Hearts and minds battle: Given up?

Democracy and militarisation never go hand in hand. The Gool massacre underlines that yet again


In the heart of Delhi at Jantar Mantar – now a monument of protest for India’s aspiring revolutionaries – something unusual happened in February this year. A group of Kashmiri boys and girls appeared there with placards. The placards depicted protest. Their colours smelt resistance. They raised slogans - slogans of rage and defiance. Slogans of Kashmir’s azadi.
These youngsters locked their horns with a band of Hindutva activists too - in their very citadel.
It was no ordinary moment. It was the time when India was celebrating the execution of Afzal Guru, an accused in the 2003 attack on the Indian Parliament. And those boys and girls chose Delhi to voice what most Kashmiris believe: that the execution was politically motivated.
It was one of the most spectacular moments of defiance the New Delhi-Srinagar political divide has ever witnessed. These youngsters were the ones representing a Kashmiri generation that was the target of a “hearts-and-minds” battle. The battle which sought to win their hearts and mind. The battle to erase their sense of history and identity. The battle to influence their cognition. The battle for their assimilation. The battle to co-opt.
The Jantar Mantar protest only symbolised many such protests this generation held elsewhere.
And make no mistakes, boys and girls of this generation are the ones who lead the social media campaigns disapproving of Kashmir’s political status quo.
The carnage carried out by the Border Security Force (BSF) troops in Gool, Ramban on Thursday has united Kashmir across the Pirpanjal in rage again. The “hearts and minds” generations are again out on the streets. They are there on social media – doing the opposite of what the “hearts and minds battle” was supposed to achieve. Again another generation is asking questions to their elders: why do they kill us? Why can’t they punish those who killed people?
And it is not only about Gool. It is about Sumbal. It is about those million atrocities that have not made the “hearts and minds battle” work.
This generation of boys and girls does not seem to buy the “democratisation” theory of Kashmir. They do not see militarism and extra-constitutional laws like AFSPA normal to a civilised life. They do not see omnipresent military and their actions supportive of their dignity.
So what all went wrong with the “hearts and minds battle?”
Militarism and democracy don’t go hand in hand. Newer generations of Kashmir see militarism in Kashmir as a language that makes them to embrace what they, just like their elders, actually don’t want.
Democracy, on the other hand, is supposed to empower people to design their own destiny, likes and dislikes.
In Kashmir, democracy is seen as extremely suppressed by newer generations. They do not see it empowering because those who swear by it have no power or the means to make it work for the people. They see coercion and suppression and not assertion. They see death but not dignity.
The battle for Kashmiri hearts and minds was waged in every possible sphere: sports, education, media, entertainment and what not. The ultimate aim was Sadhbavana (goodwill). The articulations of today’s boys and girls on social media and elsewhere question if that goodwill was actually ever achieved.
At a psychological plane, one profound reason why this “hearts and minds battle” doesn’t seem to work is that it banks on the idea of coercive love. You are made to love someone irrespective of whether you love him/her for his/her actions.
A compulsive sense of possession of a land and a people doesn’t win lovers. You can be infatuated about something but that doesn’t guarantee a love in return. You can chain somebody to the chair, tell him you love him, feed him gold, and ask love in return. But that doesn’t work. Love is natural.
Kashmir has a long history of political betrayal, subversion of democracy and impunity to the military system for their actions. Armed forces have now over-stepped their operational brief, and in the process have eroded democratic institutions and people’s belief in democratic means in resolving their problems. This impunity serves to erode people’s trust in a non-violent process of engagement with the state for ensuring their safety and dignity. Worse, such impunity encourages recurrence of oppression, which shakes people’s faith in the democratic institutions which are supposed to represent them.
Moments of extreme rage and protests often pass in Kashmir but they do not die down. Tourists are going to visit Kashmir again. Mumbai’s dream sellers would shoot their movies in our locales again. The processions of activists, fact-finding missions may continue to pour from Sheikh-ul-Alam Airport. The cycle of repression-denial-probes-acquittal-repression will go on. But one reality will remain unchanged: the hearts and minds of this place are far from being won.
As the “hearts and minds” project seem to be going nowhere, it seems to have almost been given up. Actions of estrangement seem to get overt again. And that is what the carnage carried out at Gool on Thursday actually reflects.
It would be insane to continue to expect a political miracle in Kashmir by employing militarism and exhibiting cruel disregard to human life. Political assimilation and democracy don’t work by coercion.

(The columnist is a technical consultant in international development, and a contributing editor with Greater Kashmir.)

Lastupdate on : Sat, 20 Jul 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 20 Jul 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 21 Jul 2013 00:00:00 IST

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