Why it – sadly - may, but should not, continue as an act of protest
With yet another spring having been lost to the wickedness of violence, inspiring little optimism in the minds of the people about the shape of things to come during the coming months of summer, a pall of gloom is already seen to be writ large in every nook and corner of the valley. As we cast our glance around, we see ominous but visible signs of a throwback to the nineties when the Kashmir valley had plunged into unprecedented chaos and mayhem following the armed rebellion against the Indian state. The mass hysteria underlying that phase of the uprising against the Indian state was elemental in its sweep and fury, but still had all it being qualified as genuine and indigenous. It is also true that in the background of these circumstances the ‘good neighbour’ next door sensed an opportunity to throw its hat in and exploit the situation on the ground that was made fertile for it, what with a long spell of misrule by India through its lackeys over a period of fifty years since its independence from the British rule. It is this misrule characterised by the sole aim and desire of the political Establishment at the centre to have its writ run in Srinagar while routinely denying space for dissent to the millions of politically conscious Kashmiris that has turned this place into what it is: a veritable hell for Kashmiris and the Achilles’ heel that it has become for India. However, the stark point of departure in the nature of resistance as it obtains now from that of the nineties lies in the mode of resistance, with the use of bullets and grenades of yore having given way to stones and pebbles which are being employed in the current phase of the uprising.
In order to understand the phenomenon of stone pelting as it is being employed as (an unequal) tactic of war in the valley today, it should help to hark back to the advocates of brute force being used against stone-pelters who plead that the security forces resort to force only when they are under attack from stone-pelters. This plea does not wash at least for two reasons. One, that the use of force is invariably disproportionate to the level of provocation from the stone-pelters, which leads in its wake to fatalities that could have been avoided in favour of nonlethal injury to the latter, if only a certain level of restraint and discipline were exercised by the forces.
Secondly- and that is the nub of the matter- why on earth does stone pelting happen as a symbol of resistance in Kashmir in the first place? Is it that those resorting to it are doing it just for fun, in the full knowledge of being drawn in the line of fire and ending up as a potential casualty? Let me hasten to add that the moth-eaten plea that they are doing it in return for pecuniary considerations has since ceased to hold water, simply because that has never been, nor can that ever be a motivation to trade something as precious as one’s life in return for crumbs, as it were. Much as it is nobody’s case to advocate stone pelting as a tool to fight the aggressor, the sole reason for these young boys to take to this patently suicidal path as an act of resistance against the system is being attributed by them to the complete absence of other possible avenues for expressing their angst or seeking redressal of their grievances which have been squarely denied to them ever since, as history tells us, their ‘leaders’ were insidiously conned into choosing to throw in their lot with India.
However, the question remains as to the grounds for these grievances which indeed are one too many and multi-faceted. To begin, there are those among the Kashmir watchers who take the view that a vast majority of Kashmiris feel disenchanted with the Indian state and so are giving vent to their pent up anger through such means? This oft-quoted disenchantment with the system is not merely on account of the fact of being denied their share of democratic space or of lack of avenues of development and other opportunities which have been a great stumbling block in the progress of the state, especially of the valley. What can simply not be refuted is that the disenchantment of the people with the system is for real and is only the tip of the iceberg which is actually symptomatic of the massive loss of faith and trust in the Indian political establishment. This loss of faith has its genesis in a long chain of dirty tricks and games played by the Indian political Establishment in Kashmir ever since India pulled up a coup of sorts by resorting to ways which had clearly been questionable and surreptitious, to manipulate the accession of the former to the union of India. If anything, the desire to persist with such tactics by the Establishment may continue to define its Kashmir policy, even in the backdrop of the well founded – but not openly admitted – realisation among them that “the accession of the state was NOT final as in the case of other states of pre-partition India who had willingly acceded to it, but was arranged purely on temporary basis till such time the people of the state were to exercise their option through a referendum which was stipulated to be held there within the next five years after the ‘conditional’ accession”.
Further, by the very nature of the ‘instrument of accession’ between the then ruler of the J&K state and the state of India, the former obviously qualifies itself to belong in the category of disputed territories to which the state of Pakistan- whether we like it or not- is a natural party as it was at the time of the partition. It is precisely for these reasons that the issue of the J&K state figures as a ‘disputed territory’ in the United Nations charter by virtue of the resolutions passed by it in 1948 and 1949. It is also a fact that the continued reluctance of the Govt of India to honour its commitments as envisaged in the UNO resolutions has further accentuated the drift between the J&K state and the union of India. This drift has of late morphed into an almost complete and irreversible crisis of confidence between the two, thanks to the regime of repression that has been unleashed here through disproportionate and brutal use of force by the Indian security forces accompanied by violation of human rights of the worst kind to quell what has evolved into a genuine uprising in support of their birth right to a life of peace, honour, dignity and security.
Last, but not the least, there still is room for optimism if only there is genuine will on all sides. The massive tragedy called Kashmir could still be salvaged if sincere efforts were initiated to appreciate the grounds underlying the brutal use of force by the state and the attendant scourge of stone pelting by the youth of Kashmir. As stated above, these grounds have to be sought, not necessarily in the so called CBM’s, freebies and stuff like that, but in a dispassionate reappraisal of the political reality of the state which necessitates an honest approach to reach out to all the stakeholders and to get to the bottom of the truth. Which is why, the need is to look at the issue as a political problem that would call for a political solution by opening channels of communication with all those who pine for something as commonplace as the right to a life of honour, dignity and justice and for democratic space to voice one’s grievances. A willingness to do that would obviously entail, in the first place, scrapping of certain draconian laws like PSA, AFSPA etc. which are in force in the state over all these past 28 years. And in that context, it’s no rocket science to infer that for that to happen, a final, durable and a ‘maximally acceptable’ solution to the Kashmir tangle shall have to be sought at the very earliest! A welcome corollary of that development would help usher in peace, stability and tranquillity in the region that has long eluded the region over all these seven decades.
Author is Professor Emeritus Deaprtment of Mathematics, Srinagar