A culture of fear, suspicion, and paranoia pervades Kashmir, including our educational institutions, in the broader context of the totalitarian practices that have become normalized in the region.
The tranquility of Jammu and Kashmir has been shattered by the heavy hand of political and military totalitarianism, and the erosion of indigenous politics. The Valley seethes with a repressed anger. The history of Kashmir is replete with egregious errors. As one scholar, Vincent H. Smith (1928: 176), wrote, “Few regions in the world can have had worse luck than Kashmir in the matter of government.” The saga of Kashmir has been one of oppression, political persecution and undemocratic policies. Since the pervasion of an exclusive cultural nationalism, religious fundamentalism and rampant political corruption it has become a challenge to lead a dignified existence in J & K.
The armed conflict has changed political combinations and permutations without either disrupting political, social and gender hierarchies, or benefiting marginalized groups. The social, economic, political and psychological brunt of the armed conflict has been borne by the populace of Kashmir. The uncertainty created by over two decades of armed insurgency and counter-insurgency has pervaded the social fabric in insidious ways, creating a whole generation of disaffected and disillusioned youth. Lack of faith in the Indian polity has caused Kashmiris to cultivate an apathy to the electoral process because it is a given that persons best suited to carry out New Delhi’s agenda will be installed in positions of political import, regardless of public opinion. The earlier enthusiasm that accompanied democratization seems futile in the current leadership vacuum in the state. Lack of accountability among the J & K polity and bureaucracy has caused a large number of people to toe the line by living with the fundamental structural inequities and violence, instead of risking the ire of groups and individuals in positions of authority.
Political organizations, including separatist ones, in the Valley have eroded mass bases and are in a moribund state. There seems to be an unbridgeable gulf between figures of authority and the electorate, who have been deployed as pawns in the devious political game being played by Indian and Pakistani state-sponsored agencies. The glaring lack of a well-equipped infrastructure in the Valley makes unemployment rife and underscores the redundancy of the educated segment of the population.
In the current scenario, it becomes necessary to productively discuss concrete methods of rehabilitating victims of violence, either state-sponsored or militancy-related. Representatives from Indian- and Pakistani-administered Jammu and Kashmir should discuss the socioeconomic hardships, psychological neuroses and political marginalization caused by dislocation, dispossession, and disenfranchisement. It is the need of the hour to mobilize women for effective change in political and social structures. Representatives from both sides of the Line of Control must vehemently endorse diplomacy and peaceful negotiations in order to further the India–Pakistan peace process; withdrawal of excessive forces from both sides of the Line of Control (LOC); decommissioning of militants; rehabilitation and integration of Kashmiri Pandits to rebuild the syncretic fabric of Kashmiri society; and rehabilitation of detainees.
Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She is on the Advisory Council of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women. Nyla Ali Khan is also a member of the Oklahoma Academy, a state-wide policy planning organization.