Kashmir conflict

India using an iron fist in Kashmir

Why are Kashmiris doing this? Let us all walk the path of wellbeing! This was the statement of an old friend of mine from the Indian mainland in response to the prevailing political crisis in Kashmir. I looked at her in silence and hopelessness. It was August 15th and I was in New Delhi, on my way back to my adopted home, the United States of America, after a month-long harrowing experience in Kashmir. I had left during the wee hours of the 14th morning in an attempt to avoid any “untoward incident” on my way to the airport in Srinagar.

Today is August 22nd. After over 44 days of senseless killings, there seems to be no let up in the political crisis. While the two South Asian nuclear powers India and Pakistan mince no words in flexing their muscles and bellowing at each other claiming their rights on the fated land, over 66 civilians are killed and thousands injured in different parts of the Kashmir valley since July 8, 2016. Scores of youth and many minors have received dangerous injuries from pellets impairing their vision. While any violent protests by public cannot be condoned, no words of criticism suffice to condemn the excesses by the police and armed forces. Amidst the authoritarian and vindictive measures of the government and the police forces, common people have literally been subject to the worst kind of psychological torture one can imagine in the modern world. Kashmir feels like a prison where the entire population is at the mercy of different agencies attempting to outdo each other at their incompetence in dealing with the situation. Calling the administration’s response to the non-stop shutdown calendars of the separatists “counter-productive” and “insensitive” is an understatement.

In total frustration at its failure to address public anger against the many killings the government’s response to the situation has been reduced to countering the senseless hartals by stringent curfews and restrictions. By disabling private mobile/Internet services, and more recently extending the curfews to nighttime, the government has demonstrated an utter disregard for people’s fundamental right to access information and to their freedom of movement and communication. Such desperate actions only reflect the government’s failure in safeguarding the basic human rights of people and ought to be condemned in the strongest terms.

But this isn’t the first time that this happened. A continuing cycle of killings amidst enormous protests against human rights violations, unending shutdowns, and unjustifiably severe restrictions – words fell short of describing summer 2010. It was the third consecutive year that Kashmir had erupted – each time in response to a unique incident, and I was to witness each of these uprisings firsthand. The situation deteriorated every passing day turning the valley into a virtual prison for three months. The use of brutal force by the police and the security men to control angry protestors and stone-pelting youth resulted in many deaths, with ordinary citizens being unnecessarily harassed and beaten, and public properties destroyed. At least 117 people were killed and several hundred injured in police firing. A majority of those killed were students, including two minors.

Given the immense psychological stress resulting from stringent clampdowns, the situation is again on the brink of turning into a humanitarian crisis the political consequences of which could be far more devastating than the previous years. Rise of homegrown militancy and increasing public sympathy for slain militants is only one such consequence. Continued and unchecked abuse of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is one of the primary factors contributing to the further alienation and radicalization of youth. Any attempt to justifying its use at the pretext of the “worsening situation” is naïve, if not dishonest, and utterly disturbing. And far more disturbing is the criminal silence of the country’s Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi who has offered few words of sympathy for the families of the victims in the current spate of violence and unrest. Under such circumstances it is hard to imagine if things will move in the right direction any time soon in Kashmir.

August 22, 2016.

(Published in Rising Kashmir, August 25, 2016. http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/EPaper.aspx?0vzqKVqakSdx1ArOcaTYaA_ep_ep )

Where Did We Fail?

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 smunshi2002@yahoo.com.

(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/)

Perils of Destructive Politics

By: Dr. Sadaf Munshi 

“Kashmiri people follow Geelani, believe in JKLF ideology and pin hopes on Mirwaiz”

The statement quoted above was an observation made by a scholar from the United Kingdom during a Kashmir visit in 2010 when over 116 young lives were lost for nothing. In the past few days, the situation in Kashmir is taking a similar turn but lets hope nothing close to 2010 is on cards. I have learned that Kashmir politics is a kedgeree too many players, too many cooks. At the latest developments, I was reminded of a phone call I made to my father about two years ago asking about the “situation” in the aftermath of the sectarian tension in 2012. Father had turned to me like this: “kehin nay, yim karaan shuyr kharyil” (‘Nothing, it’s just these kids playing mischief’). It was a relief to see that he hadn’t lost his sense of humor even in that tense environment. My father further added: “ath habyin wanaan Kaakun haaput; ba hay traavahan magar yi traavyam na kehn” (Lit. ‘This is called “Kaka’s bear”, my dear; I would let go of it but it won’t let go of me’).

We have seen time and again that a common Kashmiri’s right to live, move and breathe is at the mercy of the moods of politicians, administrators, separatists and some invisible “agents”. Only a few months ago, Kashmir went through one of the most devastating floods in its history. Schools and educational institutions were closed down for a prolonged period of time. The entire infrastructure was badly damaged. There is a lot to catch up, a lot of reconstruction work to be done. Despite an interval of seven long months, majority of the flood-affected people are yet to receive relief. Many people spent a long harsh winter in makeshift shelters and were only looking forward to a ray of hope with the arrival of spring. The intervening elections and the unprecedented delay in the government formation had only added to their woes. As if all this were not enough, there comes politics on the scene and the common man continues to suffer.

Over a week ago, a huge controversy was started over the government’s announcement of a “plan of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits”; this came even before any actual action plan or conversation on this topic was made with the concerned people. Within a matter of hours, separatist leaders came forward with severe criticism and their supporters went berserk agitating on the streets of Srinagar on the following day. The leader of the JKLF even announced a 30-hour long symbolic “hunger strike” against the proposal of “separate townships for KPs”, which the government did not even endorse. “We will not tolerate any division of Kashmir based on communal lines”, the leader had belched. As if it wasn’t clear enough that the division of the state on communal lines already existed. Perhaps it would have been more judicious and ethical to explain what stopped the separatist leadership from reaching out to the Pandit community during more than two decades. As far as the state administration is concerned, it could not take any brownie points on their announcement of the “plan” either. We have just seen how the only KP member of the PDP was shown the door when his campaigning role was over; the resignation of Dr. Sameer Kaul right after the government formation is an indication of how seriously the government is taking the issue of the “reintegration” of Kashmiri Pandits. The untimely announcement of the “luxurious bus services for tourists” before any developmental plans for the people of Kashmir or relief for the flood victims was yet another foot-in-mouth blurb that the new government could have avoided.

