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This article was first published 7 years ago  » News » 'Rest of India needs to listen to what the Kashmiris have to say'

'Rest of India needs to listen to what the Kashmiris have to say'

By Archana Masih
July 14, 2016 13:50 IST
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'The most significant consequence of the Burhan Wani killing can be the emergence of more Burhans.'
'Another is the induction of Kashmir-born insurgents into armed resistance.'
This means greater local support such as has been witnessed over the last two years or so.'

A woman looks out during street protests in Kashmir

With 34 deaths so far, it has been six days of turmoil in the Kashmir Valley after violence erupted in the aftermath of Hizbul 'commander' Burhan Wani's death in a firefight with security forces.

Siddiq Wahid is a political historian and activist. He was also the founding vice-chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Kashmir.

In an e-mail interaction with's Archana Masih, Professor Wahid says the parties to the dispute are suffering not because of any collective prejudice or bigotry between peoples, but because their political establishments do not have the political will to address the historical foibles, legal convolutions and political prejudices that inform the J&K dispute.

Kashmir is on the boil again, 34 young people have been killed, many have been injured and blinded.
The prime minister, chief minister, the UN have asked security forces to exercise restraint.
What are the immediate, urgent actions/measures needed by the state, central governments and the security forces to calm the protestors and bring the situation under control?

The immediate need, of course, is for the security forces to do what their political leaders say they want them to do -- exercise restraint.

But then the prime minister and the chief minister are contradicting themselves in their instructions to the foot soldier. The security forces are expressly exempted, by law, from 'exercising restraint', empowered as they are by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the so-called Public Safety Act (PSA) and other such designed and signed by PMs and CMs.

How is this current protest different from similar protests of the past, for example the summer of 2010 when 120 people died when mobs of stone pelters confronted security forces?

In many ways the two protests are not different.

i. Both protests provided an opportunity for the youth to express their anger, for which all democratic avenues have been shut, at Kashmir's continued state of siege.

ii. Both protests have seen young lives lost in an uneven battle pitting civilians with stones against soldiers with guns.

iii. And both protests have been spontaneous and indigenous.

What may be different is that:

a. the 2016 protests have spread to rural Kashmir, particularly in the PDP's bastion of support in the south, whereas the 2010 protests were concentrated in the urban areas of Srinagar, and

b. the 2016 protests are of much greater intensity, attributable to the fact that Kashmiris felt betrayed by the PDP when, in 2015, it allied itself in a coalition with the Hindu nationalist BJP whose agenda of cultural homogeneity and centralised hegemony has been the very motivation for Kashmir's political resistance.

What accounts for the popularity of a 22 year old who spent most of his time hiding in the forests of Tral with virtually no known or reported 'striking' terrorist actions to his name?

What accounts for Burhan Wani's popularity is in the facts of his very brief biography, which is the stuff of legend now.

In the most immediate sense he reacted to the indignity of being beaten up by security forces when he was 15 and the wanton killing of his elder brother, who was not involved in armed insurgency, some three years later.

Additional factors for the local admiration of this charismatic figure may have been that he fended for himself rather than rely on external forces and explicitly declared that civilians -- Kashmiri or otherwise -- would not be harmed and lived this promise.

Disturbingly, more people turned up for his funeral than that of then chief minister and one of the tallest leaders of Kashmir -- Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
What were the reasons for his mass appeal that drew such crowds, both young and old, to his funeral?

The demographic disparity between the numbers for Burhan's funeral and that of the late chief minister can, and should, be seen by Delhi as a referendum on which way the wind is blowing in Kashmir: The belief that the territorial dispute over the state and political justice for the peoples of the state are yet to be realised.

Support for Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has waned in her own home turf of Bijebehara that police protection has been strengthened around Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's grave (as reported by the Indian Express).
Why have the Muftis' support eroded when they along with the Abdullahs have been the tallest political families in Kashmir?

To say that support for Mehbooba Mufti 'has waned' conjures up images of a slow, imperceptible lunar movement. It is an understatement at best. Hers has been a meteoric fall.

The Abdullahs' rises and falls have a longer history and rationale, so a comparison would be incongruous. However, the commonality between them is that J&K state's establishment political parties sing one tune when in power and another when out of power.

In the context of the state's disputed status, this has much sharper implications than when the same phenomenon asserts itself in, say, Gujarat or Karnataka. The peoples of the state are not ignorant of this fact.

What consequences do you see arising of Burhan Wani's death? Are home-grown militants (born in Kashmir rather than sent from Pakistan) on the rise n the Kashmir Valley?

The most significant consequence can be the emergence of more Burhans.

Another is the induction of Kashmir-born insurgents (which have been a hallmark of this new phase of militancy) into armed resistance. This means greater local support (such as has been witnessed over the last two years or so).

Finally, it means that the argument of some policy wonks in Delhi that Pakistan sustains the resistance is belied.

The ultimate consequence of this combination of reasons could be a further delay in the resolution of the conflicted dispute, as false assumptions lead to false policies.

As for whether home-grown militants are on the rise: Yes, I believe they are.

