Saturday, August 21, 2010

Azadi and swaraj: Save the idea of India:

Afew things must happen in Kashmir before a political solution is found. There have to be public apologies and reparations from both the state and central governments for the deaths of civilians, particularly minors and women, in the summer of 2010. Curfew has to be lifted. Bereaved families have to be permitted peaceful, dignified and safe funerals for their dead. Orders to shoot-at-sight and fire live ammunition at protesters should be withdrawn with immediate effect. Representatives of the state government must show greater empathy for the people who elected them, especially by visiting the wounded in hospitals.

A phased scale-back of paramilitary forces has to be announced, with numbers and dates, to be executed over the next three years, until eventually the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) may be repealed altogether and troops confined to border areas only. Policies that provide monetary incentives and fast-track promotions in counter-insurgency operations must be scrapped.

Kashmiri leaders in prisons or under house arrest should be released and allowed to go about their business, including addressing public meetings, talking to the press, leading prayers at mosques and shrines, and entering into talks with the government. A timebound government-appointed commission of independent investigators needs to prepare a comprehensive report on the deaths, disappearances, unlawful detention, rapes and torture cases in Jammu and Kashmir, between 1990 and 2010, to be presented to the Indian Parliament.

All of this is not just imperative for Kashmir to survive the immediate crisis — it is necessary for India too, to weather this storm. If Kashmir’s future is the primary responsibility of the people of Kashmir, then it is the responsibility of Indians to save the idea of India and bring it back from its near-total ruin in the Valley. One thing all players can agree on: the house has to be set in order without any reference whatsoever, in the first place, to third parties.

After the Indian state and the people of Kashmir have taken these steps together , then comes the time to open up the issue for multilateral talks, with Pakistan , the UN, the US, and international humanitarian organisations. The process cannot reach the point of dialogue without an intensive period of soul-searching , homework and justice within the Indian Union. The Pakistanbacked militancy of the ’90s is in the past. Once India has established the rule of law to its utmost capacity, I am convinced it will have nothing to fear from any external agency. Kashmiris may still demand partial autonomy or complete secession, but that is a bridge to be crossed only after a bridge has been built.

Talking about Gandhi in Kashmir (or in Maoist India) seems laughable. But Gandhi it was whom India listened to, when it fought hardest for its own decolonisation between 1920 and 1950. Throughout this time, the Mahatma tried to establish certain core ethical values for a new politics of swaraj. Among these were ideas that had a long history on the Indian subcontinent, such as ahimsa. We usually translate this as “non-violence”, but what Gandhi really meant was the moral courage necessary to relate to another person without the desire to harm him.

THIS moral courage is difficult to achieve between any two persons, but it is hardest, and most essential, that ahimsa prevail in the relationship between adversaries, so Gandhi believed. He got the lesson of ahimsa, oddly enough, not from Asoka the Mauryan emperor of the 3rd century BC, who became a pacifist after causing great carnage , nor from Jain doctrine, which enshrines ahimsa as a key practice, but from the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna teaches Arjuna how to put up a good fight, without compromising his basic sense of morality and decency.

But Gandhi also insisted on satya, the truth, enshrined in India’s national motto, satyameva jayate, “truth alone prevails” . In addition, he wanted India to recover its oldest tenets of ethical sovereignty : anukrosha, from the Ramayana , the capacity to feel another’s pain; aanrishamsya, from the Mahabharata, the elimination of cruelty from one’s conduct, which Yudhisthira recognised as the highest dharma, the norm-ofnorms , especially for a king. Gandhi sought not just political independence from British rule, but a truly liberating political culture, grounded in age-old ethical norms like non-violence , moral courage, non-cruelty , truthfulness and compassion. Without these values in place, he said, India would never be free, never have true swaraj.

Most Indians have little sympathy for an independent Kashmiri nation. But an Indian mother would feel the pain of her Kashmiri counterpart whose teenage son was brutally killed while shouting slogans in a street demonstration. 


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