For nearly two months now, Kashmir has been embroiled in an unprecedented unrest that refuses to die down despite the iron-hand tactics of the government that has given the valley the longest spell of curfew in the history of the conflict.
With theories that this unrest is handiwork of “a handful” or “five percent” of the people of Kashmir resonating in India, a political intervention remains elusive. It is New Delhi’s responsibility to reach out to the people of Kashmir and spell out how it really wants to bring a solution to the current uprising. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – which is in a coalition government with Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) – has failed to pursue its “political agenda” as specified in the Agenda of Alliance (AoA) agreed on by the two parties. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh have repeatedly talked about approaching Kashmir in the framework of “Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat aur Kashmiriyat”.
What do these three expressions mean to an ordinary Kashmiri and why have they failed to strike a chord with them? Repeating them without following their substance has rendered the slogan meaningless. Hence it has not created any space for the dialogue.
This platitude was first used by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to placate the sentiments of the people who have been craving for a solution to the long pending political dispute. Not many agree that he was sincere but a forward movement on finding a common ground that could help take us to a solution could be seen with both India and Pakistan committing to a lasting solution. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invoked Vajpayee’s policy based on these three expressions at least seven times since December 2013, five months before he took over as the Prime Minister with a large majority. It seemed that this “strong” Prime Minister, which Vajpayee was not, would fill all those gaps, but he obviously lacked intention. In over two years, he has not taken any step that would fit in the paradigm of this slogan. For an average Kashmiri, it has been grossly misused and abused only to silence them when they try to rise against injustice and denial of rights.
It would mean an end to the humiliation faced by Kashmiris every day
The common perception is that democracy or Jamhuriyat has never been allowed to move beyond Lakhanpur, the last point bordering the Punjab state. Right from 1947 on, the rulers, no matter how important or influential, have been thrust on the people. Elections have often been rigged to select public representatives. As is the common belief, which many now rebut, the 1977 assembly elections were the only fair ones after 1947, and later the 2002 ones, and the rest only had a certain degree of transparency and fairness. But it was the assembly election of 1987 that proved to be the turning point in the history of Kashmir, pushing thousands of youth who had reposed faith in Indian democracy, to armed rebellion. The way those elections were rigged proved to be the last nail in the coffin of Indian democracy in Kashmir.
The youth who were involved in that election process had seen it as a space that could help them find the resolution of the problem besides managing governance on their own terms. What an average Kashmiri wanted was political empowerment that had eluded them for a long time. After militancy broke out, the elected governments did come back but they too lacked empowerment, with strings being pulled directly from Delhi. While the elections are always projected as an answer to the demand for “Azadi”, a resolution for autonomy passed by the same assembly in 2000 was disregarded with contempt by Delhi. Not only has democracy in Jammu and Kashmir been different from the rest of India, the way the democratic spaces have been choked in Kashmir have further dented it. There is even a difference between the two regions of Kashmir and Jammu when it comes to allowing the practice of democracy. For example, Jammu University has a Students Union but in the students of Kashmir University were denied such a union.
Addressing the separatists, late chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed would call the fight against them democracy – which he would paraphrase as a “battle of ideas”. But that battle has remained confined to ideas only. Democracy in Kashmir has always been used by the state apparatus. Dialogue has found its way only between 2003 and 2007 when the Vajpayee government engaged with separatists, but that derailed as India-Pakistan relations hit their lowest ebb and Delhi could not offer anything to them except that they were discredited among their own people. If that version of Jamhuriyat will be put in practice again, there will be no takers.
Insaniyat was actually the only platitude Vajpayee used first, in response to a question at a news conference at Technical Airport in Srinagar in 2004. He referred to the principle he was told that those who challenge India’s rule in Kashmir don’t want to have a dialogue within the framework of the Indian constitution.
The dialogue did start, but it is difficult to say if it was in the framework of Insaniyat. It is not only the dialogue as such but the process and the atmosphere that precedes it that has to be within the contours of Isaniyat. For Kashmir, Insaniyat would be an end to human rights violations, an investigation into 2,300 unmarked graves, and an end to pellet guns and excessive use of force on protesters. They would also expect justice for the victims in such cases as the Pathribal, Ganderbal and Machil fake encounters, and for the loved ones of those who have disappeared in the custody of security forces. It would also mean an end to the humiliation that people are subjected to in everyday life.
One would not condone violence on any side, but the magnitude is important. When we talk about Insaniyat, it has to be practiced on the ground. Repeated assertions in public meetings would not make it Insaniyat. It must not be limited to speeches.
Kashmiriyat has been worst hit in Kashmir. It has been used, misused and abused to the extent that today’s Kashmiri Muslim have disowned it. Kashmiriyatwas coined to define a unique history and cultural identity that encompassed the communal harmony, tolerance and brotherhood in Kashmir. For a long time, it was a state-endorsed Kashmiri nationalist identity. It essentially defined a composite culture that was unique and had hardly any comparison in South Asia. A British author explained it as “Kashmiri exceptionalism”.
But after 1990, this concept was given two different meanings – one by Kashmiri Muslims and the other by Kashmiri Pandits. When the state used the concept as part of its narrative to counter separatism, its credibility got eroded further. It is now seen as part of the government’s project. It was former Governor SK Sinha, the man responsible for the Amarnath land row, who tried to reintroduce it with his own colour.
Therefore, in the contemporary Kashmir, the term Kashmiriyat is a contested one and when it is used often by the state, people read it with suspicion. For Kashmiris, Kashmiriyat is tolerance. But tolerance has taken a beating not only within Kashmir, but outside it as well. So even if the “real” Kashmiriyat is rediscovered, it may still not strike a chord with the people.
What is important is to show respect to these expressions by adhering to their core and not merely repeating them in speeches. Only practical steps to resolve the situation can make these words matter again.