The struggle in Kashmir is also about wresting primary agency for resolving the dispute. Kashmiris must not wait for any goodwill from Islamabad or New Delhi, for both ‘do not have a vested interest in resolving the conflict or not resolving the conflict either’.
By Mudasir Wani
Kashmir was discussed by an informed panel on September 3 in New Delhi, following launch of the book Garrisoned Minds, Women and Armed Conflicts in South Asia, edited by Laxmi Murthy and Mitu Varma. The panelists were Prof Sanjoy Hazarika, Dr Siddiq Wahid, Seema Kazi and Shujaat Bhukhari. Dr Wahid talked about the Kashmir conflict; how it is unfolding presently and its historicity. He believed the current phase of mass uprising was a blend of three kinds of emotions and sentiments running amidst the Kashmiris: feeling of anger, feeling of embarrassment and feeling of despair.
One of the remarks Dr Wahid made was that both New Delhi and Islamabad ‘do not have a vested interest in resolving the conflict’, not to say that ‘they have a vested interest in not resolving the conflict’ either. In this situation of despair, he argued, there was a moment of embarrassment and shame that there have been no efforts on the part of ‘we’ Kashmiris to come up with solutions; rather ‘we’ seem to have surrendered our ‘agency’. For Dr Wahid, it is from this non-exercise of agency that embarrassment emanates, and Kashmiris must not wait for any goodwill from Islamabad and/or New Delhi to resolve the dispute.
The academic Seema Kazi spoke on the need to question the post-colonial imagination of nationalism and nation-state in the Indian subcontinent. The South Asian states are not ‘nation-states’ rather they are ‘multi-nation’ states, she argued. Kazi advocated a departure was needed in thinking about India as a multicultural state to a multiethnic/multinational one. She premised her argument on how ethnicities have been homogenized under the centralized rule of modern nation-state, which is not only a product of colonial construction but is also deeply influenced by the ideology. The exclusionary and dominating ideology of society has become the ideology of state. She emphasized on how the questions of ‘ethnicity’ as well as ‘nationality’ need to be rethought. Her insights were a critique of post-colonial state in India.
One of the pertinent points raised during the discussion was the question of how does one understand the resistance movements in areas that have not endorsed the British partition scheme, and are at logger heads with these post-colonial states? Similarly, how should one talk about the agency of large ethnic and national communities subjugated by the post-colonial security state? The question is whether the oppressed and suppressed ethnic-national communities in the first place have any agency at all? Is the agency denied through structural processes or it is a self-denied agency? What are the ways through which they exercise or can exercise such agency? Is there a way to recognize such agency at all?
The erstwhile princely state of Kashmir inherited a disputed legacy and was turned into a conflict zone after the Partition. Despite, Kashmir having signed Standstill Agreement with two new sovereign entities (India and Pakistan), it lost its sovereignty and its territories were usurped. ‘Kashmir’ consists of five regions (Kashmir valley, Jammu, Ladakh, Gilgit–Baltistan, Pakistan administered Kashmir); however, it is only Kashmir valley that faces armed conflict. The Muslim majority valley has become the focus and core of the conflict.
Now, the question, do Kashmiris have any agency at all? And can they come up with a solution to the occupation of their territories, bodies and minds? Shujaat focused upon the ‘façade of democracy in Kashmir’. He questioned why no one in Kashmir was going to meet the All Party Delegation that visited Kashmir in the first week of September. Why has Kashmir’s resistance leadership become disenchanted with Delhi’s dialogue process? In the past, India never showed any seriousness to deliver what they uttered in the face of mass uprisings. It is through the institution of military protected with legal impunity that people know the Indian state in Kashmir. Persistent brutalization and state crimes against humanity perpetrated by the instruments of occupation play the music of democracy in Kashmir. Can Kashmiris really have agency in such a situation; even if they could, what form could it take?
