‘Who am I?’ is a question that no one has been able to answer satisfactorily. Just as an individual seeks answers to the question of his or her identity, a people sharing many characteristics—land, language, religion, culture, history, suffering—also seek an answer to the questions who are they and where do they belong. Many people find that their identity has been determined by history and circumstances over which they had no control.
British rule for nearly two centuries, the struggle for freedom, Partition, Independence, Accession, special status, wars, Line of Control, UN peacekeepers, and the Constitution of India that included Article 370 have shaped the history of Jammu and Kashmir since 1947.
The struggle for identity
Jammu and Kashmir is a state in the Union of India. The people of Jammu have, by and large, accepted their identity as a people who belong to India. The people of the Ladakh region also seem to have accepted their identity as belonging to India, though they crave for a larger degree of autonomy. It is the people who live in the Kashmir valley who are engaged in a struggle to decide their identity.
The struggle is in the mind of the Kashmiri. It spills over into the streets from time to time and there is violence. The state quells the violence through its armed forces, but nothing is settled by either the violence or the use of force.
The people of the Kashmir valley view their struggle through the prism of their religion, culture and history. The people of the rest of India view the struggle through the prism of the historical fact of Accession and the Constitution of India.
We must not forget that we gave unto ourselves India, that is Bharat, which shall be a Union of States. The project of building a Union of States—that is India—is a project of inclusiveness. Given the vastness of the land and its diversity, it was never going to be an easy project. There are people living in some parts of India who feel alienated and threatened. Poverty is a main cause of the alienation. Other causes are isolation, lack of connectivity and communication, and fear of an assault on one’s religion or culture or language or custom.
The art of inclusiveness
TIf there is one lesson that we have learned in the 70-year project of nation-building, it is this: uniformity is the antithesis of inclusiveness. We can be legitimately proud of what we have been able to achieve by practising the art of inclusiveness. Peace accords have been signed by the government of India with various agitating sections of the people, notably the Sikhs, the Assamese, the Mizos and the Nagas. More remains to be done, especially in areas populated by the tribal people.
Jammu and Kashmir too deserves such a large-hearted approach. As home minister, I was convinced that a militaristic (or legalistic) approach to Kashmir will not lead to a solution; on the contrary it would only exacerbate the conflict. That is why I had pleaded for reducing the overwhelming presence of the armed forces and the amendment, if not repeal, of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
The two initiatives that helped change perceptions were (1) the visit of an all-party delegation to Jammu and Kashmir and the marathon dialogue it held with numerous groups and persons and (2) the appointment of three interlocutors who engaged the civil society of Jammu and Kashmir in a manner that had not been done before. The measures taken before and after these two initiatives helped to bring down, considerably, the level of violence that had marked the recent history of that state, as can be seen from the following:
Right and Wrong Responses
A large section of the youth in the Kashmir valley is still deeply troubled and alienated. Rooting for the Pakistan team against India in a cricket match or raising pro-separatist slogans or demanding Azadi was and is quite common. The question is not whether those who hold such views are right or wrong. The reality is that they hold those views. The correct response, as we have learnt, is engagement, dialogue and development.
The wrong response is to force hyper-nationalism down the throat of everyone or to bludgeon everyone into accepting a uniform social code of conduct. Four Kashmiri students in Rajasthan were beaten up by other students based on a rumour that they were cooking beef. Why did the police arrest the four students instead of those who beat them up? What business had the police to enter the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar and rain lathi blows on students who were shouting slogans?
We should be concerned that the fires that were lit in Dadri and Jawaharlal Nehru University have become one and have reached Srinagar. Every attempt is being made by the ultra-nationalists to fan those fires. That path will certainly lead to more violence.
The project of building a Union of states will reach its culmination when the people of the three regions of Jammu and Kashmir feel they are truly a part of India.
It is a long-term project that can be accomplished only through accommodation and not imposition, through opportunities for participation and not hyper-nationalism, and through innovative federal solutions and not obstinate uniform prescriptions.