Now, here is the icing on the cake. After spending his annual winter vacation in the cozy warm plains of the capital of the “enemy” India while the flood-affected people of Kashmir were reeling in cold weather, Mr. Seyyid Ali Shah Geelani makes a salubrious comeback on the Kashmir’s political scene. Alongside a recently released hardliner separatist on his side (who by the way would have been a non-entity but thanks to the Indian media for lionizing him), a couple thousand people gave the octogenarian a warm welcome. Flags of the neighboring country, whose role in the Kashmir conflict is well known, were hoisted in the demonstrations and “jeeve jeeve Pakistan” slogans were reverberating in the air, while the “moderate” faction was dumbfounded and sidelined by the media glamour the hardliners attracted. At this scene, I was reminded of the tens of thousands of aspiring youth waiting with their job applications for a mere fifty positions in the police/armed services.

Calling for regular shutdowns and “idhar chalo”, “udhar chalo” is an approach, which has taken a high toll on Kashmir’s economy, development and intellectual growth. It has yielded nothing but destruction and loss of precious human lives. Inciting anger, throwing rocks at people on the other side and raising mash’als in the air in nocturnal demonstrations is only an easy recipe for more violence, deaths and destruction. Those people who indulge in instigating youth to violence are equally responsible for the loss of precious lives that take place in violent demonstrations, as are those who fire bullets at them. Both the public and the police need to observe restraint and behave themselves.

Kashmir’s civil society has a moral obligation to come out of their closets and speak vehemently against any overt or covert abuse of teenage schoolboys for the purpose of political gains; they also have an obligation to reject all extremist forces that are hell-bent in taking this society back to stone age. Finally the callousness of the Police in dealing with volatile situations needs a very serious attention by the government. The police forces need to be trained in how to communicate with public in a humane and respectful way; use of disproportionate force on unarmed people is totally unacceptable and unjustified.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor of Linguistics in the College of Information at the University of North Texas. For feedback, she can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.
Originally published in the daily Rising Kashmir (April 23, 2015):http://www.risingkashmir.com/perils-of-destructive-politics/

The Return of the Kashmiri Pandit

By: Dr. Sadaf Munshi 
“The Return of the Kashmiri Pandit” – this phrase has come to sound like that famous 1985 horror movie-cum-black comedy The Return of the Living Dead. Given that we Kashmiris are so hypersensitive that a slight tinge of satire may stoke unwanted emotions, I hope being candid does not lead to my being misconstrued. The analogy is admittedly a bit absurd, but the popular response generated by any government offer to rehabilitate the displaced Kashmiri Pandits gives an impression as if the KP community would have a comeback as the horde of hungry zombies out to devour the unsuspecting Muslim population.

Today, many separatist leaders and commonplace Kashmiri Muslims are nervous that the proposed “townships” offer for the Pandits might be very “dangerous” for the majority (Although it seems that the government had to clarify that the offer did not really imply “isolated” colonies but an attempt to “reintegrate” the displaced KP community). Some people even went to claim that the proposal might lead to an “Israel-like situation” in which the majority will eventually be replaced by the minority. Honestly, I do not know what to call this kind of attitude if not extreme paranoia.

First of all, Kashmiri Pandits are not some foreigners trying to grab the “rightfully inherited” land of Kashmiri Muslims. Secondly, we do not see any imminent population explosion in the KP community, which might result into a situation where they could outnumber the Muslim community any soon (But, wait a minute! Doesn’t this remind us of the mindset warning the Hindu India of the “increasing” Muslim population?). Thirdly, out of the 62,000 displaced KP families, how many are actually likely to return? The affluent and lucky ones, who have dispersed and settled in many foreign lands with better employment and educational prospects, would be least interested in a comeback, just like the many Kashmiri Muslims settled elsewhere. Finally, how many of them do we strongly believe will return willingly and stay there for good? More than one state government has made promises to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits. We have even seen attractive job packages being offered in the past. Unfortunately there have been few takers so far. In fact, we have heard reports of people leaving soon after they had joined these jobs. Why? Let’s think about it!

In the summer of 2013, I visited the remote area of Shopian in Kashmir with some people as part of a project documenting Kashmir oral history. We were greeted by several ghost houses, ruins of the foundations of razed buildings once inhabited by the Pandits who had fled in terror many years ago in the 90’s. Despite witnessing arsons and attacks on their neighbors, a single Pandit family had decided to stay back. We met them. They prepared lunch for us – chicken, mutton kofte, and yogurt drinks. An elderly woman looked at me with great affection as we listened to the story her husband narrated. I returned her gesture with the same warmth. The woman gave me a tight hug and showed me around. After the lunch we stepped outside and took a closer look of the neighborhood. The house stood amidst an array of giant trees and ruins of the burnt down houses of which only the worn down foundations remained. It was a quiet, isolated place; not a single neighbor was within sight. “It is scary,” I turned to my companions. The elderly man, in his 90’s, said in a reassuring voice:

We have become used to it now. We are not scared any more. The policemen guard our house and property at night. They come around 10:00pm everyday and leave in the morning. We wish we had some neighbors, some relatives around here that we could share our joys and our sorrows with.

We may brag about our “composite culture” and our “shared past”, or take pride in the much-hallowed notion of “Kashmiriyat”, but the reality on ground says a slightly different story. We have turned into an exclusivist society in which people belonging to other religions or ideologies do not quite fit. Except for a few isolated elite colonies (I would call them “sophisticated ghettos”), there are few neighborhoods in the valley, which can boast of being truly “composite” in nature.

Setting aside the endless debates and conspiracy theories on who or what was responsible for the KP exodus, let’s be honest in admitting the fact that both the state government and the majority community have so far failed to facilitate the return of our “Pandit brothers”. The miniscule population of Kashmiri Pandits, just like other minorities, cannot be a threat to the majority. Conversely, it is this population that has been continuously vulnerable; the many migrations of KPs are a testimony to this fact.

