Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Kashmir’s unsettled business - Don't tinker with the constitution

This post is in response to editorial "Kashmir’s unsettled business" that appeared in The Hindu of March 14, 2013. I do not agree with the conclusion of the editorial that solution to violence in Kashmir lies with what the editor has called implementing "sensible measures" in the interlocutors' report. The measures from interlocutors' report mentioned in the editorial are in my view not sensible at all. The interlocutors were sent to build bridges with population of J&K and what they are suggesting is raising even higher walls between the J&K and rest of India. One gentleman amongst them was recently quoted in Kashmiri media saying that "Kashmiris hate India like rats hate cats". The inherent contradictions in that statement not withstanding, it reflects a keenness for dramatics rather than responsibility. Such irresponsible people have come up with the most irresponsible suggestion of making article 370 permanent rather than leave it as temporary as it exists currently.

How can economic growth in J&K happen without more economic interaction with other parts of India? Would any of our larger metro cities be the engine of economic growth for us had they disallowed migration from other parts of India? The constitution of India sustains the "Idea of India". There is no peace and prosperity possible in India without this idea of India which thrives on tolerance for the other and interaction through mingling of diverse population of India is essential for experiencing the Idea of India. The root cause of alienation among the youth of J&K is that they have not experienced the meaning of what it is to be an Indian. Unfortunately the constitutional provisions given to J&K and the retrograde state subject laws are responsible for the degeneration of the politics of J&K to a communal and identity based politics. Let there be no doubt in the mind of anybody that the movement for separation in J&K among the separatist is not a movement for freedom it is a communal movement for separation and the minority population of Kashmir were the first victims of this movement. The nation within a nation concept is responsible for this movement to have gathered momentum as it did in '89 and allowed Pakistan to exploit the weakness exposed to them. 

There is good reason why article 370 was agreed to after great disagreement only as a temporary provision by the founders of our Nation. It was expected to only lead to greater integration in course of time unfortunately the integration process was not pursued vigorously and the State degenerated towards greater communal politics and regionalism. The root cause of the violence in J&K is the existence of machinery in Pakistan to wage a proxy war against India and that is the cause of disturbance in J&K ever since JKLF came into existence. We have been shying away from this root cause and have no strategic vision on how to coerce Pakistan to stop this activity. If insurgency in J&K and the destabilization that has occurred there has to be cured then the source of the arms supply and the source of training and motivation for insurgents should be neutralized first. Separatists can only be marginalized when violence and the international support including that from western countries which they get comes to an end. They cannot be marginalized with any kind of appeasement in the form of greater autonomy to the state. They have never asked for it for settlement and that will only lead to legitimizing their cause. It would be seen as step closer to eventual separation. There is no reason why Indians should start doubting our founding principle of tolerance and unity in diversity which are the basis of the Idea of India. There is everything in the constitution which guarantees equality before law and government to every citizens and nothing in the constitution that tramples on the instinct of self preservation of any individual, family or community. Political autonomy of the kind that was given in article 370 is a slow poison that has caused great stress to our integrity and political unity. There is no "sensible measure" in consuming arsenic in a panic reaction out of an unfounded fear that the only alternative is consumption of cyanide.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Let us forget the "Day We Want to Forget” - Response to piece by Dr Altaf Hussain

