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68 years since Kashmir’s accession: Want peace? Talk to locals, not US

If the relationship of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union remains in limbo on the sixty-eighth anniversary of the state’s accession to India, it is largely because the Government of India has over-emphasised global projection while missing out on local persuasion.

The effort to persuade world powers of India’s juridical claim was based on a naïve faith that those powers were unbiased. Chandrashekhar Dasgupta’s superbly researched (2002) book clearly shows that geostrategic concerns made Britain steer the United Nations Security Council towards backing Pakistan’s claims in 1948. Not only did it think Pakistan was far more likely to give the West such strategic benefits as landing rights for aircraft, it did not want to alienate `the whole of the Muslim world’ at a time when it was installing Israel in Palestine.

A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim shouts slogans as policemen detain him for participating in a religious procession during restrictions in Srinagar on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. APA Kashmiri Shiite Muslim shouts slogans as policemen detain him for participating in a religious procession during restrictions in Srinagar on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. AP

A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim shouts slogans as policemen detain him for participating in a religious procession during restrictions in Srinagar on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. AP

From 1949, the US took the lead role for the West regarding Kashmir, proposing that the United Nations appoint US Admiral Chester Nimitz to arbitrate a solution between India and Pakistan. That could have opened the way for introducing an `independence option’ but Jawaharlal Nehru rejected Nimitz’s nomination.

The US’s stand on Kashmir shifted radically only in 1995, when Ambassador Frank Wisner asked Pakistan to reassess its options when he addressed Pakistan Army’s staff college. That contrasted sharply with a volley of shrill anti-India statements from Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel just a couple of years before.

That change in the US’s stand had nothing to do with all the time, effort and resources the Ministry of External Affairs had earnestly put in over the past 47 years. It was powered by Wall Street’s pleasure over India’s investment liberalization and the US’s desire to wrap up India’s nuclear programme through the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Even thereafter, though, world powers including the US have been happy to keep the fires in Kashmir burning. Happiness with market access aside, world powers still want to see India and Pakistan unstable – and therefore beholden to them.

The government would therefore be well advised to concentrate instead on engaging the Kashmiri people in a meaningful dialogue. No one in the world can raise a peep on the issue unless common Kashmiris raise a hue and cry.

Sadly, the current trends of targeted violence across the country are achieving the opposite effect. This is tragic, for reports from Dadri and other places across the country bolster the revulsion already caused by the horrific repression of counterinsurgency, the mindsets which political Islam have moulded, and the effects of the global `War on Terror’ – all vital motivating factors for the current round of militancy.

On this anniversary of accession, the government would do well to not only take stock of the damage from these trends but to also examine other reasons why many Kashmiris think of accession as fundamentally illegitimate.

One of the most important factors is skewed narratives about what happened between 25 and 27 October 1947. Generations of Kashmiris have grown up on these, and some still do. But, as with most social realities of this state, the Union government is oblivious – and several state governments have used these narratives to their advantage.

One common narrative goes something like this: ‘Sheikh Abdullah acceded to India temporarily when he asked his friend Nehru to send troops to help Kashmir against the kabalis (tribesmen from Pakistan who invaded the state on 22 October 1947). When the kabalis had been expelled, the army never left. They still occupy our land.’ No mention of the maharaja. Nor, generally, any understanding of what an accession means.

Other narratives abound – for instance, that Kashmir was an independent country until Indian troops arrived. Ironically, Kashmiri intellectuals routinely highlight tyrannical repression by Dogra rulers (1846-1951), but rarely point to how these narratives contradict those other ones.

The education system does not address these vital issues. The approved curriculum simply ignores Kashmir’s recent history. But this does not prevent teachers, family elders and other educators from promoting narratives about the illegitimacy of India’s presence in Kashmir.

Unsubstantiated narratives are also peddled by many of the shoddily-written notes (kunjis) on which most students rely to pass examinations, particularly in the current phase when the education system has been badly mauled by a quarter-century of militancy.

If the Government spent on ground-level education just a fraction of the resources it has spent on international projections, it would diminish the ready levers that the UK, the US, Pakistan or China pull to geostrategic advantage as and when any of these or other countries see fit.

Government spokespersons who routinely disparage Kashmiri agitators as ‘misguided’ have no clue how they are misguided. As long as the young men believe that India’s role 68 years ago was illegitimate, those who want to excite agitators will have a field day.

Of course, questioning populist narratives about accession will not suffice in isolation. Straightforward answers also need to be given regarding the promised plebiscite. If the government could develop policies beyond throwing money and military force at Kashmir, nurture responsive multi-layered democratic governance, and abide by the rule of law, it could move towards a plebiscite or negotiated settlement acceptable to the people.

