By Karmanye Thadani:
We have impartially examined the history of the Kashmir issue in brief as also the narratives on all sides — Indian, Pakistani and separatist. Without the faintest trace of nationalist bias, let us examine the issue from the perspective of the Kashmiri people on the Indian side. Their anger at the brutality of the rogue elements in the military and paramilitary forces is understandable. But the armed forces came to be stationed in the valley only as a reaction to the militancy. If the Kashmiris were to give up their demand for secession, then demilitarization would take place, sooner or later, and they would be able to lead a peaceful life like they did prior to the militancy. There would be an influx of more tourists and also more investment in the valley if there isn’t any unrest. This secessionist struggle has subjected Kashmiris to human rights violations by security forces (which is inevitable if there is militarization of civilian areas; no army in the world stationed in a conflict zone can claim a completely clean human rights record) and even militants and also worsened their economy. Is it worth it? This is not a case of colonization, like British rule over India. As S.A. Iyer has pointed out — “Actually, India has not colonized Kashmir. Rather, it has tried to integrate Kashmir with itself. Nation building is a difficult task that, across the world, has required a mixture of persuasion and firmness.” Indeed, it’s not like the British colonial rule where Indians had a negligible say, if any at all, in their governance. Kashmiris can enjoy equal rights as Indian citizens, benefit from India’s economic development and not have to bear the humiliation of what they call a military occupation if they give up this secessionist struggle and if they allow outsiders to settle down and invest in their region. The Hindu-Muslim divide in India is becoming less and less of an issue in India and it would stay that way unless something dramatic was to happen, like the secession of Kashmir. An independent J&K may be good as a fantasy land, but the challenge of running a new country will be a task in itself. Kashmiris need to fit into the Indian ethos. They need to assert themselves as Indians for their own good, like Shah Faisal, a Kashmiri Muslim who topped the UPSC exam. And it’s not like secessionist aspirations don’t ever eventually give way to the idea of remaining integrated with a union, Assam standing out as a prominent example.
Liberal Kashmiri Muslims who enjoy listening to music, dressing the way they like or making an occasional trip to a pub or discotheque should also understand that while labeling Islamism (as discussed earlier, Islamism is the Muslim equivalent of Hindutva and of course, neither of these totalitarian ideologies can be equated with the religions Islam or Hinduism in their true form) in the valley to be a bogey could sound like music to their ears and may be something nice to assert from the secessionist point of view, the threat of regressive laws (like the blasphemy laws in Pakistan) and even Talibaization in an independent Kashmir is indeed very real.
And then, at the very outset, the desire of Kashmiri Muslims to not let Kashmir remain a part of India could have only had to do with religion, with their support for the creation of Pakistan (other aspects came in later). Today, we are seeing what a mess the only two countries created in the name of religion, Pakistan and Israel, are in, particularly the former. Do Kashmiris really want the same for themselves?