On a notice board outside the library of the University of Kashmir, someone had posted a piece of paper with these words, set in bold and large type: WHY NOT AN IIT, IIM, OR AIIMS FOR KASHMIR TOO? Above this query was a line, written in hand, saying: ‘All we want is Azadi’. Below it was another handwritten comment, which read: ‘Because we are not part of India’.
Let me gloss these three comments. Among young Kashmiris especially, the sentiment of azadi, or independence, is strong, although there is no consensus on what the contours of an independent Kashmir would look like, or whether it would be politically, economically, or militarily viable. There is another group, usually (but not always) composed of middle-aged Kashmiris, who do not mind being part of India, but only on terms that respect the cultural distinctiveness of the Valley and which safeguard and even enhance its political autonomy.
The printed notice was evidently put up by a member of the second kind of Kashmiri. Across India, the IITs and IIMs are recognized as being institutions of quality, entry into which guarantees one a well paying job. The Central Government has promised to open a slew of IITs and IIMs, and have already announced several locations for them. These do not (so far) include the Kashmir Valley. Hence the demand for one.
The third comment is the most intriguing. One way to read it would be as a statement of hope, or intent, namely, that Kashmiris do not want to be part of India. This would mostly mean the creation of a free and independent nation, although there is still a small (and perhaps shrinking) minority of Kashmiris for whom not being part of India means being part of Pakistan. However, the statement is amenable to another reading, namely, that Indians in general, and the Government of India in particular, have tended to treat Kashmir as a somewhat lesser part of India, denying its people their rights and suppressing dissent by the might of the armed forces. So that handwritten line on the notice could as well mean: ‘We are not part of India because the Government of India often behaves as if we are not Indians’.
Visiting Kashmir last week, speaking to a wide cross-section of people—scholars, students, journalists, and activists—I found widespread distrust of the Government of India and its intentions. This was in part a product of long-standing attacks on democratic rights—as in the rigging of elections, the dismissal (and even arrest) of democratically elected leaders, the killing of unarmed civilians, and so on. At present, though, what hurts many Kashmiris is the niggardly amount of relief provided after the devastating floods of 2014. People whose houses had to be rebuilt were offered the grand sum of three thousand eight hundred rupees each.
On his visit to the Valley in October 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised a substantial package to allow homes, offices, and roads to be rebuilt. But there has been little follow-up to the announcement. Had the floods been in Gujarat or UP, some Kashmiris told me bitterly, the relief offered would have been far more substantial as well as more prompt.
The sense that New Delhi cared more for other states than this one was ubiquitous. Earlier this month, the Government of India signed a peace agreement with the major Naga insurgent group, the NSCN (I-M). Although the details of the agreement are yet to be announced, an official press release said it would recognize ‘the unique history and culture of the Naga people’. A respected Kashmiri academic told me that while he welcomed this gesture to the Nagas, it was ironic that the ruling party at the Centre had for so long refused to recognize the unique history and culture of the Kashmiri people. This was a reference to the long-standing demand of the BJP and the RSS for the repeal of Article 370, which recognized the special circumstances of Kashmir’s accession to India, and thus safeguarded its autonomy.
A young journalist in Srinagar offered another illustration of how the Indian political establishment saw Kashmiris as somehow less Indian, or less human, than citizens of other states. Those advocating armed struggle in central India, he remarked, were called ‘Maoists’, whereas those advocating the same in Kashmir were demonized as ‘terrorists’. The first kind of rebel was accorded the quasi-respectable cloak of a political ideology, whereas the second kind was even denied that. Was it because one was Hindu, and the other Muslim?
This remark may smack slightly of paranoia. Yet it shows how deep is the distrust of Indians among Kashmiris. A distinguished civil servant from Srinagar, now retired, and who is himself convinced that his state must remain part of India, spoke with scorn of the hysteria of the Indian media. Shortly after I arrived in the state, a single armed insurgent sent from Pakistan had been captured in Udhampur, sending the so-called ‘national’ TV channels into a frenzy. ‘One captured insurgent plus Arnab Goswami makes a national crisis’, said the civil servant, sardonically.
The Indian media’s tendency towards jingoism deeply damages India’s case for and in Kashmir. I left the Valley on the morning of the 14th of August. On the flight, I read a Srinagar newspaper, which informed me that Mirwaiz Omar Farooq had conveyed his best wishes to Pakistan on their Independence Day, commending their ‘moral and political support’ to the Kashmiri struggle. I reached Bangalore late that night; waking up the next morning, I saw that the routine, well-known and long-reiterated support for Pakistan among some separatists was on the verge of becoming another ‘national crisis’. The fundamentalist Asiya Andrabi had hoisted a Pakistani flag in her Srinagar home; and also conveyed an audio message of support to her friends across the border. The demands for her arrest were growing shriller and louder; precipitating a fresh conflict between the PDP and the BJP, the partners in the coalition partners in the State.
Those who make strategy for India in Kashmir must learn to cultivate both a long-term vision as well as a thick skin. The provocations of the likes of Asiya Andrabi are best ignored. For one of the most striking features of everyday life in Kashmir is the number of young girls going to school and college, and the number of fresh graduates—both men and women—looking for jobs in the Indian economy. Asiya Andrabi and her ilk are opposed both to women being educated as well as women working. Fortunately, they are manifestly losing the battle on the ground. The young Kashmiri will not listen to her; but if the Indian Government choose to arrest and make a ‘martyr’ out of her, the young Kashmiri’s present indifference to Andrabi (and her ilk) may yet turn to respect.
The process of reconciliation in Kashmir cannot escape the question of the Pandits. The people I talked to in Srinagar used the euphemism ‘migration’ to describe the exit from the Valley of the Kashmiri Hindus who had long lived there. The truth, of course, is that they were made to flee, forced into exile. It is now twenty-five years since the majority of the Pandits left. Younger Kashmiris have no knowledge of what a truly multi-religious Valley was like. Many older Kashmiris do, and deeply regret the absence of their fellows. But of plans to bring them back or to effect an emotional reconciliation there were few signs.
Yet the absence of that reconciliation must not stall efforts to more fully reach out to, and respect, the Kashmiris who remain in the Valley. In January 2015, I met a senior Kashmiri editor in a bookshop in New Delhi, and promised him I would visit Srinagar before the year was out. When I had dinner with him last week, I said I had redeemed my promise. He wistfully remarked that while this particular Indian had kept his word, the Government of India had far too often reneged on promises made to the Kashmiri people.
As I found on my recent trip, militancy is visibly down in Kashmir. The army’s presence, at least in Srinagar and its surroundings, is far less obtrusive than it was some years ago. Parts of the town that were ‘no-go’ areas for outsiders now see men and women, Kashmirs and tourists, Indian and foreign (some even Israeli) visitors, walk about freely. There is a window slightly ajar in Kashmir; it can be gently prised open by a Government that thinks and cares. Or else it might swiftly shut again.
Postscript: As this column goes to press, the ‘national’ media have worked themselves up into a fresh frenzy, over the prospect of the Hurriyat leaders meeting Pakistan’s visiting National Security Adviser in Delhi. Once more, their hysteria threatened to obscure sober discussion of our moral and constitutional obligations to the people of the Valley. For, as a very senior (and very wise) Government official told me in Srinagar, even if Pakistan did not exist, there would still be discontent in Kashmir.
WHY KASHMIRIS ARE DISENCHANTED WITH INDIA
by Ramachandra Guha
(published in The Telegraph, 22nd August 2015)