Thursday’s attack on Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and his colleague Bilal Gani Lone in Chandigarh comes with some chilling reminders. This latest attack – which seems to have been a well-planned one – seems to be a part of many such attacks which started with the diabolic act against the late Abdul Gani Lone under similar circumstances some years back. Sadly, such attacks against Kashmir’s dissenting political voices have become a routine now. What makes such acts potentially dangerous is the impunity that their planners and executers seem to enjoy.
Some very serious questions rise over such acts. The first being that if dissenting political voices are inevitability in any democratic system, why not allow people of such viewpoints share these in a peaceful manner? Indian and Kashmiri civil societies and political formations continue not to listen and understand each other’s viewpoints clearly. Despite many efforts for dialogue at many levels all these years, the fact is that there continues to be a wide gulf in the way the two parties understand and listen to each other. Understanding each other’s political viewpoints and getting to know each other is quite important for breaking the political deadlock on Kashmir. In an arena for battle of ideas it is critical not to silence one viewpoint by force.
The second question relates to the potential danger that such acts carry. It is by chance or good luck that a number of Kashmiri leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah and others who have been attacked in a similar fashion have escaped from being harmed. It is quite scary to imagine the consequences if such attacks result in physical harm.
Thirdly, the level of intolerance that activists of ultra-radical Hindutva groups like Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, etc. nurse for such expression of political dissent is both unacceptable and uncalled for. What looks quite ominous is the association of certain Pandit groups with such radical parties. It is an undeniable fact that a majority of Pandits and their groups do not espouse the kind of cause such radical groups seem to espouse. But the problem is that the kind of images these acts produce on television screens serve to create a stereotypical image of a whole community – something that Kashmiris across the communal divide cannot afford to happen. By associating themselves with such radical Hindutva groups the level of intolerance that certain Pandit groups exhibit display does not augur well for Muslim-Pandit relations in Kashmir. A lot of people, cutting across political divide and ideologies, have been trying through various channels to facilitate and create conditions for the dignified return of the migrant Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir. The problem is that actions like these – no matter how symbolic they are – would serve to create greater distances between the Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits. Acts like these serve to create a certain stereotypical perceptions among Kashmir’s new generation, who ought to be at the centre of reconciliation efforts. It is an acknowledged fact that whatever the nuances of Kashmir’s political movement, no strand of it could be anti-Pandit or detrimental to their interests. In fact, all political formations of Kashmir, cutting all ideological lines, see a dignified return of Kashmiri Pandits central to the establishment of Kashmir’s composite culture and a rich tradition of peaceful co-existence. But for upholding such tradition it is important for both Muslim and Pandit communities to act with utmost maturity and far sight.
The government agencies, on their part, need to act in a manner which is in line with the imperatives of the rule of law, when it comes to dealing with the planners and executers of such attacks. Any perceived impunity to such acts will only fuel and encourage more of these in future. And that will be bad for peaceful dialogue and conflict resolution in Kashmir.