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Kashmir: Unfortunate Insensitivity

By Raouf Rasool

15 April, 2013

The official assertions often want people to think of the political traditions and concepts of democracy and citizenship in Jammu and Kashmir are same as shared among other states in the Indian mainland. But as the events of Kashmir’s history indicate – especially the difficulty with which common masses in and from Kashmir are attempting to reclaim their right to be seen and treated as ‘public’ and not just the ‘political other’ – the concepts of democracy, equality, and civil society seem to have very specific and different cultural and political meanings here. No wonder there is popular belief in Kashmir that democracy stops on the other side of the Pirpanchal ridge, and so do all other rights and privileges guaranteed to the common people by the laws and constitutions.

In Jammu and Kashmir, as the history has it, the relationship between the common masses – the public – and the state has never really been perceived in terms of collaboration and consensus but rather in terms of mutual hostility and antagonism. This is perhaps the reason for the state to have always kept some repressive laws handy – to tame and torment the belligerent masses. With the help of these laws, the state uses its executive arm – the police and other armed forces – to keep everything and everyone, which challenges its writ and authority, at bay.

Notwithstanding what constitution and the laws say, democracy and equality here have all along been mediated by traditional notions of hierarchy, privilege and distinction. The public space has been constituted for a small, elite group of a few political families and figures, who have, in turn, ensured that democracy and liberty remains the exclusive preserve of the dominant minority of their own stooges in politics and bureaucracy and a handful of those this elite is comfortable with. In a culture of widespread sycophancy, civil liberties and even human rights are cast as ‘privileges’ and ‘favours’ bestowed by superiors on subordinates within relations structured by notions of loyalty. ‘Favours’ include everything from personal protection to material goods to jobs.

Although on the face of it the law is based on the democratic principles of universalism and equality, in practice it diverges from theory and is applied in different ways to the people depending on their political lineages and family names. Here even the laws are used for the exploitation of masses rather than for the liberation and emancipation of the society. Those who are wealthy and who have political connections manage to slip under or over the legal barriers, while the ordinary masses, the have-nots have to struggle even for getting the police to register an FIR in case of loss of a mobile phone, not to speak of a case involving death or torture of a kin at the very hands of the state agencies!

The events of past couple of decades in Kashmir serve a sordid reminder of the state’s insensitivity towards its subjects. While the ordinary are crying for justice, and in doing so are facing repeated injustices, those sitting on judgment have either no time for them or they prefer to deal with the situation by relocating a rook or two, some bishops, and pawns with the nudge of a finger, thinking this should suffice the need. The political violence in Kashmir has steadily morphed into its structural manifestations. Misuse and abuse of law and authority by those at the helm of affairs have woven violence into the very structures of the state and the society. The general culture of insensitivity towards the ordinary mortals, the official despise for their life and liberties, are pushing the population to the wall. The challenge of dealing with this growing alienation is too big to be tackled by minor administrative reshuffles here and there. It needs a massive shake-up of the political and bureaucratic haves. But the question is: will they ever allow such a shake-up?

The writer is Editor of Kashmir Images, an English daily published simultaneously from Jammu and Kashmir’s twin captals – Srinagar and Jammu. Raouf_rasool@yahoo.com






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