Why insulate struggle from the system?

  • Nyla Ali Khan
  • Publish Date: Feb 10 2016 3:29PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 15 2016 3:32PM
Why insulate struggle from the system?

he aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir point the way toward a workable democratic pluralism in the state – where the reigning principal is discussion leading to free elections, not autocratic decision-making either by elected legislators or separatists.
I state very clearly, at the outset, that I am greatly interested in the revival of Kashmiri society, in the constructive rebuilding of that society, and in the growth and burgeoning of our younger generation. I do not want the people of Kashmir to wallow in grief for eternity, and I will not build my castle on the agonies of those who have suffered tremendous losses in the past twenty-six years. We cannot restore our state or our national identity on unquenchable hate for either India or Pakistan and certainly not on cashing in on the pain and grief of our Kashmiri people. A nation that lives in limbo remains in a vegetative state while the rest of the world moves on. We require a viable solution, and we require it now.
I emphasize that a political movement that pays insufficient attention to the welfare of the populace, good governance, and rebuilding democratic institutions ends up leaving irreparable destruction in its wake. While focusing on the building and legitimization of a collective political identity, some political and militant nationalist movements make the grave error of turning a blind eye to the vitriol of corruption and inefficiency in the administrative set-up and educational institutions, which is exactly what the political movement of the past quarter of a century has done.
The translation of a political vision into reality requires an efficacious administrative set-up and vibrant educational institutions, which produce dynamic citizens. The insurgency or militant nationalist movement in Kashmir clearly lacked such a vision and, so, it was bound to falter. It is imperative, without further delay and further ado, for state (members of the Legislative Assembly of J & K and those representing J & K in the Indian Parliament) as well as non-state actors (those representing the Hurriyat Conference; members of non-governmental organizations; members of community based organizations; members of religious organizations; trade unionists, etc.) to forge connections between their agendas and strategies for conflict resolution and reconstruction of society with the strategies and agendas of other sections of the populace impacted by the conflict. The internal dialogue process, which I am suggesting, would entail making political compromises in order to accommodate different points of view for the growth of J & K.
The Kashmir movement is a dynamic one, which requires internal critique to evolve and grow. The critique of violence, not just of the oppressor but of the oppressed as well came from within the resistance movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s with Abdul Gani Lone’s denunciation of the role played by “foreign militants” in Kashmir. A few years ago at a seminar on the role of the intellectual in the freeson/ resistance, Professor Abdul Gani Bhat and the Mirwaiz reinforced that internal critique by challenging the hegemonic order within the resistance movement. Yes, it isn’t just mainstream politics that has a hegemonic structure. They also pointed out that Abdul Gani Lone had to pay a high price for his dissidence, which, they condemned. They were also critical of the inability of the resistance movement to capitalize on the protests of 2010 to make political headway. Any organization, whether mainstream or separatist, requires an internal critique to maintain its dynamism. The Kashmiri struggle for identity and autonomy for some, self-determination for others, has, historically, been a political one. There has been a critique, from within the resistance movement, of attempts to reconstruct historical and cultural discourses in order to inspire the kind of cultural nationalism that fundamentalist politics require. Some leaders of the resistance movements are reaching out to the Kashmiri Pandit community, because the movement seeks to be inclusive and seeks to define itself within a political framework. Contrary to what some separatist organizations believe, Kashmiri culture is not homogeneous and nor is Kashmiri identity. I have been just as critical of the insensitivity in reactionary organizations as well as in current regional and national administrations to the diverse interpretations of religious laws and to the heterogeneity of cultural traditions.
The objectives of peace and merging a popular politics of mass mobilization with institutional politics of governance promoting demilitarization and democracy must be pursued by all stake holders. The belated effort underway in the Republic of Mali, a landlocked country in Western Africa, could serve as an object lesson in neglecting the inquiry to how to empower people to resist violent radicalization and restore pluralism.
I would also like to underscore that I am not opposed to electoral politics, because I don’t see electoral process and establishment of a government as not ultimate goals or ends in themselves but I do see them as means to nation-building and societal reconstruction. Even religious and political rhetoric of mainstream and separatist organizations remains simply rhetorical without a stable and representative government. Not every MLA of a mainstream organization is elitist. Not every mainstream politician lives in an ivory tower. We cannot underestimate the importance of standing up and being counted.
