Do We Need A Kashmir Intifada?15 February 2010
The Economic Times
New Delhi: Beyond the grand narratives on Kashmir, the convoluted analysis of a complex problem, simple facts on the ground, the events of recent days, posit at the very least the efficacy of adhering to the most fundamental aspects of the rule of law. Of course, the very law, the very nature of the state itself is in question in Kashmir. But one aspect, quite often elided in discussions as well as praxis, is how little it might take to - even momentarily - abate passions and possibly enable Kashmiris to start viewing the state as one that is now willing to be cognisant of at least some of their most immediate demands. The entire Valley had, in recent weeks, begun resembling a state of intifada. That word, with its Palestinian political context , though supple, taken to mean anything from struggle and resistance to an assertion of truth, is, in common understanding an image of youths taking on hostile armed forces with stones and slingshots . And though there was an undeniable underplaying of the actual situation in the media, Kashmir watchers were aware that something different was emerging. For some time now, masses of youths out on the streets had acquired a critical mass, an aura of a new political phenomenon. Given the death of a youngster due to a tear-gas hit in Srinagar, in one of the periodic bouts of protests, the Valley erupted en masse as a seething cauldron of resistance and stones. Never, in a state where violent deaths are normal, had there been such protests over the killing of a single person. That the ‘stone-throwers’ could herald a new political resistance, shorn of even the need to pay heed to separatist leaders, was brought home by the spectacle of a few youngsters holding a ‘press conference’ virtually calling the Hurriyat leaders unnecessary for ‘the movement’ . Even as protests continued, a few days later, BSF men gunned down yet another teenager returning from a game of cricket in the summer capital of the state. Such deaths have been commonplace for over 20 years, since the eruption of the insurgency , given the impunity of the security forces. But, given the crescendo of the protests, and after the initial usual denials by the BSF, the state government was forced to act. The commanding officer of the concerned BSF battalion, along with other personnel who were on the scene, have now reportedly been placed under suspension pending a staff court inquiry led by an IG of the BSF. There might well be questions over the eventual outcome of the inquiry, not least given the abysmal human rights record in the state, but the incident is significant given the relative speed with which the state responded, and the equally sudden, even though perhaps momentary, abating of the scale and intensity of protests and demonstrations. There is little doubt that protests, antisecurity forces-anti-India demonstrations will continue. For, at the heart of the Kashmir problem is the very nature of the relationship between the Kashmiris and the Indian state. Indeed, for the former, the security forces are its clearest, most disliked and most immediately apparent manifestation. Yet, this incident could well be momentous, or at least its significance must be grasped, and more pressingly , enshrined as praxis. For, this is the Indian state at least appearing to behave as it should, given its own logic and stand on Kashmir. Beyond the intifada spectacle comparison, there is, indeed, little to compare between Palestine and Kashmir. If at all, French Algeria could, at least in conceptual or philosophical terms, be a better description of relations between New Delhi and Kashmiris. For, this isn’t a logic and attendant violence arising out of exclusion, like Israel’s policy towards Palestinians, but rather violence stemming from the discourse of inclusion. And the state swiftly disciplining a representative of its manifest presence, who ‘erred’ against the people the state calls its ‘own’ , is, potentially, a marker of the latter seeking to redraw or reshape the contours of its very presence. There isn’t great hope this incident will douse scepticism on both sides. But it could also denote the start of a new, though embryonic, move on part of the state to seek to tackle - beyond the grand narratives of Pakistani involvement, the paraphernalia of terror, the tortured relations between the two nations with its attendant political stasis in Kashmir - the immediate manifestation of the problem, where it actually can. The state which holds it will be stern with terrorists must also end the discourse that treats the whole population as such, as it must be patently seen to be equally stern with members of its armed forces who break or violate its own law and stated policy. True, this is just one, though sharptipped , aspect of the wider problem. It could well be termed a mere instrumentality . Then again, New Delhi must now try to rethink the efficacy of the day-today implementation of the use of force, given that all the years of such a humongous counter-insurgency effort have neither dulled separatism, nor fully culled militancy. Indeed, if anything, the counter argument could be posited. That despite throwing in everything it could (and despite the exigencies of political posturing) separatism is more ‘mainstream’ than ever before - witness the mimicking of separatist issues and discourse by even mainstream parties in the state. Pakistan or no Pakistan, there is little doubt that this basic separatist sentiment, in whatever shape or form, has to be encountered and engaged, at whatever level at some point of time, to actually begin to start seeking a wider resolution to the conflict . That may yet seem a heretical idea, or at least a distant possibility, for which India , and south Asia itself, is not quite ready. But even at the level of instrumentalities , the Indian state must allow the blunting of the sharp end of its spear which ends up goading the other side into heightened stridency. There is a certain internal complexity in Kashmir as well. While it is a dangerous fact that the stone-throwers represent the second and third generation of post-insurgency Kashmiris, it is also true that a desire for basic materialities attendant upon a certain pragmatic understanding of the difficulty of the wider political situation is also present. And the germination of a feeling that the Indian state finally acknowledges their basic right to life, even though they be protesting against manifestations of that same state, could, eventually , allow the new generation of Kashmiris to arrive at a new, hitherto un-envisaged political horizon.