India is a great nation and Indians have a great sense of tolerance. The Indians have tolerated a terrorist assault on the landmarks of the country in Mumbai on 26/11. India did not go to war with Pakistan, where the whole plot was knitted and directed. That is an example of Indian tolerance because there are avenues of dialogue available. Today or tomorrow that option would be used.
Given this backdrop, it’s strange that the voices of Kashmir, of course the separatist ones, are being blocked by some of the groups. It happened with Syed Ali Shah Geelani and now it is happening to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. There are two views on it. One is that the limits of the freedom of expression are being tested. In no other country, such an expression challenging the sovereignty of the nation would ever be allowed, not even in the so called best democracies in the world, be it the United States of America or the United Kingdom, And, of course, we have seen the kind of policies that the French government is pursuing where even the most modest symbols of Islam, head scarf, has been banned.
India, it must be said and acknowledged, has been tolerant to the extremist voices and it has been holding talks with the people who openly challenged the Indian ways. One of the examples of this was visible when TV cameras relayed to the world angry words of Geelani to members of an all-party delegation to Kashmir in September. Not only that anti-India protests before Home Minister and BJP leader were also relayed to the nation.
India and the Indian values were straight winners. It’s India that covered itself with glory by giving full exposure to the separatist voices in Kashmir. That was the best way to do. It was in the national interest. Blacking out news and views is the worst thing for a democracy. The expressions that are suppressed and a cover up of realities is against the national interest. Unless the realities are known, how can a problem be diagnosed. And if there is no proper diagnosis, the treatment of the problem would be inadequate and imperfect The Indian establishment, civil society and politicians should know it better than anyone else.
Now comes the real question. What was said by the separatist leaders that was anti-India. Apart from the call of demilitarization, removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act,, release of political prisoners, the stress has been on resolving Kashmir issue by involving the people of Kashmir as also India and Pakistan. First of all, there is nothing anti-India in these expressions. This is what everyone has been saying throughout that includes almost all Prime Ministers and some of the leading political figures of the country.
Even if the choice of words was not to the liking of some people, the separatist leaders should have been told that in a polite manner. The people who claim themselves to be the champions of India and Indian patriotism would have presented themselves in a better light had they adhered to saying of the French philosopher Voltaire : "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"?
Had these separatist leaders been listened to, the image of the country within Kashmir would have been viewed through a different prism. Patience pays. Intolerance begets intolerance. In such situations, where is the space for the meeting ground. There is a need to decipher between what’s anti- India or not.
Kashmir too should not judge India or Indians by the reaction of some elements who disrupted the functions of the separatist leaders. They have reasons to see India in a different prism because of some other factors like the privations they have undergone and the kind of things they have suffered, especially during the past over two decades. But what they have seen or heard on their TV screens about the functions of separatist leaders in Delhi, Chandigarh and Kolkota is not the real image of India. The nation is too vast and diverse where these kind of elements also exist as those exist in all parts of the world, including the Kashmir Valley. The image of Kashmir is that of a land of hospitality and love and affection and beauty. Kashmiris are the best judges of the things around them. Perhaps, they are the only people in the subcontinent who closely watch the developments in different trouble spots across the world and a better analytical power.
The fact that Indians and the people of Kashmir should know that there are certain realities that cannot be obscured by the rhetoric or action or words of some people. These realities are known to one and all and it’s high time that the steps of Delhi and Srinagar move toward finding a middle ground, leaving the aberrations of disruptions aside.