David Devadas, an expert on political and international affairs, is the author of In Search of a Future, the Story of Kashmir

Disempowered and neglected: Status of women remains a worrying aspect in Kashmir narrative

By David Devadas

The suicide of a young married woman in Srinagar a few days ago not only shocked Kashmiris but also brought to the fore a generally neglected facet of Kashmir’s social realities. The stresses that married women endure have increased manifold over the past three decades. These decades have been a time of militant violence. The environment of violence has vastly increased the challenges that women face. Yet, most narratives on violence have either ignored women or treated them as objectified victims. Such deeper social trends as the social disempowerment of women have gone largely unnoticed.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

According to neighbours’ and relatives’ accounts, the woman who died of burns had suffered great torment and humiliation at her marital home. Finally, she could take it no more on Eid this year, and set herself on fire. Her desperate act is surely only the tip of an iceberg of societal distress.

Although a much larger number of women are educated now than a couple of generations ago, the ironic fact is that they generally feel more disempowered than their grandmothers did. This is partly a result of the waves of rural-to-urban migration over the past three decades, during which vast sprawls of erstwhile farmland and wetlands have become suburbs. Albeit illiterate, the woman of a rural household had great autonomy, even authority, over not only her kitchen but the household and farm too.

As in much of south Asia, an educated woman works, perhaps as a teacher, but must also take care of all the housework. University professors complain sotto voce that they must take off their burqa as soon as they get home after work and go straight to work in the kitchen. By evening, they must supervise the children’s homework, have everything clean and tidy, and smile warmly while serving tea to any guests their husbands might bring home – generally without notice. “I cannot complain that I have a headache,” says one with a wry smile.

Educated women face another kind of disempowerment from rising tides of social and religious conservatism. Just a few weeks ago, young women were groped and assaulted for trying to attend Kashmir’s first marathon. The most galling aspect of this repression is that after they suffer such indignities, women’s voices and narratives are flatly denied, even on purportedly gender-sensitive media platforms.

This sort of denial of their narratives combines with repression by clerical and other culture police – including, ironically, members of the police force – to frustrate them. An all-girls rock band had to wind up after facing threats and vicious abuse a few years ago. It must be said that this too is common enough in other parts of south Asia but, in contemporary Kashmir, many feel the implicit threat of violence more keenly than elsewhere.

Since the state is used to viewing Kashmir through the prisms of ‘terrorism’, ‘radicalisation’, ‘alienation’ and ‘insurgency’, whatever space is given for the expression of talents or fulfilment of economic and cultural aspirations is provided primarily to young men. Such strategies are oblivious to the fact that young women not only have a key role in moulding society, they are also inherently likely to have a greater stake in peace.

Ironically, one of the reasons for such skewed policies is populism, which many politicians feel impelled to adopt. As Prime Minister-cum-Sports Minister of the state before 1953, Sheikh Abdullah used to stand on the Polo Ground in the centre of Srinagar and supervise sports for women students. Principals of the Government College for Women such as Mehmooda Ali Shah were exemplars and courageous enthusiasts of such co-curricular activities as theatre.

Contemporary political leaders have not given the same importance to promoting women and their rights as Abdullah, GM Bakshi and GM Sadiq did. Although today’s women leaders such as Mehbooba Mufti and Sakina Itoo are courageous in their own right but, apart from Hina Bhat of the BJP, they have been discreet about espousing women’s rights.

Policymakers would do well to address this lacuna. For, young women urgently seek space for the fulfilment of their aspirations. Leaving a women’s college in the heart of downtown after conducting a survey a few years ago, one found a couple of young women in the college uniform waiting at the gate. “We want to thank you, sir,” they said. Perplexed, one asked why. “Somebody came to ask what we want,” they replied. “Koi poochhta nahi hai, ke hum kya chahate hain (Nobody asks what we want).”

(Author of `In Search of a Future, the Story of Kashmir,’ David Devadas is an expert on Kashmiri politics and society.)

Regional aspirations do not weaken the nation: Arun Jaitley

Kochi: In a significant statement on the role of regional political parties in Indian politics, Union Finance Minister and senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley on Thursday said regional aspirations don’t weaken the country, but strengthen the regions and nation as a whole.

Arun Jaitley. AFP

Arun Jaitley. AFP

Noting that the regions of the country have given birth to some strong leaders with a national outlook, he favoured a study into politics of National Conference founder and Jammu and Kashmir’s tall leader Sheikh Abdullah.

