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Kashmiri youth and prospects of peace

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The various peace talks and attempts having a violence free Kashmir seems to be a distant dream. Here is what the youth of Kashmir truly want.

Our Centre conducted a five-day peace and conflict resolution workshop in Srinagar from 21st to 25th August in the year 2006. The Centre has been organising these workshops in communally sensitive areas for last few years. Kashmir turmoil of course has nothing to do with communal trouble. But is certainly afflicted with ethnic turmoil and peace is an urgent need there. So we decided to organise a workshop on peace and conflict resolution with a local NGO Eves Welfare Society.

I must confess it was the toughest workshop I have ever conducted. The participants in the workshop were post-gradate students of Kashmir university from departments of Mass Communication, Human Rights and Political Science, some 72 in number. I had to face youth completely alienated from mainstream India. Many of them even maintained they are not part of India and that they are fighting for their independence. Some even said Indian army is an occupation army and but for this occupation by India Jammu and Kashmir would have been a peaceful state.

I had to battle through every position the students took and try to convince them that though their grievances are genuine but their methods to fight are not justified. Use of violence in a democratic era cannot bring about resolution of their problems. It is vitally necessary to use democratic space for solving the problems facing them.

However, the youth maintained that independence is the only solution. The students of human rights particularly insisted on this course.

There was also a section of students who although did not insist on separation from India, but nevertheless, they had great feeling of alienation. They kept on quoting excesses committed by army and human rights violations. No doubt they had deep wounds as members of family of these students were killed or injured or in some cases women of their families were molested or dishonoured. They also said the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised “zero tolerance” for violation of human rights but still violations go on.

A section of students also maintained we want to be part of Pakistan and not that of India. However, they were few in number but quite rigid on their position. It appears they belonged to Geelani’s Hurriyyat group. I pointed out that many nationalities in Pakistan like Baluch and Sindh themselves have launched cessationist movement and feel Pakistan is dominated by Punjab and small nationalities have no future. How can then Kashmir be happy with Pakistan.

Moreover, Pakistan have had no democracy and small democratic interregnum is always followed by military capturing power. In India there has been consistent democratic regime and there can be legitimate hope of accommodating democratic aspirations of Kashmiri people. Also, religion cannot be basis of nationalism as Bangla Desh shared religion with Pakistan but could not remain part of it for long. Language and culture are more stable basis of nationalism than religion. However, this small vocal section of students refused to be convinced and we had to disagree. It appears that due to their strong grievances with India (largely due to presence of 600,000 strong army) and hence Pakistan appears to be romantic alternative.

My experience with the workshop clearly established that educated youth does feel alienated from India and what is worse, nothing is being done to remove this feeling of alienation either by state government or Union Government. The feeling that India betrayed all promises made to people of Kashmir is really a sore point. They were promised full autonomy and Sheikh Abdullah gladly agreed to be with secular democratic India than with “theocratic Pakistan.”
However, this promise was not kept and autonomy was not only diluted after arrest of Sheikh Abdullah but altogether abolished slowly and Kashmir became simply a state like any other state in India. The 1953 agreement between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah was also not honoured and much worse the agreement between Indira Gandhi and the Sheikh died with the death of Sheikh Abdullah. How can Kashmiris trust the Union Government.

Not only this, election after election was rigged and people of Kashmir felt they were not free to choose their own government. The rigging of 1987 elections proved the last straw on the camel’s back and this rigging led to great dissatisfaction among the people of Kashmir. In fact this was beginning of 1989 militancy. The Kashmiri youth thought they have no future in India and took to arms for “azadi.”

Since this workshop was for the youth, it gave real insights into their thinking as well as their problems. There is also greatly deal of discontent among them due to high degree of corruption in state government and administration. The educated youth is well aware of lack of economic development and job opportunities. Expansion of education and lack of job opportunities is an explosive combination. The fact that they are Muslims and Kashmiris makes them feel they are being deliberately kept out of jobs.

A top police official told me in private conversation that if Government of India has some vision it should open training centres for the youth for recruitment to NDA (National Defence Academy) and it will make lot of difference. This youth has been confined to Kashmir and has no idea of vast opportunities India offers. If they go out of valley and get job opportunities they will realise the importance of being with India. If their loyalties are suspect they may not be posted in Kashmir but may be posted in other parts of the country.
If the youth is involved with the Indian army it will make a great deal of difference. He also cited examples of certain youth who went out of Kashmir to places like Bangalore and other places and they feel to belong to India. If they remain confined to valley the sense of Indianness is not inculcated in them. I myself felt this while conducting the workshop.

The participants in the workshop had hardly any knowledge of India outside the valley. They even thought all Hindus are supporters of RSS and enemies of Muslims. It took lot of time to convince them that it is not so and that most of the Hindus are secular and only a small percentage of them are supporters of Hindu communalism. The fact that the BJP could not get more than 12 per cent votes until it raised highly emotive issue of Ramjanambhoomi and this emotional upsurge on this issue also did not last more than few years and hence BJP lost elections in 2004. This came as a surprise to many of them that most of the Hindus are secular.

Thus in order to win over the youth of Kashmir some concrete measures will have to be taken. I suggest the following steps:

1. It is necessary to hold such awareness raising camps in the valley to stress the importance of peace and creative use of democratic space. It should also be impressed on their minds that no amount of violence is going to solve their problems; in fact violence is part of problem and not part of solution.

2. In order to convince them of importance of peace as the only way to solve the problem, state also should try not to use army as a solution and avoid violations of human rights. Today violations of human rights in the valley is unacceptable and the Prime Minister’s assurance of “zero tolerance” of human rights must be given top priority.

3. Greater job opportunities should be provided to the youth within the state and also outside the valley in central government institutions.

4. The young should also be recruited in armed forces and posted in places outside the Valley. Top priority should be given for recruitment in NDA. Service in armed forces would make them feel indeed very proud of being Indian. The Government of India should seriously consider this suggestion.

5. It is a wrong notion that pouring money into valley will win over the hearts and minds of people of Kashmir. Money can never assuage the hurt psyche. Sense of dignity and pride of being Kashmiri and Indian at the same time must be inculcated through various ingenious moves.

6. The educated youth is being indoctrinated today and they are even made to reject syncretic sufi culture of Kashmir. One participant even described it as “colonial discourse.” From school level itself sufi centric culture has to be emphasised.

7. Also, steps should be taken to restore autonomy of the valley which is politically viable in the present circumstances. The central government should appear to be honest in this matter.

8. All elections should be held fairly and there should be zero tolerance for rigging. It will vastly change the scenario and induce confidence among the people. The politicians should stop playing games, if they want to strengthen relations of Kashmir with India.

It also should be noted that by and large people of Kashmir are not in favour of joining Pakistan. However, their confidence must be won through political negotiations rather than through use of military force. That will not simply work. Jackboots cannot crush political aspirations. If we do not realise this we cannot solve the Kashmir problem in years to come.

Originally published on IndianMuslim. If you found this article useful, please share!

By Asghar Ali Engineer