Kashmir Times published an opinion article on 16 March 2013 “Sale of Kashmir: A Day We Want to Forget” - Dr Altaf Hussain Para. The author of the article seems to have made a very selective reading of Indian History while making his assertion about the “darkest day in Kashmiri history” and his assertion that “a group of otherwise unrelated tracts were converted to form a Princely State, which had nothing in common except a ruler imposed on it, purely for political considerations”. It does not serve truth because many rulers in Indian history had formed several states by conquest or treaties. This is precisely how the Mughal Empire also came into existence. Another fact of the matter is that the strategy used by the British to extract rent from Indian rulers and conquer territory was pretty much the same throughout India. It is described in one line as "Divide and Rule".  Story of their capture of Punjab and treating Jammu and Kashmir as a vassal state was no exception and similar history can be found starting with the British capture of Bengal with the aid of Mir Jaffar in 1757.
People of the country have moved beyond the past because the past rulers and the British intrigues of the past are no longer relevant. After all every community or ethnic group of people can harp on the excess committed by some Maharaja or Nawab or Emperor depending on how you want to read history and how far back in history you want to go. Each one of us be it Punjabis, Gujratis, Sikhs, Bengalis, Rajputs, Malyalis or so on can cite from history how one ruler was replaced with next and how he was worse than the last and so on. The British ruled us by dividing us on religious and ethnic lines and left a parting gift of Partition of subcontinent on communal lines which lead to a million plus people who were otherwise living peacefully together getting killed in communal riots.
It is relevant to note that the independence of the entire subcontinent of India from the European colonizers was brought about through what is known as the Indian Independence movement. The entire population of the subcontinent became free thanks to that. The movement for creation of Pakistan was not a movement of independence of Pakistan it was a communal movement for separation and we all know the consequence. It is hence important to note that the future of the people of what is left of India lies in the best traditions of secularism, tolerance and respect for law. There is noting to be gained from the kind of article Dr Altaf Hussain Para has produced except to inflame passions and create regional divide in the minds of the people of State of J&K in terms of ethnicity and religion.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir on our side of LOC is a single democratic political state unit, people belonging to all ethnic groups, all religions groups are equal and have equal right to life and liberty. The present phase of violence which started in '89 will in larger context only be seen as blip in our history of coexistence in peace. Peace can only prevail in J&K and by extension in rest of India through secular traditions, tolerance and respect of law and constitution, which is the only guarantee for safety and prosperity of all communities including minority communities in any part of the country.
The Idea of India and the legal representation of the Idea of India which is the constitution of India is what guarantees safety and prosperity to any kind of minority or majority population in the subcontinent. From Afghanistan to Myanmar only India stands out as a country where by constitution and law minority rights are protected, stresses to this guarantee in the form of operational weakness of our democratic and administrative institutions not withstanding. No other country has managed to do this. Hopefully the people of J&K and the readers of Kashmir Times will take a more holistic approach to our shared History rather than make selective reading from it for narrow political motives.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Kashmir - Is more autonomy the solution?

When one reads about the clamor in media for implementation of more autonomy proposal from GOI interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir one wonders if more political autonomy is a solution. The real question to ask about solution for Kashmir is to ask what are the steps that need to be taken to ensure that the Kashmiri minority which has had to escape the valley and is living like internal refugees be able to return to the valley and live in peace?

There was an article published in the Greater Kashmir newspaper published in J&K under the headline "Kashmiris hate India like rats hate cats." about a statement made by one of government appointed interlocutors. There are many contradictions in those statements and the headline in the newspaper. Saying "Kashmiris hate India" is a suggestion that India and Kashmir are separate entities. Then the generalization that Kashmiris hate India is far too casual. The interlocutors could not have met each and every Kashmiri nor would they have thoroughly analyzed all the reasons and aspects of their dislike or hatred to come to the conclusion that they hate 'India' or is it that they are filled with hate thanks to certain events of their life post 1989 cycle of violence and what is needed to get them on board is 'truth and reconciliation' not appeasement by promises of autonomy which is path to further alienation and drift from the national mainstream. What exactly about India do the ones who are filled with hatred hate? Is it that India is a secular, democratic, republic which by its constitution guarantees equal rights to all irrespective to his or her background? I doubt if any Indian can hate an India built on as noble and progressive ideal like that.

