Bed of Nails
It requires the highest degree of conviction, bravado and courage to be a vocal nationalist in Kashmir. One pays an unthinkable price for it. I am pained by the hundreds of accounts I have heard from nationalists who are feeling defeated. The first challenge a nationalist in Kashmir faces is the social stigma. Since anti-nationalism and violence have enjoyed a degree of social sanction, a nationalist is bound to be abused by the society. His or her family is stigmatized. At many places, they are looked upon as traitors and untouchables. The one who goes against the popular dominant narrative gets uprooted from his place of birth. Personal threat is so high that he cannot be at peace with his surroundings. He has to leave his place of comfort and settle in jail-like quarters at places considered secure in Srinagar or the respective district headquarters. One has to sacrifice the pleasure of being with blood relations and the sweet neighborhood attached with memories. Most nationalists face abandonment even from blood relations. We are yet to come across a single vocal nationalist who survived unharmed at his place of birth and remained unfazed by the challenges. Hundreds of people were killed by militants during the last 30 years. Some were politically and ideologically affiliated to the unionist narrative. Others stood out as ambassadors of peace and tranquility. Many were dutiful government servants, particularly in the police. They paid with their lives because they did not leave their home and hearth.
Those who chose not to compromise on nationalistic principles and left their home and hearth are facing the worst. Bundled in small rooms in protected hotels and government quarters with whatever the family strength, they are forced to remain isolated from the world. Many of them were killed when they ventured out of secured accommodations. Standing out from the crowd exacts a heavy toll upon the family. There are innumerable instances where the children of protected persons could not get a good match because no one was ready to identify with them. The nationalist constituency has also been dealt a severe blow by political vendettaism. Political regimes have played a pivotal role in othering the nationalists in Kashmir. For successive regimes, the priority has always been appeasing those with separatist ideology. Nationalists were devalued and demonized by those at the helm. The political bosses nurtured the culture of appeasement for petty considerations. The result was that the Kashmiris who identified as Indians had to pay a huge price.
Their suffering does not end by migrating to jail-like quarters, leaving their ancestral property, society and home. The real challenge starts thereafter. The system starts considering them a burden – unwanted and inferior. They have to beg for basic human needs. At the most, they are required at government functions to fill the seats and listen to pravachans of Babus. Beyond that the state finds no utility for them. Examine the classic dilemma. The extremists are ready to hunt them down. The system constantly judges their integrity. The extremists kill them physically. Strangely, the system for which they work kills their spirit. The silent majority stays silent because it keeps them safe. Those with the blood of Kashmiris on their hands and agents of a rogue foreign state are holier than thou, always held in high regard. They are not dislocated. They go with the flow and get everything – love, respect, position, power, community support.
The people who run the affairs of the state have been unable to understand and appreciate the high cost of being a nationalist in Kashmir. Stigmatization of local police officers by the system, the terror players and the society is equally tragic. We shall focus on this in detail in a subsequent edition.