Humanity and democracy are victims of the Centre's militaristic Kashmir policy
Attacks on Kashmiris evoke the question: are we ready for greater integration of the state?
“Kashmir conflict will be resolved within the parameters of Insaniyat (humanity), Kashmiriyat (composite secular, eclectic Kashmiri culture) and Jumhooriyat (democracy)”. These were the words of our former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. While growing up in Kashmir during the early 2000s (when NDA-I was in power), one could see a deepening of Jumhooriyat in the backdrop of the humane policy (Insaniyat) of the central government. Late Atal Ji rightly gauged that after more than a decade of armed conflict, Kashmiris wanted peace. This formed the basis of his Kashmir policy, a positive impact of which was evident in the sharp decline in the number youth picking up arms. The number of terrorist attacks saw an equally sharp decline.
Atal Ji’s acknowledgement of the suffering of Kashmiris helped bridge the emotional disconnect between an ordinary Kashmiri and New Delhi. A significant development in that context was the gradual withdrawal of the army from civilian areas. Some initiatives taken by the army and the central government to mainstream the younger generation of Kashmiris had visible impact. For instance, The all-India educational tours organised by the Indian army contributed to the shifting of a huge number of students to different states of India in search of better economic and educational opportunities.
Unfortunately, during the fag end of UPA-II, Kashmiris began to feel alienated and anxious. There was a hesitant welcome of the Narendra Modi government from all sections of the political class in Kashmir. They hoped for a change in the status quo along the lines of late Atal Ji but those expectations turned out to be wrong. The muscular and overly militaristic Kashmir policy of Narendra Modi acted as a catalyst for a new wave of homegrown militancy. The disproportionate use of pellet guns against protestors provoked a larger number of ordinary Kashmiris to take to the streets.
Media houses played an important role in supporting Modi’s aggressive Kashmir policy by a skewed representation of the ordinary Kashmiri as a perpetrator of violence rather than a victim. Masked Kashmiri youth pelting stones at security forces was the image projected by the Indian media. As a result, an apparent ‘othering’ of Kashmiris became a norm; stone pelter became synonymous with a Kashmiri. Acts of violence against Kashmiris in some of the north Indian states after an India-Pakistan cricket match were ignored and normalized. This policy happens to be in line with the approach that Ram Madhav of the BJP believes is necessary to mainstream the ‘misguided’ Kashmiri youth.(Indian Express-26th Feb)
It is in this context that one should see the targeting of Kashmiris after the Pulwama attack. The violence unleashed on Kashmiris for the mere reason that they belong to a particular region of the country is against the principles of Jumhooriyat and Insaniyat. These attacks were merely based on the image of a stone-wielding Kashmiri, both men and women, old and young, created over the last few years by the Indian media. Anyone could now punish a Kashmiri for a terrorist incident that takes place in Kashmir by invoking patriotism and nationalism. The big presumption here is that every Kashmiri is either a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism. Some colleges in Dehradun were forced to rusticate Kashmiri students; employers were coerced to terminate the services of Kashmiri employees and landlords were warned against keeping Kashmiri tenants. Ironically, the statement by the current Governor of Meghalaya calling for a boycott of Kashmiris and Kashmiri products went unpunished. It is important to mention that it took more than a week and a notice from the Supreme Court of India for the PM to acknowledge the violence against Kashmiris in the aftermath of Pulwama attack.
These attacks have given rise to a deep sense of insecurity among Kashmiris. According to some reports, around eight thousand students returned to the valley and are unlikely come back to their colleges -- this is true particularly for female students -- unless there is action against the groups who targeted them. Most of these students were part of the PM’s special scholarship scheme for the students from J&K. The fact that these students are in the middle of their academic semester demands quick action on the part of the government to ensure that their academic year is not wasted. No steps to that effect have been taken till now either by the central government or the governor of J&K. By targeting Kashmiri students, did we allow fanatic groups to shoot the messenger? Does it send the right message to Kashmir and Kashmiris about their future?
Also, one of the main arguments given to abrogate Article 370 and Article 35A is to complete the assimilation and integration process of J&K with India. But it is important to ask; is India ready for it? Where would Kashmiris go in case they are attacked once Article 370 is repealed? Do these attacks not validate the apprehensions that Kashmiris have about repealing Article 370? The process of mainstreaming and assimilation would not succeed unless Kashmiris feel equally safe outside Kashmir as they feel in Kashmir.
The trick is not to abrogate Article 370 but to make it irrelevant, and there is a big difference between the two.
(Malik Altaf Hussain is pursuing his PhD in economics at JNU and Aejaz Ahmad is the current general secretary of Jawaharlal University Students' Union)