restoring the autonomy of Kashmir. Being close to the pre-1953 position, the team suggests that Parliament will not make any law for Kashmir unless it relates to the security, internal and external, of the state. Significantly, it gives the status of ‘special’ instead of ‘temporary’ to Article 370, which is the bone of contention for ultra-nationalists like the BJP.
Very correctly, the team says that the proportion of officers in the state should gradually be changed to increase the weightage of the local officers. It also talks of creating regional councils with financial powers, and measures to promote cross Line of Control (LoC) cooperation while talking of resuming dialogue with Huriyat and Pakistan both.
It seems the team has done its homework well. While addressing the issue of discontent in J&K, it has also tried to register the realities which have emerged during the last six decades. It seems to be a major effort around which debates for initiative needed to restore the calm in the state can be seriously discussed. Undoubtedly, the people of Kashmir have suffered a severe violation of their human rights all through. The treaty of accession giving full autonomy to J&K had come under heavy strain from communal forces in India. Right from the beginning, right-wing elements, the future founder of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (previous incarnation of BJP), Shyama Prasad Mukerjee supported by the communal groups had initiated the move to merge it fully with India, doing away with the autonomy provisions, which were part of the agreement between India and the Kashmir. The pressure of communal elements and the sentiments of emerging Indian nationalism forced the Indian government to keep diluting the clauses of autonomy of Kashmir over a period of time. The culmination of this was downgrading the status of the chief of the state from prime minister to chief minister.
In the face of communal elements showing their sharp teeth in India, in the form of murder of Mahatma Gandhi and intimidation of minorities, Sheikh Abdullah wanted to explore other options for Kashmir. He was imprisoned for 17 long years. This alienated large sections of Kashmiris, youth in particular. Equally serious was the threat posed by interference from Pakistan. Pakistan’s support to disgruntled youth and support to militancy in the initial phases added to the problem in no mean way. Pakistan was duly supported by the imperialist designs of the US, which wanted to impose its hegemony in the region.
IN THE decade of the 1980s, when al Qaeda elements and clones started infiltrating into Kashmir. They are the ones who communalised regional problem. The issue of Kashmiriyat was converted into jihad by the US-trained Al Qaeda. The increased militancy was matched by the suppression of democratic norms and the state government was reduced to a satellite of the central government. The parallel process of sending armed forces in large numbers to curb militancy was to become the main problem in times to come. The force which is meant to fight the external enemy was ruling the roost in civilian areas. Every youth was a suspect, ruining the lives and careers of many. Kashmiri Pandits as well as Muslims left.
For too long, Kashmir has been looked at as a real estate issue by India and Pakistan. The people need to be given primacy while thinking of solutions. Which of the recommendations of interlocutors will reduce the anguish of Kashmiris in general and youth in particular? Nearly two generations have suffered at the hands of military and militants. A healthy debate around this report can be a good starting point to restore peace in the region.
Ram Puniyani is a communal harmony activist based in Mumbai.