November 2019 News

Kashmir's Special Status Only Fuelled Its Real Problem: Islamism

19 November 2019
South China Morning News
Varad Sharma

Srinagar: More than three months have passed since the government of India's move to alter the constitutional status of the country's (erstwhile) only Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, which enjoyed special status under Article 370 of the constitution. The unprecedented step taken by the Narendra Modi government on August 5, 2019 - not only to abrogate Article 370 but also bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories - sent shock waves across the political spectrum in India and invited attention worldwide. While the situation in Jammu and Kashmir remains under the lens across the globe, the discourse around it has largely remained skewed away from the facts. Amid the hubbub around the abrogation of Article 370 and restrictions placed thereafter by government, there has hardly been any focus on whether the constitutional provision had done more to benefit or harm the state over the past 70 years. The refrain around Article 370 had been that it was needed to protect the unique identity of Jammu and Kashmir - as if other regions of India didn't have a unique identity. Under the garb of identity, the said provision created political and economic hegemony of one region (Kashmir) over the other two regions (Jammu and Ladakh) with control in the hands of a few families. Kashmir should pause and ponder about what went wrong down the years that led to the bloodshed of the past three decades. How did violence creep in to the pristine environment of Kashmir, which has been the core of Indian civilisation, and the seat of knowledge and excellence? Who brought the guns and who picked arms for the so-called freedom struggle which has seen the killings of thousands of Kashmiris, and non Kashmiris, as well as the ethnic cleansing of the aboriginal Kashmiri community? Very recently, we witnessed the return of targeted killings of non-local workers in Kashmir by terror outfits in the Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama and Bijbehara areas of South Kashmir. Such killings will hamper the local economy, of which non-locals form an essential part. Further, this will only escalate the tension on the ground in Kashmir, which won't help anyone - neither Kashmiris nor the state. These are the necessary questions which Kashmiris must ask themselves and thereby seek answers to dispassionately. Because to find solutions to the problems which have been created in Kashmir, we must find and assess the causes and not just treat the symptoms which manifest now and then. Srinagar cannot always blame Delhi for its own misdeeds over the decades - this is not to say that Delhi's position on Srinagar has always been just and righteous. The intelligentsia and commentariat have camouflaged the central problems in Kashmir, which emanate from the religious ideologies of Islamism and jihad. The ideology of hatred and violence coupled with indoctrination has engulfed Kashmir in a vicious circle that needs to be broken so as to save the present and future of the valley. The separatist sentiment, present in the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir since its accession with India, has been fuelled by Article 370. Over the years, the rumour mill has further aggravated the situation in Kashmir resulting in an atmosphere of lies and deceit. One such rumour which I encountered on my visit to Kashmir in April this year was that Indian authorities had deliberately allowed the grisly attack on the paramilitary personnel in Pulwama so that excesses against Kashmiris could be carried out. According to this theory, Pakistan had nothing to do with it. This kind of misinformation has been fed to Kashmiris by certain other Kashmiris involved in milking the ongoing conflict and their handlers across the border, which has only vitiated the overall situation. Kashmiris should put an end to the state of denial by acknowledging reason and truth. The scrapping of Article 370 (and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories) is the beginning of corrective measures for the entire region to address the internal dimension of the conflict; the external angle being hinged on Pakistan and China. The future course must be meticulous, taking into account the concerns and sensitivities of diverse ethnic communities throughout Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. If there is disenchantment among certain sections of the populace, it is due to the misuse and exploitation of the power and governance structures. Delhi must ensure that corrective measures in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh encompass the government's outreach to the marginalised sections. How the Indian government moves forward will pave the way for the foundation of new union territories. It has to be seen whether converting a state into two union territories will mitigate the conflict or not - a new experiment in the political history of our country. Should Kashmiris follow the path of their saints, poets and scholars such as Abhinavagupta, Anandavardhana, Kalhan, Lalleshwari, Roop Bhawani, Nund Rishi, Ahad Zargar, Shams Faqir or drift further towards the violent path proposed by the likes of Syed Salahuddin, Syed Ali Shah Geelani or Yasin Malik? Should Kashmiris be part of India wholeheartedly or continue to wage war against the Indian state through propaganda and violence? Only Kashmiris can decide. Kashmir ought to reclaim its past glory and ancient heritage, which has been overshadowed by a three-decade long Islamist movement against India. That is the only way forward. Varad Sharma is the co-editor of a book on Kashmir's ethnic minority community titled A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits