Happy in Kashmir, laughterless in India

Kashmir has had its seasons of ups and downs in these last two decades of conflict and every season someone or the other is labouring hard to tell the Kashmiris what Kashmir is all about. The patent slogan during the peak militancy years of ‘proxy-war from across the border’ transformed into ‘misguided youth’, revealing if nothing else atleast an acknowledgement that the problem of Kashmir was not solely a result of outside influence but also had indigenous dimension, a greater resonance of which was found in the later day rhetoric of ‘Kashmir needs peace and dialogue’. 2010’s ‘paid agents of Lashkar-e-Toiba’ theory transformed within a year into ‘angry youth’, which itself propelled into action multiple theories about what Kashmiri youth wanted – jobs, opportunities, empowerment, political participation, sports and development, anything under the sun, but the root cause of the conflict or its most touching repercussion – human rights violations, which itself had been the first trigger in 2010 street protests.

It is intriguing how every time it is people from outside Kashmir telling Kashmiris, rather deciding for them, what Kashmir is all about and what they want, as if the people in Kashmir have no mind of their own. Anybody from the ruling elite or other politicians in New Delhi to bureaucrats and top security brass has found the liberty to don the mantle of enlightening Kashmiris about the latter’s own desires and aspirations. Every election is followed by the parroting of ‘see, they believe in Indian democracy.’ Every other protest that is apolitical in nature, even as it ends in brutal action by the security agencies or police, gives these knowledgeable souls an occasion to pronounce that ‘Kashmir is normal because people are now seeking redressal of their day to day problems’. The paradigm of ‘Normalcy’ in various forms has been quite a prized treasure, protected like a family heirloom and thrown up every time with a new coat of varnish, right from the bloody days of peak militancy when local Doordarshan channel laced its daily bulletin of gory violence with ‘rest everything was normal’ phrase.

There is a tendency to manufacture some kind of a consent about Kashmir, which is such a mis-match with ground realities and with which Kashmiris can hardly identify. And now, the usual official suspects have found fresh collaborators, interestingly working from both within and outside – intelligentsia and social activists. Gala events are organised to talk about a future visions, minus the politics, in a place where everything has political connotations, including the way anything is analysed. For instance an event talking about youth role in development, economy, culture et al, packaged in the paradigm of ‘vision’, gives the glib talkers an opportunity to say that ‘all is well in Kashmir’. 

As for the Indian intelligentsia, it’s begun parroting cyclic refrains about ‘optimism in Kashmir’, ‘Kashmir needs to move on’ and ‘Kashmir can now be resolved overnight’, a la Wajahat Habibullah and R.K. Dullat. But what takes the cake is writer-journalist Manu Joseph, known otherwise for his progressive views, proclaiming that ‘Kashmir indeed is happy’ and his latest apologist who comes up with a critique of the former and concludes that while the analysis and observations were fine, it was just a case of wrong choice of words and that ‘happy’ should happily be replaced with ‘hopeful’. Such words may not simply smack of insanity and lack of logic, they also betray a sheer lack of sensitivity. It doesn’t need a genius to sense what Kashmir wants. All it takes is a bit of sensitivity, some openness and an unbiased mind that refuses to get prejudiced by a myopic chauvinism and denial of Indian wrongs in Kashmir. If those talking of ‘moving on’ and ‘being happy’ had used these instead of their brains tutored by a dose of ‘ultra-nationalism’, they might have wondered

how do the people in Kashmir move on over the corpses of hundreds and thousands of innocent deaths and brutalities that Indian government refuses to investigate? How do they move on when this façade of normality goes hand in hand with random arrests and fresh brutalities? How do they move on, when their peaceful campaigns for justice have failed to be heard or reciprocated only with brutality? Are they expected to forget their dead or missing sons, raped daughters and maimed family members, because Indian government has virtually stonewalled legal justice in such cases, and move on for the sake of ‘peace’.

For Manu Joseph, this process of ‘moving on’ has already begun and notions like trauma in Kashmir is like a heritage building which the elite fight to preserve.  Trauma is neither the sole reserve of the elite, nor is it like a monument. It’s a reality that many individuals have lived for years – from the wronged and stigmatised women of Konanposhpora to the 2010 brutal killings of youth. It’s a reality that has also become a collective trauma of the Kashmiris, going down deep into their psyche. How does one ask them to shun even the basic concepts of human dignity and justice and move on, rather tell them that they are already doing this? And, the entire basis of the argument is bustling tourists, with figures likely to double up, happy looking youth sitting at cafetarias, increasing graph of youth opting for civil services et al. If this is some kind of a joke, it is quite a tasteless one. I dare not risk deeming the analysis as ‘childish’ for even a child living in Kashmir, or well acquainted with its ups and downs, its anger and fatigue factors, would know that anger, though peppered by some remnants of hope, seethes beneath the existing calm, that smiles are not signs of ‘no grief’ but ‘feeble temporary attempts to overcome grief’, and that all this picture of normalcy, hope and happiness may well turn out to be a case of calm before the storm.

That Kashmiris have had the ability to laugh, crack a joke and continue to be warm despite a stifling atmosphere and a continuum of miseries and denial of basic civil liberties indeed needs a celebration for that reflects on their resilience, propelled by a sense of humour as their vital tool for survival.

And, while the smiles in Kashmir offer both the government and the intelligentsia to go into complete denial about the underlying grief, they fail to be a source of inspiration in a country where political bigwigs have begun to smother the laughter of its citizens through one controversy after another over cartoons. Kashmir’s smiles are celebrated as signs of hope but the right to laugh and be humourous is being suppressed, at the same time. Perhaps, Kashmir, with its ability to retain its sense of humour and the ability to laugh, despite its unending despair, can once again hold the beacon of light for rest of India, atleast so for the political class, driven by vote bank politics, who are hell bent on putting humour and laughter in the negative list.