India has failed Kashmir, again

Published: July 13, 2016
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Burhan Wani was killed by Indian security forces on Friday. PHOTO: AFP

The Kashmir situation highlights the limit of Indian democracy and the paranoia of its leadership. It shows how blind nationalism, uninformed by historical knowledge, can damage the cause of democracy and expose the vulnerability of the Indian state. As a result, the bleeding valley exposes not only the suffering of the Kashmiri people; but also the malaise that affects the biggest democracy in South Asia.

How can we explain peoples’ anger over Indian security personnel killing the Hizbul Mujahideen leader, Burhan Wani? There is no doubt that the path the young Wani chose would have culminated in a violent death. But how does one explain his popularity among the masses? More than 200,000 people turned up at his funeral and all of them were young Kashmiris.

Can the Indian government claim that those who came to bid farewell to the 22-year-old leader were all terrorists? Can Delhi’s leadership deny the fact that entrenched alienation and disenchantment amongst Kashmiris has grown stronger?

By killing Wani, the Indian government has killed just an individual, not the idea that he was representing as a leader. He was born and raised in the valley, with an oppressing atmosphere and lack of democratic space and thus was forced to pick up a gun. The bad experience that his brother encountered at the hands of the security forces also pushed young Wani to rebel against authorities. The fact that he was from an educated background and decided to join a militant group says a lot about the current state of affairs in Kashmir.

Many youngsters in the valley today identify themselves with Wani. For Kashmir, he was Che Guevara, not a terrorist that the Indian government portrays him to be.

The former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah reacted to Wani’s death, stating,

“Mark my words. Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media.”

The Indian government has failed to learn any lessons from their past mistakes. The military’s heavy handedness has been alienating Kashmiris over the years. But New Delhi still perceives Kashmir solely from the prism of security. As a result, the disconnect between the valley and the rest of the country has been increasing.

This reflects the debate that is dominating mainstream media after the killing of Wani. A majority of the television studios and newspapers have been extolling the feat of the security personnel in eliminating the Hizbul commander and disapprove of the Pakistani interference in the internal affairs of India. They see Islamabad stoking the fire and inciting trouble in the valley.

For the media houses, the anger and frustration of the local population goes unnoticed. With the media playing a polarising role, many citizens remain uninformed about the problems affecting the people in the valley. Those who try to adopt a balanced and nuanced view are targeted as pseudo liberals and anti-national, and attempts are made to silence or side-line them.

The debate starts with the basic premise that Kashmir is an integral part of India and any attempt to retain it is justified. This rabid nationalism is the enemy of India and makes the country look banal. But those who claim that Kashmir is essential for India forget that the state is not treated like a normal democratic state. It is the gun that decides the discourse, rather than democracy.

When the Indian government says that Pakistan is interfering in the internal affairs of India and is the main reason behind the unrest in Kashmir – it is a simple case of shirking away from its responsibility and misleading the nation.

Those who are opting for guns today are not trained by Pakistan, they are home grown rebels. They neither trust the separatist leaders of the valley nor the mainstream political leaders – they want a new narrative for Kashmir. And Wani was one of the voices of this narrative.

Mainstream youth has become the voice of militancy in the valley. They are not terrorists; they are the enlightened youth that are strongly aware of how history has mistreated them.

If militancy has evolved in the valley, then the response of the Indian establishment has been the same; use bullets to silence the voice of dissent.

There is no sincere attempt to understand or negotiate with the disparate dissident voices. New Delhi thinks that it can maintain its authority by using forces and handing out economic doles to the people of the valley.

The Indian leadership is undermining the angst of the new generation in Kashmir.

In recent times, the growing anger has been fuelled by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance in the state. Many perceive this as an unholy alliance and an attempt to legitimise the majoritarian agenda of the BJP in the valley. The attempt to create a separate enclave for the Kashmiri pundits, the debate on beef eating and talk on extension of the period for annual Amarnath yatra – all are seen as an assault on the basic identity of Kashmir and change the demographic composition of the state.

The problem also gets compounded due to the Indian government’s rigidity on talks with Pakistan. Regular engagement with Islamabad is important to divert the anger of the people.

In the changed geopolitical scenario, the international community is shying away from reacting on the deteriorating situation in the Kashmir valley. But India cannot escape the consequences of denying Kashmiris their democratic rights.

This will not only radicalise Kashmir, but also radicalise mainstream Indian society if we continue to perceive the valley from the prism of security. As an Indian, if we love democracy, then we have to fight for the democratic right of Kashmiris, which we claim are an integral part of India. If we fail to do this, then we ourselves are allowing dysfunctionality to seep into democracy.

sanjay.kumar

Sanjay Kumar

The author is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asian and international politics. He tweets as @destinydefier (twitter.com/destinydefier).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.