Inter-community dialogue on Kashmir

Reconciliation priority, say stakeholders
Chairman, Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group, and senior advocate Ashok Bhan
Chairman, Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group, and senior advocate Ashok BhanTwitter/ @ashokbhan2

Jammu: Reconciliation, leading to regular interactions between two communities, is a priority to revive the pristine composite culture of Kashmir and its doctrine of mutual co-existence.

This was the broad consensus among the participants in the second virtual session of inter-community ‘Kath Batt’ organised by Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group on Wednesday evening.

Chairman, Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group, and senior advocate Ashok Bhan in his opening remarks maintained that there was near consensus last time on a doctrine of mutual co-existence and trust among different communities in the Valley.

“The need is to take forward this doctrine of mutual co-existence and there is a lot of political response also. But for the time being, keeping it away from politics, we are focussing on taking this doctrine forward, away from Srinagar city and moving beyond. In near future, we will have physical Kath Batt also in Srinagar. The aim is to bridge the gap of three decades created by misinformation, death and destruction, and mayhem and other circumstances, both political and socio-cultural devastation in the Valley to bring back the lost glory of pristine Kashmir’s Kashmiriyat,” he said.

Earlier at the outset, Suneel Wattal, while opening the webinar for the patrons representing both communities stated that the administrative machinery created a need for civil society to raise a unified voice for the condemnation of innocent killings.

Former J&K Chief Secretary Muhammad Shafi Pandit, in his intervention, in the webinar maintained, “All initiatives are as good as they are implemented. In this case also, if a positive action follows, then it will be hailed as a positive initiative in the future. At the moment we are self-congratulating ourselves. We must create immediate opportunities for meeting between the two communities. We could have a good gathering at Kheer Bhawani. But now on any next opportunity, be it a Hindu festival or a Muslim festival, some meeting between the two communities should be convened.”

He also noted with concern that the problems of the people from the minority community, who stayed back in the Valley, had not been fully appreciated or addressed.

“People, who have suffered threats while living in the Valley, have not got anything. They don’t have a share of jobs. They have been deprived of all benefits by all the political parties across the spectrum. Last time, I suggested the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I need to clarify that it should not necessarily be a government Commission. It may be a people’s Commission, which may be set up by the people of two communities. It should be seriously considered,” Pandit said.

Suneel Wattal, who was the webinar moderator, appreciated the idea of “a Commission of the people, by the people and for the people” yet hastened to add that the purpose of the dialogue was to take “baby steps to bridge the gap between two communities.”

Veteran journalist Ashok Ogra, while lauding the initiative, stressed the need for decentralisation of dialogue and in this context also quoted Henry Kissinger’s quote -“In cataloging the desirables we should not jeopardise the attainable.”

“So presently focus should be on something achievable. For this, we need to create some pressure groups within the Valley. We need to involve and tap social influencers, teachers of primary schools, the student community and even Maulvis, though with a similar approach. Need is to go to the people with whom we have not interacted so far,” he said.

About the suggestion of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), he asserted that the idea was laudable. “But we need to begin with reconciliation first. I would insist on focusing on or beginning with reconciliation because the truth is a very contested idea in the post-modern world. But it is desirable and can be started with a grass-root connect,” Ogra said.

Former Vice-Chancellor of Central University Jammu Prof Ashok Aima emphasised the need to work on community engagement.

“We cannot work on some kind of isolated rationality. We need to have an organised response of the people which can impact everybody’s life. However, there are a couple of fault lines that we need to talk about. We cannot stop only by condemning the barbaric killings. We need to spread this message through school, college and university-level engagements. TRC's suggestion is okay but what is required now is what can be done after three decades. For that, we need to have a very focused understanding of the ground situation. We cannot romanticise the situation,” he said.

“When there is a question of bringing communities together, engagement should be broad-based. Radicalisation is there; then insecurity is there for everyone – irrespective of community. A huge challenge is to overcome that sense of insecurity. We all are stakeholders. The government alone cannot do it. It can only do interventions. A people-to-people collective response is imperative. We need to focus on architecture based on pragmatism not on emotion. In this connection, two steps are important. We need to work to remove a sense of insecurity, perpetuated by vested interests and then trust-building,” Prof Aima suggested.

The participants maintained that the Kashmiri collective conscience had rejected bigotry, terrorism and the radicalised narrative.

“The revival of our rich heritage, plurality, peace and human rights values is the befitting answer to enemies of Kashmir. Plurality is the keystone of our proud heritage and we shall endeavour to save it and revive it with societal unity and mutual trust and deep commitment,” they said.

