From The Economic Times, “Enforcing the ‘Writ’ in Kashmir”
“Kashmir , amidst decidedly deadlier things, is also a place where the surreal can descend to the level of farce. If, for example, denizens of the Valley are often subject to the bizarre in the form of an ‘undeclared curfew’ — which means no one tells you a curfew is on, but its existence is established by dint of a pre-breakfast thrashing were you to step out to buy some bread — it’s now the turn of, well, a ‘selective curfew’ .
And what makes that nonsensical phrase lethal — for, the farce often returns to the deadly reality it sprang up from in the first place — is the fact that now it is Kashmir’s schoolchildren who have officially been put on the frontline. While a curfew is enforced, the government has decided that schools must stay open, literally forcing children to don their uniforms and step out into streets that resemble a war zone, in total violation of basic norms of safety.
This directive is downright dastardly given the fact that the state is using the functioning of schools, while exposing schoolchildren to potential danger, as a means of enforcing its writ. Thus, in a situation where even employees at the civil secretariat have a hard time reaching office (apart from the many other deserted government departments and offices), Monday witnessed the spectacle of buses being organised to ferry children and teachers to schools.
Leave alone the fact that attendance was skeletal, or reports that stones were pelted at some of these buses, what is central is that the state apparently feels no compunction about making Kashmir’s schoolkids a test-case of proving its authority. That, in turn, for many lends credence to the separatist leaders’ assertions that it is hardly concern for the welfare and future of youngsters that motivates the state, given that it has spent the last few months gunning them down anyway.
So what is really going on? At heart, simply, the state and central government’s crisis of legitimacy in Kashmir. For, it is a moot point who actually runs, ‘governs’ Kashmir. On the one hand, there is the separatist leadership, and a Syed Ali Shah Geelani whose position has been consolidated to an extent that his word is, for all purposes, the law.
On the other hand there is the state itself, which exists mostly in the physical form of the police and security forces, and which operates solely by force and coercion. And ‘authority’ in Kashmir oscillates between these two poles. Between the coercive, disciplining force employed by the state and the allegiance commanded by the separatists.
One of the ‘jokes’ doing the rounds in Srinagar, for instance, gives a peek into how this works on the ground, how ‘authority’ can be fuzzy: On a day when the separatist protest calendar decrees that the shutdown will be relaxed briefly from 2pm, an over-eager shopkeeper trots off a wee bit early, and starts pulling up the shutter on his shop at around 1pm. Only to be berated by the CRPF chap standing nearby ‘Don’t you know it’s allowed only from 2?” Whose ‘writ’ , the bewildered shopkeeper wonders, does the CRPF man represent!
That problem, of ‘writ and authority’ , is what faces the state, what constitutes the crisis of its legitimacy. For, it is up against a widespread will, a deep sentiment among the people that negates its legitimacy. And the state responds the only way it can, given what constitutes it in Kashmir: by force and coercion, be it while trying to curb protests with bullets, lathis and curfews or by imposing authority by making kids to go to school in a strife-torn environment so the separatist ‘protest calendar’ can be disrupted.
What then can we possibly expect in Kashmir? It is possible the state ‘wins’ this round. Quite possible that, given the sheer strain on Kashmiri society (which the state tries to exacerbate by whatever means it can), the intensity of the current protests abates somewhat. But that crisis of authority and legitimacy facing the state will not resolve itself.
It will persist as long as the state tries to deny the reality that it faces that crisis, as long as it tries to obfuscate that reality by its policy of denial, postponement and delegitimisation of Kashmiri political demands and aspirations. As long as it comes up with yet more ‘packages’ centred around jobs, compensation for killings and yet more ‘interlocutors’ .
And even if, hypothetically, what goes by way of ‘normalcy’ returns to Kashmir in the months to come, that crisis will manifest itself in some other, perhaps even more intense and violent, eruption.
Kashmir is patently, admittedly, different in its political history and its relationship with the Indian union. And there is no feasible , worthwhile way out except not only acknowledging but accepting that fact. Resolutions can come later; the crisis needs to be accepted as such to begin with.
And for all the derision and heckling the recent All Party Delegation aroused in Kashmir, even as it was a half-hearted , reluctant step by New Delhi, it could be said to have posited, even by default, that direct political intervention, even potential negotiation, can open up some spaces, and is actually the sole, real meaningful alternative.”