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AFSPA & Kashmiri Pandits

by Vineet Agarwal (Nov_01_15_2011)

At the onset let me express that it is our freedom for speech and expression that allows a free and open debate on topics of national importance. It has been in general exhilarating and sometimes worrisome to read the posts by people across the various sections of our society on AFSPA & the Kashmiri Pandit. Some of it was indeed dispassionately written while some touched the emotional chord, but in all the views & apprehensions are totally relevant and may I say not unfounded. However, I am not in total agreement and would like to express my view on the same.

I believe for people like us in Delhi, Houston, and Mumbai or wherever else we may reside other than Kashmir, it is difficult to appreciate the life of a Kashmiri. One who is a non terrorist or in any way connected to it and wants him and his family to have a normal life of growth, prosperity and peace. As compared to a few thousands before (and now in hundreds) who were terrorist these are a few lakhs of people and for me their well being and aspirations hold more importance because once we have them integrated to the main stream a few hundred miscreants won't matter.

I am going to use an obtuse example to drive in my point. I am sure that if you are a Kashmiri Pandit you would know all of this but I beg you to indulge with me all the same. Imagine a situation at the start when Kashmir was declared a Disturbed Area. Life would change to having strict observation of free movement timings, having soldiers along the stretch of the streets, the fear of them walking into the house unannounced at any time of the day or night or maybe a loved one taken in for questioning indefinitely. Basically, life under AFSPA.  As a law abiding citizen one would argue with oneself and maybe agree to it being a need of the hour and reluctantly agree. Now with time passing one sees that what one thought were going to be a few weeks are now months. One sees ones children sensing the fear as they walk the street to school. One sees that all they play are indoor games and as gathering over few people is barred they are getting more introverts. One sees the neighbors’ daughter, a local damsel, being eyed by the soldiers. One hears of another neighbors’ son having been taken for questioning for a week now and they don't know where or when he will be back. The society in general is disillusioned now because over a year has passed and even though the cause of DA has not been removed your neighborhood is paying a price now for someone else’s doing. Now WHAT IF that local damsel was taken advantage of and doesn’t matter whether by the miscreants or soldiers, as the blame will be on the soldiers and the boy never returned. WHAT IF the people have lived a generation with this and similar happening which have occurred at frequent intervals? WHAT IF the child, who is now a youth, has more resentment in him and it is equally distributed between the miscreants and the soldiers? WHAT IF the child, now youth, wants to marry and start a family but holds himself back because he doesn’t want to offer a similar kind of life like his to his children? WHAT IF there was no possibility of fleeing this misery neither for the parent nor the child??

Dear readers, these are not just posers that I put to you. These are the harsh reality of a taxi driver of Srinagar. He was thankful to the army for all what has been done happier that tourist are coming back to Kashmir so that he can take better care of his family and prosper. There was hope in his eyes but also there was anguish. My trip to Gulmarg was an eye opener as at every 100/200 mts there was a soldier on duty. Yes you may argue it they were there to make me feel safe but I am sure if I had got down and walked towards the countryside I would have been told off for my actions. If this made me, a free Indian, intimidated I can only imagine what life had to be for the people living 24x7 and for over a decade, in more stringent conditions.

We have all appreciated the army’s role in curbing the violence in Kashmir. We also appreciate that the soldiers live in such tension conditions that some instances of excesses can occur. I am sure the army has dealt with the excesses appropriately and that in such a long time and with so many soldiers on duty even with the most disciplined of armies this occurs. The Majority of the Kashmiris also thank the army for their effort but they also feel that they are over staying their invitation. If the army still acts and behaves in the current times like they were doing at the height of the problem they see a disconnect.

Arguments have been given about the genesis of insurgency and that ISI trained and funded the local Kashmiris. All of this is true. But situation now is that majority of the people have turned their back on the terrorist.  Infiltration is down to a trickle and is being checked by the army very effectively. ISI itself is under fire from within Pakistan through its intelligentsia and Pakistan has other major problems with their country to deal with from the very terror groups they helped create. Public opinion internationally is against Pakistan for their action and/or for the lack of it. What better time to try and integrate the Kashmiris into the main stream?

