We won’t talk to Pakistan; do we stop talking to Kashmiris too?
Given the prevailing mood of outrage in the country after the Pulawama attack, the answer would be a resounding yes. “Talks take us nowhere. Turn the gun on the youth hurling stones at our soldiers in Kashmir, let there be blood and more blood on the streets and everything would be fine,” said a friend, responding to a question on what should be the course of action in the Valley.
That pretty much sums up the general opinion across the country on the vexatious Kashmir issue. Drill fear into them, smash their spines, make them crawl and the problem would disappear in a jiffy, many, like the friend mentioned above, would suggest. Posts on social media have been rife with angry “punish them” messages in the last few days, endorsed heavily by likes, forwards and re-tweets. On Tuesday, Meghalaya Governor, Tathagata Roy made an appeal to all Indians to boycott Kashmir and everything Kashmiri. The overwhelming sentiment in all this is in some ways in alignment with the Indian Right’s line too.
This is intriguing, considering India considers Kashmir an inalienable part of the country and has been staking claims to the Pak-occupied Kashmir too for decades. The tsunami of reactions leads to two possible conclusions: one, we want Kashmir but not Kashmiris; and two; there’s no other solution than a military one. There could be a third one: We don’t understand Kashmir at all, damn confused about the developments there and would buy everything that is being fed to us in the name of information.
Let’s examine the first two. The first one is practically impossible. It would entail draining out the existing population, or at least eliminating all trouble-mongers from the Valley and make a fresh beginning. If at all an exercise like that is successful, it would mean we get the real estate that is Kashmir, not its people, its cultural heritage and rich history. And Pakistan and China still lurk a breath away.
The idea of relocating outsiders in Kashmir, an Israeli experiment in Palestine, to dilute the existing demography has been floating around for some time. It has been found to be foolhardy for several reasons. Why would people like to shift to an unfamiliar territory in the first place? Even if they do, where are the jobs to keep them tied to the Valley? If there were enough jobs available, the local youths would not be on the simmer all the time. In addition, there is the challenge of finding feet among a hostile population. Even Kashmiris who have moved out don’t relish the idea of coming back.
The second one points to the abject failure of civilian governments, both at the Centre and the State, to work out a solution, even a moderately workable one, to the long-running problem. Military option is normally the ultimate one in such troubled areas. This is resorted to when all efforts by the civilian government fail and there are clearly defined roadblocks to such efforts in the form of vested interests. Kashmir is not only a military and law and order problem. By treating it as such and leaving out all other co-ordinates involved, the political establishments are washing their hands of all responsibility, and accountability too.
At some point, the country should ask whether they are doing enough to make the task of our defence personnel easier. The military is trained to deal with situations in a particular way. When they are called upon to deal with the civilians, their approach is likely to come across as heavy-handed, creating a spiral of anger and resentment among locals. To hit back at stone-pelters in a brutal fashion won’t be difficult, but they have to exercise restraint in the case of ‘own people’. Had similar restraint been displayed by the political forces, specifically local ones, in their handling of the issue, the Valley would have been a much better place. Now, coming back to the point we began with, are we closing all options to talk to Kashmiris? Even as this piece is being written, there’s news from all over the country of punitive action against Kashmiris. Students from the Valley have reportedly been attacked in Dehradun and a few other places and Bharatiya Kisan Union wants Kashmiri workers at a sugar mill in Muzaffarnagar to be sent back home. There’s effort on social media to manipulate the public mood against Kashmiris and frame it in the Hindu-Muslim binary. Of course, as expected no political party has tried to intervene.
Kashmir is problematic, yes. Our defence personnel should function the way they must but should not other players and stakeholders be doing more than making the chasm between the Valley and the rest of India wider? If there are solutions, they should be put forth.