 Before I go any further, I will examine the historical and political roots of the Kashmir conflict. The nation-states of India and Pakistan have employed aggressive strategies in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and overtly imperialist methods since the inception of independence in 1947. The partition of India legitimized the forces of masculinist nationalism and enabled virile hatred for the “other” to irreparably mutilate a shared anti-colonial legacy and cultural heritage so systematically that the wounds inflicted by the partition are yet to heal. The geographical borders, political animosities, and religious hatreds dividing the two sides were not orchestrated just by British imperial cartographers but were ignited by nationalists of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League as well. As historian Uma Kaura (1977) keenly observes, the partition of India was orchestrated not just by the machinations and quiet diplomacy of the British Viceroy, but by the egregious mistakes made by the leadership of the Indian National Congress as well as by the acrimony and belligerence of the Muslim League (170). Ever since the inception, in 1885, of pro-independence political activity in pre-partition India, the Muslim leadership insisted on the necessity for a distinct Muslim identity (Kaura 1977: 164). Kaura also underlines the inability of the nationalist leadership to accommodate Muslim aspirations because its primary concern was to ingratiate itself with the militant Hindu faction, which would have created ruptures within the Congress. The creation of India and Pakistan were pyrrhic victories for their denizens because the political, socioeconomic, psychological, and culture havoc wreaked by that momentous event is reflected in those pogroms, ethnic cleansing, proliferation of nuclear weapons, poverty, and riots that continue to cause seismic tremors in the Indian subcontinent. “The fundamental character of this relationship [between India and Pakistan] has been one of strategic hostility, unchanged and essentially unquestioned since the birth of the two as independent countries” (Chenoy and Vanaik 2001: 125).
For India, Kashmir lends credibility to its secular nationalist image. For Pakistan, Kashmir represents the infeasibility of secular nationalism and validates the rationale of the partition, which occurred along religious lines. Once the Kashmir issue took an ideological turn, Mahatma Gandhi remarked, “Muslims all over the world are watching the experiment in Kashmir. . . . Kashmir is the real test of secularism in India.”
The governments of India and Pakistan have been pursuing autocratic policies vis-à-vis Kashmir and have been accelerating the political, economic, and social impairment of the state. The unwillingness and inability of the two governments to enable the emergence of Kashmir as a bastion of democracy, secularism, and development speaks volumes about the disfigurement of the public diplomacy of the two nation-states. Josef Korbel (2002: 304) wrote with foresight that “whatever the future may have in store, the free world shares with India and Pakistan common responsibility for the fate of democracy and it awaits with trepidation the solution of the Kashmir problem. Its own security may depend on such a settlement.”

Ethnic, Religious, and Religious Divisions in J&K
The various ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir, Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Pundits, Dogra Hindus, and Ladakhi Buddhists and Shi’ite Muslims, have been unable to construct a shared cultural and historical legacy that would enable them to fashion a cultural alternative to that of the Indian nationalist one. But due to the regional sentiments that are becoming increasingly religionized, the ideology and rhetoric of a shared cultural and historical past have been unable to garner public support and mobilization for reconstruction and nation-building. The signifiers of nationhood in Jammu and Kashmir, flag, anthem, and constitution, have thus far not been able to move beyond a nebulous nationalist self-imagining. Regional political forces have sabotaged attempts made to construct a unitary identity. The political acts of demanding the right of self-determination and autonomy for J & K have not been able to nurture a unity amongst all socioeconomic classes, but, on the contrary, are threatening to create unbridgeable gulfs (Rahman 1996: 148-9; Ganguly 1997: 78-9). Now more than ever, the three regions of the state of J&K are at daggers drawn about the future political configuration of the state. This doleful truth was forcefully brought home to me at the Conference organize by the Government of India selected Interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir on “Pluralism and Diversity in Jammu and Kashmir,” held in Jammu on July 11, 2011. At this intraregional conference, I was a member of the Kashmir delegation and I presented a paper on the restoration and revitalization of the autonomous status of J&K.
