Understanding Kashmiri Pride

Restoration of Kashmiri pride is directly linked to denial of political freedom

It was an amazing experience to listen to “warring” parties in a seminar organised by Srinagar based 15 Corps at the Badamibagh cantonment from April 27-28. The title of the seminar was attractive—“Enhancing Jammu and Kashmir’s Pride”. The audience was diverse, so was the discourse. At some point of time, it seemed to taking ugly turn with a young “angry” Kashmiri engaging in an argument with the most powerful man of Army in Kashmir- the Corps Commander Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain. He did try to silence him asking him to follow the rules of “engagement” (in the seminar), but had to retreat later saying “I apologise for raising my voice”.

“This is the ethos of Army, which does not believe in egos while dealing with the Awam”, summed up Lt Gen Hasnain.Students drawn from Kashmir University and Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) had some tough questions for the Army’s top brass, the Inspector General of Police Kashmir zone S M Sahai and some of the panelists such as Siddique Wahid, S S Belorea, Madhu Kishwar, Ajai Shukla, Nitin Pai and Shah Faesal, the IAS topper of 2009. On the face of it, the objective of General Hasnain’s seminar was to make the field commanders understand how pride of Kashmir was important for its people and why it should be kept in mind while dealing with militancy (which is now on the lowest ebb).

There were barbs from both sides. And battle lines were clear. As one speaker talked about the atrocities of militants, clapping was more visible from the benches where security force officers were sitting. And when the atrocities by security forces were the subject matter, its magnitude was louder in the corner where the students were seated. Similarly, when someone said that Kashmir was fundamentally a political problem, the youth were more excited. So the gap, not only about the ideas but also the understanding was very clear. Gen Hasnain had tried to bring the two sides together to make them understand what he feels “good for Kashmir”. However, the anger of youth was more than visible. Repeatedly pointing out how the security forces perpetuated excesses on people, how the Kashmiris were being treated outside and how they were feeling discriminated, was something, which clearly establishes the broken linkages. Alienation of this generation towards the Indian mainstream is complete.

Most of the youth did not find it difficult to raise the voice against the “political suppression”, that too while sitting in Badamibagh cantonment. They were more articulate in giving vent to their feelings. For them the restoration of Kashmiri pride was directly linked to denial of political freedom. Humiliation and intimidation seem to be having a great impact on their minds. There were many who acknowledged that now Army is ready to listen to them. But the caveat was not missing. “What they say in these well made auditoriums should be implemented”.

Main theme for the seminar was how to restore “Kashmiriyat”. But hardly there could a consensus what it actually meant. Since it has been abused much, Kashmiris are running away with this once “priceless title”. Except that it denotes how all the communities have lived here peacefully for centuries, it has been misused as a political slogan. The former Governor S K Sinha, who used it for meeting his hardcore objectives based on communal ideology, did the much damage to this concept. Even Siddique Wahid, a historian of repute had to caution about recurring usage of “Kashmiriyat” as a political agenda. Since the essence of “Kashmiriyat” has been distorted, the separatists have since disowned it as a term used by “socialists”. Anything tagged with the sponsorship of government in Kashmir should be treated as dead and that is the case with Kashmiriyat as well.  As majority of Kashmiri Muslims believe in shrines, this too was made suspicious as the government agencies tried to project the “aetiqad” (faith in shrines and saints) as something opposed to “extremism” in Islam.

While the organiser’s aim was to move away from politics and talk about economy and development, the discourse could not be delinked from it. Shah Faesal gave an interesting twist to discourse but could not move away from politics saying that there is something about identity, nationalism and sub nationalism, which is linked to unrest in Kashmir. For an average Kashmiri youth he should be a role model but when it comes to political aspect of problem, they (youth) even reject him as some one whose title now begins with “Indian”- Administrative Service. For Faesal the pride of Kashmir could be restored by demolishing the memorials of humiliation, of perceived collective dishonour”. “Some of those memories are temporal and since there is no remedy for bad history, not much can be done about that” he said, adding “but we can at least do away with the symbols that reinforce the negative interpretations of history. Repealing AFSPA would be a step in that direction”. But the sense of alienation and dissatisfaction among youth is so deep that even Shah Faesals would fail to convince them.

Even for Gen Hasnain it was difficult to do away with the political angel. During his concluding remarks he tried to make the youth understand that political solution may take longer time and they should move forward on economy and development. He surely talked about pro people initiatives of Army notably the convoy hazards. The people duly acknowledged this. But much visible presence of Army in Kashmir continues to be a source of irritation. Today’s youth sees India in Kashmir through its soldier on the street. Distributing sweets on the occasion of removing a CRPF bunker in Srinagar city tells much more about this irritation. Generals like Hasnain can surely narrow down the gaps between his Army and people. But this can be a short-term solution. Cry for a long-term solution is always evident in such an event. And that is the political resolution of problem. Sense of belonging, fulfilling the promises by New Delhi, allowing people to enjoy the fruits of freedom as elsewhere in India are the focal points on which a discourse on restoring pride of Kashmir can start.

TAILPIECE: For the session on “Kashmiriyat” all the panelists were non-Kashmiris.