If the representatives of various schools of thought are really sincere in wanting the displaced community back, it’s high time they put a full stop to knee-jerk responses and insensitive statements that cause further alienation of the KP community. A well thought out plan for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the interested members by the government in consultation with various people, which will not expose the community to any vulnerable situation, is the need of the hour.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor of Linguistics in the College of Information at the University of North Texas. For feedback, she can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.
Originally published in the daily Rising Kashmir (April 9, 2015): http://www.risingkashmir.com/the-return-of-the-kashmiri-pandit/

Revisiting the Question of the Kashmiri Pandits: The Battle of the Narratives

By: Dr. Sadaf Munshi

Every year the people of the Kashmiri Pandit (KP) and Kashmiri Muslim (KM) communities commemorate the month of January 1990 for the beginning of an era of two structurally different but extremely bitter and painful experiences: the “exodus” of the former facilitated by an atmosphere of immense fear and terror and the beginning of the brutal atrocities of the latter at the hands of the Indian state. It was a time period that marked the beginning of an era of dissatisfaction on both sides, a sense of deceit, distrust and disbelief.

There has been an abysmal silence on part of each of the two communities failing to acknowledge the painful experiences of the other and a continued resentment; this often leads to poisonous confrontations and virulent debates on public forums as well as in private gatherings. Two parallel narratives developed independently over the course of time on each side leaving a dismal gap between the two communities, which has yet to be filled over twenty-three years later. What is truly unfortunate and utterly disappointing about all this enterprise is the unfathomable urge among the members of the two communities, time and time again, to indulge in comparing and weighing their own pain and sufferings against the other and thus, directly or indirectly denying, falsifying and even ridiculing the other’s pain against their own.

The Problem

Numerous conflicts motivated, influenced, promoted or characterized by communal or ethnic tension are a testimony to the fact that during such politically charged times when governing bodies have literally collapsed, the last thing the common people tend to do is to think and act rationally. A majority of the leading voices on the Kashmir conflict and KP/KM debate fail to recognize the importance of the degree of influence that various key events and situations had on the emotional psychology of the people from each of these communities. This eventually reflected itself as a contention based on competing narratives, which seem to omit, under-emphasize, deny, or cherry-pick incidents that are potentially sensitive for one or the other side without assessing the repercussions of such behavior. In any tragic account like this, the account of the victims should be given the greatest sanctity.

The members of the KP and the KM community or their supporters advocating their respective causes or aspirations have consistently maintained two extreme positions on the question of the Pandit “exodus”. One voice consistently maintains that the KP’s left as part of the governor Jagmohan’s “conspiracy to clear ground” for a large-scale operation in an attempt to eradicate “militancy” (and, involving “massacring” of the Muslims) and the other suggests that the KPs were “driven” or “hounded” out by the majority community as part of a well-organized, systematic, sort of scripted agenda “to get rid of them”, with an aim of “ethnic cleansing”. Similar to these are the following arguments: one is the constant blaming by the majority of the minority that they were complicit with the state’s “nefarious designs” against the Muslims and, therefore, deserved to be ousted, and two, is the claim by some people that the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for the atrocities incurred on them at the hands of the Indian security forces, making statements such as: they invited it, and, therefore, they deserved it (Some extremist Pandit groups even use the term “holocaust” to refer to the mass migration). While the minority community largely holds the majority responsible for their plight, the majority community kept accusing them for leaving their homeland “for greener pastures”. Both of the two positions are dangerously biased and inaccurate and contribute to strengthen and intensify the bitterness, animosity and mistrust between the two communities.

There is no doubt that the migration of the Kashmiri Pandits was the strongest blow to the Kashmiri ethos of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and the much-harped notion of Kashmiriyat (or ‘Kashmiriness’). A stringent bitterness and suspicion developed between the two communities, which continued and crystallized over the last two decades or so post 1990. However, a fair degree of mistrust and disbelief had already been existing, and simmering underneath an apparently harmonious society before 1990.

Recall that at the outset of the armed struggle for “freedom” in Kashmir, a significant number of Kashmiri Pandits were targeted — killed, abducted or simply threatened by armed militants or mobs based on suspicion, communal animosity, sometimes for purely personal reasons, or merely to “set an example” for those who might have connived with the Indian state against the militants or the “movement”. It is also important to note that a certain degree of tension, which often reflected political or ideological differences, also existed within the Kashmiri Muslim community itself, viz., on the sectarian lines. Thus, attacks and threats, though on a fairly smaller scale, were also made against people belonging to other minorities, such as the Shi’a Muslim community, with the warning of “joining the movement or facing the consequences”; it is such threats that motivated many of the members of the Shi’a Muslim minority to join hands with the “movement”. Note that attacks were made on everybody who was seen as a “threat” to the “freedom” struggle. These included politicians, government officials as well as people representing or supporting mainstream political parties, especially National Conference. Given these facts, it is naïve to suggest that majority of the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for or involved in efforts to enforce religious homogeneity, or that ethnic cleansing was the primary goal in this connection.

While the majority of the KP community was living in extreme circumstances as refugees in their own country, back home in Kashmir the majority community was busy wailing over their losses over the many years to come — the atrocities by the security forces, rapes and assault of many of their women, enforced disappearances, scores of fake encounters, deaths/killings of civilians during protests and demonstrations, and numerous other human rights violations. A strong void developed between the two separated communities, which seemed to be widening over the course of time. There was an increasing need of a sense of acknowledgement of the pain and suffering from each side but neither seemed to take that first step — a furiousness and frustration set forth at the silence of the other at their pain. 

Major Challenge in the Process of Reconciliation

In the process of truth telling, peace making and reconciliation, there is no room for “but what about…” or the pehle aap (‘first you’) attitude. It is high time that, without any prejudice or hesitations and without getting entangled in the pointless debates on theories and conspiracies on who or what was responsible for the KP exodus, we admit that both the government and the majority community failed to prevent them from leaving Kashmir or facilitate their return. While the state government consistently failed to fulfill its promises to “rehabilitate Pandits in their homes”, most attempts of return were foiled by unidentified elements, often involving violence. The least the state or the central government could have done in this regard was to save or secure their houses, their places of worship, and their other immovable property, which lay abandoned, dilapidated, unprotected, abused, and in several cases, burnt down or gobbled up by vested interests.

