Will the removal of Article 370 bring peace?
Nobody else has a greater vested interest in peace and development than an average Kashmiri. But how this will happen is not clear.
The decision to abrogate Article 370 has perhaps generated more emotions than any other event in the country in the recent past. From celebrations to anger, from euphoria to despondency, from pride to humiliation, it has seen a wide spectrum of emotions reflected through millions of conversations on social media.
Like everyone else, I too had an emotional reaction when the news popped up on the notification bar of my phone. Perhaps a little too emotional because this impacts an ordinary Kashmiri more than anyone else. It has taken a while to let it sink in and to objectively assess it.
At a personal level, the helplessness of not being able to reach out to our families back home has been emotionally shattering and hard to come to terms with. The total clampdown on all means of communication has left families disconnected. It is inconsiderate and inhumane at multiple levels. Most of us have elderly parents or small children at home. It is painful to think just how they must be coping inside their besieged homes. What if there is a medical emergency? My grandmother is quite unwell, I wonder if I will get to see her again. The desperation to reach our families is growing by the hour. And so is the hopelessness.
The abrupt manner in which Article 370 was removed also begs a few questions. Could the decision have been implemented in a better way? Perhaps the government could have approached it by building a consensus for the removal of the article? A buy-in from the common man, especially those living in the state, could have perhaps been secured through a rational and educative campaign about the benefits over a period of time? Why not take a stepwise approach instead of rushing through it?
The biggest argument from the government has been that the decision will bring development and peace in the state. Having suffered three decades of violence, nobody else has a greater vested interest in peace and development than an average Kashmiri like me. However, how this will happen has been left vague, with only mere assertions being made about the move bringing in corporate investment. A better delineation of the plans, if there are any, would have certainly helped create more optimistic reactions. At this stage, it is still unclear if any business house wants to invest in an uncertain and precarious environment. And that leads us into questioning whether economic development and employment generation are the solution? Will these lead to peace?
A lot of emphasis is also being given to how the removal of Article 370 will help integrate the state (now split into two Union territories) with the rest of the country. Sadly, the integration seems to be only a legal one. It is akin to acquiring a property. Given the sentimental attachment that most people in the Valley have with the “special status”, the decision to remove it has left a negative impact on the emotional integration of people. Add to this the denigrating remarks and juvenile jokes about marrying Kashmiri girls and buying property on Dal lake — these have further driven a bigger wedge between people.
On the positive side, if the decision helps in resettling the uprooted Kashmiri Pandits back home, it will be a big win. Most of these Pandits want to go back to their homes, especially those still living in abject conditions in refugee camps in Jammu and elsewhere. Let us hope this happens. Ending the discrimination against women deprived of property rights after marrying outside the Valley is also a welcome step. This could and should have been addressed earlier. The decision to divide the state has been welcomed by Ladakh. They have been demanding UT status for a while. However, the decision hasn’t gone down well in Kargil, a predominantly Muslim district, where people have come out on the streets to protest. Will this exacerbate tensions in a region that has managed to stay peaceful so far, despite the conflict in the Valley next door?
It is also critical that proper provisions and restrictions are put in place for buying of property to protect the fragile ecology of the region. Lastly, while much has already been written on the politics of it all, I still have a few questions in mind: Why are the mainstream Kashmiri politicians being projected as villains in this entire episode? So far, it is the mainstream political parties and their leadership that have been the bridge between alienated Kashmiris and mainland India. With the removal of Article 370, who will provide that bridge now? Or has this bridged the divide between separatists and the mainstream in the Valley? Only time will tell how this decision will impact the future. Hope we have some answers once things settle down. Right now, all we can do is pray for peace.
(The author is a senior advertising professional)