Does The Civil Society Exit in Kashmir?

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Yasin Mallik-the Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front- recently made a rather startling statement. Mallik accused the Kashmir civil society members of collaboration and opportunism. Mallik added that these people attend global conferences, talk about human rights, even go to Pakistan tell them how to run the movement and then land in Delhi to tell the Indian government how to manage the conflict. The JKLF supremo also alluded to ‘hypocrisy’ and the ‘double face’ of the civil society of Kashmir. It may be said, regardless of whether Mallik is right or wrong , but , on the face of it he is perhaps the only politician who has the moral and ethical integrity to offer critiques and criticisms. Mallik’s allegations are  serious and warrant scrutiny: Is Mallik right in impugning and tarring civil society with the same brush? Has civil society in and of Kashmir been performing its role according to the principles and nature of civil society?

We cannot really know unless we understand the meaning of civil society and the nature of its relationship with the state. The concept of civil society, unlike that of a state, is not a sociological or a juridical one.  The definition over which there is consensus on the nature of civil society is that civil society refers to associational life (shorn of coercion) distinct from the family and the institutions of the state; in essence, it is a sphere apart from the state.

In this sense and from this perspective, civil society can have agendas that differ from those of the state. In the context of Kashmir, this would not mean that civil society should be a votary of separatism or its flag bearer but its agendas and goals should not correspond to those of the state. Some theoretical purists even suggest that civil society should always be in a confrontational mode with the state. However, other theorists, kind of, assert that civil society can also be conceived of as in a critical dialogue with the state. (Jurgen Habermas- the eminent German theorist, sociologist and philosopher- is a proponent of this thesis). However, Habermas’ support for this ‘critical dialogue’ is qualified. Key, in Habermas’ formulation is that,’ dialogue should be characterized by a type of accountability in which the state must defend, justify, and generally give an account of its actions in answer to the multiple and plural voices raised in civil society. In this view of the relationship, civil society as public sphere becomes the central theme. It is where the ideas, interests, values, and ideologies formed within civil society are voiced and made politically effective (Habermas 1996, 367). Critical debate in the public sphere becomes a test of legitimacy. The optimistic assumption at work here is that injustice and domination cannot survive the scrutiny of an enlightened and civic-minded public. As Habermas asserts, ‘The communicative structures of the public sphere must rather be kept intact by an energetic civil society” (Habermas 1996, 369).

Let us use Habemas’ concept of the civil society in ‘critical dialogue’ with the state and apply it to the civil society of Kashmir. Before elaborating further, it can be said that civil society is non-existent if we employ the strict definition of civil society to ascertain its effectiveness. If, however, we concede its minimal existence, criterion that we can employ to gauge it is effectiveness.   By this measure, to what extent has the civil society of Kashmir made the state accountable for its omissions and commissions; to what extent has civil society here morphed into a ‘public sphere’?; to what extent have ideas, interests, values and ideologies have been formed within society and made politically effective?

 

 

 

 

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