It is now 113 days since violence descended upon Kashmir after the killing of popular militant commander, Burhan Wani. It is widely held that the saga of violence and counter violence by the state that engulfed the vale was catalyzed by Wani’s killing. There is some element of truth in this belief but the prosaic as well as the profounder reality is that Wani symbolized the conflict in and over Kashmir. His killing set off a chain reaction and a feedback loop in the collective consciousness of Kashmiris and brought something that was latent to the fore. Delineating this is not an insight; what, however, may be an insight is that Kashmir and Kashmiris are caught in the vortex of a deep conflict that is not of their making. Writing from the vantage point of history- both generic and specific- conflicts happen or occur for a wide variety of reasons- the most prominent reason being that the players or peoples caught in the conflict have something to do with it. But, in the case of Kashmir, this does not appear to be the case. Kashmiris , again taking recourse to history, have been inert objects and subjects of history and conflict thereof.
Be it the subjugation under the Mughals, or the Sikhs , or Afghans or later the Dogras, Kashmiris have been subject to depredations , maltreatment and violence- both psychological and structural- that have left deep scars and led to the regression and retardation of the Kashmiri psyche. Kashmiris, have not had an opportunity to grow, develop and progress like other “normal” societies , groups or agglomeration of peoples. The latest manifestation of the conflict in and over Kashmir, if it can be traced to the partition of British India, is then a legacy issue dating back to hundreds of years. The egregious observation about this centuries long conflict is that it is not the making of Kashmiris. Kashmiris then are victims of a conflict that is not of their making, it bears repetition. Decoded or elaborated further, it means that Kashmiris, historically and contemporarily, have not had what sociologists call “ agency”.
The question now is: can the restoration of agency (broadly defined) imbue and impart closure to the conflict in and over Kashmir? The answer is a qualified one and is contingent on how agency is defined. Agency may be in the nature of freedom for Kashmir which obviously has sovereign implications and connotations. Sovereignty, it may be stated here, is a concept derived from the Treaty of Westphalia. Hence, it is a bit of a novel concept from a long duree historical span of time. But, in a world defined by flux, fluidity and churn, where sovereignty, itself is challenged( despite the populist and nativist movements in the West that clamour for sovereignty), how would freedom correlate with sovereignty? This is a billion dollar question that brooks no easy answers. And I will hastily disavow any facile and supercilious answers.
What , I will profess or root for is , root for a change in perception and consciousness towards Kashmir and Kashmiris. Kashmir has historically and even contemporarily been viewed from the prism of territorial national, sovereignty from a political and conflict standpoint. From other pedestrian perspectives, Kashmir has either evoked images or perceptions of pristine natural beauty and in prosaic terms Kashmir has been associated with shawls and carpets. What has been missing from these narratives and perceptions is the people of Kashmir or Kashmiris. We are a peoples with a culture, history(howsoever denuded), ways of life and living which merit interest in us- sociologically, anthropologically, archaeologically or even from a human interest perspective which warrants interest in us. In a globalized world, where homogeneity is the norm, a cultural interest in us(Kashmiris) would be worth its while- not as a specimen but as a “living” and “lived” culture. The nature of this interest in us and, to take recourse to a tautology our interest in us and the world beyond would perhaps inject us in world history. The results could be self discovery and self understanding in an idiom that is shorn of negativity induced cynicism. We would discover ourselves and the world at large and gain a perspective that would be refreshing than the sterile and hackneyed ones bandied about. Let the world take an interest in us as peoples, individuals and as a culture and let us reciprocate in equal measure. The overall results can only invigorating and restorative.
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