‘Patriotism is not obedience to the government, instead it is obedience to the principles for which the government is supposed to stand for’————Howard Zin
Speaking in the House of Commons on 22 March 1775 in favor of peaceful means over military approach in tackling American colonies’ revolt against British rule, Edmund Burke said: ‘ The use of force may subdue (situation) for a moment, but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed which is perpetually to be conquered’.
Uncertain of the desired gains in sticking to this policy, the British ace statesman cautioned ‘Terror is not always the effect of force, and armament is not a victory’. He warned, ‘The thing you fought for is not the thing which you recover, but depreciated, sunk, wasted and consumed in the contest’.
Impervious of any community feeling for people of Kashmir, today I start from a different pedestal. From the lens of a loyalist Indian-not captive of religious or hyper nationalist bias- I open up. I too am veered to the construct that Kashmir is an ‘integral part of India’. And ours is a great democracy of which Kashmir is a ‘jewel’. Thanks to my citizenship I am entitled to all the fundamental rights, including right to life and free expression. We have a democratic system functioning under the watch dog of powerful independent judiciary. Equality of law holds supreme for all, be it a spiritual guru, super cop, chief executive or a street vendor or a sweeper. We cannot think of a situation (unhonee) where our basic rights are denied to us and we are driven to suffocation. Under the constitutional protection, mine is a life sanctioned inviolable.
Let us for the time being skip from the historical evidence that Kashmir has never been like other state of India and is tagged with dozens of UN resolutions in acknowledgement of its disputed nature and international character. Let us not talk about plebiscite pledge India made with people of Kashmir and international community. Let us also forget assurance given to UN by Indian leadership that said elections in JK state are for internal administration, not alternative to plebiscite under UN auspices. Having gently shelved these pages from the book of Kashmir in the stack, we see, even after declaring Kashmir its integral part, a completely different approach New Delhi adopted towards Kashmir. An approach, rather an obsession, that squared more with callous apathy and pathological hubris of an imperialist, less with the niceties and imperatives expected from the world’s ‘largest democracy’. State was wrenched of autonomous character, elections were rigged, political lackeys planted, dissenting voice curbed, democratic institutions paralyzed, corrupt leadership promoted and pampered, natural resources plundered, power projects looted. The country watched in silence.
The eruption of militancy in nineties was cumulative effect of the full-spectrum injustice heaped on Kashmiris. Instead of making a holistic appraisal of why and where the state failed in coming to the expectations of the people and start putting balms in the lacerated wounds, extracting submission through brute force was taken as the first and last remedy. A few hundred Kashmiri youth with little ammunition and lacking elementary knowledge in weaponry training, we know, and Kashmiris too know, are no answer to India’s military might. It is no challenge to six lakh troops operating in Kashmir.
Since all other peaceful roots of expression stand blocked, thronging to the encounter sites, fully aware of the huge risks involved, has become a vent to pour out the simmering lava of anger and disaffection against the system—immune to democratic appeal. We may delude ourselves into believing that ‘operation all out’ is proceeding on expected lines and fetching us ‘good reward’. Every day we kill them in fives or tens in their localities, in front of their mothers, sisters, brothers, friends and relatives heralds a ‘special day’ for us. The mourning we drape them in splashes celebration in our garrisons and corridors of power. In this ‘ civilized’ era where we sermon on human dignity, we use pellets to blind blooming youth in Kashmir. How callously insensitive we are, the ‘epidemic of dead eyes’ shocks people in New York but not we, not the civil society or the media houses in our country. We draw a sadistic pleasure when a Kashmiri youth is strapped with the bonnet of a military jeep and paraded village after village. Or when an armored vehicle runs over a protestor and crushes him to death, it has no news value. So are no candles lighted in solidarity with victims of rape and murder. Human values too we have pigeonholed to our political and ideological convenience.
We have to ask ourselves, where shall this muscular approach lead us to. Every arsenal in our armory we have used to force submission. That not coming, instead there is a surge of sentiment culminating in mass uprising. As we see PhD scholars, university professors and educated youth from affluent families are joining the militancy, it confirms not unemployment or poverty but sentiment is the driving force behind the resentment. We have to pull ourselves out from the grand delusion we are nursing since many decades. Kashmir is not an issue of ‘law and order’. Neither it is a border issue. It is a humanitarian problem, concerning basic aspirations and rights of people that demands humanitarian approach and honestly sincere political engagement. Recently our army chief stated that though there is no level playing field between army and militants, yet none is going to win. General’s remarks echoes what Kalhan said hundreds of years before that Kashmir cannot be win over through force. Sometime before retired Lt General DS Hooda advised policy makers in India that they should not be under the illusion that by siege and cordon and repressive measures people in Kashmir will become exhausted.
Our political leadership should desist from playing Kashmir to win electoral battles in Delhi. The identity of India as a democracy should hold supreme to party interests. Alas, that face of India in Kashmir stands mauled, disfigured. We have to revisit all our follies and falsifications we committed and repeated in Kashmir. For now, what is required is cessation of military operation and a slew of confidence-building measures essentially required for a meaningful, result-oriented and time-bound dialogue process, addressing both the internal and external dimensions of the problem. Letting the situation lay as it is, there is every apprehension that it may spiral out of control with disastrous implications for all its stake holders, India, Pakistan and people of Kashmir.