Kashmir: a view from the plains

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that if there is consensus the government would consider autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. Still there is no sign of mentioning it a second time let alone moving a resolution in the parliament. In the meantime Bal Thackeray threatened on the eve of the Independence Day: “Autonomy to Kashmir? It is the limit!” (Kashmir la swyatta? Hud jhali!). His words show he has reached the flash point and would not take it anymore: “Why this autonomy! And for whom?! (kasli swayatta! Aani kuna sathi?) Parsing the exclamatory and the interrogative would reveal that how could a region of India have autonomy that is not already there in India itself. But the question mark on the identity of the people seeking identity is to him more horrifying to say the least. “Unfortunately if it is at all given the country will be flung into an abyss, just imagine.” (jar durdevane dilich tar saara desh kontya kahdit lotla jaeel teyachi kalpana kra.)

Bal Thackeray lives far from Kashmir but has the potential to raise the temperature to boiling point elsewhere especially in Maharashtra. His musclemen have the freedom to physically assault Syed Ali Gilani, the Hurriyat leader in Jammu thanks to the police. They could dig up cricket pitch, ditto! Given this kind of law and order situation it would not be surprising that this time around it would be hell let loosed. In 2008 agitation against the revocation of grant of land for the pilgrimage to Amarnath Jammu and other parts of the country saw sheer terror. In contrast the people of the valley fed and housed the stranded pilgrims and showed no hatred for them for being Hindus. While at the same time the Muslim drivers passing through Jammu were assaulted brutally and even killed and trucks looted. Not only there but also in Punjab!

This kind of inhuman reprisal in Jammu and the selected parts of the rest of the country shows how the Hindu right is ready to coerce the government. Shiv Sena and BJP cannot brook any concession to either the Kashmiris or the Muslim minority in the country. On the provisions made for the poor and backward Muslims in Sachchar Committee recommendations Thackeray wrote to the PM that it would lead to civil war.  

Such is the communally charged situation in the country and the nefarious politics being played over it that the oil slick off the shores of Mumbai by the collision of ships and the overturning of a tanker on road the ecological danger is not viewed as serious as the autonomy in the far off region of the country. Instead of clearing the sea of the oil the supporters of Thackeray and his nephew are engaged in competitive politics of having more Marathi films screened in multiplexes.  What else is this if not the communal consideration of the agitation in valley and the carrot of autonomy dangled by the PM?

Things are viewed from a communal angle in the plains of India. There is no doubt the situation and the mindset of the Kashmiris are affected by the barbarity often seen in communal riots and pogroms against the Muslims in particular following Babri demolition and the Godhra incident. That has exacerbated the situation and hardened the minds but the present stone pelting protest is a different matter altogether. There is nothing communal and the stone pelters are not aiming to kill any police even when they get hold of any one once in a blue moon. However, on the other hand the genocidal tendency in the police is widespread. A policeman chased a five year old Athar and shouted at him while the kid ran into his house: “Hum mar dalenge. (We will kill you).” It is another incident that even in treating the incidents of street protest as a matter of breaking law of strict curfew order the anger and reply of the paramilitary shows what is latent is becoming manifest. The rest of the country is as much in the dark of the truth of the events as is the chief minister Omer Abdullah himself who taunted that:  “If his life had been so important, why didn’t the other two boys pull him out.” He is talking of a boy who was mauled with rifle butts and when he was having seizures the CRPF jawans threw him into the water so that his death would be passed off as drowning. But the boy recovered and struggled in the water and at that point the soldiers fired tear gas canister at him. The post mortem report shows that he received injuries on head and died.

Truth is the first casualty of the ongoing operation against the protests. It is evident in the case of the Chief Minister himself. The police officer supervising the scene and the diver who went into the bottom to fish out the body of Faizan came up and raised his thumb but dived again with a small rope and tied the body to something in the water so that it would not emerge in the day light. But it came to the surface and that is how the world came to know about the truth of the boy!

With such startling disclosures it is quite possible that there would be change in the perception of truth in the plains of India. Indian civilization is much older than Kashmir and the moorings of civilization cannot be washed away by a few years of insurgency or counterinsurgency.

Nor can the temporary turbulence of rabble-rousers like Thackeray or Pramod Muthalik or the brief “frozen turbulence” of Saffron governor of the region. The Amarnath pilgrimage is still on for which Muthalik has called for the cancellation of the tax of two thousand rupees per pilgrim. In this age of corporate business even communal violence is also a commodity. You can order a riot by paying seventy lakh rupees to Muthalik and his Sri Ram Sene and you can have it anywhere you like. But the shell is broken and truth is peeping out!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2010 on page no. 14

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