Talk to the real people
The discourse on Jammu
and Kashmir is currently and overwhelmingly defined by those who resort
to terrorism, their sponsors and their front organisations. Other political
constituencies, including the elected representatives of the people
in Indian administered areas, the people of the regions that are denied
democratic representation and political and human rights in Pakistan
occupied areas. The Government of India and its satellite in Srinagar
continue to react to the voices of violence, deepening the marginalisation
and neglect of the many and legitimate issues of those who reject terrorism.
It is impossible to find
any quick and simple settlement or "formula" for the resolution
of the multiple conflicts and contradictions in wider J&K. The various
"formulae" that have been proposed from time to time reduce
essentially to the flawed logic of India's disastrous partition of 1947
and are aimed to further divide J&K along religious majoritarian
Even within the context
of the conflict within the Valley, there is no reason to believe that
the terrorists and their backers are in any measure motivated by their
concerns for the rights and aspirations of the people. It is useful
to remind ourselves that Kashmiri Muslims, whose cause the terrorists
claim to be fighting for, are the principal civilian victims of terrorism
in J&K and account for 85 per cent of the civilian victims of terrorism
in the State.
The terrorists represent
essentially Pakistan's geopolitical ambitions and efforts to corner
greater natural resources, crucially water, and possibly a narrow minority
committed to an Islamist extremist ideology in a small geographical
fraction of J&K.
South Asia in general
and India in particular has long been proof that, while religious identifies
can be mobilised for violence, there is no fundamental psychological
divide between communities which have long histories of living in mutual
respect and accommodation despite the enormous cultural diversities
that characterise this region.
While religious identities
formed the basis of Partition, they cannot constitute the basis of any
future solution to the multiple crises of Kashmir and of South Asia
in general. Pakistan's history, and in the present context, the conditions
of the people in Gilgit-Baltistan and what is called "Azad Kashmir"
provides ample evidence that, if Partition was intended to solve the
problems of the people, it has failed comprehensively. Division serves
no purpose if the objective condition of the lives of the people remain
unaltered, and there is no more than a peripheral reconfiguration that
satisfies the powerlust of a few individuals or a section of the elite.
It is precisely this consideration
that leads us to the conclusion that "freedom" is nothing
more than a slogan, unless it is backed by plans, programmes and institutions
that alter the realities of the ground, and secure the resources, institutions
and mechanisms that can help meet the aspirations of large populations.
The past century has often
been described as the "Century of Freedom", and it is useful
to note the sheer number of new nations that secured their "independence"
during this period. Yet, how many of the people of these free nations
are actually free? How many are able to reap the benefits of this new
"liberty"? And how many of them lapsed into new tyrannies?
The crisis of minorities
- ethnic, religious or cultural - is another aspect that should receive
our considered attention. Minorities in J&K have come under threat
in many places, while in others, experiments in demographic re-engineering
have been launched to diminish local majorities and reduce them to a
minority status. This has encouraged some segments within such minorities
to seek greater security and protect their culture by trying to build
barriers of separation.
Isolationism is, in fact,
a powerful political position among many communities today, as marginalised
populations seek to create "smaller worlds within borders",
and protection in communal, ethnic and cultural ghettos. But this is
a strategy of inevitable failure, possibly of collective cultural suicide.
The religious, ethnic or
cultural ghetto is the worst way to protect these identities. The ghetto
eventually weakens the capacities of communities. All isolationist solutions
eventually weaken nations and people who seek to protect themselves
through such measures; and these nations and people are then gradually
overwhelmed by the forces and trends of history. Insularity makes all
cultures and communities brittle, increasingly fragile, internally vulnerable
and susceptible to external intervention or manipulation. It is only
by securing modern instrumentalities of power that peoples can secure
their cultures and their identities.
The people of Kashmir have
such instrumentalities within their grasp, but to secure them they will
have to tear down the walls of mutual suspicion and hatred, reject the
idea of "unique and choiceless identity" and recognise the
plurality of our affiliations". This region is strategically poised
at what was historically seen as the ancient "axis of Asia",
where South, Central and East Asia converge. Located at the crossroads
of three great civilisations - described in another age, as the point
"where three empires meet" - this region was once both India's
and China's gateway to Central Asia and beyond, into the heart of Europe,
along the ancient Silk route that contributed so much to the wealth
and civilisation of the many peoples it touched. Within an order that
seeks to integrate rather than divide, this strategic centrality and
economic dynamism can easily be recovered.
Since the Partition, violence
has dominated too much of the discourse on J&K. But there will have
to be a generation that makes a break with this fractious past. We need
to decide whether we are to be that historical generation.
The discourse must move
from an essentially Valley-centric focus to the larger issues concerning
the diverse communities of the entire J&K region. There is also
an urgent need to move away from the positions that have become entrenched
in the current negotiating processes, and to evolve a more inclusive
understanding of the diverse interests and communities of J&K.
( Published in The
Pioneer, May 27, 2006)