Once There Was Hope

Now there is only despair and desolation

Ghazala Wahab

It has been a month since the announcement in Parliament by home minister Amit Shah changed the fate of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and along with it, our collective future too. Make no mistake, despite the distance between Kashmir and the rest of India (more of conscience than real), our fates have increasingly become aligned, even if we don’t realise it just now.

The government of India has been claiming that it is all for a good cause — development and welfare of the Kashmiri people. The fact that the Kashmiri people have not been asked whether they want this kind of development, is a minor detail. In any case, why point fingers at this government alone; infantilising the Kashmiri people by claiming that they don’t know what is good for them has been a consistent attitude of the successive governments in Delhi. Which is why on the high table where decisions are made, there has never been any chair for a Kashmiri.

The development may come to Kashmir in the future. But before that, there will be pain. A lot of it and spread over a long period of time. Not just for the Kashmiris — who, by our reckoning, clearly deserve it — but for the rest of us nationalist Indians. Consider this, according to the ministry of home affairs’ Annual Report for 2016-2017, ‘Rs 988.55 crore has been reimbursed to Jammu and Kashmir Government under SRE (P) till 28.02.2017, which is the highest ever.’ The following year, this expenditure came down to Rs 627.87 crore (Annual Report 2017-18). The SRE or security related expenditure only covers the cost of deployment of the central armed police forces in the state and the state police involved in counter-insurgency operations. The cost of maintaining the army in J&K, both on the Line of Control as well as in the hinterland on the counter-insurgency grid, form part of the defence budget.

Then there are central grants. According to a 2016 report in the Hindu newspaper, since 2000, the state of J&K had been getting nearly 10 per cent of all central grants. In real terms, Rs.1.14 lakh crore has been spent on the state in 16 years (2000-2016). None of this factor in the unaccounted funds released by the government to the intelligence agencies operating in the state, which use it to pay off the informers and to keep small-time politicians and potential disruptors on India’s side. A similar unaudited fund is also released to the Indian Army for maintaining its so-called intelligence grid and a friendly media.

Now with the additional infusion of over 30,000 troops since July 2019, the cost of hosting them will go up. Given the state of the Indian economy, with the fear of real depression looming, any additional cost is going to cause serious pain. What’s more, the state Governor Satya Pal Malik has also generously announced that 50,000 jobs will be created in the state. In fact, he has asked the Kashmiris to quickly queue up for these jobs, suggesting that these are being opened shortly. It’s another matter that with the level of unemployment in the rest of the country at an all-time high of 6.7 per cent, clearly, we will be required to make greater sacrifices to ensure that government adventure in Kashmir has a semblance of success.

The tangibles aside, a greater sacrifice will have to be made by the Indian military, who will have to side-step its primary task of preparing for a conventional war in favour of committing more numbers, man-hours and limited resources to maintaining peace in the state as well as staying in perpetual readiness to carry out political strikes against Pakistan in case it doesn’t mend its perfidious ways. Taking lessons from an ostrich, we will have to ignore the Chinese military challenge because there is only much the Indian forces can do and our beleaguered economy sustain.

Yet, all this is the proverbial tip of the iceberg which sank the Titanic. The real challenge will be when the streets of Kashmir start to speak. Today, they are silent for most part, breaking into sporadic, impromptu, but insignificant protests. Yet, this silence is frightening. Because in Kashmir, nothing is ever as it looks.

“Right now, nobody knows what a Kashmiri is feeling or thinking,” says an educationist who has been living in Delhi since 2005 and has been working on government of India programmes for education and empowerment in remote areas.

“The only thing that can be said with any degree of confidence is that there is a lot of anger in the Valley. There is a huge sense of betrayal amongst people like us who love India and believed in co-existence with India. I did not expect the government to behave like this. In one thoughtless moment it has undone years of hard-work that people like us had put-in in the decade of 2005-2015, trying to bring as much normalcy as possible within the Constitution of India,” she says.

“We tried to bridge the divide between the people of Kashmir and mainland India. To some extent we were successful too. But, look what have they done now?” she asks rhetorically. “It’s not just the abrogation of the special status. The government’s action has actually exposed the divide between the two people. I am appalled by the reaction of mainstream Indian people. Forget about the politics at the moment. It is a humanitarian crisis.”

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