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Why Is Kashmir Still Relevant And Why Is It Crucial To Understand The Issue Objectively? [Part 1 of #UnderstandingKashmir]

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By Karmanye Thadani:

The recent protests erupting in the valley owing to a Kashmiri boy being run over by an Indian military vehicle, the controversy surrounding the screening of Sanjay Kak’s documentary Jashn-e-Azadi in Symbiosis University, Pune, and the anti-Pakistan remarks made by Mumtaz Khan, hailing from POK, in an international conference in Delhi organized by an Indian think tank, besides not so long ago, Prashant Bhushan being subjected to violence over his remarks supporting a plebiscite in Kashmir as well as the shameful discovery of mass graves in the valley have given us an opportunity to re-examine the Kashmir issue. This issue has been the cause of wars between India and Pakistan that have placed a heavy burden on our financial resources. It has caused the loss of lives of many Indians, both soldiers and civilians, the latter category including Kashmiri Hindus and those who died in say, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. This issue has put our democracy at test with “Go, India” demonstrations in the valley and global condemnation of the deprivation of self-determination for Kashmiris and human rights violations by Indian military and paramilitary personnel in the valley. If we blindly assert what suits us turning a blind eye to other naratives, then we cannot solve the problem. But objectivity cannot be the sole criterion, pragmatism being equally important.

I do agree with Prashant Bhushan, a distinguished lawyer and human rights activist, in a certain sense; however, looking at the larger picture, I do not. Mr. Bhushan is a lawyer and so, he has looked at this issue from a legal perspective. But as the maxim goes, ubi societas ibi jus i.e. where there is society, there is law. So, the law is meant to govern the society and cannot be viewed as divorced from social dynamics. A complex problem like the Kashmir issue cannot be oversimplified.

While I shall be explaining my stand in greater detail in subsequent articles in this series, let me examine the points on which I agree with Mr. Prashant Bhushan. It is true that the first Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, promised Kashmiris a plebiscite to determine their political fate based on the UN resolution mandating the same. It is also true that some rogue elements in the Indian military and paramilitary forces have been responsible for gross human rights violations. Running away from facts does not solve problems. Acknowledging them and dealing with them does. To assert that Kashmir is not as integral to India as other parts like Punjab or Assam, which have also seen secessionist movements, but are indeed integral to India, would not be anti-national, since the government of India promised the Kashmiris a plebiscite. Not only that, even the position of international law on the issue is the same, going by the UN resolutions. I won’t agree with British people who would call Allan Octavian Hume or Annie Besant anti-nationals, Pakistanis who call liberals in their society like Irfan Husain and Nadeem Paracha who have boldly stood up and condemned their governments for sponsoring terrorism anti-nationals or Israelis who condemn their fellow citizens standing up against human rights violations in Gaza anti-nationals. Nor would I appreciate Englishmen condoning the Jallianwala Bagh massacre or hailing General Dyer as a hero as great patriots. As Tagore pointed out, nationalist biases make us less of humanists. Nationalist fanaticism can be as dangerous as religious fanaticism, as we have seen when nationalist-fanatic ideologies like Nazism have raised their ugly head, and while we, Indians, will never support ideas like that, as a society, we need to be more mature in evaluating foreign policy and policy in dealing with secessionist movements, without equating India with the Indian politicians and bureaucrats we otherwise despise so much and having the “India is never wrong” attitude.

While I appeal to the Indian readers of the articles in this series to not adopt a nationalist bias, this doesn’t in the least mean that this series of articles shall advance the cause of Pakistan or the Kashmiri separatists. I have already stated that I differ with Mr. Bhushan, looking at the larger picture. I am a patriotic Indian myself (though not a jingoistic nationalist) and have tried to be impartial, but not partial to the other side just to showcase objectivity as many pseudo-intellectuals do. Also, being an Indian, my focus has primarily been on the Indian side of Kashmir because that has become a pressing issue for our nation, but that doesn’t mean I am oblivious of the problems faced by Kashmiris on the other side of the border. The next article in this series will examine the history of the issue.

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