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PREM SHANKAR JHA | 23 AUGUST, 2016

Kashmir: It is A Whole New Ball Game Now


NEW DELHI: Most of Kashmir has been under curfew for 46 days. Sixty-five youth and two policemen are dead. Upto 2000 civilians have been injured. Many have been blinded by pellets. Others have pellets lodged in places where they cannot be reached , but will continue to poison the blood of their hapless hosts for years to come. But the uprising that was triggered by Burhan Wani’s death is not subsiding. Instead it is getting more organized.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks, and omissions, have so far only added fuel to the flames. When he broke his long silence over cow-vigilantism and said “kill me but do not kill a Dalit”, he somehow managed to forget the many more utterly innocent Muslims who have suffered the same fate. At the all party meeting on Kashmir, when one opposition leader after the other voiced sentiments and made suggestions that warmed Kashmiri hearts, he ruined the party by insisting that Pakistan was solely responsible for the unrest in the Valley.

On Independence day, he expressed his profound sympathy with the people of Balochistan and “Azad” Kashmir for their “enslavement” by Pakistan, but did not say a single word, even of sympathy, for the Kashmiris who had lost kith and kin during the previous 38 days.

Today the air in Delhi is rent with strident cries to resume a dialogue with the Kashmiris, but a dialogue with whom? A negotiated settlement requires leaders on both sides with the authority to meet the commitments they make on the conference table. Kashmir no longer has such leaders because between them our security agencies and Pakistan’s ISI have ensured that there are no tall men left standing. The lone exception, ironically, to whom the government has been forced to turn in order to minimize casualties, is its bête noire, Ali Shah Gilani.

If no negotiated settlement is possible then can some semblance of normality be restored to the Valley through harsh police and paramilitary action alone? Eight of us, journalists and civil society activists visited Kashmir last week Here, with minor differences in interpretation, is what we found:

A stormy visit to the SMHS hospital, where we were jostled, heckled , insulted and told we were not welcome by bearded youth with fire in their eyes, showed us that in many ways pellet guns had worsened relations between the Kashmiris and the State. Bullets killed people and forced their relatives to try to put behind their loss in order simply to survive the sorrow. But a man, woman or child blinded or crippled for life by pellets became a liability and a reminder of iniquity as long as he or she lived.

The visit also confirmed what most of us already suspected: that the Indian media are no longer seen as impartial observers, let alone friends and allies against persecution by the State, as they were during the first phase of militancy in the 1990s. Now they are perceived as enemies, and are in ever-growing danger when they visit Kashmir. Attempts by us to dissociate ourselves from “those rabble rousers on TV” proved futile. Today Kashmiri youth, in particular, are convinced that even the most sympathetic of journalists writing in the print media are only Hindu wolves in sheeps’ clothing. For this severe shrinkage of the public sphere in at a time when it is needed most, we have Arnab Goswami and his emulators to thank.

Our second experience of their anger occurred a few hours later the same day. While attempting to evade the curfew and reach Kashmir University by going around Dal Lake we were stopped at a barrier erected not by the security forces but the stone pelters. Like the young men at the hospital, they eventually let us through, but while crossing the barrier we saw the two of the boys who seemed to be in charge. One looked about 12 years old, and the other, who was clearly his leader, was around 16 and doing his utmost to grow a very Islamic beard. He took my mind irresistibly back to the child soldiers of sub-Saharan Africa whom I had seen on BBC, for there was not a spark of humanity left in his face.

The meetings that followed dispelled any lingering notions there might have been in our group that this uprising (for that is what it is), had been orchestrated by Pakistan. Pakistan is by no means absent from the equation. R&AW estimates that Pakistan has spent Rs 300 crores in the past year , stoking militancy in the valley. But no amount of money or exhortation could have made 1.5 lakh people from all over south Kashmir rush to Tral within hours of Burhan Wani’s death to catch a last glimpse of him, and offer no fewer than 40 prayers for his soul.For Pakistan did not even learn of Wani’s death before the people of south Kashmir did.

Today there is a wall of support for the basic demand of Azadi from India, that stretches across every stratum of Kashmiri society. In meeting after meeting our interlocutors pointed out that unlike the upsurge after the Amarnath land scam in 2008 and the Macchil fake encounter killings by the army in 2010, this time there is no specific demand for justice, punishment or restitution embedded inside the upsurge of stone pelting or the calls for Azadi. University professors, lawyers, hoteliers, houseboat and shikara owners, traders, manufacturers, former militants, and even militant leaders who had surrendered voluntarily in the ‘nineties are now determined to see the uprising through till its end.

The burden of their song is the same: “Our schools and colleges are closed and our children have lost another year; our businesses are ruined and we don’t know how to pay back our loans; we are short of food, of medicines, of fuel, but this time we are going to support the boys to the bitter end. For so long as India rules Kashmir through the gun and the security forces alone, the killing and the upsurges of anger and violence will continue and we will face ruin again and again.

“ It happened to us in 2008 because of the Amarnath land scam; in 2009 because of the Shopian double rape and murder agitation; in 2010 because of the Macchil fake encounter killings. It has happened again after your forces killed Burhan Wani. This has to end. So we will let the boys take the lead “. Today the apple growers of Kashmir have said that they would prefer to let their apple crop rot, rather than break the uprising. The All Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers association, whose members have a normal turnover of Rs 650 to 750 crores a day at the height of the summer have resigned themselves to doing so too. “ All we ask of them is that this time they finish what they have started”.

