Next month, Kashmir will mark the second anniversary of the 2016 agitation. The year 2016 will, unarguably, go down in the history of Kashmir as annus horribilis. Over a hundred persons were killed, thousands injured, hundreds blinded for life, many thousand jailed, and businesses suffered immensely. The repeated imposition of e-curfew, which has since become the norm, was started as an instrument of ‘law and order’ in earnest that year. It led to thousands of crores in unseen losses to businessmen and others. Two years on, Kashmir has little to show for its losses, and Kashmiris are finding themselves in a political cul-de-sac.
The world has changed in the last thirty years, and Kashmir needs to be aware of the immense geopolitical changes that surround it. China is the world’s second largest economy (in 1990, it barely figured in the top 10), Russia is now a regional rival of the US (in 1991, it was dependent on the US food aid), and India is set to become the world’s sixth largest economy by the end of 2018 (in 1991, it required an IMF bailout to stay afloat). Add to this the recent acceptability of torture (as the world’s foremost human rights defender, the US, used it frequently in the last decade); the indiscriminate use of force against civilians (first used by the US in Afghanistan, then in the Middle East in the recent civil wars); the extreme hypocrisy in international affairs (Turkey claims Israel used ‘excessive force’ in Gaza, but it does not ask questions of its own self when it bombs civilians in Afrin); the rise of the rightwing throughout the western world and in India (disrupting Muslim prayers would have been taboo in India in 1990, it is an acceptable ‘necessity’ in modern Hindu India); and the easy accessibility of unverified, fake news. Yet, Kashmir expects itself to remain immune to the New World Order. A World Order which is centred around hatred of Islam and Muslims, and in response, the rise and rise of radical Islam; it is in between these two that the Kashmiri youth are sandwiched.
The uprising of 2016 was driven by anger, but fuelled by an unrelenting New Delhi that was willing to show itself as a follower of ‘principled’ Hindu rightwing theory, and hence, influenced by dogmatic necessity to keep Kashmiris under ‘control.’ The result is for all to see — Kashmiri boys, and men, taking recourse to an armed revolt in significant numbers, but remaining untrained in method, hence dying in the same numbers. In the words of the Indian Army Chief, “The numbers (killed) are not important, they will be replaced by new recruits.” The armed revolt is a desperate reaction to the cul-de-sac and devoid of any long-term or short-term strategy. It’s bound to end badly for its proponents.
The cul-de-sac is not the product of a choice that has come easy for Kashmiris. The strangulation of alternative political thought, both by the State and the resistance leadership, has seen no middle path evolve which could potentially inspire the youth of today. Militancy has got its appeal; it is easier and more romantic than a non-violent, peaceful and sustained struggle for dignity and freedom. But under the current geo-political circumstances, where Muslims are being hammered for their religious affiliation, and no Muslim movement is immune to the appeal of vengeful violence, it is better for our youth to explore alternative means of protest, wherever possible.
There is need for a re-look into history and study the various methods of self-preservation and struggle adopted by the early Muslims. Cherry-picking Islamic history to suit the political needs of the time is not beneficial; it is not desirable, either. A cursory glance at Islamic history will show that Muslims have seldom been bloodthirsty, sword-wielding barbarians as projected, and instead, they often adopted scientific and locally appropriate methods for religious propagation and survival. They also went hungry and thirsty; they also had to migrate to safer places, and, in the name of Islam they were willing to do so.
The recent announcement of ceasefire by the Indian Home Ministry in Kashmir is a case in point. The response from the people of Kashmir should be well thought-out. A rigid and uncompromising approach will only lead to a hardening of the stance of the armed forces. We have been here before, in 2000 and then in 2003, when with much more fanfare, the ceasefire was announced by the BJP-led Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. For a few months, things changed for the better. And then we were back to square one later, and almost at war in the aftermath of attack on the Indian parliament.
So, the sense of unease and indifference in Kashmir at this latest announcement is expected. However, the times have changed. The youth having taken to militancy these days are not enamoured by power or wealth. They appear to be extremely motivated. Unlike in the past, the ceasefire will probably not drive a wedge in the militant ranks as it did in 2000, ultimately leading to the decimation of Hizbul Mujahideen. An unbiased analysis of the ceasefire announcement by the Modi government will throw up an interesting observation — this is the same regime that in 2016 claimed that things will change in ‘2-3 months’ in Kashmir. Then in 2017, it launched ‘Operation All-Out,’ and now in 2018, it has announced ‘ceasefire for Ramzan.’ It goes to show that the doctrine adopted by this government has failed, miserably.
This breathing space should be used for the development of a political thought process that will involve all parties. There are points of resolution of the Kashmir issue over which everyone in Kashmir agrees — those should be articulated in a systematic and proper way. The alternative to not talking, or not engaging, is further violence, and deaths of more people. The question Kashmiris should ask: are we gaining much by these deaths? Or do we gain by real, across the board engagement?
Meanwhile, a special package in this month’s Kashmir Narrator is focussed on the 2016 agitation. Our reporters revisited south Kashmir, epicentre of the rebellion, to dig deeper into the events that changed Kashmir forever. Some prominent analysts, columnists and writers have also contributed to this edition and shared their perspective on the 2016 agitation. Do mail us your valuable feedback at [email protected]
This editorial was published in Kashmir Narrator’s June issue. To subscribe to print edition of Narrator, please call +91-7298102560 or mail at [email protected]