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Valley of despair

Publication Date : 05-10-2012


Indian MP Rahul Gandhi seems to have decided to focus on Jammu and Kashmir, or more specifically, on the Valley after his overtures failed to win over the people of Uttar Pradesh. Given the sensitivities of Kashmir and the trauma of its people, one wishes him luck in the hope that his decision to take corporate honchos to the Valley for an interaction with Kashmiri youth is productive and leaves a lasting impact.

It all depends on what he has decided to bring to the table. If it is just an employment-generating exercise, it will, in all probability, be rejected by the state’s young people who will perceive it as no better than the usual New Delhi dole. This is not to say that employment opportunities, if offered by corporate honchos, will be rejected outright, but to emphasise that while Kashmiris will make use of the opportunity made available, it will neither calm their nerves or erase the trauma of a generation reared on conflict and its aftermath.

It can only be hoped that "interaction" with the industry bigwigs led by the heir apparent of the Congress party does not turn out to be just a publicity gimmick. It has all the ingredients to attract the media: Rahul Gandhi himself, a host of industrialists who are always media favourites, and of course, Kashmir with its "romantic" turbulence.

A beginning could have been made without the industrialists and by ensuring that cottage and small scale industries were set up across the state for the processing and sale of honey, saffron, apples and walnuts, to name just a few natural goods abundant in the state.

Instead, apples rot in Kashmir as successive governments have not bothered to set up a single bottling plant, with the result that fruit is sent to Himachal Pradesh to extract juice, and then the packaged product is sold back to Kashmir at far higher price.

Despite the apparent cynicism, there is a strong idealism underlying the aspirations of the Kashmiri youth today. Most have suffered in varying degrees the trauma of conflict, curfews, humiliation, arrests and the killings.

Hundreds of Kashmiris are languishing in jails across India, thousands have disappeared never to return. There is an urgent need for delivering justice. Development and employment will be meaningless without first addressing the issues that have kept discontent shimmering over the years. The Kashmiris do not support militancy, nor do they support governments that use violence against innocent people.

Rahul Gandhi must have been briefed well by Intelligence agencies. And while much of what the sleuths have had to say may have been cleverly edited, there will still be enough to read between the lines--it is for him to arrive at his own conclusions. Gandhi can pick development without justice; he can pick panchayati raj (political system) without trust and confidence; he can pick elections without voters. On the other hand, he can learn from the mistakes of UP, and the special nature of the problems of the border state to pick delivery of justice as his first priority. It will be a tough path, one that might seem full of thorns as it will definitely attract the ire of the right wing political parties, but it is the only path that can bring him closer to the people of Kashmir.

Development is, of course, always good, particularly in a country where corruption and support for the corrupt have eaten into its very vitals. In several states, people are staging protests as their land has been acquired by industrialists in the name of development for a throwaway price and often without adequate compensation.

Many of these industrialists are in Kashmir now and one presumes they will require land in the beautiful Valley to pursue their mega-projects there. But while giving them the benefit of the doubt, it must be pointed out that in conflict-ridden Kashmir, development has to be preceded or at least accompanied, by justice.

That is, if this effort is aimed at touching the hearts and the minds of Kashmiris, and not treating them to ‘shock and awe’ with the big bucks of Indian industry.

Countless married women are still waiting for their men--missing for years--to return home; there are women still struggling without compensation and rehabilitation; the enforced disappearances; the curfew; the lack of trust with Facebook and Twitter partially blocked in the state; the open suspicion stemming from the ban that makes it impossible for young Kashmiris to visit friends after sunset, and the humiliation and rape of Kashmiri women. All this and more has to be addressed if Rahul Gandhi is at all interested in a real transformation of Jammu and Kashmir.

The writer is Consulting Editor of The Statesman


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