Speaking Kashmir’s pain:Rajya-Sabha tries out a new language on the Valley

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Politicians in Delhi have a few textbook phrases on Kashmir. “Integral part of India” is a favourite, doggedly dished out whenever there is talk of the Kashmir dispute. As though territorial division would be like breaking off part of a cookie, leaving crumbs behind and threatening the roundness of the whole.

More often than not, the Delhi has tended to survey Kashmir as territory to be owned, secured and cordoned off from the prying eyes of Pakistan. Sometimes, it would graciously acknowledge the presence of people in this territory and speak of “winning hearts and minds” in Kashmir instead of using force. Either way, the local population would have to be brought in line with Delhi’s project of having and keeping.

But the Hindi version of “integral part”, “atoot ang”, is less impersonal. It suggests “unbreakable” rather than “integral” and throws up a vision of limbs rather than biscuits. A limb that cannot be broken. After the recent clashes in the Valley, cartoonist Hemant Morparia tried to picture both Kashmiri protesters and armed forces at the “Atoot Ang” clinic:

Vital organ

As Rajya Sabha opened for the monsoon session on Monday, we heard more about broken bodies than territory. Given the images that have floated up in mainstream and social media over the past week, bodies have become hard to ignore. Ever since Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter with security forces on July 8, the Valley has erupted in mass protests. Security forces opened fire on stone pelters, killing at least 42 and maiming many others with guns that spat out tiny iron pellets. So Parliament opened its monsoon session with much hand-wringing about the “Kashmir unrest”.

Parties now sitting in the opposition benches took the matter up with government. The Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad questioned the Centre on the use of pellet guns, a “non-lethal weapon” that was introduced in 2010, when the United Progressive Alliance was in power. His party colleagues reminded the Modi administration of the “deep wounds” that scarred the Valley, so deep that protest had not abated even after 10 days. There was more talk of winning hearts.

Most notably, Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of Party of India (Marxist), said, “And if Kashmir is hurt, the entire country feels the pain.” And Derek O’Brien, member of Parliament from the Trinamool Congress, asked government to talk about “the soul of Kashmir”, not just the “soil of Kashmir”.

Even the government spoke a softer language. Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the Centre had ordered armed forces to use “maximum restraint” and that he would look into the use of pellets. He also called Kashmiris “our own people”.

The mechanics of the integral part were replaced by hearts, organs, wounds and pain – Delhi seemed keen to draw a more organic connection with the Valley. The language used by politicians in the Rajya Sabha on Monday suggested an intricately nerved body politic, where the sensations of one part were transmitted to another. Even the map surveyor’s gaze was suspended for a moment as the human presence was acknowledged.

Political consensus

A language of possession seemed to have been replaced with a language of empathy in Delhi. But a new choice of words cannot distract from the fact that no real political distance has been travelled.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had started the day thanking all political parties for the consensus on Kashmir. Singh trotted out the old cliches about “Kashmiriyat, insaniyat, jamhuriyat” and spoke of dialogue. But the terms of the discussion remain the same – it is an internal matter, trouble has been fomented by Pakistan, Kashmiris will have to be brought “on the right path” and Kashmiri youth could play a part in the rise of India as a global power. Dialogue may take place within these parameters, as it has for decades now.

There was a moment when the parliamentary discussion promised to veer out of its comfort zone, as the CPI(M)’s D Raja spoke of dialogue with separatists, half-widows in the Valley and the possibility of removing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from certain areas. But it was soon pulled back into the straight and narrow. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had already drawn the battle lines – this was a fight between separatists and all other political parties, the mainstream had to “speak in unison” on Kashmir. The internal consensus among political parties of the national mainstream seems beautifully intact.

“Atoot ang” is “integral part” by another name, after all.

The Article First Appeared HERE

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