Nobody is fond of willingly embracing pain, suffering and tragedy of unlimited proportions, but one cannot help when the same is structuring, shaping and influencing people’s lives in the real circumstances. This is precisely the story of current day Kashmiri youth. It is not fanciful heroism or illusory abstractions which are driving Kashmiri youth towards the vicious cycle of violence and death, but there are some real time causes and circumstances which are predominantly political. Instead of delving into the homilies and platitudes, one needs to be overt in calling out the problem as it exists, many of which have been unleashed by those who were entrusted or at least supposed to provide fulfillment of promises, dignity and security.
In other words, all this implies that the turmoil in Kashmir refuses to die down as the violent incidents continue in which we are losing our precious young lives unabated. There is undoubtedly a deep sense of alienation of the Kashmiri people especially among the youth against the Indian state and whatever that is seen as the representative of the Indian state in J&K. It is this deep alienation and anger which is driving young and old towards the deadly encounter sites and also towards the mass funerals of the fallen militants and regular street protests. The fact that the youth going towards militancy has not yet ceased is a sharp testimony to this account. The Indian State, like many previous dispensations, seems to have no other initiative than the use of force which, of course, is not going to yield any solution other than aggravating the current problems. It is again committing the fallacy of looking at Kashmir only through the prism of security. The current Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayam Sangh led dispensation, especially with its aggressive and communal overtures of the latter on many issues in Jammu and Kashmir, is facing a total disconnect from the masses. This was more evident on the tragic issue of the Kathua rape and murder. Even on the issue of providing livelihood and employment to minimise the relative deprivation, the government has failed miserably. There is an acute sense of anger and mistrust towards this government. All this has resulted in a vacuum in the political scene in the valley.
Of late, the attempts by RSS and BJP to undermine the special position of the state with respect to its attack on Article 370 and Article 35-A have led to a further estrangement of Kashmiris. The seriousness about the recent appointment of the interlocutor was defeated itself by the union government when it declared that the talks shall revolve around governance and not the essential political question. There were no efforts to meet either the separatists or even the alienated youth who are at the centre of this whole discontentment, and are two important stakeholders. And the terms of engagement in this regard have never been elucidated. One can’t have interlocution and brute force going side by side; it is all going to lead nowhere and will sound as a mere gimmick. And, of course, the gimmickry is not going to resolve the complex political question of the state.
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What the times demand is an urgent redressal of the essential political question of Kashmir, as the dignity and security of Kashmiris, and especially its youth is contingent upon it. Until it is sincerely explored, the dream of peace and stability returning to the valley and by implication, in the region will remain a distant dream. This is what everyone needs to realise by coming out of the complacency and denial. The issue needs a comprehensive redressal and that begins with outlining the historical root causes of this problem which are precisely the broken republican promises and constant snatching of the political aspirations ever since the accession of the state with the union of India in the complex circumstances of 1947. There is a widely held perception that the promises of republican and democratic guarantees, which brought Kashmir closer to India by a rejection of the two nation theory, have either not been fulfilled or that they have been trampled upon successively, which has ultimately led to this state of terrible confrontation and has given rise to immense misery and suffering for the people of the state. Since it is the secular and democratic foundations which bind India and Kashmir, resolving Kashmir's simmering political discontents is also a great test of the secular, democratic and federal nature of the Indian Republic.
There is also a need for all the stakeholders involved to shun the extreme and rigid positions in favour of some common middle ground which will take into consideration the genuine political aspirations of all the people involved. Any solution to the problem should be a lasting one and should satisfy everyone’s aspirations, and also keeping in view the radically altered geopolitical scenario. Any solution like the much worn out UN Resolutions which have the potential of creating further problems in terms of communal polarisation and consequent violence in the already polarised state need to be abhorred. With due sincerity, dignified solutions can be found by taking into account the genuine political aspirations of the people and keeping in view the diverse, plural and secular order of the state without taking recourse to a redrawing of geographical contours. But first and foremost, there has to be an acknowledgement and realisation that the state of J&K acceded to India (didn’t merge) in the most unique circumstances based on certain constitutional guarantees, and that the constitutional promises made to the people of the state have not been fulfilled in the form of the gradual erosion of the state's special status and political autonomy as envisaged in the Article 370 of the Indian constitution.
But before exploring the means for a lasting solution of the conflict, there is a strong and urgent need for the trust building measures between the Indian state and common Kashmiris. We have seen that dialogues fail in an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion. The only way for a dialogue to succeed for a final solution is by taking urgent steps to build an atmosphere of trust and sincerity. The first step must be an immediate cessation of the use of force as a policy. That begins by the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire to pave way for a direct dialogue with both the militants and Hurriyat without any preconditions. Proposals of previous committees of interlocutors should be put before the Parliament for a broad discussion. In the areas not affected by militancy, steps should be taken to withdraw the draconian laws and minimise the concentration of forces. There should be no fiddling with the Article 35 A and Article 370 which safeguard the state’s special protection and let the Prime Minister himself assure the country from the floor of Parliament on this issue. In the meantime, the Central Government must file a counter affidavit on the Article 35 A issue in the Supreme Court to give an assurance to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
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There should be a general amnesty, release and possible rehabilitation of all the Kashmiri prisoners who are lodged in prisons across the country. A comprehensive surrender and rehab policy must be announced for the local youth who have picked up the arms. Concrete steps must also be taken for a time-bound return and resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits and all other migrants to their original places of living. Armed forces should be made more accountable and a credible judicial enquiry be initiated into all instances of excesses committed by the forces against civilians. There should be adequate compensation to all families who have suffered loss of lives and rehabilitation of the injured by ensuring their means of livelihood must be undertaken immediately.
On the administrative front, governance should be made more effective and time-bound projects for economic development and employment generation should be started. This must include the transfer of power projects from the centre to the state. With the patronage of the Hindutva forces, the non-stop vilification campaigns run by the corporate media against Kashmiris which portrays them as “extremists”, “terrorists” and “pro-Pakistan” to create a wedge between the people in the rest of the country and Kashmiris must be stopped immediately. Harassment of Kashmiri youth in other parts of the country by the security agencies and also right-wing goons must be immediately investigated and culprits punished. There is also a need for all the political parties, especially the current ruling party, to delink Kashmir from the domestic politics by not taking petty electoral mileage out of the issue.
All this is urgently required so as the besieged people of this place feel a restoration of dignity in life rather than in death. It is primarily upto those who yield power and resources to create these suitable conditions where people live in peace rather than inculcating a terrible death-wish. After all, enough blood has flown down the Jehlum. Kashmir needs solution and salvation now or never.
The writer is a youth activist based in Kulgam, Jammu & Kashmir. The views are personal.
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