Questions should be asked

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In the year 1994, when militancy in the Valley was at its peak, a group of five women, under the banner of ‘Women’s Initiative on Kashmir’, visited Srinagar and other districts of the Valley as a voluntary fact-finding team. At the end of the visit, the team published a report, ‘Green of My Valley is Khaki’ – documenting its findings. The intention here is not to discuss that report as much water has flown down the Jehlum since then and today the situation is entirely different from what it was then. It is just one simple instance, quoted in that unbiased report that is point of debate. One of the team members narrates details of her meeting with various people.

The people she met, some of them stood for accession of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan; some were for global Islamisation; some for independence of Jammu and Kashmir, making it free from both India and Pakistan and; some supported states’ formal accession with India. Most of the times she would listen the word ‘AZADI’ (freedom) that was most audible during those days in Kashmir!

During a visit to a carpet weaving workshop in the outskirts of Srinagar, this team member asked a 7-8 year old boy what he wanted. “Azadi”, pat came the reply. And when the boy was asked whom he wanted ‘Azadi’ from, the team member narrates: “He showed us his bruised palms and said, ‘Azadi Is Se’ (freedom from this).”

‘Azadi’, a slogan that caught the popular imagination of young Kashmiris by late eighties and continues to enthuse people even now, is yet to be explained by those who raised the slogan first and understood by those who continue to drum it. What is ‘Azadi’? Does ‘Azadi’ mean changing the political masters only? Isn’t this theory of ‘Azadi’ being propagated by some very senior political stalwarts, both in the separatist as well as in the mainstream camp? How many ‘Azadis’ are there? ‘Political Azadi’, ‘emotional Azadi’, ‘economic Azadi’, ‘psychological Azadi’ …! Unfortunately, those who came up with this slogan had never given any thought to it in the first place and nor have they done so since. This is perhaps why despite thousands of Kashmiris already buried in hundreds of graveyards spread over the length and breadth of the Valley, the leaders are yet to come up with a viable road-map for ‘Azadi’, and worse still is that they have not been able to spell out how to reach to that ultimate goal.

That is why each time there is a new political development like the challenge thrown up by the recent civic polls, the leaders in the ‘Azadi’ camp have to summon elaborate and never-ending meetings of their advisory and executive councils to formulate a response to it. Isn’t it an irony? Why these leaders shouldn’t be taken to task and put to public scrutiny for having failed in the leadership role? And why the mainstream politicians too shouldn’t be questioned for deliberately “misinterpreting” the people’s participation in the electoral processes?

People are genuine in concluding that the separatist leaders have failed them. These leaders, it seems wanted ‘Azadi’ to further their own personal and political interests, to ensure safe and secure future of their kith and kin, to enrich their bank accounts, to roam around the world selling ‘sacrifices of Kashmiris’. And those in the mainstream camp too are not different when it comes to cashing in on the peoples’ plight and sufferings. It is time people realize that they have been and are being exploited. Mere sloganeering will not lead the nation anywhere. Unless there is a concrete political plan, long- and short-term strategies to achieve it, ‘Azadi’ will remain merely a magic word. And unless people realize the real potential of their (peoples’) power, politicians from either side of the divide will continue to exploit them for their own ends.

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