Mehbooba Mufti has a difficult task in front of her and seems out of her depth in confronting the situation.
Is it because of her political inexperience (though she was her father's lieutenant for many years) or is the situation difficult for anyone at the helm?

Yes, I do believe she has a difficult task on her hands. And she does seem out of her depth. But to be fair to her, being an understudy to her father for half a term is not nearly enough time. And yes, the situation is difficult for anyone at the helm.

The question that begs to be answered is: What will it take to successfully steer the ship of the J&K state? I believe it will be to address all three aspects of the dispute; namely, the historical idiosyncrasies, the legal ambiguities and the political inequities that have layered the conundrum in the past 69 years.

Difficult I know, but I also believe that there is just no other alternative to doing that.

Omar Abdullah has said Mehbooba is making the same mistakes that he made in 2010 by going into a shell. Mehbooba, Omar and Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz are all young leaders representing different voices in the Kashmir Valley -- what do they need to do differently to address the disaffections of the young on the streets?

Firstly, let us remember that it is not just 'disaffections of the young on the streets.'

What fuels these outbursts is the root of these disaffections, which is the unresolved dispute over the territory of the J&K state and the implications it has for that state's population. That is the legal status and the political reality.

Omar Abdullah is right in that Mehbooba is making the same mistake as he did in 2010. (It could be asked whether Omar will handle it different if he is given a second chance.) Our political leaders need to be consistent in their own positions, not deny that there are responses different from theirs and create an environment in which we can debate the possibilities for our conflicted region.

Perhaps the point of convergence for the diverse viewpoints in our state is to agree to debate the possibilities. In this, surely, they can be united against (and I use that word advisedly) New Delhi.

It is easy to advocate this in the abstract (the PDP's slogan for a 'battle of ideas' comes to mind) but, as the PDP's u-turn after the elections has shown, it is very hard to implement it.

Has the Centre's disengagement and dialogue with people in the Kashmir Valley come at a high price?
There has been no exercise like the Centre's three interlocutors who interacted with Kashmiris and submitted a report in 2010 (nothing came out of that report though).
Should not every channel of dialogue be always open when it comes to dealing with Kashmir?

Yes. And yes. But that is a challenge for which the Centre, unfortunately, does not have the courage of conviction, political self-confidence and moral responsibility to meet.

You belong to the state and have said that Kashmir is complex, complicated and unpredictable, in your interactions. What do you think Kashmiris want?

The Kashmiri wants freedom, the dignity that comes from it and the intellectual versatility that flows from the combination of the two.

Scores of individual Kashmiris have realised it and thrived. But collectively, they have been denied these basic rights.

Is there an upsurge in Kashmiri nationalism?

Yes, a logical upsurge.

Is the gulf between Kashmir and the rest of India increasing? Is there really no common ground between Indian nationalism and Kashmiri nationalism?

In answer to the first question, my answer is yes. In response to the second, I'd have to say I hope not, because the lack of a common ground makes for neighbours at war.

What does the rest of India need to do to address the alienation of the Kashmiri people?

Listen to what they have to say.

The UN has called for restraint in J&K. How much does internationalising Kashmir hurt the issue at home?

It hurts India immensely, especially as it was India that took the dispute to the United Nations, and then chose not to honour the latter's resolutions.

It was also India that struck a deal with Sheikh Abdullah to define J&K's partial accession to India (as represented by Article 370 of the Constitution of India) but then chose to systematically erode, beginning in 1953, the substantive autonomy that this implied.

The first commitment is explicitly international and involves Pakistan.

The second is implicitly international in that it involved a pact with a sovereign entity other than India.

The two deals need not have hurt India 'at home' if the agreements had been honoured. Insofar as they were not, it must prick its conscience. At least so I would like to believe, giving India the benefit of doubt.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta has written (external link) 'But let no one underestimate what has been on display in Kashmir since the killing of Burhan Wani: In one fell swoop the legitimacy of the Indian State has been eroded. The comforting illusion that all we face is a cross-border intervention, not the deep and continual alienation of our own citizens, has been shattered.'

How would you assess the above remark? We say that the rest of India fails to understand the Kashmiri psyche -- but so is true for Kashmiris too?
Isn't it? Both parties are suffering because of a lack of understanding with and of/each other?

First, I could not agree more with what Pratap has said except to qualify it by saying that that legitimacy has been eroded, as I just said, since 1953.

So the upsurges among the youth in 1989, 2008, 2010 and 2016 represent increasingly determined opposition to such continued erosion, even if it be with the collusion of representatives selected in elections with limited significance.

Second, understanding a psyche is difficult enough when it involves that of an individual, so it is a stretch to say that entire collectives can understand each others' 'collective psyches,' if there is such a thing.

Disputes between collectives should stick to more practical tasks governed by concrete laws rather than roam the landscapes of psyches.

Third, the parties to the dispute are suffering not because of any collective prejudice or bigotry between peoples, but because their political establishments do not have the political will to address the historical foibles, legal convolutions and political prejudices that inform the J&K dispute.

IMAGE: A woman watches the upheavals unfold outside her window. Photograph: Umar Ganie

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