When even culturally and civilizationally independent countries of world are moving closer to each and removing barriers by creating EU and APEAC, we in India who have inherited an Idea of India which was bold and unique for its time and lead to the creation of a multi-cultural pluralistic multi-religious, multi-ethnic, secular and democratic republic for the people of the subcontinent, who are tied to each other by history of coexistence and civilizational ties over several millennia are unfortunately drifting apart due to petty regionalism and communal divisions. I am in no way a so called 'Hindu Nationalist' nor am I sympathizer of a reactionary  ideology of majority domination. I am sold to the "Idea of India" as any as might exist and with the force of those credentials I have exceptions to some of the suggestions of the interlocutors report created by the team. The most exceptional was on the Idea that Jammu and Kashmir needs more autonomy. I agree to the Idea of more decentralization of governance but not more autonomy of the kind that are contained in some of the provisions of article 370 which are so divisive and so against the Idea of India that the great makers of our constitution who under grave misgivings agreed to it only as a temporary provision. I am making an assertion that if the people of J&K are alienated today it is not because of removal of autonomy it is due to the sense of separation which was unfortunately built by the existence of such a provision for a 60 years. It does not take long to see what might happen say if you apply this article 370 to any part of India. The population of that part will forever be hostage to the regional and communal strife and identity politics rather than be on path of economic prosperity. If no outsider is allowed to become a Kashmir and adopt Srinagar or Jammu or Rajauri as home because of the retrograde state subject laws that exist there then what ties with the other regions of the country do we expect. It is 60 years of drift that had to be corrected not create a recipe for more drift. If it was the partition of Bengal and the separate electorate on the basis of religion that sowed the seeds of India's partition on religious lines then it is also the kind of constitutional provisions that were created for J&K with lead to growth of separatism in the valley.

The extermist forces in Kashmir will assassinate every voice of reason and are responsible for many a deaths including that of Maulana Showkat who had raised his voice against stone pelting by youth in 2011. There is a constant propaganda  regarding various aspects of Afzal Guru case that goes on in the local Kashmir media. While it is true that his abrupt hanging and denial of the right to his family to meet him for the last time was cruel and I second some arguments about jumping the queue but I am not sure if we can sit in judgement about the merits of the pronouncement of death sentence to him. I am not sure if not executing Afzal Guru for political reasons would serve the image of justice and law in our country either. Can we trust nothing in this country not even the highest court? Can we go on delaying carrying out court judgments for political reasons? How do we propose to fight extremism? By cowing down to it or by addressing the reasons for it.

Finally I would like to say that any solution to the difficulties in Jammu and Kashmir lies in more integration not less. Sikkim  has been successfully integrated in India and is today not only showing high economic growth and lower poverty levels but is peaceful and comfortable both in its regional and national identity. The reason why the Moists extremists of Nepal were not able to fan the flames of the Greater Nepal movement is a testament to its successful integration. I am in no way expecting that the entire article 370 can be abruptly removed but giving more autonomy to the State government is certainly a step in the wrong direction. More decentralization can be attempted and the state gov can be encouraged to implement some of the panchayat governance reforms which are clearly helpful in winning the hearts and minds of the people which is quite evident from the assassination of the sarpanchs by extremist forces. We should be doing everything that the extremist forces do not want us to do while keeping in mind that we do not wish to take steps that lead to less integration.

As a thought experiment I would say what are the steps that need to be taken to ensure that the Kashmiri minority which has had to escape the valley and is living like internal refugees be able to return to the valley and live in peace. We don't need to heed to divisive forces but answer to the steps that lead to improvement of the lives of ordinary citizens and marginalize the very vocal separatist and extremist forces. In a talk show organized by noted Pakistani progressive writer and editor Tahir Gora has given a forum to Kashmiri minority and Kashmiri Muslim participants to discuss the problems of the minorities and what is the reason they feel has lead to this alienation in Kashmir. There in lies the real solution unfortunately no one in India is listening.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Idea of India and Kashmir

