Azadi Has Different Meanings: Don’t Treat Kashmir as a Monolith
Constant dialogue with all sections of Kashmiri society will de-escalate violence, writes Shahid Siddiqui.
A famous Persian saying goes, der aaye, durust aaye (better late than never). In any crisis or difficult situation, reaching out, however futile the effort might be, is better than no engagement. An all-party delegation should have visited the Kashmir Valley immediately after the crisis escalated and should have stayed there for at least a week. With the delegation reaching after eight weeks of meaningless violence and the longest curfew in the Valley’s history, it has lost credibility. Even those who want peace to prevail, those who stand by India are reluctant to talk to the delegation.
I was a part of the all-party delegation in 2010. At that time, we held discussions with all sections of society, including the Hurriyat leaders.
Even pro-Pakistan hawk, Syed Ali Shah Geelani welcomed and spoke to members of the all-party delegation.
This time they refused to meet with the delegation not because they didn’t want to engage but because they knew that the situation has changed and they have lost credibility and influence over the young men on the streets. The Hurriyat leaders know that they are not leading the young men on the streets anymore but are being led by them.
The moment they take a slightly different line from that of the stone-pelters, the move will expose their dwindling influence even among the separatists.
Kashmir is Not a Monolith
The all-party delegation, led by the Home Minister Rajnath Singh, was ill-prepared, had not done its homework, but managed to have a soothing effect on the very volatile situation in the Valley. A majority of the Valley’s population not really interested in separating from India wanted to be addressed and engaged. A huge mistake committed by successive governments, the media and even civil society activists has been to treat all Kashmiris as a monolith.
Consciously or unconsciously we stereotype all Kashmiris and then search for please-all solutions. The reality is that there is sectarian, class, educational, professional, gender and regional differences among Kashmiri Muslims. Even in a single family, people think differently and take diametrically opposite positions. In a crowd, when youngsters raise the slogan of azadi, they don’t mean the same thing.
Reaching Out to Different Factions
Unfortunately, we in India don’t engage with these different sections of Kashmiri society and try to address mainly the vocal militant sections, offering solutions to them which they naturally reject. By doing so, we give credence to these separatist elements and even those who dislike them are forced to listen to them. When our half-baked overtures fail, we react with greater force or wait for the movement to tire itself out. More force only helps the separatists and pro-Pakistan elements, with the bulk of the population that stands by India getting silenced.
I believe that constant engagement, not just with the extremists on both sides of the divide, but with different sections of the Kashmiri society is the key to de-escalating violence in the short run.
The all-party delegation wants the government to talk to all stakeholders, which includes the Hurriyat and other separatists, provided they shun violence. Even if the separatists refuse to talk, the doors should be kept open for them, while talks with different sections of society, trade and religious groups and sects should continue both at a formal and an informal level. We must instill confidence among Kashmir’s peaceful majority and assure them that we will engage with them and listen to them much more than we do with those who indulge in violence.
Engage With Pakistan
The all-party delegation has suggested short-term and long-term measures. What is required is a consistent, clear and forthright policy. We shouldn’t give false hope to Kashmiris and promise them the“sky” in our political jumlas and then crush them by our political compulsions. Our policy towards the separatists and militants should be very firm, but at the same time we must make Kashmiris feel that they have a secure future within the ambit of Indian democracy.
We should, as a nation, go out of our way to win the hearts of the Kashmiri people. They will believe us only if we show it in practice. We must make every young Kashmiri man feel safe in all parts of India. Not Kashmir, but Kashmiris should be seen to be our atoot ang. The idea of an MPs’ panel to carry forward the dialogue is a good one but it won’t last as political pressure on different members will take away objectivity and neutrality.
As a long-term solution, we will have to engage with Pakistan and find a practical, political solution on the lines of what was being worked out between AB Vajpayee and the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. The message to Pakistan and the separatists should be loud and clear: violence will not lead them anywhere. They should be under no illusion that India will at no stage succumb to pressure and agree to demands that are outside the framework of the Constitution.
(The writer is editor, Nai Duniya, an Urdu weekly. He can be reached at @shahid_siddiqui)
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