Have Open Dialogue With Stone Pelters In Kashmir

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THE situation in Kashmir is going beyond control. Today’s situation is far different from the insurgency of the 1990s. Even though remnants can be found, the insurgency is more or less under control. Pakistan continues to train and support terrorists to create trouble in the state, but even that is not of major concern. Yet Kashmir today faces the greatest crisis. The main cause of the crisis is the involvement of school and college students of the state in a stone pelting movement. The stone pelting is symbolic of their anger against the central government and the state government. Now even schoolgirls are participating in stone pelting. The pictures and videos of the schoolgirls pelting stones at the government forces are there on the social media. They have already drawn the world’s attention.

The sooner Prime Minister Narendra Modi realizes that India is in a real grim situation in Kashmir as a result of students’ involvement, the better for Kashmir and the country. The ministers of the government have done much damage by painting the faces of the stone pelting students black by presenting them as ‘paid’ trouble makers. There may be some elements that might have been paid by the “enemies of India” but the larger mass of students participating in the stone pelting movement are driven by disappointment with and anger against the failures of the state government. The people of Kashmir were hoping that the situation would improve with the formation of a new elected government under Mehbooba Mufti. However, the state government failed in most respects: development has been slow and corruption rampant. Self-employed Kashmiris in various trades have been denied improvement in their businesses and conditions. Unemployment remains high.

It has been the misfortune of the Kashmiris that because of the voices of separatism and guns of insurgency speaking louder than the masses ever did anything Kashmiris do is seen through the prism of terrorism and treason. They are never seen like just another ethnic community in the cultural mosaic of India whose members are driven by the same hopes, aspirations, urges and expectations as the members of the communities in UP, Punjab, Maharashtra or Chhatisgarh can be. The Kashmiris too expect the party or combination of parties they elect to power to improve life conditions for them. They expect the government to work on infrastructure, services, job creation, welfare and education.

At the root of the current trouble is the gross disappointment of the Kashmiris with the Mehbooba-led PDP-BJP coalition government. It has not delivered goods. The Kashmiris, who were expecting that under the Mehbooba Mufti regime they would be facing lesser state repression and more respect for human rights, have found in case after case that the behaviour of the state forces remains unchanged. Feelings have taken root that it was pointless expecting anything good or decent from the Mehbooba regime. Hence the students are out in the street pelting stones. Every stone they pelt is a denunciation of the Mehbooba regime.

However, the guilt lies with the central government. It has adopted a negative attitude toward the students. It has branded them all as “helpers” of insurgents. Such branding has closed the doors for a dialogue with them. After all, they are students. In several states on several occasions in the past students have risen in protest against the government of the day. They rose in Gujarat, Bihar and Assam. Everywhere, the state government invited them for a dialogue. The state government did not see or brand the angry students as traitors or helpers of terrorists and traitors. In those states – Gujarat, Bihar and Assam – the student movements shaped the politics. Most of the leaders of the student movements joined active state politics and became political leaders in their own right. It is time the Modi government and the Mehbooba government started a dialogue with the agitating students and the older youth and other sections of society supporting their causes. Once the governments know what is troubling their hearts and minds they can take steps to alleviate it. Islamic radicalism and Pakistan’s ISI find room in Kashmir only because the central government and state government have failed to resolve the major issues directly and indirectly affecting the lives of Kashmiris adversely. The need is to sit with the students and find out what needs to be done to tackle their grievances. Both the governments and the students know that the dialogue has to take place within the limits of the constitution of India. The problems relating to their lives can be taken up urgently and solved with sincerity. Peace will return to Kashmir and Islamic radicalism and Pakistan would find no room there.