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  Opinion   Columnists  29 Oct 2017  Truth , the first step to restoring J&K’s dignity

Truth , the first step to restoring J&K’s dignity

The writer is a member of Compost Heap, a group of academics and activists working on alternative imaginations.
Published : Oct 29, 2017, 12:31 am IST
Updated : Oct 29, 2017, 12:31 am IST

The conference was an appeal to “listening” and the vital role that listening as an art and a ritual plays in a democracy.

The groups present felt that home minister Rajnath Singh’s statement that India must go beyond a muscular politics and seek compassion, care and concern could be treated as a window of opportunity. (Photo: PTI)
 The groups present felt that home minister Rajnath Singh’s statement that India must go beyond a muscular politics and seek compassion, care and concern could be treated as a window of opportunity. (Photo: PTI)

Sometimes I feel there is predictability, an inevitability and metaphysical pathos about politics which is seen as inevitable. When people talk of Kashmir, or Manipur, I feel the same sense of gloom and doom that has haunted these states since Independence. Violence, brutality and continuous violation of human rights, are all considered almost normal in these states. We assume change is not possible and that these states will continue to suffer. All this destroys optimism, hope and a desire for change, so critical to democracy.

I admit problems are formidable and one can easily get despaired by the alternating litany of terrorism and misgovernance in Kashmir. It is as if Kashmir is a hell where anything that can go wrong, will. Yet, sometimes as I think things over, I sense a need to rethink Kashmir. There is a need for new ethical experiments, a set of civil society experiments to rethink Kashmir. There have been a few reports by civil society on Kashmir but the experiment in rethinking Kashmir is yet to begin.

On October 25, I attended a conference organised by WISCOMP, an initiative of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility, under the umbrella of the Dalai Lama. I sensed the possibilities of a new beginning at this conference.

It was a quiet conference, there were no VIPs and no politicians were beating out the clichés of Kashmir at this conference. This is why I felt that a beginning can, indeed, be made.

The conference began with a statement on vulnerability and responsibility. It began by accepting the need for a new moral imagination on Kashmir, by asking how creative spaces for politics could be created between the past and the future. It modestly suggested that the security expert is not only an analyst but a case study as well, and as an expert, he must reflect on the flaws of his paradigm. Doctors often use the term iatrogeny, meaning doctor-induced illness, in their conversations. Iatrogeny is the ultimate paradox of medical power. Similarly, a lot of the violence in Kashmir is induced by experts or policies.

The conference, in fact, struck a different note about the vulnerability of social science and policy thinking and thus struck a different note from the usual banal outpouring, oozing with the confidence of Delhi.

The conference was an appeal to “listening” and the vital role that listening as an art and a ritual plays in a democracy.

Delhi, it emerged at the conference, was a poor listener when it comes to Kashmir and both media and security-obsessed bureaucrats were “too obsessed with the project of nation-building to understand the pain of Kashmir”.

In fact, by being tone-deaf to suffering, the successive governments have othered Kashmir, freezing it into a stereotype of response, which it unfolds like a Penelope’s cloak, again and again.

When you pay attention to Kashmir, you realise that the voices that you need to listen to are the voices of Kashmiri women, children and youth, and not of any of the tired political parties. The poignant experiences of these people need a much bigger canvas.

Violence has destroyed the innocence of childhood in Kashmir. One speaker described Kashmir as the continent of lost childhood.

Listening to the silence of the people as also the poetry of protest, I sensed that people in Kashmir are tired of existing circumstances and want a change. This they expressed through their writings, theatre and music. Such artistic endeavours, voicing dissent, must not be seen as antithetical to politics; these must be viewed as an extension of politics in a more evocative form.

The government’s attempt to contrast the stone with the pellet proved to be misguided. It did not understand the asymmetry of power nor did it realise that in a zone of indifference, stone is the only way in which voiceless people regain their voice.

After the conference, I felt that the government must make an attempt to understand Kashmir by beginning to “listen” to Kashmiris as also by owning up its past mistakes.

There was an openness that went beyond the critique. The conference made an attempt to see the possibilities in the other. The groups present felt that home minister Rajnath Singh’s statement that India must go beyond a muscular politics and seek compassion, care and concern could be treated as a window of opportunity. There is no naiveté here but a sense of a politics of hope. It is the recognition that the problem in Kashmir is not a Kashmiri problem but an Indian one. There is a sense that the test for Indian democracy would be the way we behaved in Kashmir.

The conference also brought to fore the civil society’s determination to play a more determined and creative role in resolving Kashmir issue, while upholding and extending Gandhian principles of non-violence.

As I listened to the testimonies and the stories analysed, I sensed that Kashmir was a double failure of storytelling and listening. It is almost as if democracy must begin again, in Kashmir.

Various speakers opined that there was a need for telling the truth, and reconciliation. Many proposed the idea of a Truth Commission in Kashmir, arguing that truth alone can restore a sense of dignity to the place. There is a need to go beyond a legalistic idea of rights and compensation and do psychoanalysis so that healing and repair can be done. It was heartening to see several bureaucrats and soldiers responding enthusiastically to this. It was interesting to see bureaucrats demanding that we go beyond governance and think about welfare.

There, indeed, is a desperate need to turn Kashmir from a law and order problem to an issue of truth and reconciliation. An attempt to go beyond security and rethink on peace is more holistic, any day.

I know this is just a small beginning; one swallow does not make a summer. But peace begins with these small prayers of hope and humility. This is the new role of civil society. The civil society isn’t just an extension counter of the official but a centre of rethinking alternative imaginations and possibilities. The hope for democracy and Kashmir lies in these theatres of experimentation.

Tags: human rights, dalai lama, rajnath singh, jammu and kashmir