Self-determination is a lyrical, mesmerising phrase that sparks the fire in a revolutionary and excites the cerebral neurons of a libertarian, galvanising both into frenzied activity. But self-determination shorn of its prerequisites and mindless of its implications can prove to be a toxic, self-mutilating instrument with deleterious consequences for its protagonists and antagonists. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Kashmir where it holds an uncertain future for its proponents in the Valley and can be the axiom that seriously erodes the basic fabric of India's Constitution.
Self-determination in quest of a new nation-State cannot be a whim but must be a proposition grounded in solid reason. There must be justifiable cause to advocate separation. Do Kashmiri Muslim aspirations qualify for legitimate independence or is this brouhaha nothing more than a devious design by a majority to establish its hegemony?
The recent events in Kashmir are a microcosm of the movement itself: much ado about nothing. Acutely conscious of its waning influence and sensing a general apathy towards separatist fervour, as evidenced by the successful conduct of the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, the Hurriyat is in a tizzy, resorting to obfuscatory tactics to remain relevant. How else can you explain its tendency to impart an anti-Indian hue to each and every untoward incident that occurs in the Valley?
The immediate trigger for the latest spate of protests in Srinagar appears to be the alleged murder of Asrar Mushtaq Dar, a 20-year-old student who went missing on July 3 and whose mutilated body was found in a city graveyard on July 8. Details of the murder are still sketchy and the identity of the culprits is yet to be ascertained. But that really doesn't matter. For in the charged and biased atmosphere of the Valley, any unnatural death becomes a cause celebre to whip up anti-India sentiments and implicate the security forces, ethics being an expendable appendage in the process.
Prior to this was the Shopian incident in which two young women, Neelofar Jan and her sister-in-law Asiya Jan, were found raped and murdered on May 30. While a judicial inquiry called for an 'in-depth investigation' and stated that 'there is material on file to hold that the involvement of some agency of the J&K police cannot be completely ruled out', it went on to give details of a possible family angle to the twin murders as the following news excerpt with verbatim quotes from the commission's report indicates (Shopian panel even suspects victim. Majid Jahangir. Kashmir Live, July 11):
The police isn't the only target. The report calls for a probe into the "rift" between the family of Neelofar and her in-laws. The fact that Neelofar, a woman from the upper-caste Peer family, eloped with Shakeel Ahmad Ahangar -- who belongs to a family of blacksmiths -- is also cited as a subject for further probe.
The report calls for a detailed investigation into the possible role of Neelofar's estranged brother, Zeerak Shah, a police constable. "It is required that sustained questioning/interrogation of Zeerak Shah, his associates and relatives, be carried out so as to work out the possibility of their involvement in rape and murder of Neelofar and Asiya Jan".
The commission also puts a question mark on the conduct of Shakeel Ahmad Ahangar, Neelofar's husband and Asiya's brother. Claiming that he is 'known for his immoral activities', the report says: 'His assets are quite disproportionate to his known source of income, thus requiring in-depth investigation to work out the possibility of Shakeel and his friends/associates in the present incident'.
Then the report goes on to even suspect the victims themselves. 'Spot inspection of the orchard reveals that the orchard is fenced with CGI sheets from three sides and there is no proper gate for entry into the orchard. There are about 35 small and big fruit trees, without any pruning/cutting and ground is full of weeds. The purpose of their regular and frequent visit to the orchard could not be established so far... It is quite possible that during these frequent visits to the orchard in last six/seven months, they (but more particularly Neelofar Jan) might have developed some relation with other persons.'
Another recent death being exploited to keep the pot boiling involves the death of a young woman who was allegedly molested and killed by a Territorial Army jawan, Ashiq Hussain. Far from being an example of police brutality as portrayed by the Hurriyat, this incident as well has shades of a family wrangle. Below is a statement by the Srinagar police:
'The accused was known to the family of the deceased and is related to the family. An expert team has been constituted to conduct the post mortem in a fair and transparent manner. The investigation is on.' (Kashmir Live. Valley on boil, jawan held for girl's death. July 10)
These three incidents, apart from indicating a state of moral bankruptcy, define everything that is wrong with the Kashmir movement. Devoid of just cause, the Hurriyat has no qualms of blatantly distorting facts to make its case; a case that becomes even weaker when viewed from a historical or demographic perspective and when evaluated in terms of the monetary subsidy that Kashmir receives from the central government.
India is a vast mosaic with cultural and ethnic variations; all areas despite their distinctive characteristics have been successfully moulded together to create an impressive pluralistic state that celebrates diversity but yet maintains a powerful adhesive that irrevocably and voluntarily binds every state together. A shade of cultural variation alone cannot be the basis for a call to secede; a concept if applied universally would engender a thousand mutinies and splinter India into a thousand fragments, dispossessing millions of their rights and displacing multitudes from their homes.
