The year 2013 has already made an inauspicious start in Kashmir. The hanging of Afzal Guroo followed by more civilian killing & unprecedented restrictions on freedom of expressions have announced the arrival of dark black clouds of violence & tyranny. It is now universally believed that Afzal has been a victim of farce investigation, unfair trial & perverse judgment.
The immediate fallout of this exposure has been refusal of Italian Govt. to return its marines before it extracted an assurance from the Govt. that they would not be hanged. In other words, the judicial verdict was churned out by the executive machinery even before the trial started. It has belittled Indian judiciary and denuded the state of its credibility.
Coming back to Kashmir, if there is a silver lining visible in the dark clouds hovering over, it is the growing civil society activism. It is refreshing to hear civil society members taking important issues confronting the people. These issues are discussed & debated through conferences, symposiums & seminars. But while civil society takes up these important issues on behalf of people, it is equally important for people to know who the civil society activists are, its powers & limitations.
Civil society, as per Burke’s definition is “little platoons” of free people acting collectively in pursuit of a common cause. When a Government lacks strategic thinking, is loaded with dysfunctional administration, makes an inordinate delay in putting its acts together and indulges in self destructive streaks by talking in different voices and moving in different directions civil society steps in. In that sense, it is about ‘we-the-people’ versus ‘you-the-state’.
The concept of civil society, though highly popular and much revived in recent years, remains intensely contested. Accordingly to the conventional notions prevalent in the social sciences, "Civil society" refers to a group that works in a space which exists between the societal level and the state level. What is crucial to the notion of a civil society is that free people connect with each other and talk about matter of public relevance without the interference or sponsorship of the state.
Civil society is a powerful pillar of a nation. It draws its power from ethics, not from laws as the state does. Hence, the ways of civil society can only be ethical. Politicians seek influence through power, and businessmen through money. A civil society can only seek influence through the ethical conduct of its activists. Civil society abhors violence. Violent speech is abhorrent too. And a civil society that doesn’t exercise self-restraint or recognize turfs may disturb political equation & equilibrium. On the other hand, a political class that ignores them can do so at their own peril. Civil society has to be heard, heeded and respected.
But while this definition & concept may work well for a normal state, amends will have to be made in case of an intense conflict zone like Kashmir. Being a place whose population has been deceived & let down even by its cherished & adored leadership , its people have turned skeptical & distrustful. Having been caught in a long drawn battle with an enormous sacrificial investment by way of human lives, the honor of women and the destruction of properties, people tend to guard this investment with a suspecting eye. They cannot be blamed for this tendency as each new arrival has turned out to be a turncoat & each fresh promise has been reneged at a later date.
In Kashmir Civil society activists, an assortment of academicians, lawyers, columnists, doctors, are people apparently driven by passion for a cause who appear to know a little more ,if not lot more, than most of others. They tell the people how their resources have been trampled, how their environment is being devastated and how the government of the day is behaving irresponsibly to the detriment of their cause. They apprise the world how their human rights have been violated and how a genocide is going on behind the scene?
In a conflict zone like ours, Civil society is faced with yet another problem. Government does manufacture issues to distract attention & change popular discourse. Sometimes issues may be real but timing impish. The issues of police reform, power crisis & spurious drugs are instances quoted in this regard. Since Civil Society has no resources at its disposal to distinguish between a real & manufactured issue or their timings, it can only go by its normal average wisdom to judge an issue on merits. And discussing a peripheral issue does not necessarily mean diversion
(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)