Whose Kashmir is it anyway?

In May 1998, Communalism Combat, a monthly magazine published from August 1993-November 2012 published a cover story on the state of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir. This article appeared in that edition. Today, much of this also seem relevant.

The starkest lesson of the Kashmir problem hold for those intrested in preserving India’s unity is the pressing need to ensure apeople oriented devlopment.

kashmiri Women

First Published on: May 1, 1998

In the three months, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed two of the worst–ever massacres in the state. The tragic incidents not only cast serious doubt on the ‘return–to–normalcy’ propaganda of the central and state governments, but also give an inkling of the intractable nature of the dispute and its potential to spawn a long-run insurgency.There are several factors contributing to the complex nature of the Kashmir problem that is becoming increasingly intractable. A way out of the stalemate lies in the holding of some kind of talks between all or at least two of the parties to the dispute. But neither India, nor Pakistan, nor the Kashmiris have shown much flexibility in deciding upon the modalities of the dialogue.

One factor that seems to have escaped much of the analysis of the Kashmir issue is that a straight-forward question of class conflict has being given, through militancy, an exclusively anti–Centre and anti–India turn. Kashmiri society is perhaps the most elitist of all in India, with only a miniscule and privileged section keeping a stranglehold on the resources of the state.

It would not be an exaggeration to state that many in the Valley cannot afford to entertain even the wildest hopes of upward mobility. For example, in many a village of the Tangmarg, people drink irrigation water, while the education and medicare systems are in a shambles. But it is not uncommon to find middle–rung government engineers owning palatial houses. The government spent Rs 11 crore on the Winter Games ‘fiasco’ in Gulmarg, which adjoins water–starved Tangmarg.

The consequence over the years of such exploitation has been that a large section has little stake in the stability of Kashmiri society. If, as alleged, ISI agents offer a poor villager a lakh of rupees and a gun to direct his resentment against the Indian State, many with few hopes otherwise of emancipation from poverty are willing to take up the offer.

The starkest lesson the Kashmir problem holds for those interested in preserving India’s unity is the pressing need to ensure a people–oriented development. For too many years the Centre has turned a blind eye to how the Kashmiri elite ran its affairs. Central funds, in fact, became a means to buy the political loyalties of the elite.

The Farooq Abdullah regime cites militancy to secure funds from the Centre but blocks questions or inquiries on how these are disbursed. The National Conference claim of being the ‘only Indians in Kashmir’ is opportunistic and aimed at remaining entrenched in power. It is convenient, periodically, to raise a cry about the dangers of secessionism. The Kashmiri elite is in fact flourishing in a sanitised environment in Srinagar while catastrophic battles take place in the villages. It is they who are victims of violence by the security forces or militants.


Sections of the security forces, too, have developed vested interests in the prevailing anarchy. For many, peace would entail a return to guarding India’s borders in more inhospitable climes. Sections of the army, down to the junior–most rung, are quite drunk with the absolute power they enjoy, a level that not even senior army officers in Delhi would command.The brunt of the people’s resentment welling up from this whole scenario is directed against the security forces who wield their authority with harshness and are the direct oppressors. The resentment against security forces has struck roots far too deep in the psyche, blinding people to all other realities contributing to the starkness of their lives.

For example, the National Conference leaders often talk of ‘the army killing our people’ while obliterating their own record of how they and their ilk have literally sucked the blood of their own people. It must be admitted that the security forces have not helped their cause through sophisticated and targeted action, adopting instead a high–handed attitude of indiscriminately savaging the civil population. A three–day encounter in a south Kashmir village recently destroyed 70 houses and led to 11 deaths. Meanwhile, Srinagar itself continues to be inundated with new–model Maruti 800s. The army’s strength ensures a subdued level of anarchy and this suits the elite fine. The National Conference government’s lack of enthusiasm for any kind of talks stems from the fear that any settlement with the militants may lead to its downfall, given the mass alienation of the people from its style of governance.

Militarily, the Indian army has admitted that it has reached its threshold limit trying to contain militancy. The costs of fighting are heavy. A conservative estimate puts Indian security–related expenditure in Kashmir at Rs. 13,000 crore annually. One common complaint among army officers is that the allied government agencies are not manning services with efficiency, leaving the forces with even such tasks as building bridges, conducting medical camps and repairing roads. A solution to the problem now rests on political, administrative and economic measures, but these have been given little impetus.

Money is coming into the Valley not only from Pakistan but other countries supporting the separatist and the ‘Islamist’ cause. Even as the number of local Kashmiri militants declines, Pakistan finds little trouble in pushing in the foreign insurgents, who come from Afghanistan, Pakistan and even the odd Sudanese. Unlike Punjab, the borders of the Valley are virtually impossible to seal. And, as long as a Pakistan — driven by the vengeance accumulating from Partition, the wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971 that included the loss of East Pakistan — chooses to send in armed groups, violence remains a grim reality.

The latest apprehensions stem from the prospects of reduced levels of conflict in Afghanistan following the ongoing peace talks. Military–trained Afghans freed from the battle there, Indian intelligence sources feel, could be sent into Kashmir, with Taliban elements, partial to the “Pakistan cause” at the forefront. The Kashmiri people have little say in the matter now. It is ironic that a movement that started off for freedom has led to a situation where to day the people have the lowest level of rights and freedom.

(The writer is based in Srinagar)



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