After spending a week in the pleasant weather of my birth place, Kashmir, I returned to the scorching heat in Kolkata and straightaway attended an international seminar on “Jammu & Kashmir - Way Forward” at the Tollygunj Club recently. Most speakers presented a grim picture of the situation in valley while emphasising that the sovereignty of India over Kashmir is non-negotiable. A good take away was the recognition amongst panellists with the background in defence services that the Kashmir problem is of a political nature and security forces can only have a limited role.
Let me present here a fact file of what is happening in Kashmir now, much much different from the earlier days of militancy. These facts were gathered during my stay in a tense Srinagar, and following interactions with different sections of the society -- friends who have held senior positions in the Government and a mix of educated youth who have acquired professional degrees from universities outside Kashmir in India and abroad, common people like Taxi drivers, Boatmen, shop keepers and also a couple of visiting journalists.
I think it may serve us well if we look at the situation as follows :
First, the current unrest is in South Kashmir, unlike North Kashmir during the earlier phase of militancy.
Second, unlike in the past when uneducated youth crossed over to Pak-occupied Kashmir to get training to steer militancy, the current phase of dissent is led mostly by educated youth.
Third, there is a clear rural urban divide emerging in the current phase. It is largely rural led which is affecting the income of people engaged in tourism in urban areas and centres of tourist attraction.
Fourth, youth who have floated startup enterprises in the valley, after returning with their professional degrees, are affected due to severe cash flow problems of their units as production has been hit during the past one year. Those who started restaurants and other allied service sector enterprises are also affected due to severe drop in tourists.
Fifth, the public perception of following transparency and meritocracy in employment and award of contracts is lacking, as in the past. Governance is at very low ebb which can be gauged from the fact that no Chairman of River Water Authority has been appointed since 2015, thereby affecting the dredging work necessary to prepare the valley against threat of flood in future. A Division Bench headed by the Chief Justice has now directed the authorities to submit a report and complete the Phase I by September this year. The High Court further directed the State Government to establish a three-member J&K Water Regulatory Authority within two weeks. It is because of the inefficiency and negligence of the department that the flood in 2014 caused havoc in Kashmir, the court observed.
Sixth, despite the turmoil in the valley, 14 Kashmiris achieved selection to the prestigious IAS. It is a matter of rejoice that Bilal Mohiuddin Bhat secured the 10th position in the IAS and details are pouring in of more people making it to the IAS. It seems number may cross twenty. This is a clear expression of the faith and belief of educated youth in transparency and meritocracy followed by UPSC.
Seventh, many epilogues have been written about the demise of composite culture in the valley. While there is no denying the fact that radical Islam is being supported and financed in a structured way and the counter narrative of Kashmiriyat has weakened, there is enough evidence to support that Kashmiriyat is dormant but not dead. It will take commitment of the people wedded to the cause of Kashmiriyat to launch a sustained structured intervention for its revival.
Eighth, the high decibel debates on various television channels and divergent versions of Major Gagoi’s actions have affected the liberal secular educated people who are already living in insecure environment. Regrettably, the political leadership channels of communication with the masses are absent. Under such conditions, lowering of rhetoric could help. The ruling PDP seems to have badly dented its credibility due to its alliance with the BJP. It is really missing the towering presence of Mufti Mohamed Sayeed and the Hurriyat has acquired role of local opposition.
Ninth, Kashmir is a complex problem with COPRI (Country, Province, Religion, Identity) dimension which operates at three and two levels. The J&K has border with Pakistan and China (C3). Between India and Pakistan, there are issues of Sir Creek, Siachen, MFN Status and Indus Water etc., in addition to Kashmir (C2). Three provinces, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, are involved (P3). There are issues between Pak-occupied Kashmir and Indian Kashmir (P2). There is a mix of three religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam (R3). Post exodus of Pandits, a new angle has arisen between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Hindus (R2) and the underlying driver is the I-identity of Kashmiris which is distinct from other regions.
Tenth, most debates focus on the legality of the accession of Jammu & Kashmir with India. If one digs deeper, it would appear as the tip of an iceberg. A permanent resolution of Kashmir requires an in-depth understanding of LeLaMOKSHI, that is the vital elements of Legality (Le), Land (La), Morality (M), Operationality (O), Kashmiriyat (K), Sufism (S), Historicity (H) and Identity (I). Each element has to be understood and analysed individually and in conjunction with each other to find the contours of possible solution in the context of ancient, medieval and modern history of Kashmir.
Till we find a permanent solution of all issues, we can at best endeavour to manage the present for the well-being of ordinary Kashmiris living in the valley and outside, who are caught between masked men, unformed men and vagaries of politicians.
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