Political scientist Prof Irshad Ahmed said, “Peaceful coexistence between the communities has been the societal pride of Kashmir. Any effort to bring back the glory of Kashmir more so unitedly by the Muslims and Pandits is always welcome. Such efforts at some point in time would require huge political support across the spectrum.”

Secretary Kashmir Voice International (KVI) Javed Kakroo said, “Kashmiri diaspora is in support of intra-community engagement to build up a united approach towards bringing in peace in Kashmir. Kashmir calls for justice and revival of its age-old plurality, mutual trust and life of coexistence.KVI is in touch with various NGOs working towards many social issues and we should involve all the civil society NGOs and activists in promoting the KPSG initiatives.”

Eminent Oncologist Dr A Q Aashob said, “There is a perceptible yearning with the majority community to welcome native Kashmiri Pandits back home. Other NGOs with which I am associated are striving to build up a robust and plural societal cohesion.”

A social activist Javed Beigh said that terrorism in Kashmir had devastated the societal and demographic profile of the valley. “Consequently the social evils like casteism and other menaces had crept in. Double-speak of vested interests has made the youth lose faith in democracy and politics. Radicalisation and the drug menace besides terrorism, have emerged as threats. To help revive our plural ethos it becomes necessary to welcome back home the exiled Kashmiri Pandits. All religious leaders and youth leaders should urge and appeal to KPs to return and unitedly rebuild the healthy and prosperous Kashmir,” he said.

A youth representative Rahella stressed the need for frequent physical interactions between two communities, with particular focus on youth-to-youth and women-to-women meetings. “Joint sports and cultural events will also go a long way to bridge the artificial gulf between communities created by vested interests,” she said.

Former judge B L Saraf said that the yearning of the civil society of Kashmir to welcome the exiled natives back home was visible on the ground and encouraging. “The people’s reconciliation committees or Commission is desirable for putting in writing the stories of victimhood and suffering. Kashmiris are living up to high humanitarian values by welcome accorded to yatris enroute the holy cave. The rich ethos of Kashmir and the humanitarian values are on display during the Shri Amarnathji Yatra. KPSG should record its appreciation towards Kashmiri Muslims for their warm welcome to Yatris, which they have been doing for ages,” he suggested.

Bhan in his concluding remarks averred that no alien narrative could guide over five thousand years old common heritage and ethos of Kashmir. He also stressed the need to enlighten the youth that the democracy and idea of India were new reality in Kashmir.

“So this is for the two communities sharing this common heritage and ethos to work together to take Kashmir out of the present morass and rebuild it for the future of our young generation with a major focus on the process of reconciliation,” he said.

Bhan agreed with the contention of a community stakeholder from London and said, “We need to involve diaspora for one doable thing to engage two communities uninterruptedly till we find a commonality of interest.”

He asserted that reconciliation would come through hybrid and personal interactions. “Thirty years gap is a huge gap but it is not so big that it cannot be bridged, this I believe as an eternal optimist. Youngsters, who have moved to other parts of the country, are our ambassadors and they will defeat other narratives and radicalisation. Educational institutions are the bulwarks against radicalisation. Despair, uncertaint and fear will evaporate when both the communities will work together,” Bhan added.

He supported the idea of a young participant Rahella who stressed the need for social interactions in varied forms between two communities as a first step towards bridging the gap.

Bhan also said that it was high time after the three decades of death and destruction suffered by all the Kashmiri communities, to look beyond the blame games and seriously discuss the ways and means for standing up unitedly against demons of doom and saving Kashmir by promoting the proud heritage of coexistence, societal cohesion and progressive narrative.

“We all have to strive for democracy for the enjoyment of the peaceful right to life. Peace is the sine qua non for democracy and the promotion of human rights. The strength of our civilisational ethos has defeated the evil forces that tried to thrust the alien socio-cultural narratives on the Kashmiri Society. Kashmir is the cradle of civilisation, innovation, science and technology for thousands of years, no terrorism and radicalism will ever succeed to obliterate that,” Bhan said.

“Elephant in the room that is Pakistan has lost its teeth, strength and weight and is out of the reckoning. The time is ripe for finding a pragmatic situation in Kashmir. Political patronage is imperative. What PAGD did recently following selective killings by supporting protesting KPs was appreciable. Political mainstream is important for intra-community dialogue, side by side. We have initiated an idea and ideas move the world,” Bhan said concluding the webinar.

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