This week, Kashmir and Kashmiris witnessed five gruesome murders. In Srinagar, a renowned Kashmiri pandit, Makhan Lal Bindroo was shot dead in his pharmacy, which he had run even in the 1990s, at the height of the exodus of the Hindus. Near the pharmacy, a vendor from Bihar, Virendra Paswan, was also shot dead. He was selling to chatter as a traveling merchant.
Outside of Srinagar, in Bandipora, in northern Kashmir, terrorists shot dead Mohammad Shafi Lone, who was the chairman of the Sumo Union, a local organization of transport traders. The Resistance Front, a terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the killings.
According to some residents, Lone was targeted by the terrorist group because of his proximity to the military and for allegedly working as an informant. He also helped motivate young Kashmiris to pursue a pro-Indian cause.
Earlier today (October 7), two teachers, Satinder Kour and Deepak Chand were killed. According to the press release published by the Resistance Front, teachers were gunned down for asking parents to send their wards for the August 15 celebrations.
In another statement, the terrorist group claimed that Bindroo was affiliated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and was guilty of familiarizing young Kashmiris with this philosophy. The statement claimed that Bindroo was in the narcotics business, hired non-local female staff, and had a bad temper.
Over the past three decades, since the Hindu exodus, many different definitions of Kashmiriyat have been offered, each tailored to the political interests of the speaker.
For local parties, Kashmiriyat is the tolerance of the local Kashmiri Muslim population against Delhi’s “pervasive nationalism”.
For extremists, Kashmiriyat portrays “the will of the people to fight, endure and overcome what they believe to be an illegal occupation of their land by India”.
Historically, Kashmiryat was meant to refer to religious and communal harmony where the festivals, traditions and culture of both communities are fervently celebrated. However, realistically, this ship has long since left port and sunk.
In a world after the revocation of Article 370 and the spread of Covid-19, Kashmiriyat is beginning to acquire a new definition. Local parties are no longer in a stronger position to maintain their imaginary fight against the Indian state. Extremist elements in the valleys, backed by terrorist groups on the ground, can no longer use innocent young Kashmiris as a trigger, as they did in the late 1980s, much of the 1990s and early 1980s. 2000.
More than the soldiers present in the valley, it is the local population who is now ready to free themselves from the communal constraints of decades and to embrace the new reality, the one which favors their future.
Kashmir today, on earth, is a unique experience. It is a transition of a majority of the population from religious fanaticism sold to them for decades since independence by Abdullahs and Muftis to economic nationalism thrown at them by the Center and the current government of the valley.
And so, everything is gray. Unfortunately, however, the episodes from the start of this week cannot be used to define Kashmir as a perpetual war zone. At the same time, reduced extremism and restrictions on other anti-national activities do not guarantee eternal peace in the valley. For every terrorist seeking to take down a Bindroo, there are thousands of tourists seeking to visit the valley, thousands of locals ready to welcome them, as was the case this year. Everything is too gray.
There are several shades in this gray.
In the spectrum, there are terrorist groups like the Resistance Front. The Front seeks to hunt down all Kashmiri, whatever their religion, seeking to work for the cause of peace or with pro-Indian forces. So, Bindroo or Lone, for them non-locals and Muslims are the same if they are aligned with the pro-Indian cause.
Muftis and Abdullahs complement their political efforts. While Gupkar’s statement is ridiculed as a non-existent threat in security circles, these local leaders, along with their promoters in Delhi, are the biggest players in the conflict economy., a phrase commonly used to define the monetary and political incentives obtained by ensuring that Kashmir continues to burn.
These actors are visible everywhere. They are on news channels, giving hour-long interviews recounting the historical importance of Section 370 while denying the lack of development it has led to.
They are in the pages of the newspapers, denouncing that Kashmir was a paradise before August 5, 2019. Before the pandemic, they were in the most posh hotels in New Delhi, organizing conferences, inviting think tanks and proclaiming themselves the protectors of the people of Kashmir while denying them even basic infrastructure.
