Bigger initiatives needed
The official assertions often tend to think of the political traditions and concepts of democracy and citizenship in Jammu and Kashmir same as shared among other states in the Indian mainland. But as the events of past three decades would indicate – especially the difficulty with which common masses are attempting to reclaim their right to be seen and treated as ‘public’ and not just the ‘political other’ – the concepts of democracy, equality, and civil society seem to have very specific and different cultural and political meanings here. No wonder popular belief in Kashmir is that democracy stops on the other side of the Pirpanchal ridge and so do all other rights and privileges guaranteed to the common people by the laws and constitutions.
In Jammu and Kashmir, as the history has it, the relationship between the common masses – the public – and the state has never really been perceived in terms of collaboration and consensus but rather in terms of mutual hostility and antagonism. This is perhaps the reason for the state to have always kept some laws handy – to tame the belligerent masses. With the help of these laws, the state uses its executive arm – the police and other armed forces – to keep everything and everyone at bay.
Notwithstanding what constitution and the laws say, democracy and equality here have all along been mediated by traditional notions of hierarchy, privilege and distinction here. The public space has been constituted for a small, elite group of a few political families and figures, who have, in turn, ensured that democracy and liberty remains the exclusive preserve of the dominant minority of their own stooges in politics and bureaucracy and a handful of those this elite is comfortable with. In a culture of widespread sycophancy, civil liberties and even human rights are cast as ‘privileges’ and ‘favours’ bestowed by superiors on subordinates within relations structured by notions of loyalty. ‘Favours’ include everything from personal protection to material goods to jobs.
The events of some recent years when Kashmir remained calm in anticipation of some headway in the situation have proved Delhi’s complete insensitivity and lack of concern. While the ordinary people were crying for justice, and in doing so facing repeated injustices, those sitting on judgement had either no time for them or they preferred to deal with the situation by relocating a rook or two, some bishops, and pawns with the nudge of a finger, thinking this should suffice the need. When the opportunity was there for big decisions that would actually have changed the dynamics of so many different things here, the government went with its ostrich-like approach.
It goes without saying that the political unrest in Kashmir has over the years steadily morphed into its structural manifestations, which people having developed a general cynicism about almost everything. Add to it the general culture of insensitivity of the local ruling elite towards the ordinary mortals, as also official despise for their life and liberties. All these things make for a deadly cocktail which has every potential to send situation deeper and deeper into the recesses of the conflict trap. Popular perception about the government’s belief that doing nothing to address the political concerns will always work in favour of the status-quo, has actually pushed an entire population to the wall. The challenge of dealing with the alienation in Kashmir is too big to be tackled by minor administrative reshuffles or announcing economic packages or putting together some or the other infrastructural utilities. Now that the BJP-led NDA has got another shot at power, it is expected that Kashmir would get the attention it deserves, which of course goes beyond routine administrative matters and tries to tackle some of the place’s structural challenges.