Traditionally Kashmir has never been an island distinct from the rest of the country. Its very origin is steeped in the composite mythology of the land as expounded in the Nilmat Puran. For aeons Kashmir has been inextricably intertwined spiritually with the rest of India, or Bharatvarsha as it was known, marking the northern outpost of its reaches as exemplified in the eight century by the extent of Shankaracharya's religious expanse. Today, Shankaracharya Hill, a majestic mound overlooking the capital Srinagar, marks the site of Shankaracharya's stay in Kashmir and is a standing testimony to Kashmir's inseparable bond with India.
Tradition and mythology apart, Kashmir with its innumerable holy shrines holds special significance to Hindus of present day India. For instance, my 78-year-old aunt who lives in a small town near the Karnataka-Maharastra border travelled thousands of miles to pay homage at Amarnath. Notwithstanding Article 370, what this exemplifies is the legitimate moral right to Kashmir of every Indian regardless of which part he or she resides in.
Setting aside ideology and tradition that can be brushed off as subjective banter, let us focus on tangible economics of current times to counter the polemics of our egalitarian naysayers. Is Kashmir the impoverished, neglected stepchild of an authoritarian state? Is India guilty of not providing adequate funds for its development? The answer is in the negative.
I quote from an article by Vir Singhvi, (CounterPoint. Hindustan Times, August 16, 2008):
'Then, there is the money. Bihar gets per capita central assistance of Rs 876 per year. Kashmir gets over ten times more: Rs 9,754 per year. While in Bihar and other states, this assistance is mainly in the forms of loans to the state, in Kashmir 90 per cent is an outright grant. Kashmir's entire Five Year Plan expenditure is met by the Indian taxpayer. In addition, New Delhi keeps throwing more and more money at the state: in 2004, the prime minister gave Kashmir another $5 billion for development. Kashmiris are happy to take the money and the special rights but they argue that India has been unfair to them '
So Kashmir, despite getting more than its share of economic booty even at the cost of other more needy and deserving states like Bihar, unfairly feigns ill-treatment.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir does have a religious configuration that is at variance with the rest of the country. It is the only Muslim majority state in the Union, with Muslims making up 64 percent of the combined population of J&K. The Hindu population stands at 33 percent with the remaining 3 percent accounted for by Sikhs and Buddhists.
Across J&K, the Muslim majority is significant but not overwhelming enough to warrant a separate identity. It is in the Valley which constitutes a mere 16 percent of the state's land mass that one finds a marked demographic homogeneity: Muslims form 99.9 percent of the population. And, not surprisingly, from this Islamic dominance stems the call for autonomy from predominantly Hindu India.
At the outset this may seem like a valid assertion but one that nullifies itself when scrutinised closely. The perceived homogeneity is the outcome of centuries of coercive religious policies instituted by fanatical despots and the forced expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits in recent times. However, for the sake of debate, let us concentrate primarily on recent demographic manipulation.
The Global IDP project of the Norwegian Refugee Council is an international non-governmental body working for the welfare of internally displaced people. Their records indicate that close to 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits have been displaced from the Valley, constituting more than 90 percent of the Hindu population of Kashmir. Data from the National Human Rights Commission indicates that Kashmiri Pandits constituted 15 percent of the population in 1941. In 1991 this number stood at 0.1 percent: these figures are self-explanatory.
Can a consensus derived by the forcible eradication of dissent be a valid basis to call for self-determination? And were a referendum to be held today, would the results be valid or abrogated as one tainted with a rigging of sorts? This forced eradication of Hindus from the scene has sullied the milieu and disrupted the gradient of the playing field. Self-determination in this setting fulfils neither democratic values nor ethical principles. A democratic proviso cannot be invoked by a people after indulging in an exercise that is the very antithesis of such a concept.
Granting Kashmiris the right to secede is fraught with serious repercussions for the rest of the country. A nation must exhibit and sustain a uniform ethical code to maintain its credibility and function effectively.
Shorn of the pretentious façade of self-determination, the Kashmir movement boils down to what it basically is: a charade, replete with deliberate misinformation, subtle coercion and outright religious discrimination, all with an intention of extracting an unfair advantage and fulfilling its ultimate goal of fundamentalist Islamic state. That has always been the goal despite sanctimonious protestations to the contrary.
Moreover, the endpoint of this Machiavellian gameplan in Kashmir is an azadi whose definition is vague. A choice between accession to a failed, anarchic State with less liberty and security than what they possess, or a landlocked unsustainable sovereign status: a Hobson's choice. A people are being misled and a country held to ransom to fulfill the evil designs of a fundamentalist, fanatical clique that has little regard for rules or norms. The earlier the Indian nation realises this, the better.
What the people of Kashmir need is not freedom from India but an enlightenment that clears their cloudy perception and releases them from the clutches of terrorism, religious fundamentalism and unscrupulous politicians, and making them law-abiding citizens of a democratic, secular and economically resurgent nation: a win-win situation. But till this happens we need to confront the demons in our midst with a firm hand and a focussed mind. There can be no room for laxity or vacillation in dealing with separatists, if the nation has to salvage any remaining credibility. It is time to call their bluff.
On a practical level, in India today, it is hard to segregate one community from another or one region from another because centuries of intermixing have created a complex interplay of dependencies and obligations that make such a move impractical for governance, culturally crass and morally declasse.