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Mainstream, VOL LV No 21 New Delhi May 13, 2017

India’s Kashmir Policy: Way Forward

Sunday 14 May 2017

by Ram Puniyani

The turmoil in Kashmir, which got intensified after the fake encounter of Burhan Wani (July 2016), does not seem to abet. It has been worsening as reflected in the ongoing violence leading to low turnout of voters in the by-poll (April 2017). Shockingly, there was a turnout only of 7.14 per cent of voters. The by-polls were also marred by violence in which many a civilian and security force person also died and lately one witnessed with great horror a Kashmiri youth being tied to a military truck to prevent stone-pelters from throwing stones on the vehicle.

Those pelting stones don’t seem to be stopping despite the lapse of a period of time. These young men are being looked at in various ways. Farooq Abdullah had stated on the eve of the elections that those young men throwing stones are doing so for their nation. This statement of his came under scathing criticism from various quarters and a section of the media and was dismissed by many as a pre-election statement.

 Another way of looking at those pelting stones, as gleaned from a section of the media, is that these are pro-Pakistan elements. They are being instigated by Pakistan and that they are doing this for money. As such stone-pelting has been used as a method of protest in Kashmir since ages but has become glaringly obvious for the last few years. Intimidated by the terrorist-militants on one side and the security forces on the other, these young men have been resorting to pelting stones as a form of protest and anguish. One can see the clear pattern in the worsening repression and an increase in their activities. As such after every major act of hanging-murder, the protests have become more intense, for example, after the hanging of Maqbul Butt (1984), then after the hanging of Afzal Guru (2013) and now after the killing of Burhan Wani (2016).

Who are these boys who pelt stones? Are these merely Pakistan-inspired and funded youth? In the aftermath of the state crackdown, hundreds have died, thousands have been wounded and many more have lost the eyesight! A section of the TV and other media is going hammer and tongs about the role of Pakistan and the funding they receive. The question, which needs to be introspected, is: would the young people risk their life, loss of eyesight or other harm to the body just at someone’s bidding or for some money? Many of them are teenagers, tech-savvy and they are so much full of deep hatred that they are willing to risk their lives, not caring about their future. The degree of frustration among them must be horrific.

 Only a small section of the media has gone deeper into the issue and interviewed some of them. The stories of their experiences and feelings shatter one’s perceptions about law and order in Kashmir. Many belong to families which have given up hope of any type. Most of these young boys have experienced torture, beating, harassment of sorts and often humiliation. For many of them stone-throwing comes as a sort of catharsis, a feeling of having taken revenge for what has happened to them. It is the only strong way of protest they must be feeling is left for them. Many of them are pro-Pakistan for sure but the basic point remains political alienation which is seeping in, deepening their resolve. This in turn is due to the suffering and pain to which Kashmir has been subjected to due to the prolonged military presence in the area.

 Post-Burhan Wani murder, the Kashmir- based PDP, or even the National Conference has been able to see the intensity of the situation. Mehbooba Mufti, the Chief Minister of the ruling coalition, wanted to go for a dialogue with the dissenters, but her coalition partner, the party leading at the Centre, the BJP, shot down the idea. Mehbooba Mufti felt that dialogue is the only way out but the BJP feels that dialogue is a way to befool the people. It seems the ruling BJP wants to take a hard line to deal with dissidence, thinks that dissidence is there only due to Pakistan or the ISI and so repression should be intensified.

 What about earlier efforts for peace? These need to be recalled in the present damning times. In one of the most significant moves the UPA-II had appointed a team of interlocutors to understand and suggest the way out. The eminent team suggested that the autonomy of the Kashmir Assembly, which is part of the treaty of accession, be restored, dialogue with dissidents be initiated and also talks with Pakistan be undertaken along with repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

 Today there can be two approaches: recall the treaty of accession and gravitate towards that and take the recommendations of the inter-locutors seriously. Nearly seven decades after the accession of Kashmir to India, there is a need to recall that forcible merger, repression of dissent was never the idea of the founders of the Indian nation. Let’s see what Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had to say on the matter way back. Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel said at a public meeting in Bombay on October 30, 1948: “Some people consider that a Muslim majority area must necessarily belong to Pakistan. They wonder why we are in Kashmir. The answer is plain and simple. We are in Kashmir because the people of Kashmir want us to be there. The moment we realise that the people of Kashmir do not want us to be there, we shall not be there even for a minute... We shall not let Kashmir down.” (The Hindustan Times, October 31, 1948)

The situation in Kashmir is critical, and worsening by the day due to the high-handed dealings from the Centre. Even the Chief Minister of Kashmir and the people like Farooq Abdulla need to be listened to if we want peace in the green Valley, peace which is crucial. The deeper peace can only be won through winning the hearts and minds of the people of Kashmir. Ultra-nationalist formulations don’t work in the long run.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.