It seems to me that there perhaps will be no formal or large-scale acknowledgement of the shameful truth regarding the exodus of the Pandit minority by the majority Muslim community without a simultaneous acknowledgement on part of the government of India and the security forces of the atrocities incurred on them over all these years. The reason for that being that although the Pandits are not responsible for the atrocities on Kashmiri Muslims, they are, albeit only symbolically, perceived as associated with the national machinery that caused these atrocities. They did not really contest the “movement for freedom”, but they also did not participate in it.

There is a need for the process of reconciliation to begin at two levels and this must happen simultaneously — one is the KP-KM reconciliation and the other is the Kashmir-India reconciliation. The major challenge in this process, however, is that until there is a formal political settlement to the Kashmir issue –whatever that is, there will be no Kashmir-India reconciliation. Although it is possible that the KP-KM reconciliation could proceed on its own, it may not be effective enough to ensure the return of the Pandits to Kashmir unless some kind of a formal political solution or settlement is sought and achieved. It is a double-edged sword and a bitter reality for all of us to understand without losing our tempers.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com

Originally published in Economic and Political Weekly (Aug 31, 2013): http://www.epw.in/discussion/revisiting-question-kashmiri-pandits.html

Why did I Leave Kashmir?

Remembering the Times of Darkness

Back in 1991 when militancy and the sentiment for freedom were at their highest peak in Kashmir, I took my Higher Secondary Part I (Class 11th) exams like many others of my generation amidst extreme tension and turbulence. My school, the Government Girls Higher Secondary School at Soura (situated a few blocks away from the majestic uninhabited house of the “Lion of Kashmir”) had been burnt down and many of our classes were held out in the open or in make-shift rooms which were never repaired until I passed out. I still remember the charred logs and wretched beams and the deadly cold winters. I also remember how my hands would freeze while writing for there was hardly any heating arrangement. Right before the exams, I was advised by a friend that there was “no need to study this time”. I ignored the advice and studied any way. I worked very hard and prepared myself for the exams. On the first day of the exams, when the question papers and answer sheets were distributed, one of the examiners came forward and said: taamath bihivu ithay paeth, pata bihiv raundas manz ikwaTa ‘Sit properly like this for now, in a little while you can make a circle together’ – words that resound in my memory in the same order even after literally two decades. My eyes almost popped out of my sockets when she instructed the girls to bring their notes and materials from their bags so that they could copy their answers in the answer sheets. A handsome young man was standing guard at the entrance to the examination hall holding a pistol. Tears fell from my eyes, perhaps not as much at the state of affairs that had unfolded but more because I could not bear the fact that the girls who barely managed to pass in the previous examinations might receive a higher score than I could possibly make without copying my answers. My friend turned to me, ‘You are stupid. Why don’t you do what others are doing?’ I kept quiet and wrote my answers reluctantly.

A couple years later, when I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree at the Government Women’s College, M.A. Road (it took us five years instead of three to complete the degree, thanks to the “freedom” struggle), a similar incident took place which made an imprint in my memory all these years. While we were taking our exams, a supervising examiner came into the hall and read out answers for a bunch of questions; special privileges were offered to one girl sitting somewhere in the big hall. When I objected, I was threatened of expulsion. I had no choice but to mind my own business. A number of incidents happened in the following years where I stood at the forefront of opposition in the college premises confronting the principal at several occasions on issues that girls did not agree with and at which she would extend her “rustication” warnings to me as a ritual while the entire college would watch quietly. One of these warnings was based on my refusal to follow the dress code made mandatory by the “Daughters of the Millat”, who used to pay regular visits to the college to provide lectures on azaadi and shariyah. The college had to shut down on many occasions merely because some people from the next door men’s college – the famous S.P. College, were unhappy that girls were “not sacrificing enough”. Many hand grenades were hurled right outside the college entrance, at the girls on the pretext of not observing purdah, or for some unknown reasons. One of my friends got injured in her face while I managed to escape as I was still crossing the road. I found out many months later that one of my childhood friends too had been injured in the incident; she was paralyzed and remained indoors for several months.

It was during the second year of my college that I made up my mind to leave Kashmir for higher studies. I started writing letters to many colleges in the United Kingdom, sending them my writing samples and finally I received a response from the King’s College, London. I managed to raise some money for the application fees, got it converted to the British Pounds at the Grindlay’s Bank after much struggle explaining the reason to the high-browed bank staff and mail the application out. The next step was to get letters of recommendation from my English teacher and my college principal. While the English teacher was incapable of drafting a letter in correct English (so I had to actually write the letter for her), the principal got uncomfortable at the thought that how was it possible for a daughter of a not-so-affluent father to be able to send me to London – “What does your father do? How will you pay? Who will bear your expenses?”, she asked and I explained that I was applying for a scholarship and if I got it, it would cover my expenses. The Principal made various excuses until the deadline for submitting the letter was too close; finally she called me into her office and said: tse ma chey patah ba dimay tse letter? Kihin dimay na, gatsh kar kyah karakh ‘Do you think I will write a letter for you? I won’t, do what you want’.

The principal’s refusal to write a letter for me did break my heart but it did not break my resolve to further my educational pursuits.

© Sadaf Munshi. February 2, 2012.
(Note: This article was inspired by the “copying” controversy vis-a-vis our education minister for schools. Basically, since corruption is a part of our entire system, it has affected all of us in one way or the other. There is more to the story. I hope to be able to continue it.)

Kashmir Imbroglio: What Next?

A government that defies public opinion and distances away from the masses is no less than an alien, an oppressor.

