2017 will probably not go down as one of the worst years in recent history. But, on a personal level, most Kashmiris felt fatigue, frustration, and a sense of despondency about how life in Kashmir would probably never change for the better. Life, since 1989, has become a cycle from boom to bust on repeat mode, with a few years of relative and deceptive calm followed by years of violent strife.
So 2018 beckons. It will be the 70th anniversary year of a lot of things — the first UN resolutions on Kashmir calling for a plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to determine their future, the end of hostilities, and at the end of the year, the 70th anniversary of the Ceasefire on the Line of Control. It should be a year of stock-taking and long-term planning as well, rather than a year of short-term goals and self-destructive methods.
1. Dialogue: Dialogue not for the sake of dialogue, but for the sake of self-preservation. It is easy to rest on faith but tougher to act on it. The new generation in Kashmir is fearless and strong — this strength and fearlessness must be translated into positives. Positives that encourage the youth to build institutions that grow into nation-building instruments. An example is how the Aligarh Muslim University shaped Muslim thought in the 20th century and continues to do so till today. Positivism that leads to vision, a vision of Kashmir thirty, forty, fifty years from now — of how the children of today will become the leaders of tomorrow, and how it is important to leave them a better Kashmir than the one we have now. This dialogue must be primarily amongst Kashmiris themselves. Labelling other person as an agent of this or that and painting everyone with a particular colour will serve no purpose in Kashmir, save to destroy the fragile social bonds that exist amongst ourselves.
2. Targets: Targets which tell us what we, as a nation, want to ahieve. A letter written by some prominent personalities in Kashmir in 2016 to the President of India about human rights’ violations that followed the killing of charismatic militant commander Burhan Wani was an example of how civil society can stand up at times to speak the truth to power. How many of those writers, judges, businessmen, and lawyers, are currently in jail, exiled, or have been the subject of litigation? Harassment, yes, but that’s the price to pay for speaking the truth. When any citizen holds the government responsible, or answerable, he or she becomes a persona non grata. It is the norm, wherever you may be. Civil society needs to stand up and hold the government institutions responsible—there are three major institutions that demand accountability from the government: the State Human Rights Commission, the State Information Commission and the State Accountability Commission. Allowing these institutions to whither away will be of no benefit to Kashmir.
3. Consensus: Consensus amongst Kashmiris over the smallest and most meaningless thing has become an arduous task. It need not be. If the society decides to develop consensus over many common issues, then there is little to stop its implementation. Look at the environment. The loss of agricultural land, wetlands, flood plains, and the diesel pollution that is choking our lungs, our crops, and our lives, and see the apathy towards it because of small-minded and short-sighted leaders. A sample survey showed that in regions where pollution in Kashmir was less, the incidence of cancers was less—no one seemed to care, and no one cared to act. Why? Even if Kashmir were to be free from the ongoing tyranny and military occupation in future, what use would it be to the inhabitants as a concrete jungle, with polluted air and water not fit to use? Does the environment not affect us all, equally?
4. Hurriyat everywhere: The Joint Resistance Leadership has boxed itself into a narrow commitment trap. Besides feeding off of the anti-India sentiment and the resentment against the non-implementation of various UN resolutions on Kashmir dispute, the JRL has been unable to offer any suitable alternative model for Kashmir. What if, by some quirk of fate, the JRL would become the ruling party tomorrow? What different will they do from erstwhile National Conference or the incumbent PDP regime? Have they answered this question? What is the economic and environmental impact of around 30 thousand army/paramilitary/police vehicles choking the roads of Kashmir Valley every day? What is the socio-economic impact of the military occupation on industrial and agricultural land in Kashmir? Have they published any figures? Facts? Why demilitarisation? Is there a tangible economic benefit? A disciplined, non-violent, and broad-based strategy from the JRL would do wonders for Kashmir.
5. Alternative narratives: Under immense pressure to divert attention from a host of issues including the failing economy, the Indian television channels have made it a habit to spew venom against Kashmiri Muslims. It is important to counter the narrative, not by participating in a shouting match, but by countering each argument on alternative platforms, such as conferences, debates, both online and offline. Why not reach out to various sections of the polity in India, some of whom are sympathetic and understanding of the grievances of the Kashmiri people? There are many such socio-political organisations which are willing to give some space to Kashmiris to express themselves. It needs to be used for the greater good.
We are a society that is under tremendous demographic pressure — a falling fertility rate, late marriages, rising drug abuse, and the spread of the smoking habit. These developments, previously unheard of in Kashmir, have put economic and population pressures on Kashmir. The dependent, ageing population is rising fast, Kashmir has the second highest life expectancy at birth in India, and the highest life expectancy at age 1. Many of us live in disjointed families due to economic reasons, and many of us have only one or two siblings at most. In such a situation, with few jobs, and an economy that is heavily dependent on unsustainable largess, we are heading off a cliff very fast. The sooner we apply brakes on these things, the better it is for us. That should sum up 2018 for us all.
The editorial appeared in January issue of Kashmir Narrator. For subscribing to hard copy, contact KashmirNarrator@gmail.com for details