Who Are The Real Enemies Of ‘happy’ Kashmir?

Who Are The Real Enemies Of ‘happy’ Kashmir?

23 April 2012
FirstPost India


New Delhi: Much as beauty, the ‘real’ Kashmir lies in the eye of the beholder. For some, ‘normalcy’ is a false veneer that renders invisible a people yearning for azadi. For others, azadi is an old slogan increasingly irrelevant to a new Kashmir eager to move on from its tragic past. It’s likely that both Kashmirs do indeed exist – and perhaps many others, less easily encapsulated in media headlines. But what is true is that every writer seems to inevitably find the Kashmir he came looking for. Open magazine editor Manu Joseph is no different. His journey to the valley unearths a Kashmir bustling with shiny, happy tourists and locals. In the local Cafe Coffee Day, he meets bright-eyed, educated young people who say: “[C]an we move on? Can we have development first instead of waiting forever for the Kashmir issue to be solved? We want industries to come here, we want MNCs and malls. We want to watch a cricket match in Srinagar. ‘We want KFC,’ one of them says, and they burst out laughing.” [Read Joseph's essay in its entirety here] Outside Srinagar, Joseph finds village leaders at a meeting with the District Magistrate who say nary a word about the Indian army or Pakistan: “[T]hey were here to know the way forward. They want to know, very simply, the economic consequences of peace. They wanted roads and electricity and schools and hospitals.” These are the faces of a “happy” Kashmir being held back by self-righteous Kashmiri intellectuals: Trauma in Kashmir is like a heritage building-the elite fight to preserve it. ‘Don’t forget,’ is their predominant message, ‘Don’t forget to be traumatised.’ They want the wound of Kashmir to endure because the wound is what indicts India for the many atrocities of its military. This might be a long period of calm, but if the wound vanishes, where is the justice? India simply gets away with all those rapes, murders and disappearances? So nothing disgusts them more than these words: ‘Normalcy returns to Kashmir’; ‘Peace returns to the Valley’; ‘Kashmiris want to move on’. Yet, all this is true. And for the regular people of Kashmir, who do not have second homes in North America, Europe, Dubai or Delhi, who have no choice but to continue living in Kashmir, this reality is not so disgusting. The roster of villains in The Great Kashmir Debate is long and comprehensive: the army, local police, militants, politicians, both in New Delhi and Srinagar, the clergy, lefty intellectuals, the Hindu right, and of course, Pakistan. Each side selects their usual suspects to make their case. The expatriate Kashmiri is but the latest entrant into this illustrious company. This “crop of burger-fed, Armani-attired pseudo-revolutionaries” – as one Kashmiri civil servant describes them – are both dangerous and hypocritical: “It is as if, in their opinion, peace and happiness are truly obscene things until Kashmir is resolved. They themselves are in peaceful places, they have moved on, got on with their lives, but they want the people of Kashmir to have the decency to suffer.” And to ensure he will please no one, Joseph clubs these Twitter-loving expats with their online adversaries: “The non-resident patriotic Indian, who adores Narendra Modi, and the non-resident patriotic Kashmiri are adversaries in the vacuous space of social media. But they have much in common. From the comfort of distance, they financially and emotionally support ideologies whose consequence they don’t have to face. They are not just a nuisance. As a collective they are dangerous.” Joseph seemingly conflates Kashmiri intellectuals, expatriates and members of online communities over the course of his essay – and equates online rhetoric with material support. But as Praveen Swami pointed out in a 2010 column: “There is no evidence that social networks have been used to organise or fund the protests - but their content underlines concerns at the growing influence the religious right-wing has over the educated young people in Kashmir.” In other words, it’s mostly a lot of talk, but from young Kashmiris, not necessarily expats. In his Hindu column today, Swami also offers a more nuanced take on young Kashmiris under 20, who are the fastest growing segment of the population. Like Joseph, he too claims that a majority of them are open to a looser definition of azadi: From New Delhi-based scholar Navnita Behera’s survey of media consumption by young people in Kashmir, there is some evidence that this generation has attitudes quite different from those of its elders. There remains among young people in Kashmir a substantial constituency for secessionist politics: 36 percent of those seeking azaadi - who made up a little over half the respondents - defined it to mean independence from India, accession to Pakistan, or a sharia-governed state. Even larger numbers - 61 percent - however said they understood the term azaadi to denote greater constitutional and economic rights; one in 10 simply wanted the army out. This is evidence that the secessionist constituency is diminishing. So far, so good. But here comes the catch: The problem, though, is this: this generation is also disconnected, as never before, from the political system. Two decades of violence strangled democratic politics. New Delhi is now delivering the coup de grace. Little empirical work has been done on the issue, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that young people in search of agency are turning away from organised politics to diverse forms of religious pietism, consumerism, or nihilist street violence. And it seems a fair guess that at least a number of these “disconnected” youngsters are taking up the banner of azadi, whether in earnest or in youthful rebellion; the lesser educated throwing stones on the streets, while their middle class peers hurl invectives Twitter and Facebook – while they hang out at the cafe, be it in Srinagar, Delhi or Dubai. Does a taste for KFC necessarily preclude support for azadi? Perhaps not. If so, is this a sign of progress, however twisted, or the age-old separatist impulse in new guise? Everyone agrees that there is indeed a ‘new Kashmir’ – but its truth remains, as usual, in the eyes of the beholder. Read “Sorry, Kashmir is Happy” on the Open Magazine website. And “In Kashmir. Some Hot Potatoes,” by Praveen Swami in The Hindu