Shun the gun for heaven’s sake!

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By: Rawoof Zargar

This is a letter, a hand-folded request to the young generation of Kashmir (whether already in militant ranks of or aspiring to be) to please stop romanticizing the gun. This request comes from a fellow Kashmiri who is pain-stricken, agonised every-time a young life falls to the bullets. It is deeply anguishing to witness a wailing mother losing the apple of her eye; a father carrying the heaviest weight on his shoulders to the graveyard; a sister losing her confidante, her friend; a wife everything; a child shadow of the guardian, a protector. What is equally heartbreaking is the loss of young intellectuals, scholars, professors, teachers forsaking the bright future of theirs. This sentiment is shared by the majority of Kashmiri community who are tired of this bloodshed, anxiety and trauma. This long unending war has impacted the collective psyche of the Kashmiri people very deeply!

Since the inception of armed struggle, which was also a consequence of the failure and betrayal of Indian governance and democracy in Kashmir, the people here are writhing in pain. But this history of suffering does not begin here only; Kashmir has a unceasing history of subjugation. Robert Thorpe, who is  regarded as the first martyr of Kashmir, and who laid his life for the ‘cause’, wrote in his memoir that “’the undeserved sufferings of men, and the disgust and indignation at the spectacle of the people whose characteristics both intellectual and moral give evidence of former greatness ,trampled upon by a race in every way inferior to themselves and steadily deteriorating under the influence of an oppressive despotism which bars the way to all improvement ,whether social, intellectual or religious.” He no doubt wrote it for the oppressive regime of Dogras for their mismanagement and oppression of Kashmir, but it is palpably applicable even now as the situation has not improved since then. In fact t has only gone from bad to worse.

According to the official figures released by the then Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in 2009, there were 3400 disappearances and the conflict has left more than 47000 Kashmiris dead which is of course only a tip of an iceberg. There are some groups who count the Kashmir’s dead around over one lakh and claim more that 11,000 disappearances. By the way there are countless unmarked graves throughout the length and breadth of this territory and God only knows what and how many lay burried in them, as is the case with those who were consumed while crossing the borders. In between we cannot also overlook the plight of hundreds of those who were injured either by pellets or bullets, and are handicapped for life. These figures are astounding and must make everyone to ponder, especially those who are in militant ranks or are aspiring to join them, that it is only the Kashmiri people who are at loss by continuing investing in a war that we may never win!

What are we left with is widows, half-widows, orphans, traumatised mothers with nobody to take care of them. It is the gun culture which has muffled out, constrained the very dynamism of Kashmiri society. It has been very unfair to the Kashmiri Pandits who are an integral part of dynamic Kashmiri society. This community has suffered a lot when forced to live in pathetic, inhumane conditions inside the migrant camps after their exodus from here. In fact Kashmir lost its soul with their exodus. Who did it? Who made them to move out of Kashmir, on the political plain, is a matter of debate which can go for ages; but yes the armed struggle, the fear of gun, was a big contributing factor which cannot be overlooked.

Many, in fact majority in Kashmir will come down looking for my throat; particularly the lot to whom this letter is addressed to, with an argument that how can I question their ways, discredit the sacrifices of thousands, the whole lot of sufferings. But I wonder what have we achieved after more than three decades of conflict and bloodshed. Nothing, I am afraid!

People who romanticize the gun, wage war against the establishment, may be right according to their logic and understanding. But I strongly disagree, even raise the flag of dissent give my own small and limited understanding of the conflict. By picking up arms we limit our ways and turn the odds against us. A few hundred young men lacking all resources but up against the mighty army of almost one million are only giving the adversary the reason and chance to kill with impunity!

Kashmir is the highest militarized zone of the world with an average of one soldier to every eight local civilians. This is the perfect example of asymmetrical warfare in every sense. What we are unable to comprehend is that things and situations have changed since the armed rebellion started in 90s. With the introduction of technology whole dynamics of the situation and warfare have changed. Better armaments, communication gadgetary, surveillance systems  — all resources are with them, which makes the armed rebellion a suicide mission where you pick gun and you are neutralized in a matter few weeks.. Things need to change and sanity has to prevail.

Now the question remains what are the alternatives. It has a simple, uncomplicated but substantially strong answer — the non-violent mass movement of general masses. Every movement of the world, whether recent or of the past, has drawn its power from the masses. This is undoubtedly a long drawn process but very effective and something that promises results.

This is the age of Gandhis and Mandelas. I don’t see any struggle in the recent past where warfare, armed rebellion has had much chance; but there are ample examples of the peaceful mass movements bearing significant results. The recent Arab Spring which started with the death of a street fruit vendor Muhammad Bouzzizi has since then wiped out much of the monarchic system of the West-Asia and democracy has been introduced. This is the power of mass movement.

Another case is the lesser-known region of Bougainville which got its independence recently in 2019 through the non-violent means. According to Bougainville peace agreement, a referendum was conducted in which 98 percent of the people voted for independence — hence a new country was born.  More interestingly, people of Hong Kong during the famous umbrella revolution conducted the civil referendum of their own under the aegis of “Occupy centre with love and peace’’ in which an overwhelming majority voted in favour of independence ensuring no loss of life, no bloodshed . Same is the case with Catalonia region of Spain and list goes on and on.

These are the precedents to follow. To sustain these mass movements, selfless, educated and intellectual leaders are needed  — the ones who people can trust and follow with eyes closed. We have the example in Mahatma Gandhi who was the leader of the masses, of the common people, of rural and urban classes alike. As a leader he sensitized people, made them understand their rights and how and why they are oppressed and drew his power from them. No wonder today he is called the father of the Indian nation and credited with freedom of India. We also have the example of Nelson Mandela who spent 27 precious years of his life in jail for his people and emerged victorious with his non-violent methods.

The ways and the means of nonviolence, as shown by these leaders, must be followed. Many will argue that Kashmir also had its leaders who also advocated nonviolence but their voices were muzzled. Fact remains that those so-called leaders failed Kashmiris on every front. Their lack of sincerity quotient, lust for power and money is what failed them and their people miserably.

It is time to go back to the drawing board, think of the new strategies and ponder what have we gained by adopting the gun, and what could have been achieved by a peaceful movement. Kashmir has been historically mismanaged and it remains so even today. We also need to understand that Kashmir is a political problem and we need to solve it politically, and it cannot be done through violence, and not with the gun.

Please shun the gun!


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