In this gray spectrum, Middle Kashmir also gains prominence.
Today, an average Kashmir over 40 has more or less given up hope of any change, and all promises made to him are taken with a grain of salt. Pessimism is the result of years of terrorism and the political futility of tackling it. For the younger 40s, there is hope, and for the teens and early twenties, hope is complemented by untapped vigor.
Yet many young Kashmiris continue to wage internal conflict as they are unable to find the answer to this important question. Are they first of all Kashmiris or first of all Indians? If one asks this question to a room full of young Kashmiri Muslims, the answer is a lesson in diplomacy. Most say that their membership is situational, that is to say in Kashmir, they are first of all Kashmiris, and everywhere else in India, they are first of all Indians.
We cannot blame them for this confusion or this convenient diplomacy, because they inherited it from their ancestors who themselves inherited it from the political realities of the time. It is on this internal conflict and this confusion that the local parties, the actors of the conflict economy and the terrorist groups want to bet, and it is this same confusion that the government today in the valley and the armed forces are trying to eradicate.
The Central government, fortunately, is not oblivious to this reality and their efforts towards integration are not limited to Srinagar only. Already, many initiatives are being undertaken in northern and southern Kashmir, including some of the terrorism hotspots like Pulwama, Sopore and Baramulla.
Many parliamentary delegations have also contacted groups of traders and lobbies to promote economic integration. Beyond tourism, investments in road and rail infrastructure, manufacturing and agrifood processing units are already being studied. To date, the valley government is planning investments of around Rs 50,000 crore over the next two or three years.
The key to the valley’s economic growth would require both a short and long term vision. First, the fruits at hand must be picked, and therefore, as has been the case this year, tourism in the valley needs a revival. This must be coupled with the revival of local industries hit by Covid, especially crafts. A dry port in Srinagar, a long-standing demand, could do wonders for the export value of the state and small business groups.
In the long term, the government should start considering logistical support to Kashmir. Today, for example, it takes between 10 and 20 days for apples to reach Jammu from Kashmir, while apples from Himachal Pradesh are picked, packaged, marked and marketed across India in less than a year. ‘a week thanks to private investments and collaborations. Logistical support would also do wonders for the local dried fruit economy.
Already, plans for a movie city are being rumored within the state. In conversation with Swarajya, the lieutenant governor explained how many telugu directors now visit the valley to shoot long programs of their films. The health and sports economy must also be stimulated by increased investment in infrastructure.
Contemporary Kashmir also encompasses the relationship between the armed forces and the local population. For decades, actors in the conflict economy have sold the narrative of armed forces suppressing the local population. However, today the same armed forces maintain cordial relations with the local population, and this is not limited to outreach programs alone.
One example is that of the Army Goodwill Schools. Operated near cantonments, these schools have an infrastructure that can put most public schools in India to shame and offer low cost education. These schools have helped to ensure that radicalization does not take root in the new generations. At the same time, various sporting and cultural activities have played an essential role in establishing harmony between the two factions.
What about the Kashmiri Pandits?
On land, real estate and the realities of Kashmir pundits are eroding at a rapid rate. Local parties may want to shed crocodile tears, but most Kashmiri pundits have either moved on, are unwilling to turn back the clock, or have given up. However, for those who wish to return, the New Age Kashmiriyat would deserve the support not only of the state but also of the local population.
However, as was the case today and earlier this week, there will always be efforts encouraged and endorsed by political and terrorist groups who seek to disrupt the process. Within the valley, an underlying tension will always persist, and it is in this tension that the new Kashmiriyat will have to forge its identity.
The state will have to do its part on the social, economic and security fronts, but unless residents make it clear that they are ready to move from facade of religious fundamentalism, the backwardness of the state will persist, beset by religious fundamentalism and violence.
At the end of this difficult transition, a new Kashmiriyat will emerge, a Kashmiriyat as Indian as any other state, and ready to break free from decades of religious fundamentalism.