Why did the marathon turn into a fiasco?

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‘BIG’ Kashmir Marathon: Road to Nowhere

KO Analysis

SRINAGAR: “I AM THE CHANGE” was theme of the run organized by BIG 92.7 FM, on September 13 , 2015 to provide a platform for the locals to stand for social causes like saving Dal Lake, fighting drug abuse, and keeping the city clean. It was also supposed to promote traffic awareness, and respect for senior citizens and women. The proposed route was from Kashmir University’s Naseem Bagh campus along the banks of the Dal Lake via Foreshore Road, and back to the campus. 

The, marathon however, was marred by protests and clashes between youth and the security forces. Pro-freedom slogans were raised and a Pakistani flag waved during the protests. Police later resorted to lathi charge and fired teargas shells to disperse the protesting runners.

The ostensible reason and rationale for the marathon was ‘change’. This broad term pertained to and subsumed sub categories such as saving water bodies, fighting drug abuse and keeping the city clean- all themes that do have a bearing on Kashmir contemporarily and should have animated most if not all Kashmiris.  Our water bodies are dying, some youth are taking to drugs and our city, to quote a foreign tourist, is a ‘dump’. All these issues warrant and need the focused attention of society to catalyze broader action. This collective action could have been catalyzed by an event and this is what the marathon purported to do. Why then did the marathon turn into a fiasco? Why did it morph and mutate into protests with a clear cut political color and hue? The answers do not fall in the domain of rocket science. The morphing of the event into a fiasco merely goes onto to show that the conflict in and over Kashmir has so overwhelmed our imagination and collective unconscious that we either can’t see anything beyond it or see everything through the prism of the conflict. This has become our default reflex and is, in the final analysis, the legacy of the enduring conflict. Social issues tend to be overwhelmed and crowded out by political ones. This is sad as well as insalubrious given that conflict has subsumed nagging issues that need attention coupled with the ominous trend of our consciousness and imagination being over politicized. These are the broad contours of the reasons for the morphing and mutating of the marathon into a fiasco.  And all this is well known. What then is puzzling and curious is why the promoters and sponsors of the marathon chose to organize and hold this event in Kashmir?

The promoters and sponsors would know better. But what can be said is that the whole idea was flawed for obvious reasons. Kashmir being Kashmir, an event which was promoted with vigor and verve, would hog headlines and focused media attention, would perhaps have political connotations. The event was also organized amidst conditions of economic desperation in many sections of Kashmiri society –especially those hit severely by the floods- and when Kashmir awaits the much touted flood rehabilitation package. In this sense, the event would jar with the sensibilities of many people. Overlaying these themes was an incident that was fresh in the minds of people: the beef ban issue and controversy. The Kashmiri psyche was, given the concatenation of these issues, primed for venting out. The marathon provided the reasons for this.  Hence what amounts to non participation in the marathon, protests and violence.

The marathon was then ill conceived and ill thought out. Are there any broader lessons from the marathon and its ugly conclusion? Yes. There are. The first lesson is the obvious one- the one delineated in this analysis: Kashmiri conscious, imagination, and collective unconscious are politicized.  There is a void in the Kashmiri psyche that is filled by the legacy of conflict and uncertainty thereof. This void cannot be filled by cosmetic measures or even serious sounding themes that are divorced from politics. The second reason, flowing from the first one, is that events like the marathon entail and imply putting the cart before the horse. This means that unless more compelling and serious issues like the conflict are dealt with, other ideas are basically a non starter for Kashmiris or even offensive. The third is that all said and done, Kashmir and Kashmiris will muddle along. The conflict in and over Kashmir is frozen; the condition that obtains in the state means that while its politics will correspond to type and will remain ossified , our social and environmental condition will regress. Larger political issues will hold social, environmental and economic issues hostage. The protests at the marathon were in the nature of a manifestation of the conflict; there were the effects not the cause. Pertinent to mention here is the government’s  narrative and twist to the protests. The political class of the state dubbed the protests as eve teasing – a canard that is as incredible as it is absurd. If the event was ‘large’ as claimed by the state and thronged by participants in thousands, how could a few ‘eve teasing’ incidents have thrown it into disarray. The government obviously wants to make people believe that eve-teasing led to the protests. This is another travesty given that it leads us to believe that the government is behaving like an ostrich with its head in the sand. It chooses to trivialize an incident whose reasons and consequences are supremely political.

In the final analysis, what Kashmir needs is a bold and beautiful political approach and leadership that grasps the bull by its horns and resolves the conflict. Neither, however, appears to be forthcoming. Cosmetic events or palliatives cannot be an alternative to the political will and resolve.  This is the real lesson of the marathon and its failure. But as is the norm in Kashmir, this too will pass and no one will care- the real tragedy of Kashmir.

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