This article was inspired by a number of letters which have recently appeared in several Kashmir-based dailies in response to some totally bizarre statements made by Syed Ali Shah Geelani in an interview published in the daily Rising Kashmir in which he blames the people of Kashmir for the failure of the separatist movement while completely absolving the separatist leadership. Shockingly, even after the loss of so many innocent lives in this ding-dong struggle, he does not have any qualms in yet again advocating violence as the means to attain freedom. An utter naivety is revealed in the claim that no unification between various separatist factions was required to achieve any political goals. However, it is heartening to see young minds come forward and question such handicapped ideas. As much as the population of Kashmir is aware of the facts on ground, the leadership ought to be accountable for their own failures. Such criticism and questioning is a sign of the churning necessary for the intellectual growth and progress of a society. I would like to add a few lines so as to give a broader context to the failure of the separatist movement.
There are several reasons why the separatist movement has failed (and if anyone believes to the contrary, I suggest talking to a common man on the street, or an illiterate housewife to get a better idea of the situation). The first and foremost blunders which acted as a great setback in pursuing the cause of “independence” was the use of religion as a mobilizing force for attaining political goals. This was expressed in the form of targeting, isolating and victimizing minorities, including women who were subject to intense public humiliation for not complying with the extremist demands, especially in the 90’s. In fact, women’s role in the “movement” was only relegated to that of portraying them merely as victims of Indian oppression, thus, denying them a platform or visibility in the public arena as equals of men, while at the same time curtailing their individual freedom. Using religion as a political tool, the separatists utterly failed to take the non-Muslim populations of Jammu & Kashmir on board. The outcome of this in the long run was that the very idea of “freedom” became a casualty of radicalization and communalism. That a sizable population of Kashmiris is still living in exile and no serious attempts towards reconciliation and resettlement have been made so far is a testimony to the fact that there is nothing “secular” in the “movement” and that the non-Muslim populations of the state have no stake in it. This is an irreparable damage to the Kashmiri ethos of composite culture and a permanent hurdle in attaining a political solution.
The second major drawback to the “movement” was the fact that hadtals (shutdowns), street protests and stone-pelting became the primary mode of protestation and resistance after the failure of the armed struggle, and this to the extent of exhaustion and fatigue. The same futile exercise, which hardly ever produced any concrete results, was repeated for decades at the cost of the everyday needs of people, impinging on their very basic right to make a living or pursue their individual dreams (Note that such basic needs as water, electricity, healthcare and roads were dismissed as unimportant by the same people who had no qualms in enjoying these facilities themselves over prolonged periods of time in more comfortable housing, receiving better healthcare in other parts of India). That even education was to be sacrificed for the “cause” (when the kith and kin of the privileged lot were getting educated outside Kashmir), besides the banning of artistic and creative activities at the outset of the armed struggle — the very basis of intellectual growth of a society, is beyond one’s imagination, a matter of utter stupidity and lack of vision.
The third factor that contributed to the failure of the separatist movement was the complete absence of a strategy, absence of a concrete agenda. That many of the separatist leaders, just like the mainstream politicians, were more interested in serving their personal agendas, were in pursuit of power rather than the betterment of the society, was indicated by the many different divisions and factions in the separatist lobby which found it impossible to come together and forge a unified, justifiable agenda under the umbrella of one single leadership. On the contrary, more and more stringent divisions and splinter groups made the relevance of the existing leadership unimportant, creating a chaotic situation where people were confused as to which particular faction to follow when. That one of these 26 or more odd member organizations of the Hurriyat Conference, JKLF, has dozens of “leaders” in many different countries, each claiming to be its “founding member” who do not see eye-to-eye against each other, is just one example. Another example is the quashing of opportunities like summer 2008 which had the potential of being a turning point in Kashmir’s recent history.
Despite these revelations in the more recent years, it was in the early 90’s that these drawbacks of the “movement” were apparent and I, a mere young adult female then, like many others, understood that it was an exercise of hollow promises aimed towards political power with little prospects of translating into actual freedom, of creating a path towards the attainment of human rights and justice. It was then that I realized that the “movement” was built on the foundations of sacrificing individual freedoms, intellectual growth and rational thought where freedom of expression became a casualty. And I realized that the freedom struggle was not taking us anywhere because the very means that were employed to attain it were flawed to the core, unjustifiable on various fronts.
The real enemy of Kashmir today (as elsewhere in South Asia) in my view is corruption — corruption in politics and in every other walk of life. Both the separatist movement and the governing bodies of Jammu & Kashmir have helped embolden corruption by creating a culture of laziness and unaccountability. Unless and until we fight corruption in all its forms, we cannot attain real freedom, no matter what the political boundaries or nationalities; it just won’t happen. But corruption cannot be dealt with unless we allow intellectual progress. Though intellectual progress could be obstructed by corruption — a vicious cycle indeed, there is no alternative to it for only intellectual progress can help us grow as a powerful society and provide a pathway to real freedom.
About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor in the College of Information at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note: This article was originally published on December 10, 2015 in the daily Rising Kashmir and can be accessed at: http://www.risingkashmir.com/article/where-did-we-fail/)