Ironically, at a time when the Jammu and Kashmir state government, seen here as an alliance of the “soft separatist” People’s Democratic Party’s and the “nationalist” Bharatiya Janata Party, is held up as a bold political experiment to bridge the deep divide between J and K. That experiment is being tested by political controversies outside Kashmir. Time was when Kashmiri Muslims thought of themselves as separate from the Indian Muslim, above the fray of debates that roiled the rest of the nation – be it Mandal or Mandir. That distance has shrunk. Today’s bruising debates over identity, religion, and diet, they say, play out on every mobile phone in Kashmir as they do in the rest of the country, the fault lines these engender cut too close to the Kashmiri’s own political struggle of identity and nationalism.
With the PDP-BJP alliance, these issues have come home, touched Kashmiri lives dramatically: whether it is the Tricolour at the NIT, the Bharat Mata ki Jai campaign across the nation, or the killing in Dadri of a father (wrongly) suspected to have eaten beef. Or the hanging of Afzal Guru and the crackdown in JNU on those who questioned it. Many young people cite incidents in which Kashmiri students are beaten up across campuses in the country to argue that the Centre pays no attention to those but gives a quick hearing to NIT Srinagar’s “non-local” students that they feel “insecure” in the Valley. The current scenario is like several questions come up in the mind of every Kashmiri-“ if I fly the Tricolour over my house, will India accept me as an equal citizen? And they have the answer to that too: “No, because for Indians, most of us Kashmiris are terrorists”.
Especially the Kashmiri youth wonders, “Outside Kashmir, they use water cannons to disperse protestors. Why don’t they use them here? Only in J&K, they use bullets to stop protests. Why the difference towards Kashmiri youth? In short, they donot feel safe in their own land. The youth feel hostile in their own land. Every Kashmiri wants to be treated with dignity and at par with the rest. Chief Minister and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti was quick to react to the Kupwara killings. She visited Kupwara, met with the families of those who had been killed, promised them compensation and justice. Her response has won some appreciation in the Valley and has been compared favourably against the manner in which former chief Minister Omar Abdullah made the first reach out to the families of the children who had died in the 2010 agitation three months after the first deaths.
But in PDP’s own south Kashmir stronghold, the party is under strident attack. The reason: its coalition with the BJP. Underlying the rage in south Kashmir is what young voices across its four districts describe as a “betrayal” by the PDP.
Of the 16 Assembly constituencies in south Kashmir, the PDP won 11 in the 2014 election. Young people turned out in high numbers to vote for the party. There is a political vacuum in south Kashmir. It has left a space that is wide open that is available for anyone to fill. PDP workers are too weak, and other parties are not interested because they have never had a base here. The police claim they are showing restraint despite grave provocation, including the time when a police vehicle was set on fire. But an official asks: “How long can we keep dispersing such massive crowds (at the encounter sites and protests) peacefully?” This is ultimately a political problem, and it has to be resolved only by politicians. In addition to this, due talks with Pakistan is the need of hour for solving the core problems in Kashmir.
By – Nikita Goel