Where do we go from here? A question I have been asking myself in this space very often these past few weeks. And the answer very often has been "nowhere". Yes, nowhere appears to be nearer truth, given the walls of separation that are being raised and built upon in what now seems to be open confrontation between New Delhi and the wailing valley of Kashmir.
The wail might have risen to a heat-rending cry in the once happy valley but, sadly, no one now seems to care. The current phase of Kashmir's confrontation with a people who should have known better, will soon enter the half-year mark but the perceived offender, depending on which side of the fence you are, seems determined to pursue whatever his long term objective. For the ruling BJP in New Delhi it indeed must be the State's unalloyed integration with the Indian Union while the protestors obviously would have none of that.
Killings and mayhem must in the meantime takeover from the saints and sufis whose presence and influence there has earned the valley the exalted nomenclature of Reshiwar (abode of the Saints). Deaths of the innocent, maiming , including blinding of children, appear to have become a mere static. Our own citizens, our own children, being killed or maimed seems of no concern, to go by the routine drill that follows each such killing : a Press note listing stone-pelting, defiance of prohibitory orders and then the horror: the killings arrests of many, some of these very bizarre.
Of course, there are genuine encounters, too, between the Security Forces and the militants and lately across the cease-fire line between real Armies. But is that really what the human condition has been reduced to in this Janat bar roo-e-zameen (paradise on the earth), a land blessed by nature in ways more than one, celebrated in Rajtarangini, nurtured by Moghul Princes, admired by Nehru and Iqbal, and lately abused and vandalized? Must Kashmir and its people really live and die in constant turmoil, be made a part of a bloody and senseless confrontation between them and the might of the Indian State.
Much as I hate to say it, Kashmir seems to have become an unwilling victim of the doomsdayer's curse. There seems no escape from it as of this moment. Not that I had or do expect a sleight- of -hand end to the valley's ,misery. For, on the record, at the moment, at least, those in whose hands lies the power to restore the smile back to the valley, are in mood to do so. Yes, you are free to blame the separatists as much as those intent on silencing them, and for good.
For all that and more, the responsibility for giving back to the Kashmiris their lost smile squarely falls on New Delhi, now perceived in the valley as an evil ,malevolent force out to wipe out any chance of cheer ever returning to the people and their land. That smile should never return to the faces of the young, the old, the yet to bloom cherubs who must instead nurse a broken nose or an eyeball torn apart by the deadly pellet used only in Kashmir and nowhere else in the land.
Far be it from me to be seen as someone trying to add fuel to the fire, the harsh reality though does point in just one direction: a concerted effort by an almighty government to bring a people to heel. At this particular point in time I am not necessarily talking of pellet-guns, the real guns or of the PSA arrests ; neither am I referring to the reckless burning of 30-odd schools nor to the wanton harassment of lay citizenry expected to follow the contradictory diktats of the Security Forces and of those issuing calendars of action as part of organized defiance of authority. What is worrisome is that five months and more after the valley lost its peace not even a shred of light is visible at the end of the dark tunnel the valley has been pushed into. Not just now, not in the near nor possibly in the distant future.
Confirmation of the worsening valley scenario comes from the self-appointed reconciliation committee headed by a former BJP Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha which, it was reported the other day, has conveyed some home truths to the political dispensation in New Delhi. For one thing, it has clarified that the stage for engagement with the separatists and other dissenters in the valley may well have passed them by. The committee has told the government that the once tom-tommed concept of autonomy, too, rings no bells any more. "Today the Kashmir issue is being seen (in the valley) as one between Hindus and Muslims and governance seen as Jammu versus Kashmir" the report notes in its summing up sent to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.
It also notes that the anger in the wake of the killing of the young militant, Burhan Wani, and the unbridled use of State power to crush people's anger ever since, has caused an unprecedented sense of alienation among the people. According to the report published by a Delhi contemporary, Kashmiris asked the committee how come pellet guns were not used in other parts of the country, under equally grave situations like the one witnessed during the Haryana Jat agitation nor during the Cauvery water agitation in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka nor even while handling Hardik Patel's "seditious" Patel agitation in Gujarat.
In Kashmir, protestations to the contrary apart, pellet guns continue to be the weapon of choice of the Security Forces and authority doesn't want it removed. The report has unavoidably urged the Mehbooba Mufti-led State government to ensure early reopening of schools in the valley and to release all first time offenders, including children and young men arrested under the PSA. Nothing sensational about these observations yet indicative of the sense of unease existing in many sections of opinion in parts of the country over New Delhi's policy of drift in Kashmir and even more dangerously the undeclared attempts at "fixing the valley" and its people. To teach them a lesson, as it were.