By Nazarul Islam, Edited by Vijaylakshmi Nadar, USA, TIO: Tomorrow’s parents will be reading a new story to their children, at bedtime. That, not long ago, there was a Pied Piper in India—who dressed in saffron robes. He chanted hymns and spoke of glory—and hope, for a billion people who lived in the country. One fine day, he led them to the mountains and told his followers to look at the sky. They would find their glory and hope, up above in the beautiful heavens. Many people are still looking up and praying for the return of India’s glory.
One of the most deadly causes of destruction of divine destinies is when a leader is failing, but he may not be aware of that. Ignorance about this is a nation’s greatest tragedy.
In my proverbial three scores and ten years of life, few events have affected me as deeply as the abrogation of India’s Article 370. This action of government disturbed the people of India, not because of its harshness, but the fact that this ‘tamasha’ had been widely welcomed among the public.
Far too many Indians have believed in the official narrative—that the troubles in Kashmir over the past few decades had been entirely caused by Pakistan, which bordered the state, claimed this territory as its own, and had in pursuit of its own agenda, fomented three wars against India while sending a steady stream of terrorists into the Valley.
If there was a secondary villain for this section of the Indian (read Hindu) public, it was the Kashmiri Muslims, for having not adequately shown their gratitude to India for the special privileges that had been granted them, and for having purged the Valley of the Hindu residents (known as Pandits) who had once lived there. Therefore, this abrogation of Article 370 was seen as a slap in the face of Pakistan, and of the ostensibly pampered Kashmiris, as well.
On social media, raucous Hindu majoritarians have exuded a naked triumphalism, some exulting in the possibility of owning homes overlooking lakes in the Valley, others indulging cruder fantasies of possessing beautiful Kashmiri women.
As a student of history, I had studied the Kashmir issue for many years, and I had watched the events taking place over the years, very closely. Both reason and instinct have told me that the government’s action was wrong; morally as well as politically. I have felt that Converting their state into a mere union territory would be seen as utter humiliation even by those Kashmiris previously well-disposed to India. And suppression and brute force have never been known to bring either peace or prosperity.
The timing of the government’s clampdown on Kashmir had also been strange. Narendra Modi had just been re-elected with an impressive majority; at a time when the faltering economy needed urgent attention, and foreign investment was not forthcoming, why risk-averse international publicity by such a draconian measure? One wondered, if the action driven by majoritarian hubris, was backed the desire to rid India of its only Muslim-majority state?
In the days after the action, I had several conversations on Kashmir with a friend who is an entrepreneur in Hyderabad—a bustling, modern city in southern India. Unlike me, he enthusiastically approved of the abrogation of Article 370. He said the status quo was unacceptable, and something had to be done to break it. He was very optimistic about the outcome of this radical rupture; he thought that now that Kashmir had been legally ‘integrated’, a wave of investments would flow into the Valley, and the subsequent economic prosperity would prevail over any remaining sectarian discontent.
It has been more than three months, since the abrogation of Article 370. The news coming in from the valley suggests, sadly, that it is my own fears, rather than my friend’s hopes, that are being realized. Reports in newspapers speak of crippling economic losses — Rs 10,000 crore, and counting — suffered by workers, artisans, and small traders because of the security blanket and communications shutdown in Kashmir.
A week after the abrogation of Article 370, India’s richest industrialist, Mukesh Ambani, had promised to announce a wave of investments by Reliance in Jammu and Kashmir. He had claimed, that he would set up a ‘special task force’ for the purpose. Meanwhile, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir had called a special investors’ summit—to be held in Srinagar in September of 2020. I knew at once that this was mere posturing. And so it has turned out.
Mukesh Ambani has stayed conspicuously silent on Kashmir since; while the government’s own planned ‘investment summit’ has been postponed indefinitely.
Promised more jobs, more factories, what the Kashmiris instead have got since August 5, 2019, have been more troops and more restrictions. This has angered them immensely, pushing even the more moderate among them, away from identification with India.
