The Failing Art of Selling Normalcy in Kashmir

If “normalcy” has indeed returned, why not let innocent Kashmiris, including leaders and workers of political parties, savour a taste of it?

Remember when a sniper gun mysteriously appeared en route the yatra to Amarnath a few days before the Centre read down Article 370 on August 5?

India’s ‘fast-forward’ home minister at once understood that the customary enemy was once again up to no good. With an alacrity that would have shamed the best of Rommel, the state moved to secure the lives of Indian citizens by ordering an unprecedented suspension of the yatra.

All tourists in the Valley were ordered to go back to mainland India, and students from other states studying in Kashmir’s educational institutions were asked to leave as well. Although schools and colleges were decreed closed, Kashmiris were not asked to vacate the valley. That would certainly have given the game away.

Besides, when did Kashmiris ever matter, be they Muslims, Pandits, or any other? Only Kashmir matters.

Hence, their fundamental rights to free movement, freedom of association and communication were also instantly foreclosed. Such measures, after all, may have hurt Kashmiris but made little difference to Kashmir.

Although we know from reading military history, that retreating populations, even armies, are most at risk from the enemy, no militants surfaced, notwithstanding the sniper gun.

It was then that the honourable home minister pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the legislative hat.

Unbeknownst to the people most affected by the measure, an obliging parliament effected the scrapping of the “special status” granted to Jammu and Kashmir by India’s constituent assembly and central government in recognition of the path-breaking resolve that Kashmir’s majority of Muslims had made to reject the religion-based two-nation theory and throw in their lot with a secular-democratic Indian dominion.

Now, while the defunct “special status” may have, through the decades, enabled Kashmiris to make unparalleled strides in land reform equity, education, women’s empowerment, health services, and a proud cultural efflorescence, every patriotic Indian agrees with the honourable minister that the scrapping of the “special status” has been for “their own good.”

Also read: Home Ministry Believes in Internet Ban, Mass Detention But Not in Paperwork

As so often, children do not realise how the harsh things parents do for them are in their own best interests. Such is the case, it seems, with the sulking Kashmiris whose spokespersons continue to make the case as to how, contrary to mainstream theology, the state has been ahead of other states in most economic and human development indices. Wretchedly, data published by the central government itself tends to back up their claims.

For example, the recently released Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey commissioned by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has concluded that of the 35% “stunted” children under the age of four in the country, the lowest prevalence was in Goa and Jammu and Kashmir, while states which constituted the “Hindi heartland”, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, recorded high prevalence.

Interestingly, of the 17% “wasted” children in the republic, the least, once again, were in two non-Hindi speaking states of Mizoram and Manipur – states that continue to enjoy “special provisions.”

So much for Hindi nationalism. Now is the time for congratulations.

It may be still the case that schools remain empty, markets shut, public transportation missing, political leaders and workers in detention, free assembly of citizens forbidden, mobile phones and broadband services denied, most of the measly number of landlines dysfunctional, hotels, houseboats and shikaras deserted, barricades and concertina wires in place, but “normalcy” is returning. All right-thinking nationalists must believe so because the authorities have said so.

Kashmiris shout slogans in Srinagar’s Anchar neighbourhood after Friday prayers on September 20. Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Thus it is restrictions on the influx of tourists that are to be lifted from October 10.

But Neelofar, a houseboat owner says that she will not give out her houseboat to any tourist as a mark of protest against the scrapping of the erstwhile “special status”. Gulzar, a noted Shikarawala who rose to fame by acting in a German movie, has also said the same. Most connected to the tourism industry say there is no point in inviting tourists since no tourists would come as long as mobile phones, broad-band etc., are not operational.

Also read: Jammu and Kashmir Police Has Violated the JJ Act in Detaining Children

Many also wonder that if “normalcy” has indeed returned, then why were innocent Kashmiris, including leaders and workers of political parties committed to the accession, not let out to savour a taste of the “normalcy.” And why are sundry envoys of friendly countries like the US – for example, senator Chris Van Hollen – not allowed entry into the “normalcy”-returned Valley?

Why are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren not taken to diplomatic task for voicing such bold and heretical statements against the events in Kashmir? Why is a US Senate Panel, due to hold meetings on human rights in the Valley, not being advised that all human rights have been restored, so that they need not trouble their unfriendly, busybody heads about this wholly internal matter?

These canny, recalcitrant Kashmiris also ask as to why there is suddenly a surge of infiltration and militancy after the consequential scrapping of Article 370 which has made Kashmiris equal to all other Indians, when such acts had dwindled greatly before the scrapping as per the government’s own averments?

Nor is it any comfort that, after the initial euphoria, even the beleaguered Pandits have come to realise that the scrapping of the impugned Article has made no difference to their travails. Or the embarrassing circumstance where even the ruling party’s own satraps are, however shamefacedly, pleading for some “domicile curbs” in order to protect the rights of Kashmiris to land ownership and state jobs – when such curbs remain in place in a number of other states where militancy remains an issue.

Most cruelly, few mainland Indians seem to be falling head over heels to be the first to inaugurate that demographic make-over of the Valley which, at the bottom, has been the chief objective of the powers-that-be.

And, many political pundits continue to pose the more trying question: despite India’s famed friendship with the US, even the articulated desire to see Trump get reelected – voiced in the “Howdy Modi” tamasha in Houston –why does the Indian state not wish to emulate the devolutionary model of American democracy where a wide disparity of state laws and practices flourish from the east coast to the west. How is it that the American system permits some states to have caucuses and others primaries, some to have capital punishment and some to not, some to have special provisions in education for state subjects and some to not, and so forth down the intelligent democratic line?

Also read: The Siege in Kashmir Is Damaging India’s Image Abroad

Or, why is it that the principle of religious freedom on which America was founded should not be adopted in full as opposed to the insistence, reiterated only the other day by the RSS chief, that every Indian is a “Hindu” and India a “Hindu Rashtra”?

The honourable home minister has been pleased to opine that full statehood will be restored to Jammu and Kashmir. Till then, time will be taken to ensure that the “discredited” old political formations are replaced by newer leaderships. If that means holding captive elections to one nondescript body or another, even if only the ruling party participates in those procedures, so be it. Such a measure, of course, helps in reinforcing the narrative of “normalcy.”

Badri Raina has taught at Delhi University.