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Jammu and Kashmir: Prevent Further Fragmentation of Our Social Fabric

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The tranquility of Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) has been shattered by the heavy hand of military totalitarianism as well as militancy, and now by the fragmentation that is ripping our social fabric to pieces. More than mobocracy, kangaroo courts, lynchings, and panaceas, we need a return to the rule of law and the process of internal political dialogue. It is all very well to raise the slogans of self-determination, autonomy, and self-rule, but it is time to think beyond sloganeering about the kind of social and political fabric we want to create for younger generations. Sloganeering that is devoid of a clear blueprint for nation-building remains hollow, and, eventually, becomes defunct. In order to prevent further fragmentation of our social fabric, regional political parties, mainstream as well as separatist, of diverse religious and ideological leanings, must create the pathway to repair the tapestry that Kashmir once was and give the younger generation hope for the future. It is important to have the courage to hold not just paramilitary forces and governmental institutions accountable, but it is important to demand transparency from ourselves as well. I wonder if those political players who choose to keep quiet about the fragmentation in our society realize that they are playing into the hands of right-wing elements in mainland India, who look for excuses to label Kashmir a “jihadist” problem?

When excesses, whether they are military, or religious, or political are not curbed, they have terrible long term damaging effects. And when religion and politics are conflated, especially self-determination, that is a problem. The rest of the world—the world community turns a blind eye to those movements for self-determination that are presented in the garb of religion or religious discourse in which there is no separation of religion and politics, particularly in this day and age of the growth of ISIS, Taliban, etc. If religion and politics are not deliberately and carefully separated in a movement for self- determination, the world community becomes suspicious. So we need to make sure that the political dimension of the movement for self-determination is highlighted, showcased, and YES, peace activists can do a lot by highlighting human right violations that occur–human right violations for which the government as well as militant organizations are responsible.

Of course as responsible citizens, we need to hold up a mirror to the state government as well as to the federal government and we can do that more easily because they are accountable to us in a democratic setup, more accountable than militant organizations are—but human right violations on both sides need to be highlighted, need to be showcased.

Cultural nationalism challenges and overthrows the hierarchy of ruling ideologies by enhancing a unity among all socioeconomic classes of an occupied area, which it has failed to do in the Kashmir context. This revolutionary stance could eliminate the petty feuds that exist in an area and can replace them with a sanctified notion of nation. History would no longer be imposed on them; on the contrary, they would be able to wield memory as a powerful tool. We, as a people, could impart resolvability to a disharmonious history.

There is a plethora of opinions on the political future of the conglomerate of Jammu and Kashmir. Is Jammu and Kashmir a principality? An autonomous unit within the Indian Union? An integral part of India? A subversive unit with the Indian Union? A bilateral issue between the nation-states of India and Pakistan? Is the mainstream Indian understanding and interpretation of the Kashmir conflict the only credible one? Is the mainstream Pakistani under- standing and interpretation of the Kashmir issue the only credible one? Do the people of Kashmir have a voice in the matter? Is there a space within Kashmiri society in which the democratic aspirations of the populace of Kashmir could be nurtured? Is there a critical dis- course on Kashmir that foregrounds the views of scholars and lay people from the state, even if that discourse is in opposition to the mainstream one? These questions have been causing irrepressible angst in me for a while now. Can we break the silence? Can we bring the instability to an end, for our generation and the generations yet to be born?

A large majority of the populace Jammu and Kashmir is troubled, dispossessed and mocked by the processes of democracy, by United Nations resolutions, by armed insurgency, by counter-insurgency, by militarization, and by revisionist histories. The people of the state are yearning for the right to dignity; the right to live decent existences devoid of bestial militarism; the right to work and enable their families to enjoy the basic necessities of life; the right to hold opinions of which others take cognizance; and the right to an existence in which brutalization, demoralization, trauma, and rage are a thing of the past. In addition to the denizens of Jammu and Kashmir, diasporic Kashmiris also suffer from the indelible scars of having lost their homeland, and mourn a lost innocence.

The cultural identity of the Kashmiri people is damaged by the erosion of their autonomous institutions, by traumas and terrors generated by insurgency and counter insurgency. I thought the cruel politics of these neighboring nation-states hadn’t obliterated the legacy of a rich heritage.

The tradition of Rishiism must not be allowed to die in the Valley: it continues to bolster a cultural and religious identity that the militarization of Kashmir has not been able to do away with. To that end, the vaakhs of Lal-Ded and the shrukhs of Nur-ud-din Wali form a very important part of the vernacular of semi-literate and illiterate people in Kashmir. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I emphasize that any unitary discourse that claims to encompass the reality of Kashmir would be lop-sided and suspect.

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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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