What if new road maps emerged from Kashmir? Will these add to the problem or genuinely help resolve the dispute? The special status guaranteed under Article 370 of Indian Constitution has been mostly taken away through presidential orders. The conception of autonomy within the unitary-federal structure has been often mocked at. In June 2000, National Conference “adopted by voice vote a resolution accepting the report of the State Autonomy Committee (SAC), recommending greater autonomy to the State”. It was ignored by the government of India and binned. Such is the intolerance in the government of India that it is not ready to work on the issue from a federal and centre-state relations perspective also. The NDA government on one hand in February 2000 was thinking to review the working of the constitution through the Justice Venkatachaliah Commission and on other hand was adamant to not even consider the autonomy resolution of J&K Assembly!
What about the Self-Rule road map presented by the PDP in 2002? In the last 14 years no substantial engagement has been seen on this idea as well. Achievable Nationhood propounded by Sajjad Lone after meeting former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not even create a ripple anywhere.
When one talks about the agency of Kashmir, all the five regions need to be considered as a single whole. Another interesting aspect would be to look at the ‘agency’ from regional positions put forth. Fragmentation in the discourse has been inserted in the unitary whole, through invocation of different fault lines to make Kashmir a non-agentic entity. Or, to be precise, to manipulate the agency as non-coherent and chaotic. Discourses are flaunted which aim to create divisiveness and suspicion. People across the regions are conditioned to develop biases about rest of the regions. These biases are developed by invoking the religious, sectarian, ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences. Dr Wahid rightly lamented about the apathy shown by people of other regions, like Ladakh and Jammu. The people of other parts show least sensitivity towards the protests and killings in the valley, making the situation doubly tragic. For Dr Wahid, the silence is more shameful and akin to surrender of agency by the other regions within Kashmir.
Besides the above mentioned resolution models by Kashmiris themselves, Pakistan too has taken initiatives, like 1972 Shimla Agreement or 2002 Agra summit and later four-point formula by General Parvez Musharraf. Musharraf’s keenness to bring a solution to the table outside the UNSC resolutions of Plebiscite also did not make any breakthrough. India did not agree to even demilitarize the region or give any other concession to let the peace process start. In this situation, to assume any agency with the people of Kashmir caught amidst the conflict is akin to assuming the ‘lion losing its sleep over the opinion of sheep’.
To think that India has any intent to resolve the issue and consider it even on its own self-proclaimed paradigms like within the framework of Indian constitution, or P V Narsimha Rao’s ‘sky is the limit’, Vajpayees ‘Insaniyat ke dayree mein’, and now Modi’s repeats of ‘Jamhoriyat, Kashmiriyat and Insaaniyat. Although all these fall outside the internationally accepted legal and political status of Kashmir, does Indian state really take its utterances seriously? This can be beautifully summed up in the words of Mirza Ghalib:
Hum ko un se wafa ki hai umeed;
Jo nahin jante wafa kya hai?
After the arrest of Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 by Nehru’s government, people of Kashmir supported Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and later rallied behind Plebiscite Front formed in 1955 till Indira-Sheikh Accord in 1974 and even waited for Autonomy after the Accord by Sheikh Abdullah till his death. Kashmiris supported representational politics of Muslim United Front’s (MUF) when they joined electoral politics in 1987 till the rigging led it to culminate into armed rebellion. In the post 1990s conflict phase, people stood by armed resistance; although crushed by military might under the draconian AFSPA regime. Despite state repression they gave way to new political formations like PDP in 2000s for its Self-Rule mantra. Till date they have supported every novel initiative but it has never brought them out of the quagmire of oppression and repression.
Kashmiris are agentic, standing everytime for their political convictions and political rights. They fight and die for their political right and aspiration. But to call them as subjects with ‘surrendered agency’ is a gross misinterpretation of their fight for Aazadi. By calling people as agency-less is a more sophisticated and jargonized assertion that what they are doing is incomprehensible and hence unimaginable.