THE NEW 'NORMAL' OF KASHMIR
Protests in funeral shrouds in Srinagar after a minor set himself ablaze Picture: Basit Zargar
SRINAGAR: Sometime back a debate had started regarding the “leaders” and the “people”. There were many opinions about one having let down the other. Some observed that the Kashmiri people had let down their leaders. Others said that the leaders had let down the people. The trigger for the debate was probably the general feeling that the popular movement in Kashmir is not moving forward and has stagnated.
Well, that is far from the truth. Kashmir’s movement is probably in the strongest and the final phase at the present time. The strength of the movement can be judged from the fact that even the so called mainstream parties which have always claimed Kashmir to be an integral part of India are these days professing what is described now as “Soft Separatism”! As a friend recently remarked, resistance is like water it circulates everywhere and slowly rises to its own level.
The alienation of the people especially the new generation is at its peak. During the entire history of the movement for last 69 years there has never been so much wide spread resistance. It does not matter if the resistance does not expose itself widely. There is inherent resistance which manifests itself whenever it gets the chance.
Compare the present situation to the mid-1970’s. The security forces did not apprehend danger from the civilians.. In fact, there was a kind of bonhomie. A large number of security personnel and others from the services used to live in the posh localities of Srinagar in rented houses. People could freely enter any security area such as cantonments, army and security camps. In fact, children used to cross from Gupkar to Batwara through the Badami Bagh Cantonment on bicycles to go to school. Now one cannot imagine crossing the area even in a government vehicle.
Many civilians were regular invitees to Army and Air Force messes on various occasions. Sometime back, a friend related that a Brigadier friend of his told him that he used to go every day to a popular bakery on Maulana Azad Road to buy bread. If he wanted to do that now, he would have to take a platoon of soldiers to ensure his personal security! No doubt there has been a massive security upgrade after the outbreak of militancy of the nineties. But despite the facade of peace now, the bonhomie is missing.
The security on the way to the airport and within the terminals is intense. In no airport in the entire world passengers and their baggage are creened more than a kilometer before the entry to the terminal building. This aspect has been recently highlighted in the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism report on bottlenecks for developing International Tourism to Kashmir.
As regards the presence of soldiers, Kashmir has been described as the most militarized place on Earth. Almost a million soldiers, para-military and other security personnel. Over and above, the soldiers have free hand to kill and destroy property under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act!
Almost every locality has security presence in the form of bunkers and camps. It looks like a huge prison. Independence Day and the Republic Day have been turned into ordeals for the local people. However, they have got used to all these restrictions and hardly take notice. It is part of life here! Regarding the freedom of expression, the less said the better. The phrase has probably disappeared from our lexicon. No public meetings or marches are allowed even if these are non-political. Even people demanding wages or protesting against power shortage are dispersed violently. Some religious processions like the Muharram tazias have been disallowed for decades now. Some leaders are perpetually under house arrest while some others have been under detention for years together. One of the leaders who has been repeatedly asked to be released by the State High Court has been slapped 31 times the draconian Public Safety Act! Truth along with accountability seems to have been banished from Kashmir. The suppression of basic human rights has been globally taken up by various organisations. Still it hardly makes any difference.
Personal security has surpassed everything. Bullet proof cars, jammers, escort vehicles, security at home and then personal security officers for every Tom, Dick and Harry! Even people who fought elections quite some time back have personal security officers. Some retired officials too have personal security officers, escorts and home security. All these security measures and means to suppress the truth cost huge amounts to the Government. The security related and defence expenses run into billions of rupees.
The intelligence agencies of both India and Pakistan spend billions to tailor various political streams to their viewpoint. In fact, India is economically bleeding through Kashmir. Some years back during a mass upheaval in the State, an RSS ideologue, Thakur, had opined that India should dis-invest Kashmir. The overall uncertainty caused in the entire sub-continent due to the Kashmir problem has shied away billions of dollars of Non Resident Indian Investment from the country.
In view of these facts, the question as to who has let down who seems totally irrelevant. The real question should be about the unity of leadership. That is the most important and the most relevant thing at the moment. Why don’t the leaders unite if the goal is same? Why there have to be dozens of parties led by dozens of leaders, even more?
Incidentally, the popular movement and the peoples’ resistance are strong as ever. This is in spite of the disunity of the leadership! The new generation follows ideology and convictions. They are leaders in themselves. They have given up the personality cult which has been plaguing every sphere of life in Kashmir for ages.
As regards, violent incidents and new breed of militants, this is a natural process. When suppression exceeds limits and there is total clamp down on any kind of free expression, violence is the natural outcome. There is no need for anyone to tell people to take up a gun. There is a universal saying that violence begets violence. However, violence does not solve issues but compounds these! The only practical and sensible way to solve all the problems whether of leadership or the final solution to the decades old dispute is dialogue among all the stakeholders. However, the first right is of the people inhabiting the land and living in an atmosphere of uncertainty for the last 68 years. They are the main party! Without their participation no solution will endure!