The government of Jammu & Kashmir, with the backing from the Center, has sown fresh seeds of hatred in the Kashmir valley; it does not take more than a little bit of common sense to realize that these will only grow and work contrary to the political aspirations of the country in this trouble-torn region. For the last three and a half weeks, the entire Kashmir valley has been literally throttled, initially by the non-stop shutdown calls of the separatists, which are seemingly running a parallel government in the valley, and lately by the stringent curbs and curfews imposed by the state administration. Despite the role of more than one party, a major responsibility for the present mayhem lies with the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who has proven absolutely incapable and utterly irresponsible and even apathetic in dealing with the situation from the very outset. There is no doubt that Abdullah’s ill-handling of the situation is solely responsible for creating a whirlpool of violence which contributed towards the further deterioration of an already volatile situation.

The prevailing situation in Kashmir is no less than a battle between the state and its subjects where public opinion is offered no place altogether. Instead of trying to reach out to the people and console the victims and their families, the state government has employed all possible means to further alienate the public. Voices of dissent are being suppressed by use of disproportionate force and imposition of curfews and curbs. During the past several weeks, ordinary people have been unnecessarily harassed on the roads, insulted and inhumanely bashed and beaten, windows of houses randomly broken, television and telephone cables disconnected at places, even the journalists and other media personnel were not spared. All this done by none other than the men in uniform – the J & K Police and the CRPF, and this to vent out their own anger and frustrations at being unable to control an angry public. After the killing of sixteen youth in a series of various incidents, most of them innocent passers-by – one after another, by the ill-behaved and perhaps non-compliant Police Forces during public protests over previous killings or violations of human rights, albeit accompanied by use of stones (indeed an act of “violence” though not as “lethal” as bullets), the J & K State Government, instead of removing the irritants and trying to address the problem with caution, opted for another ill-conceived act of bringing in the Army, interestingly to act as “deterrents” as the Home Minister and others put it. It is totally beyond one’s comprehension to understand Army’s role at the moment other than in imposing curfew in the valley.

As the Army is performing “flag marches” on the deserted streets of the Kashmir valley, an entire population has been held hostage, imprisoned and suffocated in their own houses for days on without access to the basic amenities of life; ailing people are unable to seek medical help, children cannot go to schools, daily-wagers and small businessmen cannot work to make a living, and tourists have obviously fled away, thus, giving a big jolt to the state’s tourism industry (One wonders why the situation in Kashmir has been absolutely turbulent only during the tourist season over the past few years). It is important to note that stringent curbs have been implemented even on the media including local TV channels and newspapers. The kind of government response in trying to “control the situation” and “bringing back normalcy”, as we have seen, amounts to an act of state oppression, which is absolutely reprehensible and totally unacceptable. It is also counterproductive to the so-called “Kashmir peace process” as it has merely contributed to aggravating the public wrath and emboldening the separatist sentiment, besides the government losing face in front of the people.

It does not take a genius to understand that the current situation is the result of a complete breakdown of communication between the administration and the people of Kashmir. The state administration’s reluctance and/or its incapability to address certain genuine demands on part of the people, such as those related to continued and countless human rights violations, misuse of power, lack of accountability in many a pending cases, so on and so forth, have provided a justification for use of such means as stone-pelting as a way of expressing their anger and frustration against the government. Before things went out of control, the administration ought to have given it a thought as to if the youth of Kashmir had chosen to take to the streets risking their own lives, they must have a reason which must be analyzed and understood by social and political experts; use of force, killing and pushing them against the wall was in no way going to help. If it is true that there is a hand behind instigating these (or some of these) youth to stone-pelting or that some miscreants are working to foment trouble, it is the state government’s responsibility to identify the culprits and bring them to justice. Instead of doing that, the state chose to declare a war against the citizen and brought the entire Kashmir valley under siege resulting in a complete deadlock where even the administration itself has no clue whatsoever as to what will happen when the curfew is lifted; other than a few token statements now and then and holding of meetings and addresses, it does not seem to have a well-thought of plan to tackle the situation at hand.

It has been 21 odd years that Kashmir has been burning; we have seen different phases of instability in Kashmir and different means of expression of public opinion, dissent, dissatisfaction. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost in this exercise and half a million people displaced or emigrated; no need to comment on the psychological loss that has been incurred on the people of Kashmir. It is high time we understand the seriousness of the matter and work for a long-lasting solution rather than avoiding it for eternity and passing the problem on to generations. Of course, this needs to be an all-inclusive approach working at various levels including political parties as well as separatist leadership, where the civil society must play the lead role and act as a liaison in bringing together the various concerned. The attempt has to be strong, unconditional and sincere on part of all concerned leaving aside personal ideological conflicts and abstaining from blame games. In order to initiate the process and regain a little bit of credibility, the state government needs to take the first step in the form of some bold confidence-building measures, which, obviously, include: speeding up and performing unbiased and fair investigations of various pending cases, sending the Army and CRPF back to where they belong, removing or amending the draconian laws which have resulted in gross human rights violations, and refraining from the use of mean political tactics aimed to evade responsibility. And all this cannot be done without assistance from the Center. Can this be promised at such a critical moment? If not, the current J & K administration has no moral right to continue in office nor must the Government of India expect any change of stand or sentiment on part of the people of Kashmir.

© Sadaf Munshi. July 8, 2010.
(Note: this article was published in the July 20, 2010 issue of the daily Kashmir Times.)

Call for Dialogue

If you want to make a change in the world, look into the mirror!

Now that the Kashmir pot is boiling again, let’s keep the flames alive before we lose yet another opportunity. After reading some responses to my recently published (and perhaps hastily written) article “To our leaders and politicians: A Lesson to Learn” in the daily Kashmir Observer, I guess I have a moral responsibility to expand on my position, which I am glad is shared by many others. There are a few things that I must clarify without any intentions to offend anyone. I have divided them into three sections although they are all interconnected:


I: The leadership issue

One of my readers Mr. N. A. Qureshi wrote: “The willingness to reconcile, skills to negotiate, and eagerness to solve the issue through a dialogue is not the only personality we must look for in a leader……. This should be time we recognize the real honest leadership….” Absolutely! Leaders must have some other important qualities as well. For example, they ought to be charismatic, bold, broad-minded, and far-sighted. In addition, they ought to be far-reaching with a strong public following that cuts across divisions on religious, regional, ethnic, and socio-economical and political lines. Unfortunately, no single leader in APHC meets all these qualities.

