December 2004 News

The Kashmir Story

27 December 2004
The Statesman
Jalees Tareen

Lucknow: The complexities of the Kashmir problem have been discussed by many writers, most of whom come to Kashmir on short visits. As vice- chancellor of Kashmir University for three years till mid-July this year, I observed Kashmiris, especially the youth, from close quarters and it gave me access to whispers which most would not listen to. The Kashmir freedom movement ((Tahrek-e-Azadi) which started in early 1989 with large-scale infiltration of Pakistani- trained militants and young Kashmiris from the rural areas, disillusioned almost every Kashmiri in the first two to three years as every one thought that Pakistan will fetch them independence in a matter of months, or that they will join Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. The early years For a short period, most of the population got directly or indirectly involved or at least remained silent supporters of this movement. The educated lot, children of the elite, big businessmen and commoners, all saw a carrot before them and supported the movement. That was the time when the Indian security forces marched in during the Jagmohan period. The mass support proved a short-lived bubble which just exploded within two to three years when the ugly face of militancy surfaced and started to turn the peaceful lives of Kashmiris into sleepless nights. The killings became indiscriminate. Both innocent Muslims and non- Muslims became targets. Extortion, illegitimate circulation of money, collapse of the administrative machinery, jobs at gunpoint, kidnapping and torture, deaths of innocents in cross-fires and crackdowns, disappearance of youth, custody deaths became a daily affair. Militancy entered the education system and the university. Teachers and officers were kidnapped and tortured. The major blow came when some professors were killed along with the vice- chancellor, Professor Mushirul Huq. The Director of Doordarshan, Lassa Kaul, head of HMT, Mr Khera and a number of prominent persons were the victims. The rich started becoming richer and the poor became poorer. A new class of neo-rich emerged. A change in the cultural ethos in Kashmir became more visible. Unheard of evils started to show up. Most of the educated youth who were initially involved rejected the movement because of the way in which it progressed. This compelled a majority of the supporters of the freedom movement to change their thinking. They started to gradually withdraw from the movement. The Indian forces dealt with the situation with a stern hand. Active militancy went down at the university, the townships, mosques and shrines particularly after the Hazratbal action in 1992 and Charar-i-Sharif gutting in 1995. Social breakdown The militants withdrew and moved to the hills and forests and the outskirts of the townships to target security forces, camps, convoys and political figures. The people gradually became indifferent and they even lost faith in the democratic process. The All Party Hurriyat Conference emerged to give a united leadership to the voice of the people under the patronage of Pakistan, but they stayed away from participation in the democratic process. Today, the structure of Kashmiri society has undergone a tremendous change. The crime rate has gone up. At one time a single girl could walk home or drive in the middle of the night, but today she has to reach home before it is dark. Wedding processions (Baraat) which were taken out throughout the night are forced to be concluded by 10 pm. Car thefts, house breaking, drug addiction, liquor consumption are on the rise. Ironically, there is no licensed liquor vendor in Kashmir, yet consumers get their quota without difficulty. The collapse of tourism has hit every one hard for the last 15 years. A walk into downtown Srinagar or through the boulevard along Dal Lake or, for that matter, any of the towns of Kashmir would reveal depressed, speechless faces draped in phiran (long Kashmir gown) - people without jobs and occupations. The situation for the last three years has been confusing and pathetic. The common Kashmiri is paying a price for the turmoil of the last 15 years. No one knows who kills whom. No one trusts anyone. Bullets are exchanged between security forces and militants, between groups of militants, between political parties, between militants and surrendered militants. In the recent past, a new word has been coined - 'mystery killings' where they say a third invisible force operates. Young boys in their twenties target a person even outside a mosque with a pistol and walk away. No one knows who sponsors them. Grenades are hurled on political rallies, army convoys and security camps without regard to security measures. Kashmiri voice Common citizens pay a price for all this. The security forces have camped in every nook and corner, narrow lanes in civilian areas, parts of schools, colleges and hostels. Every commuter in public or private transport is searched, frisked and questioned. Women, children, schoolgoers and university students face this ordeal every day. No one feels safe. Educational institutions have been turned into army camps. Yet schools and colleges are overcrowded. Roads at school times are flooded with uniformed, smartly dressed children happily rushing to classes. Almost 50 per cent of the students are girls. As the V-C of Kashmir University, I interacted with a cross- section of people during my three years. There was unanimity that every one now wants peace, normalcy and that their dignity should be returned. There has been a thinking that peace will return to Kashmir if there is a negotiated settlement with Pakistan even without the participation of the representatives of the people of Kashmir. There have been debates as to who is the first party to the dispute - the Kashmiri leadership or the Pakistan authorities. What issues will be settled with Pakistan? We have two major issues with Pakistan: the issue of the international border and the issue of infiltration from Pakistan and the operations of the ISI in India. If these two issues are resolved and assuming that infiltration of militants from the border stops, and Pakistan stops its activities in Kashmir, will that satisfy the Kashmiris and bring peace? Most people do not seem to think so. The author is former vice-chancellor of Kashmir University and is now chief executive officer of South Asia Foundation

 

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