Kashmir conflict: the lingering trauma

By K.N. Pandita – Kashmir militancy has entered its 16th year. The end of the conflict is still elusive though there are claims contrary to it.

No doubt unfair assembly elections of 1986 had created bad political climate in the State but then the eruption of militancy as a consequential phenomenon was rather unexpected. The reason is that Kashmirian psyche was not familiar with an armed conflict with the State. Even during the four decade freedom struggle of the National Conference, violence had never been either advocated or accepted as a means of attaining the goal.

Therefore eruption of armed violence in 1989 was in itself a big shock to the ordinary Kashmiri. He could not believe that an atmosphere of violence claiming human lives and innocent blood would the part of his future history..

It is generally believed that the youth lured to militancy were exhorted to keep the whole thing a closely guarded secret even from their parents and family members. Such was the indoctrination that a prospective militant youth became somewhat alien to his own family. This left a deep scar on the mind of ordinary Kashmiri. No wonder, therefore, that in utter exasperation, innocent parents approached the security forces to help them locate their dear ones. One can understand the deep trauma through which the parents were forced to go. It was tantamount to the disintegration of the family.

A Kashmiri family is generally a joint social formulation. Even the smallest event in the family assumes more than expected dimension. Thus it is not trauma only to the parents but to the entire linkage and a wider section of population gets involved in it.

Kashmiri youth lured into insurgency was fed on stupendous propaganda. A youth’s mind is a clean slate, which accepts impact without much essaying. But when faced with reality, he found that things were much more easy said than done. After sixteen long years of conflict, the Kashmir imbroglio remains where it was. The youth that had taken up the gun with many ambitions and visions is forced to face stark realities of the situation. Thus he is torn between two conflicting situations unable to decide what the proper course is for him.

The naked dance of death and destruction that has ravaged Kashmir during a decade and half of militancy has forced an ordinary Kashmiri to withdraw to the shell of pessimism, dismay and futility of human endeavour. He finds death stalking his ground on all sides. Thus he loses self- confidence and the urge for an active life. Everything appears to him transient and baseless.

This is precisely the situation that developed in Iran and Central Asia after the large scale devastation caused by the Mongol invasion in 13th century. The people had become indifferent to pain or pleasure, good or bad, true or false and real or fake. Precisely this appears to be repeated in the case of Kashmir.

School and college going children in Kashmir have borne maximum brunt of psychological impact of ongoing conflict. They are torn by conflicting compulsions; pressure from parents to be good at studies, constraints of insecurity pervading the social system, exposure to sudden and unexpected danger to life, and the pressure of unsettled and undecided future. In this bleak situation, neither the parents nor the students are able to plan for future.

Physicians in Kashmir are reporting increasing number of patients suffering from psychological trauma. Suicides, abandonment of families, wayward life style, apathy towards fellow beings, drugs and other dissipations are becoming common. First it was unemployment that took a heavy toll of youth in Kashmir. Now it is the cheapness of human life and the spilling of innocent blood that force on him the culture of escapism.

Likewise the impact of the continuing strife on women folk in Kashmir is equally disastrous. A widowed mother or an orphaned child makes a society poorer in spirit. It frustrates the urge for creative role in society. And when the numbers run in thousands, the impact is catastrophic.

Kashmir was known for humanism. This enviable trait of Kashmirian character was a historic legacy held very dear by all Kashmiris. This voluntary sense of humanism flowed from the teachings of great Kahmiri saints, savants, Sufis and rishis. That is why we called Kashmir the land of saints. For many centuries, the people of Kashmir used to find solace and peace in pilgrimage or visits to the shrines of the saints. But with the escalation of violence, we find that this faith in Sufism and in humanism is coming under severe strain. When pain and suffering increase, human beings begin not to be altruistic and doubt established philosophical dictums. Loss of faith in spiritual aspect of life will be an irreparable loss to Kashmirian social structure.

Much has been said on the issue of alienation of Kashmiris from India. A Kashmiri has reasons to find himself alienated. A state is duty bound to protect the life and culture of its citizens. It is also duty bound to address its aspirations. But the ground realty is that protection of life by the state does not find free flow. With each passing day it becomes more and more elusive. As regards addressing the aspirations of the people, obviously it is a political issue and good governance means just and acceptable solution of issues.

As the Kashmir issue becomes more and more complicated with each passing day, it leaves behind only a negative impact. Common Kashmiri does not feel to be a part of the governance. He does not take pride in being part of decision making process. He has scant trust in the political leadership he votes for. This is because the leadership has little courage and less will to voice the grievance of the electorate. Misconduct of the elected leadership brings only frustration to his voters. Thus elections and democracy in their present form appear more farcical than real.

It is true that a small section of people did manage to amass enormous wealth out of the industry called Kashmir issue. But that is not the criterion. A satisfied and contented people can easily bear poverty if they are assured that at the end of the day the path adopted by the state will lead them to prosperity and progress. Lack of faith in a government denies the government a right to govern. This is one of the biggest frustrations of a Kashmiri youth today.

In Kashmir there exists a big and yawning gap between the governor and the governed. There is lack of trust on both sides. Government is doing its best to hide the truth from the people and the world outside. On the other hand, the people looking to their leaders find them playing the double role.

Ordinary Kashmiri is somehow convinced that gun is not going to resolve Kashmir issue. Why then do not the gun-wielders look for other options? The gun-wielders would not relent. Why then does not the ruling class look for other options? How long will the stalemate continue? This is the trauma through which Kashmiris are passing.

Continuing militancy means putting curbs on all sorts of freedoms. It means drastically restricting flow of human and civil rights. It means arresting economic development. It also means providing space for anti-social elements and allowing lawlessness a free day. It means allowing nepotism, corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement go unchecked. Impact of these debilities directly affects common man. He is lost to himself and to the world. He finds himself in a sort of no man’s land.

Kashmir conflict has also given rise to a segment of upstarts who have clandestinely amassed wealth and are eager to move to the higher pedestal on social ladder. Such unforeseen movements distort the socio-economic equilibrium deepening a sense of loss in the weaker sections of society. This can cause mental degeneration and psychological vacuum

At the same time, continuing strife has also hardened mindsets and postures, which become an obstruction to a meaningful dialogue when conditions are ripe. Piling up the baggage of suffering leaves much to complain and less to negotiate.

Finally in a democratic society, varying perceptions will continue to surface now and then. People who really want to move forward are not satisfied with what they have in hand. Movement onwards is their natural right. A democratic state must understand that it has to work for the people. It is sheer ridiculous to think that land is in one’s hands while the people are not. The government must take immediate steps to ensure that people are restored to normal state of mind, which means willing partnership in the nation building process. (The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar)

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