July 2002 News

Resurrect Kashmiriyat

18 July 2002
The Hindustan Times
Riyaz Punjabi

New Delhi: THE FORTHCOMING elections to the Jammu and Kashmir assembly is gradually dominating the political scene in the state. The debates ill the local media and the hectic activities among the political groupings across the board provide enough indications that curious and even unexpected developments would unfold bringing new actors on the centrestage of politics to the state. The onset of summer was gloomy and the assassination of senior Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone added to the atmosphere of despair. However, contrary to the expectations of 'conflict entrepreneurs' that the assassination of Lone would scare away the pro-peace constituency. It has strengthened the public resolve to work for peace and reconciliation. Political leaders of all hues, responding to public sentiments, have little choice but to tune their efforts in this direction. The statement of Jamaat-i-Islami, as a powerful constituent of the Hurriyat Conference, that it does not have any connection with any armed militant group including Hizbul Mujahideen and the party was not working towards secession of Kashmir from the Indian Union through militant means, is significant. Although the Jamaat has not taken a position on elections so far, it is Interesting that Jamaat ideologues are taking a public position favouring participation in the elections on the grounds of setting the governance of the state right and alleviating the problems of common man. The Jamaat has boldly responded to the threats and propaganda of foreign mercenaries and the militants sitting across the border In PoK by asserting that there was nothing unIslamic in participating in the democratic process through elections. The change In the stance of the Jamaat and other separatist groups might be tactical, but it would encourage the common Kashmiri voter to participate in the elections. Two factors are mainly responsible for changing the social psychology In Kashmir. One, the growing perception and public resentment that proliferation and availability of small arms and ammunition and its misuse by individuals and groups with impunity is leading to the brutalisation of sections of society The gruesome killings of great deal of public indignation against the blatant misuse of the gun. In some cases the details are horrendous. Recently, two elderly village chowkidars in Shopian in Kashmir were beheaded and their bodies chopped into pieces by the militants. In the same week, a marriage party in Rajouri in Jammu was attacked, the bride a teenaged Muslim girl - was abducted and tortured to death. The list is long. Ironically, the separatist groups who are out on the streets after the slightest of indiscretions by the state security apparatus maintained a stoic silence on these gruesome killings. The local media is seeking explanations from separatist political leaders for their silence on this mayhem. According to the research findings of MORI, 86 per cent of the people have respond- ed that an end to "militant violence" will help bring peace in the region. The second factor responsible for changing perceptions Is the realisation that even a sham democracy is a better alternative to anarchy, and a bad government is still a better option to chaos. The present dispensation with all its deficiencies has restored the semblance of governance In which the writ of the State appears to be running. It Is a healthy development if there is an urge in initiating measures to bring an improvement in the governance of the state. It is equally a noteworthy change if political groups are organising themselves in putting up a challenge to the ruling dispensation being taken to ensure a free and fair poll are encouraging. The conduct of a free election is a challenge which should be met through transparent and credible methods. Surely, external agencies will make every effort to disrupt the process. The threats issued by Muzaffarabad-based Jihad Council is one such illustration. The Union government, apart from employing other measures, should move at the diplomatic level in ensuring the marginalisation of external interference in the conduct of a free poll. The Centre should not lend credence to the perception that it is patronising one against the another in the forthcoming elections. The elections do provide an opportunity in restoring the faith of the people in the democratic process and it is time to seize this opportunity. In the changing scenario, Kashmiriyat is once again asserting itself. The voices from all the sections of society, including Hurriyat Conference, are getting louder that the Kashmiri pandits should return to their homes. Recently, about 20,000 Kashmiri pandit devotees congregated at the historical Khir Bhawani temple on the outskirts of Srinagar city. The scenes were heart-rending with the Muslim neighborhood around the temple welcoming their pandit brethren and friends and beseeching them to return to their homes in the Valley. The tradition of Muslims selling samagri and making offerings to the temple is still alive as is the Muslim tradition of abstaining from eating mutton while visiting the temple. These conventions are all its glory and its upkeep remains in the hands of local Muslims. The annual congregation at the temple has never stopped during the last 13 years of militancy. Last month, when dargahs and other places of worship were being destroyed in Gujarat, the 70-year-old Narayan temple at Bulbul Lanker in downtown Srinagar which had got burnt down 12 years ago was being rebuilt by local Kashmiri Muslims. In the nine vein the annual Amarnath yatra attracting thousands of Hindu devotees from all over the country never stopped during the last 13 years. The cooperation of local Muslims in perfecting the . arrangements of the yatra has remained unchanged and the Muslim family which discovered the holy cave and is entrusted with its up-keep continues to receive the share of offerings made at the holy site. Militancy might have bruised Kashmiriyat, but it never succeeded in diluting it. However, it needs conducive social and political conditions to make this culture thrive again. It is ironical that at this juncture when the cultural and political fabric is regaining its normal vitality, the divisive slogans of division of the state are being raised from within the country. It needs to be remembered that the division of the state provides succour to the "two nation theory" which was rejected by secular, plural and democratic India, including the people of J&K, 54 years ago. This division also reminds us of the infamous Dixon plan which was rejected by the country 50 years ago. Kashmir is yearning for peace. The elections might be one of the means to achieve this objective. There is a need to heal the wounds inflicted by the long haul of insurgency and violence on the hearts and minds of the people. These wounds will not be healed by resorting to vengeance and belligerence. In a strange turn of events and in pursuit of political gains, certain elements appear to be interested in keeping the wounds festering. All individuals and groups in the country should rise above narrow personal or political interests to achieve the larger objective of restoring normality and humanity in Kashmir. Kashmir deserves a future. We must give Kashmiriyat a chance.


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