“If you look at the cross sections of the country..some of our tallest leaders have been born in these regions. If you look at Jammu and Kashmir…my party and I have disagreed with him…But I can’t deny that Sheikh Abdullah was a very tall leader. Some studies into his politics will be necessary,” Jaitley said after releasing a book on Kerala Finance Minister and Kerala Congress(M) leader KM Mani.

Saying that he belongs to a party which in its earlier avatar in the 1950s and 1960s was more inclined towards a unitary structure, the BJP leader hailed the ability of leaders like Abdullah, Shiromani Akali Dal leader and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and DMK chief and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minster M Karunanidhi in connecting with the people and throw up to the idea of regional aspirations.

“If you look at Punjab, at the age of 88, Badal for the fifth time is Chief Minister. You can see these kind of experiments. Jyoti Basu had a very long term. Karunanidhi had several terms,” he said.

“It is not necessary. You can be opposed to them, you can agree or disagree with them. But they have the ability to connect with their people and throw up to that idea of the regional aspiration.”

“And therefore a new political equation has come into India where we have to realise that regional aspirations don’t weaken the country. They strengthen the regions and the strong regions have constituted a strong India,” Jaitley said.

The FM said though the BJP has its own majority to rule the country, the party chose to constitute a coalition government as it wanted that the regions be represented.

“There have been illustrations…including the present government at the Centre. My party has a majority in its own strength. We still run a coalition government because we want regions to be represented. And in the process, the regional parties also acquire a national outlook,” he said.

He said if a member of a regional party becomes a Defence Minister or an Industry Minister of the country, then his party and region also integrate its own outlook with the larger national interest.

Jaitley said that in the last 20, 30 years, “we are graduated and today we are the biggest supporters of federalism.”

He said this is not a sudden change which has come about.

“This change has come in the very character of India. In 1947 we became Independent. Our principle challenge was how to keep the sovereignty of India,” he said, adding it was towards the latter part of 1960s a spurt of regional politics came up.

“Some people felt that this may be very dangerous and slowly we realised that now there is no longer a threat to sovereignty,” he said.

Jaitley also said there is no concentrated power in a democracy.

“There is a spread of political power. Today the Central government has power, state governments have also have power, municipalities and panchayats also have power.

“The opposition also has a power, civil society has a power, media is strong, judiciary is strong, there is a spread of power in the system and therefore, all other instruments which exercise that power, you have to recognise the space to be provided to them,” the Finance Minister said.

Jaitley released the book ‘KM Mani a Study in Regionalism’, on Kerala Finance Minister KM Mani authored by journalist K Govindankutty.

Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien and Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala were present at the function.

PTI

Sushma Swaraj calls for extradition of certain individuals from UAE to India

India on Wednesday pressed for extradition of certain individuals from UAE who are wanted here as the two countries reviewed the entire gamut of ties with focus on key areas of security, investment and trade.

Sushma Swaraj

India on Wednesday pressed for extradition of certain individuals from UAE who are wanted here as the two countries reviewed the entire gamut of ties with focus on key areas of security, investment and trade.The discussion took place at a ministerial commission meeting in Delhi which was held nearly a fortnight after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE where security cooperation was a major issue on the agenda during his talks with the Emirati leadership.After the meeting, which was co-chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her visiting UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the two sides inked five MoUs including in the areas of telecommunications and tourism.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Briefing reporters, Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East) in the MEA said, the two sides discussed subjects under seven sub-committees in areas like, trade and commerce, investments, energy, petrochemicals, defence, security and combating crime, immigration and Indian community-related issues and “arrived on agreements to enhance our cooperation in these areas”.Asked if there was any list given for the extradition of individuals, he said no specific name was discussed but “these are ongoing discussions with UAE. As far as joint commission is concerned, specific cases were not taken up in this format.But it was agreed that we will continue with this cooperation.”There are certain requests pending from our side for extradition and also certain requests which have been made ..in this field.”He also said the UAE has come out in support of early finalisation of Indian-proposed Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at the United Nations and has assured that it will find “ways and means” to encourage other countries to reach a consensus.UAE’s support to India on CCIT is significant given the proposal at the UN has been opposed by many OIC countries, including Pakistan, who do not agree with the definition of terror and terrorists.The two sides also discussed the increasing threat of Islamic State (IS) and, in this regard, stressed that CCIT would be an important instrument to choke their finances and other sustainability modules. CCIT, a treaty proposed by India in 1996, aims at banning terrorists and make it binding on countries to deny funds and safe havens to them.