Thursday, October 7, 2010


Subodh Lal Noida

As a young officer, working for the Government of India, I was posted in Srinagar in the early 70’s. The position I held was created in the wake of ‘71 war, and my task was to reconstruct lost records of the erstwhile P&T Department. The job involved extensive touring -in Kashmir, Jammu and Laddakh regions. This, indeed, was the most pleasant part of the job. However there were experiences, too, that created such a bad taste in the mouth.
Urdu comes naturally to me: that probably was the reason why I was often asked whether I was a Pakistani (sad, but true, that a truly INDIAN language is growingly identified with the Muslim community and Pakistan - but that is another story). The moment I replied in the negative, they would disappointedly say “O, so Indian?” In spite of the fact that there had been considerable destruction of properties in the valley, the affection of the Kashmiri shopkeeper for Pakistani had not waned.

Also it was clear not just to me that Kashmir had a sizable number of Pakistanis mixing with the local population, probably hosted and sheltered by the locals, too. With the access that the Pakistanis had (and still have) into Kashmiri households, there is little room to wonder why exactly so many Kashmiris want to be with Pakistan rather than with India. Indeed, every Kashmiri till this day does not identify himself as an Indian: he distinguishes absolutely between Indians and Kashmiris.

Civil supplies were a problem in Kashmir -and therefore ‘imported’ essentials were expensive. Entitled as I was, I tried to get a Ration Card made for myself since Ration Card holders could get Rice, Sugar etc at a throw away price - a part of the heavy subsidies available to the Kashmiris then as now. In spite of my connections in the bureaucracy - including the advantage of having my Civil Service batch-mates in the State administration- I was never able to get a Ration Card in the two years I spent in Srinagar. Officials at the cutting edge ensured that the verification about my place of residence, number of family members etc was never completed in spite of recommendations from what I thought were the ‘right’ quarters.

Examples above are all about my life as a citizen, but officially, too, I found the goings on really strange. Even though admonishing subordinates was never a part of my working style, there were occasions when I did have to rather sternly ask them to press the accelerator. To a man, each one of them would rise to the defence of their tardy colleague. In any case hardly anyone wanted to work, even at the ever slow pace that they otherwise maintained.

Each time that you made an effort to talk about efficiency, you were put in your place:

‘Mr Lal, this is Kashmir and not India.’ The sentiment always on show was anti-India, and the subtext of all dialogue was: ‘When in Kashmir do as the Kashmiris want.”

Three decades and half later, and right throughout the sustained period of strife since 1990, the anti-India sentiment has become stronger. Where has India gone wrong, and what is it that attracts Kashmiris to Pakistan in preference to India? How come the otherwise extremely wise people of Kashmir can not see where their future lies? How can anyone in his right frame of mind ask young children to boycott education by not going to schools? What kind of future are these elder citizens ensuring for the generations that follow? Why, in spite of all the sops, the common man hates India? Questions begging answers.

It might sound too far-fetched to say so but the real architects of the festering problem were those who went ahead with the creation of a state based on communal agenda. (Let us not confuse Islamic agenda with communal agenda. Crores of Indians are devoted Muslims but also very much Indians; just as the majority of Muslims in pre-partition India were not quite taken in by the communal sentiment to have a country of their own outside “Hindu India”.)

Jingoism and fundamentalism being opiates of the masses in their own way, it is well nigh impossible to explain to the semi-literate/ill-educated masses the hollowness of theological State as an idea. Why blame just the Kashmiris for thinking that they need to be with Muslim Pakistan rather than Hindu India? I do get so many forwards in my mail highlighting Hindu fears. On such innocent forums as Cricinfo there is never a dearth of India vs Pakistan or Muslims vs Hindus/the Rest exchanges. There are the so called educated Hindus whose animus for Muslims is all too evident and they keep harping on the theme of “Muslims must go to Pakistan” (knowing, but refusing to take into account, the fact that there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan). I would think that the fundamental reason for the anti-India sentiment lies in this communal conundrum.

While Article 370 is well-conceived and bespeaks of India’s openness to consider Kashmir as a special place, it needs to be said, too, that it has had unwarranted and unintended fallout too. It has ensured that the integration of Kashmir with India is not complete. Perhaps the desired levels of integration could have been achieved by having far greater interactions rather than letting Kashmir remain insulated. How come that Kashmiri Pandits identify with India so very readily? Not just after AFTER the great exodus of 1989, but even before that you had Kashmiri Pandits in important positions, in institutions of higher learning, in the corporate sector, everywhere.

