Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Last summer when I went to meet Geelani Sahib, the cops outside his home stopped me to check my credentials. I told them I am a journalist to which a polite Kashmir Police constable quipped, ‘Bub haz chu atyi, neero achev’ (Bub is there, please go in). Over noon-chai served in simple porcelain cups and a fresh Kashmiri bagel, I asked him pointedly about the futility of Hartals and why there could be no alternative to these shut-downs.

‘Any political struggle or revolution requires a fair degree of hardship. I know Hartals are leading us nowhere but what is the substitute. You give me one’, he responded. I tried quoting Gene Sharp, the Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare. Geelani Sahib nodded affably but the tiny smile on his lip suggested that he didn’t completely agree with me.

At an ideological level, India has lost the battle in Kashmir. The way Afzal's execution was carried out and the justification given did not cut ice with anyone in the valley. Frankly Kashmiris have evolved in the last two decades and we understand the falsehoods, media spin and associated crap. As a writer friend whispered, 'A 12 year old kid can see through the charade, the fraudulence of their arguments'. Curfews, clampdowns and curbs are the only skeletons left in the democracy's cupboard.

But what about Hartals? Are they regressive? Is this collective punishment? What is the substitute? I think the answer is not black and white. If Hartals had the power then something would have been achieved by now. However, Hartal, conceptually, does have some symbolic purpose but by employing it so often, we might end up wearing out the masses by making them talk their ears off. That is, Hartals shoud be used sparingly to retain their relevance.

Instead of Hartal, what we need is more introspection and more awareness about our issues. That is, encourage our generation next to seek education, travel (within and outside Kashmir) and write (blogs, poems, articles, satire, books) to facilitate this incredible quest for information and knowledge all over Kashmir. Once our population knows that the real power is in knowledge and scientific reasoning then you will see intelligent responses from people. Lets not cheer our kids into throwing stones, which are only met with bullets. Let them defeat the injustice through the power of ideas.

Books are the best way to bring awareness and it should be drilled into the collective psyche of Kashmiri boys and girls that they need to write about their life and aspirations. It does not need to be a history lesson. Kashmiri masses need to write on each and every subject, be it fiction, non-fiction, economy, sociology, psychology, religion, violence. There will be kids who would opt for medicine and engineering but lets cultivate a sense for liberal arts too. Unless and until Kashmir does not produce its own breed of bright journalists and writers, you can’t fight the onslaught of an uber-nationalistic Indian media. Kashmiris first need to write for each other and then globalise themselves.

Young people in Kashmir need to travel within Kashmir to understand and know what exists beyond Srinagar. Kashmir for Kashmiris remains divided in three territories: Srinagar, North Kashmir and South Kashmir. I understand that people can talk about Srinagar because it is the capital. However, what on God’s green earth does South Kashmir and North Kashmir mean? When did they become provinces of note within Kashmir? Where does North Kashmir begin and end? North of what? And the same for South Kashmir? The reality is that Kashmiris don’t know about themselves. South Kashmir and North Kashmir simply allows them to hide their ignorance.

So, lets fight oppression by educating ourselves and then educate others beyond Kashmir. It might be that we will not achieve anything substantive in the near term but at least we will not lose our youth to boredom and violence. And in the process, we might end up knowing ourselves better.

In the era of globalisation, we have to think global. We have to educate the world about Kashmir, its conflict and injustices. Lets have our cultural renaissance in a million different ways. Eight million people don't just define themselves by the same victimhood narrative. That makes us appear weak. We don’t need people to feel sorry for us. We require the global opinion to agree with us.

Hartals, I may venture to add, are too local to have any lasting impact. While we can pull our shutters down, every now and then, in protest, let us not stop in the tracks in our quest to excellence. The fact is that our ideological foe is formidable. The engagement has got to be multi-layered: Cultural, intellectual, philosophical and political. This is a long fight and there is no date for Azadi. Revolutions, by their nature, are infinite.

While there is no taking away from our deep and tremendous admiration for Geelani Sahib, and the beautiful cause he leads so courageously, I’d rather a kid draws a cartoon, lampooning the state, rather than see his coffin being taken away and his helpless mother, wringing her hands, holler: myaani potrov.

Let them cordon our streets and block the Internet. Our icons live in our hearts and minds and we shall strive to honour them with our pursuit of knowledge.

© Sameer