If Kashmir responds this way?

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Pallavi Sareen

Kashmir is limping back to normalcy. Schools have opened. Colleges to follow. Employees are returning to work and government departments have started functioning. This is what Jammu and Kashmir government wants us all to believe. But this is something which is neither being digested by the ‘Nationalists’ who love Jingoism and are wishing for a war with Pakistan nor by those who are branded ‘Lutyens’ “Liberal Anti-India Gang”.

There is a jingoistic belief that finally Kashmir has been made an indispensable part of India by ripping off the anti-India sentiment of the red-cheeked Kashmiris through detaining the separatist leaders, arresting mainstream politicians and scuffling all resistance. This belief goes on to predict that once the curfew is lifted from Kashmir, it will be heaven on earth again with no meddling from Pakistan, or anti-India sentiment left in the valley. People from the rest of the country will travel to Kashmir, enjoy its beauty without any fear.

But a contrary belief is that of the supposed “Left Liberal Gang” also known as “Khan Market Gang”. They believe that Kashmir is a volcano waiting to erupt. That there will be nothing but violence and bloodshed for a long time to come and the repercussions of that will be seen in the rest of the country.

Since I am a resident of Jammu and Kashmir and live just 300 km away from the heart of the Kashmir, I feel I am in a better position to speculate how Kashmir will react. Before I go on with my opinion, I must state that I am, without a doubt an Indian. It is essential to begin my opinion with that since in the contemporary world, any dissent will label you an anti-national. With that clarified, let me just say that the world is speculating over how Kashmir will react once the Curfew and complete communication blackout are lifted. Article 370 might have eroded over the years, through different amendments, misinterpretations and misuse, but it still held and emotional space in the minds of the people of Kashmir. It was the illusion of autonomy, the pride of being a special state, which fed into the fantasy of Azadi.

The decision to leave nothing but a paragraph in Article 370 while putting the entire population of Kashmir under lock and key with complete communication blackout has left them with a trust deficit. There is a frustration of their fates being controlled while they remain subservient, constrained. But if one must envisage their course of action once the curfew is lifted, one must look beyond the physical rebellion. Yes, there will be violent outbursts and growing incidents of stone-pelting. The fear of death was always low in the valley after having seen it so often. But leaving them to feel powerless and helpless is instigating something far dangerous than an outright protest. It is laying grounds for an internal rebellion.

Every Kashmiri who did believe that he/she is an Indian will now resent the establishment, and thus the nation itself. The rebellion will be a silent protest, in the form of harm one can easily overlook. From office chairs and elite positions, from clerks to constables, the people working in Kashmir or in different parts of India will damage, in whatever ways they can. Examples of it can already be seen. The BSNL employees who were suspended for allowing the broadband of Separatist leader Geelani. This is just a warning sign, but one that must not be overlooked.

Whether it is an IAS officer determined to administer or an army officer hell-bent on maintaining the law and order, the importance of cooperation of local Kashmiris cannot be disregarded. A clerk can often become more powerful in an office than the officer himself. Who reports what is on the ground? Where do the higher-ups get real reports? Who delivers the files, leaks information, hides things or manipulate things for someone’s benefit? It is the small-level worker that cannot be replaced. And by the time someone catches up, the harm is done. One of the root causes of rise in militancy in Kashmir is the support of the locals, their lack of faith in their own government. And what if that radicalisation seeps into the working class as the circumstances warrant? Is there a possibility of this not happening? Very less. What would a person do if they see even the most powerful men and women of their society detained and house-arrested? How secure would they feel in their homes knowing that even the politicians and top Kashmiri bureaucrats are not free from the scrutiny of the Indian government and they may be detained any time the establishment feels as such. What would a common Kashmiri think he’s worth when the most powerful person he knows is worth nothing in the world’s biggest democracy? Powerless. Worthless. Helpless. And what do people do when they believe they have no other option? They lash out and the lashing out need not always be with a gun.

Their frustration seeps into their minds, their muffled voices become silent reactors. They want to harm the same way they have been harmed, oppress how they have been oppressed and damage the same way their illusion of autonomy was damaged. And how many workers can you replace? How many mutinies can you suppress especially without being aware of their existence until it’s too late and sometimes not even then?

Is there a possibility to have a Kashmir without the Kashmiris? Can Kashmir be administered, secured, run without involving anyone from the local population? No. Because the language itself poses the first barrier. The uncertainty and distrust become the second barrier. The volatile nature of the people become the third. Perhaps only a section of the Kashmiri society will react violently after the curfew is lifted. Perhaps none will. Perhaps they will be more worried about essentials, trying to gather necessities. You can’t protest or fight when your family is starving back home unless the entire family is on the streets and even then you can’t last long. So one can scuffle protests, arrest stone-pelters, ensure peace on the streets through physical power. It can’t last long, it won’t last long. But then again, knowing Kashmir, it might.

Yet, the more dangerous protest is the internal rebellion, the silent mutiny, the one that starts at home, goes through the office and ends with Breaking news and flashing headlines. The interference of Pakistan with Kashmir, the close proximity of the interaction between the people on both sides of the border is not a hidden fact. But what happens when an enemy nation starts exploiting the vulnerabilities of a volatile population? You may argue that the govt. of India will win the hearts of Kashmiris once they are given a chance to. But you can’t win broken hearts and their stand shattered after the entire population of Kashmir spent Eid locked in their houses, without the festivities, unable to even wish their children studying in other parts of India. “Eid is no Eid until I can wish my mother first thing in the morning. And right now, I don’t even know if she is okay,” I heard on a video on Facebook. The words were spoken by a Kashmiri student at the Jantar Mantar where many of them gathered together to mourn on Eid for the first time in their lives. How can one go about mending that? There is a way and that is to leave enough space for dissent. To expect people to go back to normalcy is being insensitive to their sentiment and scuffling dissent is what has always happened in Kashmir. The people in Kashmir need to feel that there is enough space for their Opinion, their ideology and their voices in the Indian democracy.

The establishment of “New India” as the govt claims can only happen the way the foundation of India was laid after Independence. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, despite being a liberal-democrat gave space in the cabinet to people from clashing ideologies like Shama Prasad Mukherjee. Democracy can only function with healthy opposition, with everyone being given equal right to present their views. If there is an anti-national sentiment in the people of Kashmir, the reasons need to be heard and addressed. If they believe oppression is the cause, scuffling all revolt won’t help, but only strengthen their belief. The strength of a government is not decided merely by their iron will and their muscular approach towards people. The parameters of judging a good government come from their ability to convince people that the policy they are hesitant of accepting (or are opposing) is for their benefit. This cannot be achieved through strength. Only dialogue and freedom to dissent with the counter approach of logic, intention and soft-handedness will instil the kind of confidence that the situation demands.