The answer lies not in their being Hindu but their education not necessarily confined to schools or colleges in just J&K. If only there were liberal scholarships available- as a special case- for Kashmiris to study in institutions outside J&K, maybe, just maybe, we would have seen a differently evolved mindset. The insulation of the Kashmiri Aam Aadmi has been a curse in the national cause and it is a complete misreading of Article 370. I guess, Congress as the only national party with noticeable presence in the valley, had a role to play, but it chose, too, to become a local party in Kashmir.

The concentrated thinking that is now being invested in Kashmir was never done in the period when it mattered most. A drift that set in after the ‘71 war, exacerbated by rigged elections, appeasement policies and general lack of direction resulted in growing joblessness, disorientation and vulnerability. The fundamentalists and Pakistani hawks could not have got a better environment to work in.

With the separatists and Pakistanis tying up, the role of Police, CRPF, and the Armed Forces became more prominent.

Given the local hostility and the sustained duration of their deployment, the forces began losing their patience or, perhaps, started enjoying their special powers. There can be no denying the fact that there were violations of human rights, and they still continue.

It was too much to expect Kashmiris to keep loving India with all this happening around them (while their jobless, less well qualified, and, therefore, frustrated young persons continued to feel jealous of their contemporaries in India who they watch on the TV and read about).

The disaffection causing industry of Kashmiris, managed by the likes of Geelani, Mirwaiz, Mehbooba and Yasin Malik had ready raw material in the frustrated youth, to carry forward their nefarious designs.

Yet another part of the problem is the complete absence of a true leader with mass base, who would be able to be a bridge between Kashmir and the rest of the country.

Indeed the leaders that the Kashmiri youth in particular and the populace in general have are the ones who are fanning anti-India sentiment. (Let us face facts: whether it is pro-Pakistan or pro-independence, it boils down to being anti-India).

Who is going to listen to the voice of the Abdullahs? Or before them, did the Muftis really try to integrate with India? I can not recall any names emerging from the valley who may have tried to do this.

The ultimate bit of sadness is that given the kind of popular leadership that there is in Kashmir today, there is a devilish design in operation to ruin the youth and create a state of chaos that would invite international intervention. How else can you explain the frequent calls given by Geelani and co. to youngsters to go out on to the streets to face the bullets of sometimes insensitive forces drunk on special powers? This is no peaceful ’satyagrah’: stone pelting can never be part of it nor indeed can hosting of extremists - home-grown or otherwise. There is constant provocation being provided to the forces to react violently and, at enormous cost, this quite suits the puppeteers.

We are living in an age when the whole world is technologically empowered to constantly monitor everything that is going on in Kashmir. Nobody listens to our Foreign Minister’s protestations on the sidelines of the UN about Kashmir being India’s “atoot ang” (inseparable limb). Whether India likes it or not Pakistan’s argument about human rights violation in Kashmir will evoke far more interest than India’s denials of it. The UN Secretary General will continue to voice international concern about Kashmir even if Obama dutifully keeps talking about J&K being a bilateral Indo-Pak issue. It is imperative therefore that the violence -however much provoked- is curbed at once and the uncharacteristic image of Indian forces being trigger happy erased.

It might shock the purists to even consider this but at some stage, a plebiscite in Kashmir might be just the right method to bring lasting peace to the region. I am aware that there are so many, seemingly insurmountable, hindrances before plebiscite can even be thought of. But it can take many forms, including free and fair elections in a conducive atmosphere. And the atmosphere that one is talking of will come through sustained dialogue with all sections coupled with other steps to bring Kashmiris into the Indian mainstream. Nehru-baiters may say what they always have, but the original commitment to have a plebiscite AFTER Pakistan vacates occupied territory and under UN aegis after a period of repose, still sounds like a good idea. Let us not fight shy of the fact that there are now four parties in the dispute: Kashmir, India, Pakistan and China.

The writer Sabodh Lal is an Indian author, poet, TV producer, and media educator. He now mainly devotes his time to writing and media education.

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