27 September 2016

*** Doing what is necessary - Understanding the Kashmir problem

Surendra Munshi 

What needs to be done is a question that cannot be even raised meaningfully without paying close attention to what has happened. We need to ask first: in nearly 30 years since 1987, what has been lost?

The loss of Kashmiri Hindus needs to be emphasized as it is often overlooked. An entire community has been thrown out of their original homeland and made refugees in their own country. This is not to overlook other losses. The actual deaths during the period are likely to be less than 1,00,000, including those of security personnel, but the number is certainly very large and growing. Deaths, injuries, tortures, abuses, rapes, missing persons - these human miseries have caused havoc for individuals and families. Common Kashmiri Muslims have suffered much. Women bear the brunt of such a massive upheaval.

There have been major economic losses as well due to the insurgency. According to an estimate, just the ongoing unrest in Kashmir has already caused a loss of Rs 6,400 crore to the economy of the Valley owing to curfews and strikes. More depressing is the cost of missed opportunities. A peaceful state of Jammu and Kashmir could have opened up opportunities at all levels for benefiting from new technologies. A software and hardware hub, pharmaceutical industry, service industry with digital support, revitalized traditional economic activity such as tourism - all these come readily to mind.

Less tangible but more damaging is the change in mentality. If the social landscape of the Kashmir Valley has been changed, the mental landscape is being changed too. A key word that must be considered now is kashmiriyat, a word that has special reference to Kashmir.

A brief reference to the past is relevant here. Kashmir is known to have been an abode ofrishis, the inspired saints or ascetics of ancient times who sang hymns for the welfare of humanity. Nobody illustrates this tradition better than Lalla, born in the first half of the 14th century, seen as a Shaivite as well as a Sufi mystic. Lalla influenced the poets who followed her, notably Sheikh Nur-ud-din, revered by Hindus and Muslims alike, called Nunda Rishi by the Hindus. There are many legends about these mystic aspirants, notably how Lalla nursed the infant Nur-ud-din when he refused milk from his own mother. These were the expressions of the coming together of Shaivism and Sufism in the local context of Kashmir. This coming together was moved by the spirit of 'peace with all' which had its influence on the social life of the common people.

This tradition could be given the name kashmiriyat as has been done. But, unhappily, it is being turned into an exclusively Muslim tradition in Kashmir, denying Hindu connections, and is being increasingly used to refer to the devotion of Kashmiri Muslims to the shrines of Sufis, a devotion that is in turn under attack from the radical Islamic influence that has come from outside. If it is denied that Lalla was born in a Kashmiri Hindu family, then her connection with Sheikh Nur-ud-din becomes a Muslim story.

Kashmiriyat, moreover, is being seen as a political move going back to Sheikh Abdullah to define Kashmiri nationalism in the context of the unique history of the Kashmiri people. Thus, kashmiriyat gets connected with azadi, freedom, the buzzword of Kashmiri politics, a word which has been used in a very flexible manner to mean many different things. From being used as a bargaining counter by successive governments to extract more grants from the Central government, it has been used to mean autonomy, independence, independence from India, leaving the door open for joining Pakistan, or clearly joining Pakistan.

Thus, an attempt is made to politicize a plural cultural concept and align it with a unitary political concept. This goes against the grain of Kashmiri culture.

Why did insurgency begin in Kashmir? What sustains it? An attempt to answer these questions would require the space that I do not have here. What can be briefly stated is that a combination of factors have played a role. The failure of the government of India in developing a clear policy and the failure of local governance that has often been seen as the failure of the Central government must be noted. Also, protests and measures to control them have often formed a vicious circle, leading to further escalation of conflict.

The role of Pakistan cannot be denied. Writing in this newspaper in 1999, I had written about the compulsion of the Pakistani oligarchy dominated by the top brass of the armed forces which rules in its own interest and which has learnt to use Islam as an instrument of central power. It is in the interest of this oligarchy to keep the conflict with India alive to protect the prominence and privileges of the armed forces. Subsequent research publications, especially by C. Christine Fair, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War (2014), shed further light on the role of the Pakistani army. Fair has shown with much evidence how it has sustained a proxy war in Kashmir since 1989 using Islamist terrorists. The will of this oligarchy has prevailed so far.

Pakistan has exported jihad to Kashmir and used Kashmiris as pawns. It has sent 'guest' Mujahideen and also sent back local ones after training them. Moreover, sustained efforts have been made over the years to wean Kashmiri Muslim youths off their Kashmiri heritage and turn them into the soldiers of an imported version of Islam. Madrasas and mosques have been used systematically for the purpose. The struggle has been against the Kashmiri version of Islam. Even Sheikh Nur-ud-din, the patron saint of Kashmir, was not spared. His shrine at Charar-i-Sharief was turned by Mujahideen into a battleground in encounters with armed forces in 1995, causing extensive damage to the town and the shrine.

So, what is to be done? We must raise this question with knowledge of what has happened and in the spirit of sympathy and responsibility. The right to self-determination in the case of Kashmir raises the question of the rights of minority groups as well. If a referendum is held and the most desired wish of the separatists is fulfilled which is in itself doubtful, it is difficult to see how with a referendum the partition of the state into at least four parts can be avoided: Kashmir partitioned into two to accommodate Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Hindus and then the two regions of Jammu and Ladakh, each in turn with its own minorities. Is it sustainable or even desirable? Can we trust a leader like Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Hurriyat who openly talks of his belief that Muslims constitute a separate nation and they must aspire wherever they live to create 'an Islamic dispensation' so that they may live fully in accordance with the rules of Islam? Is this a statement in the interests of the Kashmiri people or just a religious statement?

Should Kashmir be partitioned on the ground of religion, what impact will it have on the secular fabric of the country which is already under threat? Can such a move be seen in isolation without considering likely repercussions? Any secular person must ask whether an adventure in a state with less than 13 million total population, not even the size of greater Calcutta where I write this article, should be allowed to jeopardize the future of more than 172 million Indian Muslims and with them the future of the entire country. Indian Muslims have shown considerable inner strength in condemning terrorism. Which other country has shown the way forward as shown by nearly 70,000 Indian Muslim clerics who signed a fatwa against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and other terror groups calling them "not Islamic organisations"? Should the larger Muslim community in India not play an active role in finding a solution to the Kashmir problem?

Some further thoughts may be briefly shared. It is in the interest of the right-minded people in India to see Pakistan prosper. In the well-being of the common people of Pakistan lies our own well-being. We need to do more to promote friendship at the people-to-people level. In saving the people of Pakistan from their oppressive oligarchy lies the possibility of saving Kashmir and indeed the subcontinent. We need to remember that Bangladesh could escape from it only by a painful separation. Also, political leaders in New Delhi, Jammu, and Srinagar need to behave with greater responsibility. Concern with short-term selfish gains must be replaced by an awareness of the enormous price that is being paid because of this unresolved problem. Further, the state of Jammu and Kashmir must be brought on the course of development that benefits the common people, not an exclusive elite. Moreover, the vicious circle of protests, attacks, and killings needs to be broken. Above all, there is a need for a healing touch for all.

As far as Kashmiris themselves are concerned, has all been lost? They, Muslims and Hindus alike, will do well to listen to their poet Mahjoor, who sang: Come O Gardener get excited with the new spring/ When flowers will blossom and bulbul will dance, create that consciousness. If not for themselves, then at least for the sake of the younger generation, especially the lost Kashmiri Muslim youths, a new future and a new consciousness need to be created.

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