Look at the photo I have uploaded with this post and compare the idyllic beauty of the scene to the image the word “Kashmir” conjures up in your mind. In all likelihood, both would be substantially different. Maybe even polar opposite, such as in my case.
Ever since I have gained consciousness, I have barely heard anything good from Kashmir. For all of its beauty, everything about the place that comes in the press or even from what people talk about is downright depressing. Whatever good that does come out – like the “heart-warming” stories of Muslims helping perform the last rites of a Kashmiri Pandit- is played up so much in the media that it appears that they are clinging to that nugget in order to forget – and make the people forget – everything else that happens there.
I knew little about what was happening in Kashmir for most of my life myself, and all I saw of the place was Bollywood stars dancing around in the gorgeous meadows and mountains of the Valley and frequent news reports of violence, riots, protests, human rights violations (those primarily in the international media), and so on – you know what I am talking about if you follow news regularly. Both images are in stark contrast to each other and epitomise how different the two Kashmirs are, and it is the latter, darker image that has stuck in my mind. But I think neither of these images quite explains Kashmir completely.
The point is simple: While Kashmir has been on the boil for most of its history after Indian Independence, the insurgency and following military crackdown started in late 1980s to early 1990s, and has continued almost unceasingly ever since.
Even the intervals which were – are – cynically termed as periods of “normalcy” by the state involve an occupation by a gargantuan contingent of the Indian Army. Living under armed forces cannot be nice. Soldiers are trained to fight in wars and against gun-toting militants. They know only one language, that of the bullet. They are not meant to be used in keeping civilians in check or quelling protests and riots. They just don’t have the patience for that. I used “contingent” fairly loosely in the first sentence of this paragraph, as a contingent is supposedly temporary, but withdrawal of the Indian Army from Kashmir does not look likely anywhere in the near future. By some estimates, there are a staggering seven lakh soldiers and paramilitary forces in Kashmir. And that number apparently excludes the police.
It is clear that the army calls the shots in Kashmir. The civilian government has little, if any, credibility in the eyes of most Kashmiris anyway. Whoever rules from Srinagar, they will always be seen as puppets of the centre. The 1987 Legislative Assembly Elections (which were shamelessly rigged by the state) are partly to blame, but that was just one time when the Indian government failed Kashmiris.
Kashmiris have been failed by the Indian government far too many times.
When I say “Kashmiris” here, I also mean Kashmiri Pandits, the ancient inhabitants of the valley who were killed, threatened, raped, and driven from their ancestral homeland as the Indian state with all its might watched helplessly. The perpetrators were never punished, and the promised rehabilitation did not happen – it has been a quarter of a century. All the tall promises made by the successive governments in their manifestos have stayed unfulfilled. Even the self-styled saviours of Hindu culture and civilisation – BJP and RSS – did absolutely nothing. A fraction of the Pandit population remains in the Valley, living an uneasy existence with Kashmiri Muslims, while the rest of them are scattered across India and the world, desperately clutching at their identities.
The recent killing of the terrorist Burhan Wani and the subsequent worsening (how much can it really worsen?) of violence is another wake-up call for the state. Do not treat it as something that will fizzle out to become “normalcy.” Chances are it would, but such incidents will happen again and again. For every terrorist eliminated by the security forces, Kashmiris would have a martyr to mourn. People – soldiers and civilians alike – will keep dying. The violence will never stop, not unless a solid solution is found. Kashmir, instead of being an “integral part of the country” we always wanted it to be, would remain a suppurating wound, guzzling money, resources and lives.