Kashmir: A Paradise Lost?
NEW DELHI: “Over the years, you have only filled our pockets, you couldn’t enter our hearts”. This line, said by a prominent mainstream politician from Srinagar underlines all there is to know about the utter mayhem that is running riot in our very own “Paradise on Earth”.
To shed light on the current shambolic system plaguing the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a team of senior journalists comprising Prem Shankar Jha, Anand Sahay, Sukumar Muralidharan, and Seema Mustafa visited the Valley to put toether a report based on intense discussions with a cross section of Kashmiris covering local activists,officials, politicians,academics, journalists and the youth.
The report, titled “Kashmir: A Paradise Lost?” was released this Tuesday, December 6 at an event at the India International Centre. Activist and former member of the Planning Commission, Syeda Hameed released the report, which was followed with a panel discussion on the “Idea of India”. The panelists included Achin Vanaik, Manoj Jha, Harsh Mander, Hartosh Singh Bal and John Dayal.
The report paints quite a grim picture of Kashmir in reality. A vast majority of people would assume the JNU protest to the killing of Burhan Wani to be the catalyst of all the confusion and chaos that followed. The confusion started way back when Burhan was still in his baby steps.
To state that the government had a part to play in the Burhan Wani killing would be putting it mildly. The seeds of anger and hatred had already been planted long back. It started back in the 1960’s with the Congress bullying the Sheikh Abdullah led National Conference(NC) into forming alliance with them. This was not well received by the majority Kashmiri populace, who identified the NC as more than just a party. The NC was pivotal in advocating for J&K’s freedom struggle. It therefore came as no surprise when the newly formed coalition was eyed with an element of skepticism.
What followed was sheer mayhem. From raping women and wives to killing young children on the playfield, Kashmir was in a pitiful state, marred both internally by the policies of the Centre and externally eyed by Pakistan as a leeway into getting what they long wanted. This brought about massive confusion in the valley. Insurgencies against the Government grew stronger by the day, which was crushed heavily by the army officials. At the same time, terror activities by Pakistan groups only added to the turmoil. What followed was gross violation of human rights. The report revives memory of large scale violations of rights and justice, of civilians being killed. Schools were burned. Some distraught civilians sought refuge in the arms of the terrorist groups, and the situation spiraled down from bad to worse. All this while, the central government remained unmoved. They did not pay heed to what the Kashmiri population wanted. Initially they had wanted Azadi, not perhaps from India, but within India. But today it is different.
The happy marriage between the NC and the Congress didn’t last long, as the two split ways, bringing yet another party into the fray. The People’s Democratic Party led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was to be the new pawn for the Congress, with the two of them splitting the six year chief ministerial term equally in 2002. The newly formed alliance inevitably collapsed, which brought the NC back into power in 2008. This time, with Omar Abdullah at the helm. This was in many ways a hopeful election, and was viewed by many Kashmiris as a fresh start. But the situation far from improved.
In 2010, a fresh wave of unrest unravelled itself in the valley, with the report stating that 124 young people killed in a series of police fire that spanned across 3 months. Teargas shells were fired, pellet guns were fired at protesters from close quarters leading to grotesque scenes. There were innumerable deaths, thousands injured with bleeding eyes, and some even suffering from brain and other organ damage. Burhan was among the many young men who was radicalized during this time. And he would not be the last. The protests died down by October of that year. It wasn’t over by any means. It was just the calm before the storm.
In 2014, the BJP came to power at the Centre ending the Congress reign. Failing to meet its “Project 45” venture, where it aimed to secure an absolute majority in the J&K Assembly election, the BJP joined hands with the PDP. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became the new Chief Minister of J&K.
The BJP followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi carrying on the concept of majoritarian aggression, propounded by the Doval Doctrine. Another wave of agitation ensued when the celebration of “Martyr’s Day” in Kashmir was stopped by the BJP faction of the government. The agitation was further fuelled by a beef ban imposed by the Hindutva driven MLA’s. Matters got out of hand when students of NIT Srinagar were harassed and beaten up by police officials.
With Mufti Mohammad Sayeed dead in 2016, the baton passed onto his daughter, Mehbooba Sayeed who became the new Chief Minister of the troubled state. The situation reached the boiling point, when a now radicalized Burhan was killed in an alleged encounter. This led to widespread riots across the state, which even trickled down to the other parts of the country. Students all over the country were demanding answers from the Government, but to no avail. The situation was further escalated because of communal tensions now erupting in the Valley. Fuelled by religious sentiments, the two major factions were at loggerheads with each other. Kashmiri pundits and Sikhs at one point were left in utter despair. “The current unrest takes away our sense of security completely”, one said.
Despite all this, the Government has not taken adequate steps to take matter into its own hands, and are letting things go haywire. There is not even the slightest indication that the Government is trying to mend the issues looming large in the valley. Turning a blind eye to all the unrest has been the watchword for the past and present governments of this country.
This unrest hasn’t been helped by the media houses either. The media has also done its bit in creating a façade regarding the actual Kashmir issue. From dramatizing affairs, to blowing things out of proportion, and using the unrest as a tool to propel their business strategies, the media houses glorify and “wrap themselves in the colours of crass chauvinism”.
In the panel discussion that followed during the release of the report, Syeda Hameed, former member said, “This report is unusual in the sense that it does not offer recommendations”. The purpose of the report is to shed light on the ground reality affairs that are eating away at the state. Syeda herself stated that despite her being a Kashmiri, she had not been to her home state in the last three years.
The time has come for us to address the ground reality, and come to terms with the fact that the situation in Kashmir is nothing short of precarious. It is time the Government took responsibility, and meet the demands of the Kashmiri masses. As a senior journalist said, “The State has a responsibility to dispense justice”. The report shares the view held by many activists that a healthy dialogue between Delhi and Srinagar is imperative. The purpose of the report is to bring the “unadulterated voices” of the people of Kashmir to the fore, and ensure that things move forward in the right direction. Only then will our “Paradise on Earth” not be lost.