Communication Gap: Govt & Kashmiris

With due respect to all the concern displayed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the future of Indian Kashmiris and development of Jammu & Kashmir, one is compelled to go a little further into timing as well as nature of his comments. Yes, he must be complimented for his two-day visit to the state earlier this month, rather than displaying the same concern through a lifeless press release from New Delhi. While addressing the 5th Convocation ceremony of Sher-e-Kashmir University for Agriculture, Science and Technology in Srinagar, he laid stress that in coming years, “avenues available” for “intellectual, emotional, cultural and professional development will multiply manifold in a new, strong Jammu and Kashmir and India.”

During his address, the official copy of which has 1777 words, the Prime Minister announced various programmes, including financial grants from the central government for “economic reconstruction” and development of J&K. While expressing appreciation for Dr Shah Faisal (a Kashmiri) having stood first in the Civil Services examination, he expressed hope for a “successful career” for all in the state. The government was keen to involve as many “civil society and political groups” in round table conferences to seek their suggestions for the state’s development, he said. The government is “ready to hold talks with representative of any group which shuns violence and terror,” according to the Prime Minister. It was not clear if invitations to attend such “round table conferences” have actually been sent out or this was only for public consumption as the case usually is with such pronouncements by Indian officials.

While accepting that “good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan are in interest of both the countries” and are “necessary for peace and harmony, stability and development” of the region, the Prime Minister noted that they have been “under the shadow” of Mumbai terror attacks for more than a year. Referring to “attempts” being made by militants from across the Line-of-Control to “spread terror and cause disruption” he stated that India’s “security agencies are forced to act in wake of such incidents.” Accepting that “during the process sometimes innocent civilians have to suffer,” the Prime Minister pointed out that the security forces “have been strictly instructed to respect rights of civilians.” With the government policy being to “protect human rights of people even when dealing with terrorism,” he stated that the government “will act to remove any deficiency in implementation of these instructions.”

It is indeed stunning that the Prime Minister devoted less than five percent of his address to a problem which has been troubling the people of the state for several decades. Kashmir has been in news because of Kashmiris being agitated by the same problem having affected their lives in the recent past. Yes, innocent Kashmiris, labeled as “terrorists,” continue to fall victims to security forces’ bullets, with three people having been killed only this April in a fake encounter. A rudimentary analysis indicates that thousands of Kashmiri Muslims have fallen victims to such fake encounters over the past few decades. A report of around 8,000 people having been reported as “missing” and there being nearly 3,000 graves of “unknown” people in 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara districts is just a minor indicator of this harsh reality.

While Kashmiri Muslims have been facing this problem for several decades, it has been exposed only in the recent years. More Kashmiri Muslims have fallen victims to bullets than actual terrorists. It is indeed a cruel irony that despite Kashmiri Muslims being the main sufferers in “fake encounters,” they continue to be suspected and labeled as terrorists. Not surprisingly, the protest against Prime Minister’s visit to Srinagar (June 7) was marked by a nearly total shut-down in most parts of the city in response to a call for strike by Kashmiri separatists. Even if the separatists had not called for a strike and/or the Prime Minister had not visited Srinagar, the Kashmiris would have remained agitated. The April 30 “fake encounter” is too recent a case to be ignored. In fact, developments suggest that this case has given ground for other Kashmiri individuals and groups to express their concern about life in the state being affected by too many fake encounters.

Amid the backdrop of Kashmiri Muslims being agitated and worried about falling victim to fake encounters, it is indeed intriguing that the Prime Minister gave it practically minimal importance in his address at Sher-e-Kashmir University. In fact, the nature of his address suggests that Kashmiris’ “problems” hold greater importance for the government from its own angle than that of the people of Kashmir. The government’s policy, as suggested by the Prime Minister’s address, rests more on announcement of “development” packages than their implementation. The tragedy is that the central government is still not making the needed effort to give greater importance to problems affecting Kashmiris from their perspective. True, the government has authority and power to adopt the approach it desires. However, till substantial attention is paid to the Kashmiri view, there shall remain a communication gap between government and people of Kashmir. And till this communication gap prevails, assurances made by the government are not likely to have any appeal for Kashmiris affected by fake encounters.