Crime is an unwanted feature of how growing cities exhibit social upheavals, finding it’s origins in how urbanization mixes with chaos to either chart new courses or challenge the inherent good in our kind. Srinagar is no different in the fact that it’s a growing city given to its own social afflictions and contradictions. Yet, Srinagar is completely different. It’s a growing city that is not evolving with the growth of its population – neither philosophically, nor through its social institutions or in its politically stunted infrastructural capacity to deal with growth.
Another reality that cannot be wished away are the social consequences of violence and militancy on the psyche of a generation that didn’t know of the Kashmir that was before gunshots, assassinations, friskings and bomb blasts became a part of our daily vernacular. The desensitizing of our minds to violence and abuse has started to show its repercussions now, in not just the growing incidence of barbaric crime in our society but in how we, as a society or through our institutions, perceive it and choose to deal with it.
Yet another contributing factor is the isolation of our minds from an inherent responsibility that citizens have towards not just political but socio-economic normalcy. A normalcy of a different kind, not entirely dependent on “political normalcy” – a catchphrase that has been abused over time to conceal the systemic failure of politics and politicians to deliver hope, to conceal their failure in delivering an alternative to the status-quo.
Be it the gruesome murder of a young teenager in Pampore or the recent revelation about perhaps an abetted or forced suicide/murder of a young married woman in Srinagar by her husband, the growth curve on our crime chart is going upwards at a rate that defies our legacy of moderation – of being a small place, well-knit between harmless interference into each others’ lives and the bonding that has defined our collective behavior as a society over generations. It also defies the religiousness with which we conduct our affairs, the moral contours and boundaries of our world-view, our traditional reluctance to change by imitation.
In dealing with the onslaught of the media age, the social media tsunami, the facebook-ization of this generation, we have failed to realize our lack of readiness to shoulder the responsibility of gradually adapting to social and cultural changes, rather than jumping on the bandwagon of a skewed perception of modernization. Modernization – in how it’s perceived – is relative. In my opinion, a modern society is grounded in the tenets of its history, cultural and social norms and sensitivities. Out of that foothold, on the strength of that solid sense of identity, evolution – deeper rooted than clothing and behavioral trends – can emerge a society’s movement towards the integral elements of modernity – equality of opportunity, prosperity, planned growth, secularism and a democratic way of governance – of ordinary people choosing how they are governed.
The shocking lack of effective town planning in our cities has meant that spatial constraints have put enormous social pressures on our residential areas, especially in the old city as well as outskirts of Srinagar which are witnessing the mushrooming of ill-planned residential colonies, all under the ‘watchful’ eyes of our successive NC and PDP governments. In spacing population, in separating residential densities – researchers have found a direct link to amity, peace and prosperity in developed nations. The more densely populated an area, the more prone it will be to crime and other social deviations.
So what’s the way out then? A set of policy measures – no doubt can set us on the path of reforming our society and in turn its mindset. Yet, the biggest leap that needs to be made is from going from a state of indifference to a state of pro-activeness and engagement, especially by educated and patriotic individuals. Outsourcing governance and leadership - mainstream or separatist - to uninspiring, corrupt and inept individuals has broken the limbs of our society, destroyed its social fabric and made social and behavioral boundaries obscure and permeable. A society that doesn’t attribute importance to the quality of its leadership – at any level of influence – is a society that’s headed towards doom. We need to show our patriotism and love for Kashmir – or for this historical city – beyond the realm of facebook updates, slogans and trolling on Twitter. We need to start by understanding the problems that confront us – political issues and disputes put aside. Crime is one such issue that needs to be dealt with. We need to reconstruct our social fabric. We need to define modernization and liberalism within the contours of normality and morality, within the broader boundary of our culture and history. Modernization is supposed to lift societies, not devour them. Let’s lift ours.
(Junaid Azim Mattu is the Srinagar District President of Jammu & Kashmir People’s Conference. Ideas expressed are personal. Feedback, interact at www.twitter.com/junaidmattu)