If All Party Hurriyat Conference is simply an “amalgamation” of separatist groups” based on different ideological principles, which cannot come up with a unified agenda nor succeed in reigning in the support of the intellectual class, they need not claim to be the torch-bearers of the Kashmir cause. The state of the pro-freedom Kashmiris is like a dog with two masters dies of hunger. With the two factions singing to two different tunes simultaneously, and ironically claiming to be “unified”, the result is DISCORD – an incomprehensible noise. Given such a situation, the fate of the people of Kashmir is very grim, unless there is a revolutionary change in the leadership and their attitude. And the change is needed NOW.

As far as the question of who is “the most suitable” person for guiding “pro-freedom Kashmiris” in the ongoing movement, I must say, with all due respect: not Mr. Ali Shah Geelani or anyoen sharing his school of thought. This is because the APHC-G ideology is based on a fundamentalist religious foundation – a serious problem in relation to the Kashmir movement which is argued to be politically motivated rather than religion-based. Their perspective is very narrowly placed given the broad scenario of the state of J & K. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that in such very sensitive times, Mr. Geelani has resorted to advocating Jihad to the Kashmiri youth and advising the younger generation to stick to ages old principles. This kind of mind-set smacks of the disdainful approach adopted by Taliban. Kashmir is not Afghanistan and cannot afford to be one (And by the way, Urdu is not our heritage language, and Kashmir is not Bangladesh either). I wonder how long can we guard and isolate Kashmir from the “influence” of the rest of the world! At some point we have to make up our mind to live with the world or we will perish (Even Islam does not advise us in this direction and preaches change in the form of ijtehad). No matter how honest and strongly committed he is to the Kashmir cause, Mr Geelani needs to understand that yesterday is not tomorrow. It is time that, Mr Geelani and other senior APHC leadership, including Shabir Shah, should stand behind the Mirwaiz in giving peace yet another chance as discord – either personal or ideological – among the APHC leadership at this critical juncture is absolutely suicidal for the conglomerate.

There is another important thing that weakens the position of the separatist leadership, viz., their approach to the Kashmiri problem. When they talk about the “Kashmir issue”, it is generally presented (percieved) as ‘the issue of the Kashmiri Muslims’. However, while beating the drums for a “(re)solution”, many entities are dragged in, which include: Jammu, Ladakh, Gilgit, Baltistan, PoK, etc. etc. That is where the complication arises from. Why and how is it that the struggle has (more or less) only involved people from Kashmir and that too, only from certain classes? And remember that the problem of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits is not simply an addendum or a footnote to a rally or a congregation just for the heck of it. It is a share mistake to talk about the problem with Kasmiri Muslims at the center stage while expecting a solution which will include the entire J & K. A few symbolic verbal expressions of “unity” here and there do not really mean anything unless you demonstrate that in practice. Whether we admit it or not, Kashmiri Pandits, Jammuiites, Ladakhis, as well as people from the Gilgit-Baltistan region are as aloof from this “struggle” now as ever before. Ironically, while people of G-B are celebrating their first ever elections, Kashmiris are agitated. What hypocrycy! Of course, we will say, “Well, what about the 1947 state of J & K”, “A, B, C, and D….were part of J & K in this and that year”, “Kashmir was never a part of India”, so on and so forth. Yes, of course! In fact, no state of India was a “part of India” at some point or the other.


II: The dilemma of the intellectuals

In reference to the role of our intellectuals in the Kashmir context one of my readers, Mr. Tariq Bandey, argued about the loss of our “brainy stalwarts to the Indian occupational designs” and India’s all out hunt to “rope in our intellectual stuff” and hiring our “competent, politically mature and intellectually sound” people. Such statements amount to branding the entire intellectual class not only as weak and cowardly but also as absolutely dishonest and immoral. Perhaps that is not entirely true. The fact is that something is wrong at the very bottom of the approach to solving the Kashmir crisis. Something important is dividing the Kashmiri society into different opinions, which needs to be addressed before we even talk about a solution.

The vexing problem of Kashmir has been a topic of great intellectual debate discussed on various fora, not to mention almost every academic conference on South Asia in many countries, particularly the United States for the past several years. The crisis has been discussed at innumerable occasions by great many political scientists, Kashmir experts and think-tanks, students and research scholars, at academic conferences, seminars, talks, meetings, colloquia, one-to-one discussions, etc., and yet the problem is seemingly unresolvable. Dignitaries, diplomats and politicians from India and Pakistan have been invited to present their views at these occasions, and, yet at the end of the day everyone asks: what is the solution – a question that often remains unanswered and unresolved.

Kashmir problem is, in some respects, more complicated than the Palestinian and Irish issues. It is not a struggle between the people of Jammu & Kashmir against an external or foreign oppressor (India, or against Pakistan for that matter). One of the major stumbling blocks in finding a viable solution to the soaring problem – Kashmir – is the ethno-politico-religious make-up of Jammu & Kashmir which is by no means homogenous. This entity called “J & K” cannot be simply cut off from the Indian and Pakistani territory and made into a stable new independent state, the people of which will live happily ever after. Of course it is a very romantic idea with much historical background but not even close to being politically feasible given the make-up of J & K in its broader socio-political context. Given the history of India and Pakistan, many people have a totally different take on the “freedom struggle” of “Jammu & Kashmir”. Whether Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah did the right thing or wrong in respect to Kashmir is a legible question but perhaps one which cannot be answered. No doubt the problem of Kashmir is the British Empire’s unfinished business of the Partition. However, it is hard to understand what the completion of the partition process would have looked like had Kashmir been a part of it. Looking at what Mohammad Ali Jinnah asked for, or, in fact, was forced to ask for, in the form of “Pakistan” and the result of that decision given the current state of affairs in the country (Pakistan), the idea of using religious sentiments for political mobilization will be disastrous. Here is a simple analogy: Jammu is to J & K what Kashmir is to India. We cannot afford another moth-eaten nation based on the weak foundations of religion.


