Kashmir: More than a mere Land

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The recent rhetoric of “innovative ways” has created a nationwide debate. The two factions in the country have either supported the statement or condemned it. The Army Chief General Bipin Rawat stirred a controversy when he felicitated the Major Leetul Gogoi before the Code of Inquiry concluded its investigation. The Army General came out in support of Major Gogoi, for using Mr. Dar, a Kashmiri, to be used as a human shield. The Army Chief made it clear that to ensure the safety of the Jawans from the local protests and militant ambush, such innovative measures are needed to avoid casualties and counter insurgency. But, the question arises as to whether such innovative measures are within the Code of Conduct of the most respectable army in the world. Is the Indian Army empowered to encroach upon the human dignity and exceed in its authority?

Can the Army encroach upon human dignity?

The question may not go well with the nationalist sections of the country, but to save myself from the horrors of the branding tradition recently gaining momentum in the country, I would like to say that I stand by the Army. However, what we need to understand is that we are an organized institution. We live by a Code of Conduct where safeguarding the lives is not the only duty, our responsibility is to equally protect the dignity and rights of every citizen. So, the main question is whether creating a sense of animosity is taking us in the direction of resolving the Kashmir issue. Daily, we see incidents where we form an opinion on whether it is actually resolved or if it is deteriorating further. When we witnessed the clash between the armed forces and civilians over the killing of Burhan Wani, we formed an opinion that these are the people who stand by the terrorists, but on the other hand, when we also see that thousands of Kashmiri youth enrolling in the armed forces defying the lines of the separatists then we form an opinion that these are the people who believe in “One India”. Therefore, my statement can be concluded in a manner that our opinions are based on the incidents we see in the Valley.

Delving deeper into the “Valley”

Forming opinions upon these incidents does not determine our stand on the Kashmir issue. We are often mistaken when we refer to establish Kashmiriyat.  What we need to understand here is that our approach is restricted in maintaining the territorial integrity, and this feeling of prestige does not allow us to have a broader approach towards resolving the real issues. Let us turn to an example.

Recently, Kashmiri students were threatened in other parts of the country due to the rising unrest in the valley. So, does that mean that our sole attention is to uphold the pride that “Kashmir is an integral part of India”. Or, should it not be that Kashmiris are a part of India? I equally understand the strategic importance of the Valley, but we also need to understand that more than the landscape, the people out there are of vital importance. My contentions may seem to be against the Indian norm, or may be defeating the feeling of nationalism, but being an Indian, I think it is my responsibility to unravel the truth and our psychological mindset. I often hear in many discussions and debates that the people protesting in the streets of Kashmir must be denied there rights and strict deterrent measures shall be taken against them. Here, my reference is not to the terror outfits, but to the students and the youth who are turning hostile. We say that India has the vast potential to grow due to its youth population, but does this reference overshadow the youth of the valley? We believe in an inclusive society but, is that inclusiveness restricted to the people falling in line? Or should it not be open to those who are angered by their grievances? Is it not the responsibility of the Indian State to redress the grievances? My purpose of these references is to provide a measure where we can try direct engagement with the youth of the valley.

The problem with our approach

Our approach till now has been pertaining to appeasing the separatists and other leaders, but we need to prioritize on whom we need to engage. I believe the Government must take adequate measures on holding discussions in schools and colleges coordinated by their representatives, which would help them to understand the ground level grievances, and establish the reasons on what is turning them hostile against the State. Shutting down colleges and schools or denying access to social media or other things are deterrent measures with short-lived benefits, but to achieve far-reaching results we need to establish direct engagement with the youth of the valley. Encouraging and holding debates and discussions in the schools and colleges of the Valley may develop a sense of oneness amongst the youth, and they may feel secure in putting forward their opinions which they were denied earlier. This would also set an example of the tolerance level in the country, and it would be a more result-oriented approach to resolve the issue.

My references may raise some questions about my one-sided outlook of the issue. I can be questioned on failing to mention that during the year 1948, it was the Indian Army that safeguarded the valley from the mercenaries or on my failing to mention the grievances of the Kashmiri Pandits during the advent of the militancy in the Valley, or any other such issue. So, to all these questions I would like to say that I condemn the ousting of the Pandits, but does that give us the right to stereotype the entire population of the Valley. I stand in support of rehabilitating the Pandits back in Kashmir, but we should also give have a fair approach in looking at both the communities from the same prism. Our preferential approach whether in favour of the Kashmiri Pandits or Kashmiri Muslims has marred us from taking constructive steps. Successive Prime Ministers and political parties have vowed to resolve the Kashmir issue, but I feel saddened to see that the resolution is restricted to the territory. Our commitment should  be in resolving the issues of the citizens.  Such an approach would also go against the Pakistani policy of constant interference in the Valley. But, for this all we need to believe in the feeling of togetherness which is only possible when we lend the first hand by overcoming the self-styled prestige. Unless we develop this feeling of oneness and instill a sense of security and access to equal rights, the unrest in the Valley would go on for another 50 years or more. And, as per my understanding of patriotism and nationalism, I believe in not ruling the people but serving the people.

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