Anuradha Bhasin, author of A Dismantled State: The Untold Story of Kashmir After Article 370
At a personal level, how did conceptualising and writing this book affect you? Was it in some ways cathartic?
It was both a cathartic and a painful journey. A year after Article 370’s revocation when I started collecting material to write, the brutal impact of how peoples’ lives were shaping within Jammu Kashmir, particularly in the Valley, saddened me immensely. I could sense the overwhelming pain (of those who spoke) and sense of fear (of those who were hesitant to speak) that people were dealing with. There was an immense sense of loss and despair I had to grapple with. I collected whatever I could and pieced together a holistic picture of how J&K was being dismantled and re-shaped and the picture in its entirety was horrifying.
But yes, writing the book was therapeutic. As journalists, we see things around us that traumatise us constantly but our work acts as therapy too. But this time it was different. Since I feel I have at best been able to share just small glimpses of what is happening in J&K, it also kindles a desire to probe and write more. So, my cathartic experience goes in tandem with an uneasy restlessness.
The government aside, there is a wide rift in the way the Muslims of Kashmir, the Hindus of Kashmir and the people of mainland India view the Kashmir issue. How can any meaningful conversation even happen in these circumstances?
The present socio-political space in India is polarised and the government has contributed to this. A manufactured Kashmir narrative has been used to polarise people in the rest of the country and in turn this polarisation has helped the government to completely choke the people of Kashmir.
Needless to point out that even before the present BJP government, Kashmir was always viewed from a different lens by a majority people in India. Right now, within the Indian majority, there is no appetite to hear about what is going on in Kashmir. People don’t want to hear the truth. They want to believe their own imagined version of it.
Unfortunately, under the present circumstances, one cannot expect any meaningful or civilised conversation. But we have seen from experiences in the past that when conditions are conducive for such conversations, deliberations across society help in building trust and in evolving a shared understanding of things.
It is generally believed that the revocation of Article 370 is a done deal, that the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Under these circumstances what is the way forward?
It would be speculative but conversely, even if the genie were to be put back in the bottle, would it help bring some normalcy. There was trauma, suffering and trust-deficit even before 2019. This has increased now. People’s sense of disempowerment after Article 370 has increased manifold and it is also impacting Hindus of Jammu, Kashmiri Pandits and Buddhists of Ladakh.
So, if Article 370 has to be hypothetically restored, how would it compensate the people who have faced torture, been jailed, intimidated, lost jobs, have undergone psychological trauma and have been rendered homeless? Would that be returned? Would that assuage the sense of hurt and humiliation? Would that assuage the aspirations of a large section of people within J&K of going beyond Article 370. That is a truism and cannot be wished away under military suppression.
Today, the people are fighting for their basic survival. The first priority should be to reach out to the people, restore democratic rights and stop this process of taking away from people their jobs, businesses, lands and houses. The people need to be treated with dignity and they must be given the respect they deserve as Indian citizens. Their confidence needs to be restored. And, then there should be a dialogue with the people of Jammu and Kashmir which should involve all religions, ethnicities and regions.
Is there any space for the South African model of a Truth and Reconciliation commission in Kashmir?
That was a post conflict model. Truth and reconciliation have their limitations but are also good. But they begin when a process of conflict resolution is going on.
How impactful are the external factors of Pakistan and China?
I am really no expert there. But I am watching how the scenario is panning out. Pakistan and China are traditional partners and have strong military cooperation. At the same time, I am watching the larger geo-political shifts—US-China confrontation, Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan—which will have a bearing in this region. When external factors begin to get amplified, a divided India would be weakened within. Jammu and Kashmir is a sensitive border state and a hostile population within would further be detrimental for Indian security interests.
If you were to indulge in day-dreaming, what kind of future would you like to see in Kashmir?
I would like to see Kashmir not as a bone of contention in all South Asian disputes but as a buffer with potential to resolve all disputes. I would like to see a vibrant democracy there and a secular society. I would like to see a Kashmir without military footprints and people living without fear.