By Syed Mujtaba* and Sheikh Attar**
With the calm of winter breaking the 5 month long violent protests in Kashmir, it provides an opportunity to look back and reflect on what has transpired. Unfortunately once again a realization seems to have set in that nothing tangible has been achieved in return for countless deaths of young people and pellet induced blinding of children. The people are disillusioned with the policies of not only the mainstream leadership but also the separatists. It creates a unique situation where the lack of faith in any political ideology creates a huge vacuum which can be easily exploited to foment trouble .
A key issue, then, is to engage the state youth that accounts for over 30-40% of the state’s population, with the younger generation taking centre stage in this new political discourse that challenges status quo and proffers a more realistic alternative to fill this void.
The new discourse is centred on two main pillars. Firstly, it has to be totally and unconditionally non-violent, and secondly, it has to take all the stakeholders into consideration. This would require all involved parties to come out of their respective cocoons, wherein they have become touchy about anything which contradicts the two sides of the poles ,with the ultimate objective of finding something which is in between, a workable solution, that will placate all.
The obvious question that arises here is, what is the alternative if not Azaadi or living with the fact of being an integral part of India? The answer is that there is no one ideal solution or alternative. It is a bits and pieces solution to the complex and at times contradictory perceptions and concerns. A solution where each stakeholder has to strike a reconciliation note in dispute resolution, with a mutual give and take.
The fact of the matter is that in two parts of Jammu and Kashmir, i.e. Jammu and Ladakh, there were no protests with demands for Azaadi. Surely we have to take their voices into account if we desire an permanent solution, Ignoring them is likely to cost us dear as is illustrated by the stark divide that has split the two parts of the state. Till we remain in denial about this, as is unfortunately what seems to be happening right now, we risk reaching a point of no return.
With every slogan of Azadi we are pushing the people of Jammu and Ladakh more and more away and fanning the fires of factionalism further. How can we move forward if we have no common meeting ground to begin with? The answer may not lie exclusively within the political framework. Indeed alternative discourses that do not toe the official line are rarely ever advocated by the state or its institutions.
The people need to realize that expecting any political party, whether under the state constitution or outside of it, to demand measures in direct conflict with that of the state vision is futile. Every one of them feed their motives in conflict and while each has its interest bound to the conflict, the same cannot be said about their commitment towards resolving the conflict. Ever since the 1990’s Kashmiri’s have endured almost 4 years(no of days) of shutdowns ,days when no business or any other productive activity took place in Kashmir.
What was the end result of all this sacrifice? Has the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) been removed or even partially amended? Has the army count stationed in the state gone down? Has any justice been delivered to number of innocent people killed throughout these years? Instead, procedural arbitrariness, lack of transparency and accountability enforcing institutions has further made justice a mirage and We all know none of this happened.
And what’s more, there is no realistic hope of inching closer towards Azaadi in the immediate future. A closer introspection reveals the public has responded with great fervor to calls for protests, following every calendar religiously but to no avail. Clearly, this blind faith in one person and one ideology, placing the proverbial all eggs in one basket is not going to work anymore and is proving to be counterproductive.
Relying on the democratic process by placing our trust in mainstream political parties has earned us rude shocks, the recent alliance being a case in point. People had started to see the PDP as a sign of hope due to its soft stand on tackling popular discontent among the people, on separatists and even militants. It was this hope that motivated people to back the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in elections but the PDP-BJP alliance has dealt a blow to the loyalties of even the strongest PDP supporter.
People can no longer relate to any party or organization strongly. A sort of identity crisis has developed which has paradoxically provided space for a new, more prudent discourse to emerge. A discourse which is by the people and for the people, which takes the whole state together, is progressive, offers an all inclusive solution, has active civil society participation, is backed by academicians and think tanks and one that safeguards minorities and tribal interests. The harsh winter has had much retrospection to offer to the people of the valley with the promise that the dawn of spring may signal a new beginning, once the frost has thawed.
*Human rights and RTI activist; **research scholar and RTI activist