“Aap Hindustaan se hain, na? Beta jaan, aapko yahan koi takleef nahi hone denge. Aap apni padhai kariye aur wapas jaakar apne mulk mein puchiye ki jis Kashmir ko vo log Hindustan ka Sar aur Taj Samajhte hain, uski aawaam ke haath-pair kyun kaat dete hain?”
“You are from India, aren’t you? My child, we will make sure you face no problems here. You finish your study and then ask your country, if they call Kashmir the head and the crown of India, why do they break limbs of the people belonging to that place?”
So said an elderly man addressing me in the middle of a hall full of Kashmiri men who had come to sit for a peaceful protest gathering on 30thMay 2014 in Shopian District of Jammu & Kashmir. This was an annual meeting happening since 2009 to grieve a horrifying incident of double rape and murder at Bongam. That elderly man’s statement disturbed me for multiple reasons.
I felt alienated realizing that they didn’t identify themselves as Indians. I felt humbled at their assurance of support towards my endeavour. I felt enraged at my false understanding of ‘anti-nationalism’ and hatred for ‘separatist’ fervour. I felt burdened by the faith they placed in me to deliver a message. And I felt uncomfortable about my limitations to do anything meaningful to change their situation.
A master’s student at that time, I had gone to Kashmir in April-May 2014 to collect data for my dissertation. That brief stay in the valley was an experience that transformed my comprehension of the situation in particular and about life in general.
“Hum Kya Chahte? Azaadi!”
“What do we want? Freedom!”
I heard this slogan in many gatherings across J & K during that period. Unlike the literal meaning that we in mainland India attach to it, in Kashmir it seemed to emerge as a collective sentiment of the people. The idea of ‘azaadi’/‘Freedom’ had a strong resonance amongst men and women alike. It appeared to be a recourse that accorded them an opportunity for political self-expression.
My engagement with the conflict-ridden valley, for research, exposed me to articulations of peace as understood by Kashmiris themselves. The situation prevailing in their society makes the idea of ‘peace’ far removed from its simplistic understanding. For them, peace sometimes becomes synonymous with a meal with family members, and sometimes it reaches never-to-be-attained levels of impossibility.
The government on 5thAugust 2019 abrogated Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution that provided special status to J & K. On the one hand, the upper house of Indian Parliament voted in favor of the bill, with media telecasting live updates to masses in the country. On the other hand, for people in J & K, the day saw heavy military deployed, indefinite curfew imposed, schools and hospitals shut, state and local political leaders put under house arrest and all communication networks blocked. The concerned population was deprived of their say, while rest of the country was openly divided in its opinion into three major sections: supporters, opposition, and those who stood neutral.
Seema Kazi, in her book, ‘Between Democracy and Nation: Gender and Militarization in Kashmir’, talks about the idea of military security of the nation-state. The concept, according to her, is borrowed from the realists’ interpretation of world politics, which in turn, is premised on the assumption that ‘states essentially exist in an anarchic world’. Following this logic, governments worldwide have used detention and military strength to suppress dissent. This not only dilutes the core of a democratic system of governance, but also obliterates distinctions between rightful disagreement and violent insurgency.
A fact-finding team of four, comprising economist Jean Drèze, Kavita Krishnan of CPI (M) and AIPWA, Maimoona Mollah from AIDWA, and Vimal Bhai from NAPM, recently returned from a five-day visit to Kashmir. In their report, they have emphasized a need to scrutinize corrective authoritarianism exercised by the government that makes local population feel persistently oppressed. The narrative presented by the team asserts that the violence which people in Kashmir face needs to be understood beyond the explicit abuse.
Rethinking the relevance of Article 370 has been part of the BJP’s manifesto since the party’s inception, but the need for a dialogue was never refuted in principle. More than a decade ago, the then BJP Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had included a ‘vision of peace’ as part of his speech in Lok Sabha on 21st April 2003. It became known as the ‘Vajpayee doctrine’ on Kashmir, with the slogan ‘Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat, Kashmiriyat’, which meant humanity, democracy and maintaining the social fabric of peaceful co-existence in Kashmir.
However, the current government’s act of revoking the bill has been condemned widely for human rights violations, while all of us have found food for debates. Debates with our friends, neighbors, colleagues, social media communities and people with alignments different than ours. Debates regarding the government’s bold actions for ‘national unity’.
Still, as educated adults and responsible citizens we need to keep in mind the integrity of our ‘patriotism’. If we demean the Kashmiri population and try to justify harsh treatment based on a history of communal feuds, we are harming the sanctity of the very nation we feel proud of. We are mocking the very Constitution that gives us an identity. If we talk about the history of violence in our country, then we should also remember that India is known for the most influential peace-builders and humanitarians, internationally.
One may observe that the existence of this Article has been deliberated for long and probably required an amendment for good, but what needs to be considered today is why its removal makes some people feel triumphant while making some others feel threatened. How has its nullification become an event of national victory? What does it say about current trends? What has changed?
I am once again faced with disturbing thoughts that had made me uncomfortable during the summer of 2014. Far removed from the conflict-ridden valley and oblivious to the experiences of a lock-down, many might think of Kashmir and Article 370 as a debate that provides us a distraction from our daily routines. But what it means for a generation of young children growing up in these times of polarization and how it may impact their lives, is something only the future will tell.
Historically, growing hatred amongst races, classes, religions and regions has been known to trigger brutal crimes, with unending cycles of wrongs that continued for ages to follow. Whether the annulment of Article 370 and 35A will help in developing Kashmir is yet to be tested. Nevertheless, one major point of concern that remains is the insecurity and disorder that people in Kashmir go through by the government’s act of ‘providing security’ and ‘maintaining law and order’.
A well-renowned American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, had famously said:
“I‘ve learned that
People will forget what you said,
People will forget what you did,
But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Working to promote entrepreneurship among the rural poor, Anubha Sharma (an alumnus of the University of Delhi and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai), is also, in her words, ‘an ardent supporter of peaceful conflict-transformation in the valley of Kashmir’.