Bring in women, minorities to enrich the movement

  • Rekha Chowdhary
  • Publish Date: Mar 28 2016 3:25PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Feb 17 2016 4:46PM
Bring in women, minorities to enrich the movement

In what could be a historic moment in Kashmir's conflict politics, the recent debate sparked by Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s remark that the people have failed the leadership has led to introspection about the nature and direction of this politics. In its significance, this moment can be compared to the prolonged debate Geelani had with Abdul Gani Lone in 1999-2000.
Back then, the two stalwarts of the separatist politics had sought to engage the Kashmiri society on three crucial questions – the nature of the movement, whether religious or political; the role of jihadis in it; and the very relevance of armed militancy. While Geelani argued that the movement was religious and, therefore, pan-Islamic in nature, Lone described it as political and indigenous. Jihadis, for Geelani were essential to the movement and armed militancy was the only way forward. Lone believed that it was the struggle of Kashmiris, to be waged and led by Kashmiris. More important was Lone's position on the armed militancy: it had helped internationalise the Kashmir issue, but time had come to move the strategy of separatism into the political domain.
The debate coincided with the changing ground situation in Kashmir. The people, as had Lone sensed, were exhausted from the prolonged violence perpetrated through multiple sources of gun. By the next few years, the shift had already taken place and the separatist politics had moved into the post-militancy stage.
It's in this background that one can locate the debate triggered by Geelani’s interview to Rising Kashmir. While much of the debate has revolved around whether the people have indeed failed the leadership, other questions have come up. Have the leaders been accountable to their people? Have they been transparent in their actions? Is hartal, preferred by the separatist leaders as a tool of protest, still effective? Have the leaders failed to think up innovative methods of resistance politics?
More importantly, the leaders’ eulogisation of the use of violence is being critiqued. At the time when a new form of militancy driven by the valley's educated youth has emerged, questions are being asked about the leaders practically encouraging vulnerable young Kashmiris to resort to violence.
As the debate is opening up, other questions are being raised as well, about the inability of the separatist leaders to come together on a common platform and provide a united leadership; the use of religion as a tool of political mobilisation; lack of democratic space for expressing dissent.
Crucially, the debate has led to a larger discussion about the direction and strategies of the conflict politics, and created a space to raise questions that have being mostly whispered so far – the issue of the return of Kashmiri Pandits and how the movement needs to deal with it. Although the separatist leadership repeatedly emphasis that the Pandits are integral to the Kashmiri society and, therefore, welcome to come back, it has failed to offer a concrete plan for their resettlement. Worse, it's only involvement in the issue has been outright rejection of nearly every government proposal to resettle the Pandits, seeing in them an Indian scheme to change the state's demography. One may see merit in the argument that separate, securitised enclaves for the Pandits won't bridge the divide that has developed between them and the Muslims over the past two and a half decades and, therefore, they should return to their original villages and localities instead, but this is easier said than done.
Considering that much of the Pandits' property has been sold, what will they be going back to? It would have been much better if instead of waiting for the government to take steps for the Pandits' return and then finding flaws with it, the separatist leaders had taken upon themselves the responsibility of rehabilitating them.
Here, it must be emphasised that Kashmir’s need for the Pandits' return and rehabilitation is greater than their need to come back. This is for the simple reason that they represent the diversity of Kashmir. Despite being a small minority, they were the reference point of the “other” community. With them gone, Kashmir is essentially a one-religion society, shorn of its diversity and the famed composite culture. This is reason enough to persuade the Pandits to return. However, if they are to come back for the sake of Kashmir, greater efforts need to be made at the community level, and the leadership has to be more nuanced and innovative in its approach.
In another context, one may refer to the gender context of the conflict politics and the paradox in it. At one level, women are the face of the resistance, not only because of their visibility in the protest politics but also because of their political mobilisation. And their oppression – as victims of rape and enforced disappearances, as widows and half-widows – symbolises the oppression of the entire community, a narrative that forms the core of the separatist discourse. At another level though, women are missing from the organised separatist movement. With the significant exception of Asiya Andrabi, who leads an-all woman group, women are absent from top leadership, and have only a token presence at the cadre level or none at all.
It appears there's a gulf between the roles of men and women in the movement. Further, there is no recognition of women’s agency which has been asserted silently but forcefully over various issues related to women. If women have coped and survived despite enormous odds, it's entirely through their own efforts. On the whole, there is not much space for women’s issues and concerns within or outside the movement. Clearly, women’s identity politics has been subsumed in the larger identity politics. This, however, is the movement's big flaw, and needs to be addressed urgently.
Another crucial aspect that calls for rethinking of strategies is the complex character of this state, especially the question of social diversity and political divergence.
Despite recognising the value of a plural society as well as the need to keep the state intact, politically and geographically, the separatist leadership hasn't made much effort to address the differences within. This has caused friction among different regions and groups, making dialogue and consensus-building difficult. Inevitably, majoritarianism has come into play. And in a state where the majority in one region is a minority in another, this has fed into assertion of religious identities. The result: extreme communal polarisation as we are now witnessing, particularly in the Jammu region.
This certainly calls for fresh thinking. A good starting point could be calling for dialogue and consensus-building involving all communities of the state, dominant or marginal.