AS India turns its focus to a clutch of make-or-break state polls starting next month and while the world lives in suspense over the arriving Trump presidency in the United States, the trauma of the people in Jammu and Kashmir festers on.
A report from October and December visits to Jammu and Kashmir made available to Dawn on Saturday involves important individuals from different institutions and political parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The group was facilitated by Rajmohan Gandhi’s Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation and has specifically hinted at what lies ahead if New Delhi doesn’t curb its callousness in Kashmir Valley. Young Kashmiris have lost their fear of Indian forces, and they are ever more eager to die resisting routine high-handedness than submit to a life of discrimination and humiliation, it points out.
The report supports resumption of dialogue between New Delhi and Kashmiris, including the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. It suggests without stating it directly that talks between India and Pakistan, though part of a political solution, are predicated on “several other issues”. This appears to point to terrorism that India cites for stalling talks with Pakistan.
In its own way, as far as humanitarian gestures go, the report by the five-member group spells out a few stark facts even if it falls short of offering a clear path to a political solution, possibly as it would imply criticism of the Modi government’s current stance towards Pakistan.
In its description of the mood in the Valley, there is palpable transparency and some of the report’s observations about the humiliating lives the Kashmiris lead are invaluable as an eyewitness account.
The report was prepared by former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, former chairman of the National Minorities Commission, an old Kashmir hand Wajahat Habibullah, retired Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak who happens to be a Kashmiri Pandit, Bharat Bhushan (journalist) and Sushobha Barve, executive programme director of the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation.
Its basic findings are that Kashmiris believe that there is a “crisis of acknowledgement” of the Kashmir problem with the Indian state. They feel that India refuses to recognise that Kashmir is a political problem and, therefore, requires a political solution.
Almost every Kashmiri the group met said that there was a need for a one-time political settlement and that unless the basic political issue was resolved, death and destruction would continue to visit the Valley with increasing frequency.
“Kashmiris claim that they have lost faith in India because India has failed them,” the report says. “Now the trust deficit is widening. Some Kashmiris believe that the Indian state looks at Kashmir only within the framework of national security.”
People interviewed all harked back to the Vajpayee proposal of resolving the Kashmir issue “within the ambit of humanity” as something that had offered a ray of hope. However, they do not believe that the present dispensation in New Delhi is interested in that approach.
Listing “the most important findings” from visiting the militancy-affected rural areas of Kashmir, the report speaks of anger against India.
“The anger in the rural areas is palpably greater than in Srinagar and raw. A persistent sense of discrimination against the Kashmiris pervades the minds of vocal sections of the population.”
People object to the language used to describe the situation in Kashmir — “unrest” they say is the wrong term to use as Kashmir has never been at rest since 1947. “Peace and normalcy” are the most abused words in the state as no one knows what they are meant to signify. And while the government talks of “anger and alienation” of the Kashmiris, those are not the issues that need to be addressed — the problem is political and cries out for a political solution. Or, so the Kashmiris insist.
Most Kashmiris claim that their protests are neither “sponsored” by anyone nor are their youngsters being paid to come out in the streets.
The policies of India to deal with sporadic bursts of protests and anger in Kashmir were described as “time-buying techniques” which have only worsened the situation.
There is anger against Rashtriya Swaymesevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat coming to Jammu and claiming that India was a Hindu Rashtra. “If Modi cannot protect or react to the killing of Akhlaq (accused of eating beef), an Indian Muslim, then what can Kashmiri Muslims expect from him,” asked a Kashmiri caustically.
An important revelation from the report is that “there is an increasing lack of fear in the youngsters” in confronting the security forces. Today, the youth claim, they take death in their stride. “The best thing for which we are thankful is that your use of weapons, including pellet guns has killed the fear in us. We now celebrate the martyrdom,” one youngster said.
Some amongst the youngsters say that they do not want to talk to India — hatred towards India has grown. “Indian civil society remembers Kashmiris only after prolonged protests,” one of them quipped. Others said that those from Indian civil society organisations who come to Kashmir quickly get discredited as quite often despite their best intentions nothing good comes of their efforts.
“This time we picked up stones, the next time around it can be much worse,” one of them said.
The vocabulary of the youth has also changed, as has their psychological attitude towards India. They talk of curfew, hartals, martyrdom and Burhan (Wani).
Other youngsters, however, say that since 68 per cent of Kashmiris population comprises youth, India should talk to them. However, they suggest that before that, pellet victims and youngsters in jail should be released, or their anger will continue to grow, the report says.