III. Call for Dialogue

A blatant truth, which a majority of the pro-freedom Kashmiri leadership shies away from, is that there are divisions of opinion, ideology, socio-economic and class differences in Kashmir which cut through the entire social fabric reaching as deep as families, individuals and neighborhoods. As long as people of different opinions and ideologies do not engage in a dialogue, Kashmir can never rid itself of the problem which has been killing its people physically, mentally, economically, educationally as well as morally. Therefore, a viable solution to the problem of Kashmir can only be achieved through an understanding between the various different stake-holders, through dialogue and negotiation. By “dialogue” we mean ‘exchange of thought’, and by “negotiation” we do not mean ‘compromising’ with one’s dignity. We have seen that a solution has not been achieved by the armed struggle, nor by bandhs and hadtaals, or stone-pelting and agitational politics on the streets of the Jam’a Masjid (Srinagar).

Kashmiris should cash in this golden opportunity when the Government of India finally accepts (under international pressure or otherwise) that Kashmir is a problem which needs to be addressed, and understands that it cannot be resolved through coercion any longer. Therefore, it is time to bring together and engage people of different ideologies to present proposals for a lasting solution and defend them on a common public platform. In this exercise there is no question of whether you join me or I join you, nor can any preconditions be made for/from anyone in order to enter the dialogue process other than that people will enter the dialogue with an open mind (Note: It makes no sense to ask Peoples Democratic Party and National Conference to first step down and join APHC and then talk; after all we must realize they have a different opinion and represent a major section of the population). The proposals will have to be evaluated in terms of their feasibility not by politicians or separatists but by political scientists, historians, intellectuals and think tanks specializing on the Kashmir issue. These intellectuals and think tanks can work as a liaison between various stake-holders of the Kashmir issue, viz. the separatist leadership, mainstream political parties, representatives of the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community, and representatives of other regions of the state on the one hand and the governments of India and Pakistan on the other. In the final resolution making process a great deal of negotiations will have to be made to which all concerned parties must agree shunning their ideological biases and arrogance.

Let us stand united in closing this chapter and open a new one for the sake of posterity!

Dr Sadaf Munshi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication at the University of North Texas in the United States. She can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.

(Note: This article appeared in November 16, 2009 issue of the daily Kashmir Observer.  URL: http://www.kashmirobserver.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3722:call-for-dialogue-&catid=8:opinion&Itemid=9 )

To our leaders and politicians: a lesson to learn

As an academician and a mother of a four-year old, I discovered that children learn things better if you provide them with illustrations. The same principle applies to adults as well. But in being able to learn things, adults have an advantage, and that is their experience. However, there are some “adults” who simply refuse to learn anything no matter what. That seems to be the case with our leaders and politicians who have proved absolutely incapable of learning this simple lesson – that of “strength in unity”. Therefore, I would like to read them this story today which I had learnt several years ago when I was a child:

Once upon a time, a flock of doves was trapped in a net by a hunter. The doves desperately fluttered their wings for a while in order to escape but to no avail. Fortunately, the doves had a wise leader who told them that there was strength in unity and advised them to fly up together holding on to the net. The doves followed the advice and were able to carry the net along with them. While the doves were flying in the sky carrying the net, the hunter looked in astonishment.    

A very simple story with a wonderful lesson to learn! I wonder how long it will take for our leaders to learn this lesson.

Granted that in an era of (so-called) “democracy”, every opinion has a right and potential to express itself. We (Kashmiris) have heard a number of voices over the past six decades, and, more so, over the past twenty years. The numbers are so overwhelmingly large that perhaps our auditory system is desensitized by now, which is probably why we do not care as much anymore. Or, perhaps, since there are too many things to worry about, we have chosen to be deaf, dumb, and blind.

After a handful of two decades of continued political unrest and the persisting deadlock on the issue of Kashmir, instead of extending its credentials with sincerity and responsibility, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), like our political parties, has all but tangled itself in its war of ideologies and opinions. I remember, in 2003, many people were taken aback when APHC had officially split into the so-called “M” and “A” (and now “G”) denominations. The conflict had been simmering within the conglomerate for quite a while and even reached a stage where the members of the two factions crossed all limits of political etiquette and indulged in personal abuse and mud-slinging, let alone emerging with a unified agenda. Time and again, we have hoped for a long awaited compromise between the two, just as we have prayed for a negotiated settlement on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. It is the year 2009 now and we have seen several ups and downs with regard to the issue of Kashmir; yet owing to the factional politics of our leadership, we have failed to achieve any consensus on a political agenda.

It seems that the Hurriyat leaders may end up continuing their ding-dong agitation for the rest of their lives without a fruitful outcome; let us hope it is not true, but that is what can be inferred and anticipated given our past and recent experience. Amidst this conflict of ideas and the ever-widening rift between the G’s and the M’s, the extremists and the moderates, the hawks and the doves, complemented by the individual ego clashes between the various self-proclaimed leaders, the fate of a common Kashmiri is lingering in a dark tunnel of hopelessness and helplessness.

In response to the latest “talks” (“quiet talks”) offer, while People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference expressed a desire to cooperate on (re-)framing the proposal for a solution – for a change (although it is yet too soon to comment on their sincerity and commitment on this), the APHC factions are yet to disengage themselves of the personal and ideological problems. At this critical juncture, when the people of Kashmir are desperately longing for a new ray of hope, this ideological fighting is again proving a stumbling block in the way of peace and progress.

While it (APHC) continues to oscillate between the rigidities of the past and the realities of the present, it won’t be quite over the board to say that perhaps time is near when the irresponsible attitude of the senior leadership will invite great public wrath as we have seen during the last assembly elections when people came out in overwhelming numbers despite the strong “boycott” calls.