Reportedly, India’s notes lawyer, Nitya Ramakrishnan, and the sociologist, Nandini Sundar, recently traveled through the Valley, meeting with a wide cross-section of ordinary Kashmiris. They had shared their findings—that “the constituency for Pakistan has increased drastically, along with those who regard Hurriyat leader (Syed Ali Shah) Geelani as their main leader.
Not surprisingly, there are no takers for the so-called full integration that the Government of India is promising post-370, especially given that this promise has come with a communication blockade, heavy military presence, severe repression, and the denial of fundamental rights which are in theory available to every Indian citizen.”
Ramakrishnan and Sundar had found that the Kashmiris had chosen to show their anger and discontent through Gandhian-style satyagraha. Thus “the Shopian fruit mandi was completely closed with not even trucks parked outside. One grower we met said he was prepared to lose lakhs if the hartal could help to get Azadi.”
And, in the meantime, “while schools are technically open, children are going to school. The teachers mark attendance for a couple of hours a day, sometimes two or three times a week. A six-year-old girl in Soura Srinagar has reportedly expressed fears she was scared to go to school because ‘police uncle goli marenge’ (will shoot me) Parents don’t want to send their children to school with such heavy militarization and without phones…
The ground realities have remained unchanged. Rural schools are shut. Even if it’s within the locality, the armed forces are everywhere and people are scared they may be some incident/shootout.”
Ramakrishnan and Sundar have noted: “While people hate the Indian government, they displayed enormous hospitality and graciousness to us as ordinary Indians. They have no problem with Indians, so long as they are not from the media.”
The increased suffering of the Kashmiris post-August 5 is also documented in another report, prepared by the mental health professionals, Anirudh Kala and Brinelle D’Souza, the writer, Revati Laul, and the social activist, Shabnam Hashmi. This foursome had traveled through five districts, speaking to a wide cross-section of the citizenry.
They have documented that “Kashmir is riddled with fear that spiral binds itself in sharp concertina wire around the valley. There are stories of torture, arrests, even of young boys detained under the draconian Public Safety Act.”
The report by Kala et al is very rich and detailed; it runs to 70 pages. Here are some quotes from ordinary Kashmiris:
“TV is all saffronized. (The) crap that they’re dishing out to the public.”
“They can subjugate us physically, but mentally they can’t.”
“There is a loss of trust, a feeling of deep betrayal, humiliation! There was a strong pro-India sentiment before August 5. We used to say Pakistan is not a democracy, there is no secularism there!”
“The middle ground has been lost forever! The pro-Azadi and pro-Pakistan sentiment was actually not substantial. But today people are talking about Azadi!”
The group also visited Jammu, where, they found, the initial euphoria at the government’s decision had disappeared, now that its awful costs had become apparent. The economy of Jammu and the economy of Kashmir had always been intimately connected. Now, with trade, travel, tourism, and transport between these two regions coming to a halt, many Jammu residents were feeling the pinch. As one person bitterly remarked,
“The biggest fallout of 370 is in Jammu. The taxi business has failed, hotel — failed, transport — failed, tourist — failed.” Another Jammu trader said: “We are in the Dussehra season. The wholesale market — the mandi is normally so crowded there’s no place to stand. Now it’s desolate. Empty.”
It is important that these two reports are widely read, to ascertain the truth. They demonstrate that the abrogation of Article 370 has backfired horribly. It has furthered the alienation of Kashmiris from the rest of the country, placed unwanted (and unnecessary) burdens on our security forces, brought much adverse publicity for India in the foreign press, and diverted attention from the economic and institutional renewal that is so vital to our future.
In seeking to spite the Kashmiris, the Modi government has succeeded only in harming India.
Nothing is final—including success. And, failure is not fatal: it is the courage of the present leadership to continue with the status quo, that has mattered. Meanwhile, people across the world are watching the heavens to observe signs of hope. If the problems Kashmiris have in the coming year are the same problems you had last year, then Modi is not a leader.
India’s great leader is rather a problem on his own—that must be solved.