There is no argument, and there should not be any that how disappearance of shutdowns and stone-throwing in Kashmir has brought much sought after relief to masses who wanted to live undisturbed; free of such disruptions in their lives.
More significant is that all those who had been claiming, especially the separatists, that shutdown was a means of showing resentment and collective anger against what was happening to Kashmiris, for they had no other means to draw the attention of the international community, are finding that those who obliged them out of fear ( because the shutdown calls had the threat of guns and bombs lurking in the backdrop) or love – there is no denying the fact that there were vested interests who exploited their claim of helplessness by making others helpless.
By any stretch of imagination, it is no mean achievement. There are two ways of looking at this scenario - whether the means adopted to achieve this goal have been persuasive or coercive. Alongside is the question, whether this public good is good or should we be digging the issues which serve as reminder of the dark times.
Each and every one in Kashmir, like in other parts of the country, and the rest of the world, wanted their children to go to schools, shops to open and normal activities.
For the place and the people, this is a giant stride, because for over three decades, beginning with 1989, it was a struggle to stay afloat – some saw the life for themselves in the general strikes and observance in the mistaken belief that one day these means would deliver to them dreams that were woven to create a make-believe world – liberation through shutdown in every walk of life.
Shutdown, in literal terms, is taken as general strike in which the people are called to suspend their normal life to register their protest against something or raising demand for something. This happens in other parts of the world, too, in that sense Kashmir was no exception. But the dynamics of the shutdown here were multi-faceted, and assertion of Kashmiri nationalism was one of them.
They felt that the Indian nationalism did not address the identity of Kashmiris as much as they would have wanted to – the perception or misperception – about the nationalism cannot be blamed on Kashmiris alone. Putting it more bluntly, Kashmiri Muslims alone are not to be held responsible for this thinking and articulation.
The circumstances, better to term them, as crisis-ridden events since 1947, were responsible for creating gaps, giving credence to the narration because of the missteps of Delhi.
For sure, Delhi was confused – it had no idea how to tackle the issue, as at times it wanted to embrace Kashmiris, but at the same time it was hobbled in its outreach by misguided versions about the identity politics of Muslims in the region.
That they were Pakistanis was a convenient way to muddle the things, and those who averred their loyalty to Delhi, because of the benefits they accrued through currency notes and political patronage, were the active collaborators as well.
The idea of Pakistan was reinforced in Kashmiri soil as much by Islamabad as Delhi. History will have to judge this in quite fairness if the real issue is to be understood. In short, Delhi’s confusion deepened fault-lines and those remain unrepaired till date.
The constitutional changes made three years ago have one dimension, but this is not an end all situation. The objective assessment reveals that there are many more miles to go before Delhi sleeps with the satisfaction that it has removed all the elements of uncertainty and tackled the grave threats which continue to simmer.
Two issues will have to be addressed to find an answer as to what an apparent end to shutdowns means, against the backdrop that it is a given that it has generated eye-pleasing optics that, it is good for the people, economy and adding to the sense of certainty.
In this given, it also is true that mere anti-terrorism operations, killing of militants and arrest of their sympathisers alone could not have brought about this change, there was willingness to walk into the new dawn.
Has this end, as it appears, to shutdowns translated into the change of the idea in which its roots lay. Showing love for normalcy as a psychological and economic need because of the positives associated with it, is one thing, but the shift in the mindset is quite another.
The current phase, yes phase, because Kashmir is a multi-layer phenomenon – partly visible, partly unseen. This, at best, can be termed as a shift in the idea of conflict and futility of pursuing certain means which have proven self-destructive. It would be a big mistake to assume that the end of the shutdowns has drawn curtains on the idea of Kashmiri identity and quest for the dignity.
This search is on. Shops, schools, businesses have opened, and the dividend has been delivered in the windfall of tourists, making stakeholders from an ordinary ponywallah to owners of high-end hotel happy.
This is a layer which has been rediscovered – the 1980s have been revived with an extraordinary addition, record footfall of tourists. This change has brought profits, and it is also fair to say that the Kashmiris have projected the beauty of their land and traditional hospitality to visitors.
It may also be seen as rediscovery of part of their identity, but they have not given up their expedition to scale the peak of their unique identity.
A sense of identity needs to be preserved and respected. That will give real meaning to the end of shutdowns and the journey that lies ahead in placing peace at the centre at the converging point of Indian and Kashmiri nationalism. The reality of the irreversibility of the August 5, 2019- the abrogation of Article 370 – is strikingly stark.
The definition of Kashmiri nationalism will have to be found within these parameters and the Indian nationalism will do itself a service by adopting Kashmiri aspirations in its ambit.
The Kashmiri nationalism as more than 31 years of the violent conflict, is not all about politics, which centres around all-elusive “azadi”, which till date remains ambiguous. It also is not greater autonomy, self-rule or even for that matter the much eroded version of the autonomy as it existed until August 4, 2019.
These elements of the proclaimed identity and nationalism were usurped by the hardcore version of radical Islam, which one sees in Afghanistan, and its growth in Pakistan as of today. The nationalism launched in 1989 submerged into the Islamic radicalism which Pakistan enforced with all the force.
Here is a catch if the current quest for identity of Kashmiris is not met by Delhi – there is imminent danger of it getting overwhelmed by pan-Islamic forces. These forces are there, and these are working overtime, feeding on the fears of the minorities in the rest of the country to further their campaign.
Delhi, in larger sense the Indian nation, will have to make a concerted effort to recognise the merits of this idea of Kashmir – pure and simple within the Indian nation. The much-talked about Kashmir’s devotion to Sufism is not a matter of lip services and conclaves and conferences, it demands concerted efforts and real-intentioned outreach – heart-to-heart talk in a holistic manner where Sufi cult is respected as much as Kashmir as a whole.
These efforts if made with all sincerity will also bring into focus alphabets of peace and communal harmony. In short, the current change is a starting point. There is a long journey ahead.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.