The province of Jammu sees its unbreachable assimilation into the Indian Union as the only way to safeguard its future. However, of the original six districts of Jammu, the three predominantly Muslim ones, Poonch, Rajouri, and Doda, would undoubtedly align themselves with the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley. In the Ladakh region of the state, predominantly Buddhist Leh, which has always been critical of the perceived discrimination against it, has zealously been demanding its political severance from the rest of the state and pushing its demand for Union Territory status within the Indian Union, where-as the predominantly Shi’ite Kargil district in the Ladakh region does not perceive a jeopardized cultural and linguistic identity and advocates retention of its political alignment with the rest of the state. The resounding slogan of self-determination resonates loudest in the Kashmir Valley. Among the Dogra Hindu populace of Jammu and the Buddhist populace of Ladakh, this slogan is perceived as exclusionary and insensitive to the diversities and divergences in the state. The political instability that has ensued in the wake of the rekindling of this slogan in 1989 is perceived as detrimental to the germination and evolvement of developmental projects, institutionalization of political processes that would enable the devolution of powers to the grassroots cadres by the aforementioned populaces of Jammu and Ladakh. That perception, however, is not shared by the Muslims of the Kashmir Valley, who live in the toxicity of a trust deficit between the state and the Government of India.
The political asphyxiation of a viable trajectory for Kashmir has further vitiated the political space, mainstream and separatist, of Kashmir. There is a plethora of opinions about the political, cultural, religious, and social complexity of Kashmir. Indian- and Pakistani-administered Jammu and Kashmir is a space in which conflicting discourses have been written and read. For more than sixty years the Kashmir conflict has remained like a long pending case in a court of law between the two nuclear giants in the Indian subcontinent, India and Pakistan: “Kashmir has been an enduring and intractable problem. For decades the greatest barrier to eliminating nuclear tension in South Asia was India’s unwillingness to give up its nuclear option because of its more ambitious self-perceptions. . . . A new dimension---the possibility of a nuclear outbreak between the two countries---has been added to an already conflict-filled situation” (Chenoy and Vanaik 2001: 127) The Kashmir imbroglio has worsened partly out of disillusionment that was generated by perceiving the hollowness of Indian secularism, partly out of the ignominy that Kashmiris felt in being tied to a government and a polity that is getting increasingly religionized: “The self-perceptions that have led to India taking up the nuclear option have everything to do with the rising popularity of a belligerent and aggressive form of nationalism among a frustrated and increasingly insecure elite. This is embodied in the rise of Hindu communalism and of the various cultural and political forces associated with it (Ibid.: 127).
The insurgency in Kashmir, which surfaced in 1989, grew into a low intensity warfare made lethal by the firepower of India, accompanied by killings, assassinations, plunder, pillage, violations, taking of hostages, counterinsurgencies, ambushes, and the duplicitous politics of Pakistan. The initial response of the Indian military and paramilitary forces to the armed insurgency in Kashmir was belligerent and repressive. The history of the past twenty-six years has degenerated into statistics and data: number of land mines, number of ambushes, number of suicide attacks, number of abductions and rapes. Although in the highly militarized sociocultural ethos of Kashmir, rape was construed as a weapon of war in the then burgeoning discourse of armed insurgency and the corollary discourse of human rights violations, “dishonored” women retained their status as familial and cultural chattels lacking control over their bodies, unable to play a constructive role in the process of conflict mitigation. Custodial disappearances, custodial deaths, and summary executions in Kashmir have been documented by several human rights activists, social scientists, and writers.
Since the onset of armed insurgency and counter insurgency in 1989, more than 50,000 Kashmiris have been killed by Indian troops, paramilitary forces, paramilitary and militia divisions of the J & K police, and some militant groups; more than 100, 000 Kashmiri Hindus have migrated to other parts of India for fear of religious persecution, loss of lives and properties; more than 8,000 Kashmiris have been victims of custodial disappearances; and by a conservative estimate more than 5000 women have been raped (Amnesty International, 1995).
Given this reality, it is time the people of the state, of whatever political, religious, and ideological leanings, work in collaboration with one another to focus on the rebuilding of a greatly fragmented social fabric to ensure the redress of inadequate political participation, reconstruction of the infrastructure of the productive capacity of Kashmir, and resumption of access to basic social services, of which I would underscore quality education, health services, the environment, and encouraging women to play an important role in establishing a more inclusive democracy and new forums for citizen cooperation. How can we increase the purchasing capacity of our people and ensure that they enjoy basic amenities and necessities if we continue to insist on the politics of “hartals”? Political autonomy devoid of economic autonomy remains lop-sided.
There must be redress for previous violations of human rights for all groups within the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In addition, everyone needs to be open to diplomacy and peaceful negotiations to further the India-Pakistan peace process. The aims of that process should be withdrawal of forces from both sides of the Line of Control dividing Kashmir as well as the decommissioning of militants, the rehabilitation of detained prisoners, and repair of the frayed ethnic fabric in all parts of civil society. We have the resilience and the wherewithal to forge ahead.