Dear Kashmiri Friends (the ones who don’t like India),
I write in this open forum because something terrible is happening in the Kashmir Valley. The recent events at NIT Srinagar only brought the situation to national attention. Some students burst crackers when India lost the T20 semi-final. Many students were beaten for raising the Indian flag. Thereafter, bloody clashes have broken out in north Kashmir.
I understand that there is little pro-India sentiment amongst locals in the Kashmir Valley. Many would rather the Valley be on its own, some wouldn’t even mind being with Pakistan. I will not judge you. Despite being a patriotic Indian, I won’t hold it against you if you hate India. You must and do have your reasons for it.
However, allow me to present another point of view. Allow me to tell you how your future will be best, on a practical basis, if the Kashmir Valley integrates and assimilates with India. This is not an emotional, political or historical argument. It is simply more rational for people in the Kashmir Valley who seek a better future to do it with India.
Sure, the experts will jump on me now. Experts who have made the Kashmir problem their fiefdom. However, if the problem were indeed solved, how will these people stay relevant? Hence, they always attack any solution with their elitist ‘this is too complicated an issue’ stance. They love complicated. It gives them another conference to attend. You suffer with complicated, as the problem never gets solved.
The issue is complicated for sure. For those who don’t know the Kashmir issue, here it is in a nutshell. India became independent. Princely states were assimilated. Jammu & Kashmir didn’t accede. Pakistan attacked Kashmir, took half of it (and still controls it). Kashmir’s ruler called India for help. In return for help J&K became part of India, but with riders.
J&K would have its own constitution, have more political independence than other states, while the Centre would handle defence, foreign affairs and communications. In theory, it was a good solution, a sort of one country, two systems approach. In reality, it never worked.
Instead of two parents as planned, J&K became nobody’s child and an orphan. Pakistan took advantage and used the common factor of Islam to start a militant movement. The Indian army tried to control it. However, it is difficult to control terrorism that co-exists with a civilian population (case in point: even the world’s superpowers appear unable to control Islamic State).
Hence the Indian army, and India, only got a bad name in the Valley. Thus the ‘we hate India’ slogans and perennially unsolved Kashmir problem.
The question is, what is a Kashmiri youth to do now? First, it is important for everyone, not just Kashmiris, to understand the area and people involved. The J&K map we see in Indian textbooks is far from what exists on the ground. Half of what we see in the map is taken over by Pakistan and China. Even though India may claim it, unless we are okay with heavy civilian casualties (which we are not), we will never get it.
Hence, let’s just focus on the half under Indian control, which can be divided into three areas: Ladakh, Jammu and the Valley. Most of the trouble is in the Kashmir Valley. This is only around 7% of the area Indians see on the J&K map and approximates the size of Manipur. In terms of people it is 7 million, roughly the population of Chennai.
The terrain is rugged and the area is completely landlocked. Even if we were to indulge the argument that India is a terrible country and so Kashmir Valley should be on its own, can you really build a sustainable country out of it? It will be a tiny stub in a troubled area, abused by both India and Pakistan. With no real economy and extreme dependence on its giant neighbours, it risks becoming a cesspool of terrorism, drugs and smuggling.
There is also a risk of its being taken over by fundamentalist Islamic forces. It is unlikely anybody from outside would invest money in such a dangerous place. There would be no jobs and no safety. Would you want to live there? Ditto if it joins Pakistan. India is seen as a major emerging market economy. Pakistan is not even seen as a real economy.
Another issue is women’s rights. Half of the Valley’s people are women. Given the hold of fundamentalist Islam, their rights would be curbed under both the independence and Pakistan options. This half of the population would be better off with India. Or do what women want not matter?
If you are Kashmiri and care for Kashmir, the best thing you can do is to integrate with India. Your population size is small, only 7 million. It is not unthinkable to unite them and create a group of people that talks real business with the Indian government. Your local politician won’t talk assimilation, as he or she would rather hold more power than a typical state government in India. However, for you, the youth, the best bet is to make the Valley truly part of India.
The rest of India should not ask for the removal of Article 370. The 7 million people in the Valley should. Kashmiri Pandits who were made to leave the Valley need to be brought back. Terrorism is no solution, nor revenge and retribution for Indian atrocities. Terrorism is only going to harm people in the Valley most.
So, it is youth in the Valley who have to now start a movement to really solve this problem. Get rid of Article 370. It is not empowering Kashmir. It is only empowering your local politicians, who frankly can do nothing for you without Indian integration.
Don’t blame the Indian army. It has the tough job of weeding out terrorists from a civilian population which is almost impossible without collateral damage, terrible as that might be. However, blame those truly responsible, the Pakistani army, the local leaders who exploited the situation and the experts who did nothing for you.
Don’t burst crackers when India loses. Don’t feel good when India fails.
Because if India fails, you will fail too.
Jai Hind. Jai Kashmir. – Times of India, 16 April 2016
» Chetan Bhagat is a best-selling author and popular newspaper columnist.