Kashmir Urgently Needs a Fresh Intellectual Discourse
Bashir Assad

As the situation in Kashmir slowly but steadily seems to ease off, the baffling question in most quarters is that how should the Government move forward in restoring the confidence of large sections of people in the Valley. This question does not apply to the pro-Pakistan constituency, which has a stated position on the issue. It is about the large silent majority who seem to be confused given the enormity of the August 5 decision to abrogate the special status of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir.

Administrative and governance measures apart, there has to be some discourse which must be dominant in the Valley. Since many decades, India has not been able to initiate an intellectual discourse in Kashmir. This failure to have an intellectual discourse in Kashmir around the narrative of the Indian state has been at the core of the problem of alienation.

The Central Government is certainly looking at building fresh narratives in Kashmir and encouraging a new leadership to take centre stage. But there is a strong feeling that facilitating new faces to emerge on the political landscape alone will not help. The Government must supplement the political activities with intellectual inputs along the fresh narrative of integration. The reason is that the political class in Kashmir identifies with the discourse which has been dominant till now. The same has happened in the case of Shah Faesal and others. One can see the rationale for this. The political class achieves popularity while siding with or at least being complicit with the popular narrative. They don’t have the courage to state unpopular truths. In Kashmir, if anything is required urgently, it is an intellectual discourse around the unpopular truths.

Many believe that political discourse can wait but the intellectual discourse cannot be deferred any more. What is urgently needed is that a debate should take place in Kashmir with sound intellectual inputs. The new discourse must justify the enormity of the August 5 decision. Additionally, it must also endorse it on strong arguments based on rational, logic and reason.

The political class which represented India in Kashmir conveniently avoided indianising their narrative. The result was that every move of the Government of India was viewed with suspicion, and conspiracy theories were conveniently manufactured to suit political agendas. The new breed of the political class, cannot withstand the might of the dominant separatist narrative. They too, for partisan interests, will compromise on the basic premise of integration for reasons ranging from intimidation to isolation. This is why some people strongly believe that there is need for a fresh intellectual discourse in Kashmir. It is it is even more important now. The Government must convincingly argue in Kashmir why the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked. The justification which holds ground is that the special status was being exploited by the Pakistan and its proxies in Kashmir. This needs to be communicated effectively.

The discourse in Kashmir now should be to consistently erode the sanctity and legitimacy enjoyed earlier by the separatists. The August 5 decision has rightly created a space for fresh narratives in Kashmir. There are solid grounds on the basis of which separatism and separatists can be discredited intellectually. The Kashmiri separatists have always resisted the intellectual discourse in Kashmir. They have only exploited emotions. They claimed to represent the sentiments of the people. Yes, they represented the sentiments of Kashmiris. But they never represented the intellect of Kashmiris.

Paradoxically, the Government of India did not realize the urgency of intellectual power in Kashmir. If encouraged, this could have worked as a catalyst in shaping public discourse in Kashmir. We have to accept that many things did not happen in the past which could have strengthened India in Kashmir. But it is never too late. To discredit those who strengthened separatist narratives in Kashmir, you need an honest discourse based on rationally strong inputs. The first target should be the ideology which feeds extremism in Kashmir. If you question the separatists ideologically on the basis of strong and convincing intellectual arguments, the battle can be won. One strongly believes that the Government of India should invest in dominating the intellectual discourse in Kashmir.

An unfortunate part of the Kashmir story is that honest and objective views have been denied the space by both mainstream and separatists camps. They knew that with a rational intellectual discourse gaining ground in Kashmir, they would be dead politically. That is why the political class in Kashmir has been so wary of the intellectual discourse. Attempts were made to eliminate the people who could question their legitimacy. In this vicious, vengeful drive by those in power, many such thinkers were actually eliminated. The only discourse which flourished was the antithesis of reason and logic. The so-called Kashmiri intelligentsia sided with this dangerous narrative, playing and invoking it to hilt, resulting in the death of reason and logic. The so called intelligentsia propagated the separatist agenda, occupying total mind space in Kashmir. In the absence of any truth, the alternate truth became the ultimate truth. People identified with this mythical, mystical narrative of separatism. Saner voices fell silent. The Kashmir media conveniently explored the alternate truth, romanticized and glorified it and its flag holders. The gun brought from across the border saw to it that voices of dissent or either silenced or discredited. The urban elites became important stakeholders in the alternate truth. There was no one left to challenge their hegemony.

That is why the killing of at least four innocent people by militants after the August 5 decision was not regarded as news by the Kashmir media. The Kashmiri media did not debate the killings carried out by militants or an angry stone-pelting crowd as a gross violation of human rights. But stopping a mullah from leaving the country for some sinister plans or stopping another mullah from visiting Germany after invoking passions in Kashmir was regarded by Kashmiri media as the worst kind of infringement upon the rights of a citizen. This hackneyed mindset has to be questioned. If you don’t, you will fail the people in Kashmir.

Over the last few decades, Kashmir remained bereft of the power of ideas based on intellectual inputs. Minus rational and logical thinking, Kashmir became a living hell. It shall continue to be so if the Government of India fails to set the ball rolling to promote rational and logical ideas. The political class in Kashmir has sought to construct the notion of Kashmiri identity on an anti-India plank, carefully nurturing ideas of an exclusive Muslim society. There is enough material – poorly researched and ideologically driven – which is available in every nook and corner of the Valley to drive the narrative of separatism. This has been exploited to the hilt by the political class and the so-called Kashmiri intelligentsia to push forward their irrational and illegitimate narrative. The Government should urgently work towards encouraging a fresh discourse to put things in the right perspective.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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