The separatists in Kashmir valley which gain publicity with every disturbance in Jammu and Kashmir reflect a sense of alienation which is very real in the valley. Yet every time the valley erupts a common Indian wonders why the Kashmir valley is in such a turmoil and exactly which freedom did the Kashmiris not enjoy in their history since independence that any other Indian did enjoy. In my view there have been two over lapping trends of alienation in Jammu and Kashmir. The first trend is the pre-89' trend and the second trend is the post-89' alienation. In order to exploit the pre-89 trend and the unfortunate event of the 1987 elections which were widely believed to be rigged the Pakistani establishment used its lessons from Afghanistan to engineer conditions for destabilization in the valley. When militant and terrorist activity increased and the state government appeared to be incapable of dealing with the disturbance on its own it lead to a response from central security forces and the army which unfortunately has lead to the conditions of post-89' alienation where the population of the state has begun to see themselves living under a police state with several alleged incidents of human rights abuses by the security forces which have gone unpunished.

The violence in Jammu and Kashmir and the failure of our institution to restore peace without excessive use of force leads to incidents of police shootings of protesting mobs and a cycle of violence which erupts once in a while even to this day. There have been various claims by the human rights activists in the state of events where torture, disappearances and civilian killings in crossfire have taken place. Allegation of rapes have also been made against the security forces. But these are part of the post-89' alienation. I would like to address here what has lead to this unfortunate end in the first place. This is a story of 40 years of alienation of the state and particularly the valley which became a happy hunting ground for communal extremism and Pakistan sponsored terrorism. Since independence the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been governed by a different set of laws compared to the rest of India. The fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizen of the country do not apply to the state the regressive state subject laws deny the right to 99% of Indian citizens which are not permanent residents of the state from acquiring property in the state and migrating to that state. A woman marrying a permanent resident of J&K becomes a permanent resident of Jammu and Kashmir but no other citizen of India except those born to permanent residents of the state can become state subjects.

Right to property of the state subjects only leads to a situation where very few Kashmirs in the valley have experienced growing up with people from the rest of India as neighbours. The Idea of India where every citizen of India can live with dignity and right to life and property requires that all citizens are treated equally before the law. The citizens of various states with varying ethnic, religious, linguistic upbringings share their future in the Idea of India in which tolerance for the other and respect for various religious and cultural traditions is a must. The Idea of India has a  natural resonance for the subcontinent which is the most diverse in the world. India is a unique country to call itself home for such a diverse groups of people. People of India have a history of coexistence over a millennia. A coexistence which has been brought about by migration and  contact over thousands of years. The republic of India has been built around this Idea of India and it forms the spirit of India.

No human is born a Muslim or a Hindu or Christian every human child has to be raised as a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian. Similarly while every child born in India to either parents being Indian citizen acquires the citizenship of India by law however he or she confers to the Idea of India when he is raised as an Indian. The child has to experience the Idea of India to be raised as an Indian that experience comes from growing up with the friends and neighbours with different background. By going to school where the Idea of India is both experienced in the form of the diversity experienced in India and also this Idea of India is taught by teachers who belong to diverse backgrounds. This is the most essential experience that when a child is deprived of, then the Idea of India does not take root in his or her mind.

Since Independence in Jammu and Kashmir the retrograde state subject laws have been perpetuated. This law was create by the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir in 1927 to disallow non state subjects from purchasing property. After independence the same law has resulted in denying other state residents from acquiring property in Jammu and Kashmir. In the 70's a  law was created by state government to allow resettlement of Pakistani citizens of the region of erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir in Pakistan's control back to the Indian state of J&K, but at the same time high walls have been created to disallow residents from other states of the country from acquiring property in the state of J&K. This highly discriminatory law has lead to a situation where an entire population of Jammu and Kashmir has been denied the experience of the Idea of India and the entire population of other states of India have been deprived of the right to become residents of J&K and participate in the economic and cultural growth of the state.

Such divisive laws and a constitution of Jammu & Kashmir which give rise to communal and identity divisions in the state have resulted in extremist forces taking over the erstwhile secular traditions of the state. Root cause of the alienation of the youth of Kashmir valley is the denial of the Indian experience of unity in diversity to them not the devolution of autonomy as is being projected by some political parties in the state.