There is an old English adage which says: wise men change, fools never do. We cannot deny the fact that the equation has changed at the state, national and international level. The world is not the same as it was sixty or twenty or ten years ago. Out there in the developed world borders are becoming irrelevant and people are coming closer and closer everyday; at the same time a large part of the world (read “Muslim world”) is leading backwards to the dark ages, partly because of the vicious world politics but largely because of their own weaknesses and internal problems. Here in Kashmir too, the “Pakistan” bubble has burst for quite a while (call of “tripartite” talks at this point, therefore, makes no sense to me), and people are looking forward to a new world of progress and prosperity. Despite being aware of these changing ground realities, our separatist leaders are stuck to a hardline attitude, fighting an ill-defined fight equipped with the weaponry of stone-pelting and sloganeering which has become such a routine now that it does not seem something unusual any more. In fact, there is a widespread view that a special “workforce” is receiving proper wages for creating disorder and mayhem and would like to carry on with it as long as they receive perks. Unfortunately, the people who have to sustain the brunt of all this destruction are poor daily-wagers, laborers, small business owners, and school-going children and youth. The priciest of the prices that we are paying for this “struggle” is the future of our next generation. And whether we admit it or not, the fact of the matter is that this fight is gradually robbing our society of its civility, sensibility and morality.

It is not that a struggle for independence, nationhood or any political cause can never be won, but until and unless people stand unified behind a well-defined cause, an agitation such as the one we are conducting is a totally futile exercise. Perhaps a general public debate is long awaited, which brings to table both the mainstream political parties of the state as well as the separatist leadership who must unveil their political agendas and proposals for the resolution of Kashmir issue keeping in view the long-term interest of the people of the state. There has to be a monumental change not just in the political rhetoric, but also on the political platform – a major overhaul of the parties and partisanships that will need to shed their malignant components and their unrelenting ideologies in the wake of a unified cause. As part of a political entity, Jammu & Kashmir, which is defined by divisions at regional, ethnolinguistic, religious, as well as ideological levels, this “sacrifice” (if that is what it can be called) has to be made if our “leaders” are true to their commitment in serving, as opposed to leading, or MISLEADING, their people. There is no way we can come up with a feasible solution to the problem of Kashmir except by cooperating and compromising by way of finding a common and consolidated ground on which all factions can and MUST agree. It is high time that this be done!


About the author: Dr Sadaf Munshi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication at the University of North Texas in the United States. She can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.

(This article appeared in the November 6, 2009 issue of the Daily Kashmir Observer. URL:
http://kashmirobserver.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3621%3Ato-our-leaders-and-politicians-a-lesson-to-learn&catid=8%3Aopinion&Itemid=9 )

The APHC Nautanki

While going through the contents of Kashmir Observer some time ago my eye was caught by the following quote which made me chuckle:

Quote of the day

“It (split) has maliciously harmed the unity the people of Kashmir have achieved in the form of APHC.”
                                                                                                                                    -Prof Abdul Ghani

Quote of the day! Was the split a surprise for the people of Kashmir? Now that we have started talking about uniformity of perspectives, let us have a look backwards. The widening rift in the structure of Hurriyat leadership sprung from their conflicting political ideologies and their differing world views. The crisis that started with the much-talked-of “proxy candidate controversy” emerged as a “personality clash” between Syed Ali Geelani and late Abdul Ghani Lone. Every now and then somebody would come up with a “big” question about the “issue”: “Kashmir issue- an unfinished agenda of partition!” “Is there a meeting ground?” “Is there a solution?” “How to unlock Kashmir deadlock?” Hmmmm!

After a dozen years and two the All Parties (all parties?) Hurriyat Conference has so far proven itself incompetent in extending its credentials and exhibit sincerity and responsibility towards the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Lately, Pakistan’s political and religious groups had “regretted” the split as “dangerous for the cause of Kashmir’s struggle”. I also had a question (another question in the fore?) which was: did the rift within the APHC actually create a “serious dent in the morale” of Kashmiri people, or that the dent has been already there for quite a few years now? Meanwhile the recently elected Hurriyat Chairman Maulana Abbas Ansari was accused for his “dovish” attitude towards “solving of Kashmir issue”. Now we are looking for wonders in days for a problem that we couldn’t solve in more than half of a century. Poor Maulana Saheb! On Sept 11, 2003 the government reviewed his security in the wake of militant threats. Meanwhile “New Delhi backed” politicians were held responsible for the split by Pakistan.

The ongoing fighting reached a stage where the members of the two factions of the APHC indulged in abusing each other crossing all limits of political etiquette and offering no possible resolution. Here somebody proposed that the APHC needed to prove its sincerity by keeping the “movement alive” and thus stopping the public from coming out to get “round the leaders” so their sacrifices won’t be wasted “just because of unreliable and myopic leadership”. (I will not comment on the recent remarks of some militant leader stating that the “militant struggle” is the “only solution” to the Kashmir question). Our “firebrand politician” of a Geelani, a strong proponent of Pakistan and belonging to the platform of the Jamaat-i-Islami, bases his political ideology on religious foundations calling the Kashmir resistance a “religious struggle”. On the other hand, late Abdul Ghani Lone claimed to be a liberal nationalist struggling for the independence of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The two diagonally opposing viewpoints have been trying hard to “re-define” the Kashmir struggle in the changing political scenarios, challenged by new ground realities. Former APHC chairman Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat believes that “taking maximal positions will take the Kashmir issue nowhere” and that “one has to reach at compromised positions” by which he probably meant a “negotiated settlement” through a “dialogue” between India and Pakistan (and possibly people of Kashmir?). He apparently did not elaborate on his “program” though. In other words, should we face and accept what is so obvious on the ground? As Prof. Ghani had pointed out, people know that Kashmiris want “freedom”, but different people seem to have different interpretations of the term “freedom” in the present changing political scenario of Kashmir: that is to say, freedom from what, of what sort and nature?

The people of Kashmir have witnessed an endless game of numerous muscle-flexing procedures of India and Pakistan interspersed with occasions of “peace process” gestures for “improving bilateral ties” and probably initiating some kind of talks on “the issue”. As part of the spectators of their recent spur of romance, the people of Kashmir question the sincerity of both India and Pakistan wondering whether the two countries are playing the game of diverting the attention of the international community from the Kashmir issue by engaging in gimmicks of “friendly” invitations back and forth or that they are actually sincere in their efforts.

We have been talking about “talks” for long. Meanwhile, the breakaway members of the split APHC have been busy deciding whether to accept or reject the talks offer put forth by the government of India. Hard times!

© Sadaf Munshi, Dec. 5, 2003, the daily Kashmir Observer (Srinagar).