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The Mangled Political Landscape of Jammu & Kashmir

The conception of a representative government that would enable the devolution of administrative responsibilities to districts and villages; a socialist system in which the state would control the means of production so as to ensure the fairest distribution of goods, power, and service to its members; the good of society would be considered a responsibility of the state, but the state would serve as an administrator and a distributor, not as a disseminator of ideology or doctrine; instituting educational and social schemes for marginalized sections of society—this is the Naya Kashmir manifesto that I grew up believing in.

Has this worthy manifesto been replaced in J & K with an agenda that encourages mainstream Indian financial institutions to play a decisive role in the State through the fixing of prices on the national and world markets, cartels, and a variety of policies that maul our historical and political identity? How much of an effort do the new coalition governments brought to power through the electoral process make to govern effectively and be accountable to the people who voted them into office? Has J & K been reduced to as much of a municipality as PAK and Gilgit-Baltistan have?

This is how I see the gist of the contemporary problem in Kashmir: a conflict driven by nationalistic and religious fervor, with each side, India and Pakistan, pointing to the violence and injustice of the other, and each side, India and Pakistan, pointing to its own suffering and sorrow, while ignoring the irreparable loss of lives, unredeemable loss of productive years, loss of properties and sources of livelihood, and the deep-rooted sense of despair of Kashmiris.

The insurgency and counter insurgency in the State has gone through a series of phases since 1990, but repressive military force remains the brutal reality, which cannot be superceded by seemingly abstract democratic aspirations. After the forces of separatism reared their heads in J & K, the Indian Union exacerbated the violence and disorder by deploying belligerent and tactless methods. For instance, on 1 October 1990, Indian paramilitary forces razed the bazaar of Handwara, a town located in the Northwestern part of the Valley. This action, taken after a guerilla attack, resulted in the indiscriminate killing of a large number of civilians. Subsequently, the landscape was tarnished by shanty-like bunkers with firing positions adorned with Indian flags and nationalist slogans, underlining the repression of regionalist aspirations. The systemic erosion of democratic rights in J & K, which has been the underlying theme of India’s and Pakistan’s policy toward Kashmir since the dawn of independence since 1947, cannot go on forever. Events that are celebrated in the rest of India are overtly mourned in Kashmir: 15 August and 26 January are occasions that evoke a resentful and pain-filled response in the Valley, creating a paralysis of sorts.

While the reaction of the State government to the melodramatic and blustering attempts of the BJP to hoist the Indian national flag in Lal Chowk in 2011 and even more recently was designed for the Congress palate, it does not erase my memory of the duplicity of the Congress in enabling Murli Manohar Joshi to hoist the Indian national flag in Kashmir amidst tight security in 1992. If the Congress oracular “High Command” had decreed that the “children of a lesser god,” Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, be indulged by allowing them to raise the Indian national flag, which is the principal ideological unifier across political and caste divisions in India, the State government, in all likelihood, would have complied. J & K is replete with such examples of political dogmatism and blunders.

The strategy of relying on political and military patronage has had the adverse effect of stunting the development of civic and democratic structures conducive to suffrage and participatory democracy. The erosion of “indigenous” politics and coherent political discourses in J & K has delegitimised the voice of dissent and radicalized antagonism toward state institutions and organisations. The depoliticization of Kashmiri society has instigated disgruntlement toward democratic procedures and institutions in the state. The cause of the independence and/ or autonomy of J & K have been thwarted by both India and Pakistan. Beijing is also worried about the ramifications that Kashmiri independence would have in Tibet.  The BJP keeps harping on the balkanization of J & K along religio-ethnic lines, first propounded in 1950 by Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations representative for India and Pakistan.

I reiterate what I have reinforced in my earlier writings: I cannot emphasize enough the need to create access for marginalised Kashmiris to a community perspective, or a reference group. Employment opportunities and avenues for rehabilitation must be created, so those who have been brutalized can work through the discourse of oppression and victimhood into developing the construction of their identities as survivors.

We cannot refuse to deal with a landscape that has been radically transformed by struggle. The politics of mainstreaming cannot undermine the force of indigenous movements and shouldn’t make an attempt to. At the end of the day, India is a democratic country, and every right thinking person would condemn the ongoing attempt to rule J & K as a neocolonial territory. Hastily crafted state and federal policies have wiped out the legitimacy of indigenous politics and the bloom of youth of many of our children in J & K.

The mangled political landscape of Kashmir should motivate both the State government and New Delhi to bring about structural changes that would substantially address inequities and injustices.

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Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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