Kashmir has gone. It has gone out of the hands of those affected – the ones who are killed, who have suffered for two decades, who are unemployed, and those who are victims of the state and of militancy. Today, it is a hothouse plant being nursed by activists and interlocutors. A state under siege has been taken over by ‘well-wishers’ that span the whole yard between talking the language of the government to talking the tongue of separatists, and there is no uniform separatist stand, a moot factor they completely ignore in their enthusiasm to be anti-establishment proponents.
They are mimicking the positions taken thus far with not a single new insight or solution. The theory of accession and dialogue with Pakistan have been mentioned by the local population and voiced by extremist groups for long. Why, even the Indian government has talked with Pakistan and brings separatist organisations to the table. Almost overnight the Valley has begun resonating with ‘packages’, sedition charges and cries of censorship. Instead of being a mirror to people’s aspirations, these moves are alienating the movement at the bottom and becoming a case for a Kashmir caretaker manoeuvre. Did you hear of sedition charges and hate-mongering when stone-pelters came out in the streets? People are indeed put behind bars, often for no reason other than suspicion. Did anyone take up their cause? Were fears expressed over their freedom of expression being curtailed?
Headlines like ‘Kashmir on the boil’ should be about the genuine dissent among the local population. Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s calendar of protest days is not the cause of Kashmiri angst; it is the result of it. It is Geelani who is capitalising on the movement. The holed-up seminar lobbies cannot incite those who have already suffered and been victims of gunfire. They are merely riding on the wave, as they often do, and the result is that the media creates pedestals for their verbal bravery, spreading rumours about their possible incarceration, sometimes prompting the state to act against them. They become the visible visage of a movement, a five-star concern industry that has no hands-on experience.
The urban media treats them as the legitimate voice, ignoring that they are merely employing smarter words, obfuscating them carefully with a general tone of being against injustice anywhere. No one is interested in the state of their conscience; this is a nuts and bolts issue and merely standing before ‘Azaadi’ banners means nothing. What is the freedom from and what is the freedom for?
The government appoints a team of interlocutors – journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar and former Information Commissioner M. M. Ansari. What is their understanding of the Kashmir issue? I do not mean skiing down the Gulmarg slopes or even visiting Lal Chowk in a bullet-proof vehicle and then returning to write about ‘disaffection’. Yet, surprisingly, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah pronounces, “In a small period that they have spent in the Valley, the views of interlocutors are attracting more attention than those expressed by the people who are staying away from them.” In a curfew-ridden place even loud bird sounds would draw attention. This reveals glaringly the government’s lack of confidence and acts as a diversionary tactic.
Then there is the Kashmir Committee headed by BJP’s Ram Jethmalani who is back in the TV studios issuing statements like, “We had a written agreement with the Hurriyat on five key issues. The main points are — violence and terror were to be totally outlawed; the solution must be acceptable to all parties and sections, which means it included people of Ladakh and Jammu. Extremist positions like scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution and the demand for secession were to be abandoned, displaced Pandits have to be rehabilitated with full dignity; and that the new dispensation will be a democracy of equal rights.”
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the Hurriyat Conference immediately declared there was no such agreement. Besides, these five points do not offer anything concrete. How can terror be outlawed when on paper it is a crime? Does he expect that the people will just give up their demands? And who has stopped the Pandits from returning to the Valley? If equal rights are of such great import, then he might like to take a look at the displaced Pandits and the Muslims in the Valley and see the difference in their levels of rehabilitation. Only because he agreed with the viewpoint regarding dialogue with Pakistan, his party is reportedly gunning for him.
The problem is that there are many martyrs-in-the-making in the Tower of Babel that the Kashmir issue has become. Activist groups are squabbling over the spoils but they cannot decide Kashmir’s fate. The shoe-throwers are different from the stone-pelters, although the victims of the former get more mileage. Each group will claim that it is speaking on behalf of the people, conveniently forgetting that the ground-level protestors remain faceless and small media sections in the Valley are constantly under threat. It makes all blabbering about freedom of speech hollow and ironical. But, for the urban angels on their tourism with a purpose agenda, these real voices do not count. It is all about their democracy, a most dictatorial position to take.
FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author and columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org