The argument against the removal of AFSPA gradual or at one go will go in favor of a gradual removal. Everything we have learned whether in marketing or manufacturing or taking any unknown risk always pointed towards test marketing / sampling / controlled risk in all our acts and actions. Why even our investment strategy is always to minimize our risks through broad basing our investments. Thus any removal of AFSPA can only be gradual so that the risk of things getting out of control is minimized and if we do find things getting out of control we can revert back to AFSPA. This way even the local people will have lesser ill will as they will themselves see that taking out AFSPA is not possible i.e. if the problem continues. On the other hand if these sectors where AFSPA is removed do stand true to the test then not only will we get the goodwill of right action taken but will also be a guiding light to the other sectors that if their sector gets rid of the deficiencies they can be out of AFSPA.

The other argument that the partial removal of AFSPA will hurt because the miscreants will reside in those areas where AFSPA is removed also does not make sense because it will actually make the work easy for the army to search for the miscreants in these areas only. Further, if the army says it will be unable to find the miscreants in the sectors free of AFSPA then there is little chance of removal of AFSPA at one go. Alarmist profess that there are still sleeper cells in Kashmir, well if they are asleep now they can be asleep even longer i.e. till the time they feel that it is time to attack. This way again AFSPA can never be removed. Finally, do we realize that AFSPA has not been used by the Army in the last over two years. Even last year the Army intervened on the letter from the Chief Secretary asking them for their intervention and help.

It is true that “one swallow does not a summer make” as it is equally true to say that sighting a swallow is a beacon that the summer is coming. Same analogy goes for the argument that it’s only been one summer of reduced violence. Violence has reduced and if the state does not show the benevolence of taking notice of the same and ease up on its citizens then we chance the alienation of these people which will be worse to over come especially in our type of governance.

I am not going to discuss the written words on the political bit and the handling by the politicians, the media etc. because I am in total agreement with the views therein. This kind of shenanigans are not expected of a matured democracy like our and we have to hang our head in shame when we are witness to it. It is the final decision of the Centre, the state and the army and only if they are in concurrence will the actual process of removal of AFSPA work.

About that bit of providing civic amenities, roads etc are already happening. The few panchayat elections were also fairly held and till last reports a success. The government has invested in infrastructure like railway, power and sops for industry. The Tourism industry has also picked up and in season the flights are full up and the hotel rates as high as that of a Goa resort in season. But what does it mean to a person who has to go home still at night under the supervision of army personnel and his free movement restricted. I don’t remember who said it but it goes something like “I’d rather live a day in freedom than live decades with my thoughts and aspirations subjugated to the whims of others”.

 Finally, the violence meted out to the Kashmiri Pandits in 1989/90. It was a shameful act of attempted genocide and that some of the locals turned on the Kashmiri Pandits made it all the more painful. One can give similar example like I have given above of a Kashmiri Pandit child, now youth, with life in tatters in the camps in Delhi and/or Jammu. But does it not underscore the need to take steps and help him get back to his homeland. Do we not have the responsibility towards the Kashmiri Pandits? Yes we sure do. But let’s please define what’s it that will pacify the situation. Do we seek retribution for the acts committed in terms of bringing to justice the tormentors? Do we want and eye for an eye? Not only that it will not pacify the situation but also because neither of them is possible. Can we and should we behave in similar fashion as the tormentor or should we rise above them?

The hurt and anguish of a Kashmiri Pandit is again something I can only imagine and maybe never fully appreciate not having lived the experience. When we cannot undo the past the only effort we need to do is to make that hurt go away through love and happiness. And nothing will give them more happiness and nothing can act as a more soothing balm, as enabling them to be able to return to their homeland. This can only happen when normalcy returns to the valley, and it can happen only gradually and step by step, will there be any possibility of getting the other stakeholders in the valley back to their homeland viz., the Kashmiri Pandits, the Sikhs and others.

Like we want the Politics and the rhetoric left out of the Kashmiri debate so will we also have to ensure that we take leave of our emotions and think logically. If we do let our passions and emotions cloud up our mind, I am afraid we are only going to prolong the torment of all the stakeholders in J&K, especially the Kashmiri Pandits. Why so?? Because, unlike the other stakeholder the Kashmiri Pandit is not even in his homeland.