The differences that exist among them relate to the content of Azadi. For the youths we met, nothing short of complete separation from India will suffice. But older people from all walks of life recognized the need for a continued association with India. The base line in their demands it was a return the Instrument of Accession, which ceded Kashmir’s defence, foreign affairs and communications to Delhi, but left internal governance entirely in the hands of the Kashmiris.

They recognized that this solution might no longer be acceptable to the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, but were willing to accept the separation of Ladakh and Jammu, and the limiting of the provisions of article 370 of the constitution to Kashmir valley alone. “If this is the price we must pay, then so be it. “We are no longer the state we were in 1947”, a prominent PDP legislator told us. “ Jammu feels shackled by its connection with Kashmir, and wants full integration with India, so why not grant it separate statehood? Ladakh wants to be a union territory—so be it. We in Kashmir also feel shackled by our connection with Jammu. The least we all need is the separation of our internal governance and finances from each other”.

A second recurring theme in their discourse is the older generation’s loss of control over the youth. “Today’s militants”, professors at Kashmir university told us, “ are not even in their late ‘teens or early ‘twenties. They are 12 to 16 years of age. We could have engaged with them, as we do regularly with our students, if they had been older, but we have no way of reaching this age group.”

Among these new warriors there is a rapidly blooming cult of martyrdom. "We do not fear death! Muslims don't fear it because Islam gives us strength” Javaid a 19–or-so leader of the stone pelters told Aarti Tikoo of the Times of India last month. “ Yes, he's not scared of death." His mother said after a short pause. "What's there to be frightened of?" his sisters chimed in.

Last week Shujaat Bukhari , editor of Rising Kashmir, reported an encounter with “the boys” of an elderly couple from Handwara whom he knew. While on their way to their village a group of 15 ‘boys’ stopped him on the road. When the gentleman told them he was on his way to Haj they asked him to ask Allah for a dua on their behalf “ ask him to give us the blessing of martyrdom”.

Similar stories pepper the newspapers every other day: a four year old boy slaps his father for trying to open his shop despite the call for hartal; a 12 or 13 year old boy tells his mother that if she does not let him join the stone pelters he will kill her and then join the stone pelters to martyr himself, and so on. It does not matter whether these are true or apocryphal: in the present atmosphere they are being believed.

The differences that exist among Kashmiris today relate to the content of Azadi. For the youths we met, nothing short of complete separation from India will suffice. But older people from all walks of life recognized the need for a continued association with India. The base line in their demands it was a return the Instrument of Accession, which ceded Kashmir’s defence, foreign affairs and communications to Delhi, but left internal governance entirely in the hands of the Kashmiris.

They recognized that this solution might no longer be acceptable to the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, but were willing to accept the separation of Ladakh and Jammu, and the limiting of the provisions of article 370 of the constitution to Kashmir valley alone. “If this is the price we must pay, then so be it. “We are no longer the state we were in 1947”, a prominent PDP legislator told us. “ Jammu feels shackled by its connection with Kashmir, and wants full integration with India, so why not grant it separate statehood? Ladakh wants to be a union territory—so be it. We in Kashmir also feel shackled by our connection with Jammu. The least we all need is the separation of our internal governance and finances from each other”.

Although the BJP has frequently asked, while in opposition, for the grant of full statehood to Jammu, the very idea has so far been anathema not only Delhi, but all parties in the state and most of the militant tanzeems for fear of diluting the secular character of Kashmir, and strengthening the pull of Pakistan. This fear is hugely exaggerated. While no one can predict the future, as of now this is not only highly unlikely, but granting autonomy to the Kashmiris in any mutually agreed form is certain to end the appeal of Pakistan even to the stone pelters whom they are encouraging and sustaining.

There was near- unanimity among all the groups of people we met, that regardless of whether they were sufi-Hanafis, Jamaatis, or Ahl-e Hadis, Kashmiris did not want to join Pakistan. When we raised this question at Kashmir university one of the speakers reminded us that a recent Chatham house opinion poll in Kashmir had shown that only 15 percent wanted to join Pakistan against 23 percent who wanted to remain with India. Earlier polls had put the pro Pakistan segment at 5 percent (The MORI poll in 2004 had put the figure at 6 percent in all of Jammu and Kashmir). The vast majority wanted Azadi- regardless of whether one defined it as independence, autonomy or self- government.

When Aarti Tikoo reminded Javaid that the concept of martyrdom had been brought into Sunni Islam by the Wahhabys, and asked him whether he had become a Wahabi, he was genuinely nonplussed: "We go to shrines. Our Islam was brought by Shah-i-Hamdan to Kashmir 700 years ago. We want to save our Islam. Don't get me wrong, we love the Muslim world especially Pakistan because of our Islamic bond with them. It's the same blood after all! But we want to be independent and not with Pakistan. "

(Cover Photo: BSF Re-enters Srinagar After 11 years. Over 2.5 BSF Personnel on Way to Kashmir. Photo Basit Zargar)

(Prem Shankar Jha is a senior columnist, and author)

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