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A Triple Talaq for J&K?

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In a popular Indian fable, Vikram the hero and Vetal the ghost are forever caught in a time wrap – the former continuously trying to carry Vetal on his back while the latter lulling him with a story and escaping back to his haunt. The situation in J&K is no different. Jammu-Ladakh have now been carrying the Kashmiri political baggage on their backs for over 70 years while Kashmir, their spoilt sibling, stubbornly refuses to leave its old haunts. For each step forward by Jammu and Ladakh, Kashmir drags them two back. Has the time for trifurcation of J&K finally arrived?

Most commentators have a threefold argument against this proposal. First, that the amalgamated state acts as a bridge between Kashmir and the rest of India. Second, that the present configuration is linked to Article 370 which itself is a legal safeguard against an international court of law insisting on cessation of Indian claims over the entire state. Third, that any division of the state will have to be on communal lines. These apprehensions are, however, immature and redundant. There is nothing common between the three regions and the time for trifurcation of J&K is overdue as a host of reasons indicate.

Historical Issues

The indomitable Pir Panjal ranges have forever uniquely demarcated the destinies of the people of Kashmir from that of the rest of the state. The conversion of the valley into Islam under the sword by Ram Chand’s followers i.e. Rainchan Shah a.k.a. Sadr – ul – Din (a settler from Tibet, who converted to Islam out of spite when the Brahmins refused to accept him into Hinduism) and Shah Mirza, their succesor Sultan Sikandar (` But – Shikast’ or Idol Breaker), the Moghuls (Aurangzeb) and the Pathans ( Asad Khan) happened in virtual isolation. If anything, the only intermingling happened when the Kisthwar hills of Jammu Region served as temporary hideouts during periods of invasions in the Valley. Later, no migration of any value occurred during the Partition into Kashmir unlike what happened south of the Pir Panjals.

Migration during Partrition:

By their atrocities, the Qaibili raiders antagonized the Kashmiri people resulting in Sheikh Abdullah fully supporting the Indian intervention. But later, his attempt to cozy up to the US offering it a military base in Kashmir in the 60s had no linkages elsewhere in the state. Till date, no political activity or support from Jammu/Ladakh is forthcoming for Kashmir’s politics or vice versa (Census data on the govt site lists indicates refugees are only in south of Pir Panjals).

Unlike Kashmir, there were no takers for Pakistani sponsored insurgency in Jammu region in spite of having faced similar factors like rampant corruption, government apathy, police brutality, human rights violations and the infamous massively rigged elections in the late 80s. In sharp contrast to Kashmir, insurgency in Jammu region had to be literally forced –  through terrorism to subjugate the remote population in the Jammu region and through trans – Pir Panjal migration for generating pro-separatist political activity. This migration from Kashmir into the Surankot, Gool & Kishtwar areas of Jammu created the much needed linkage for spreading and sustaining terrorism south of the Pir Panjal. It was only through this common political link that Pakistan could establish a terrorist grid in Jammu region to make it tow the Kashmiri line. Today as insurgency wanes and Jammu limps back to normalcy, Kashmir is still playing into the hands of the separatists – allowing its youth to take up employment under their `militant-for-hire’ scheme.

Social Issues

Although language is an important parameter for establishing the uniformity of an entity or region, no common lingua franca exists between the three regions of the state. Dogri, Kashmiri and Ladakhi are distinctly different languages with their locally varying dialects and overlaps. Urdu, the official language for documentation finds takers, quite literally, only on paper.

Jammu and Ladakh are conscious of the immense potential of tourism for boosting economy and creating employment– as neighboring Himachal Pradesh has successfully shown. While the two regions have cried themselves hoarse for state support, they continue to get the short shift from the primarily Kashmir oriented state leadership even as Kashmir continues to create tourist – hostile situations inspite of massive state investments to boost tourism there.

Kashmir has constantly attempted to sensationalize and communalize issues – look at the Kashmiri tendency to implicate security forces even in clearly local criminal cases and their deliberate silence over the Kashmiri Pandits’ plight. KP organizations have recently used Jammu based media to voice their concerns over illegal occupation of their property, alteration of land records and even unsanctioned activity in their religious institutions/cremation grounds. In Jammu, communal issues have been witnessed only where political activists from Kashmir are settled – the average citizen south of the Pir Panjal is secular in outlook. It is no surprise then that KPs are unwilling to go back to their homes unless a separate homeland is created in the Valley. Obviously, for the average KP, Kashmiriyat ended the day the ethnic cleansing of KPs commenced in the late 80s.

Jammu and Ladakh consider themselves as inseparable parts of India. Although the average Kashmiri too holds this view, he still seeks to blackmail the government by waving the `azadi’ card to secure unaccounted for aid and concessions. It is a common refrain amongst the state citizens that while Jammu and Ladakh pay the taxes and electricity bills, Kashmir gobbles up all the central aid without having to bother about these.

While Jammu and Ladakh vote for political parties with Kashmiri leadership, the converse is still not true. The result is Kashmir centric politics and focus.

While people in Kashmir burn the Tricolour, Jammu waves it even during a protest against the government.

Here’s the last word – There is no similarity between Kashmir and the rest of the state.

Administrative Reasons

The state has a geographical area of approximately 2,22,236 square kilometers – that is four Himachal Pradesh states put together. The two states have comparable population densities and terrain accessibility, which only adds to the case for division of J&K for optimum administration. Incidentally, J&K state is also larger than numerous European countries and equivalent to most. The extremely poor quality of administration in J&K obviously speaks for itself.

Because of its geographical extent and political polarity, a unified J&K has the inescapable requirement of at least two state capitals. The six-monthly shifting of the administration and maintenance of two infrastructural facilities costs the Exchequer heavily, an amount the state can ill afford to waste. The issue is compounded by the harassment this results in for the average citizen when the administration is preparing to move or settling down.

The potential of tourism in Jammu region is more than Himachal Pradesh – adventure, religious or sight-seeing – but remains untapped due to the Kashmir centric politics. In the name of boosting tourism, only lip service has been done – a few boards, a toilet or two (which remain sealed), a garbage can or two (without disposal system) and disinterested, bureaucratic staff (mostly absent) at the reception centers. Countless forts, religious places and scenic spots remain poorly connected. The credit for the existing tourism activity can be attributed to either erstwhile Governor Jagmohan or private effort.

Economy in Jammu is sustained primarily due to agriculture, some mining and tourism. Jammu’s status as the last railway station will be usurped soon enough as most of the Kashmir headed tourist traffic gets diverted once the railway line reaches the Valley. A trifurcation will clearly boost the economies of Jammu and Ladakh regions because of the dedicated and focused attention it will generate.

Today, Jammu City is bursting at its seams because of the migration from the Valley, Poonch and Doda belts – a result of years of terrorism and de facto ethnic cleansing, even demographic rehabilitation of Rohingyas. All shades of people desirous of peace, security and normal lives have been forced to leave their historic homes and settle there in inhuman conditions. With 20 years of insurgency, a whole generation of youth has been reared on violence in the Valley deeply sensitized to militancy as a way of living (and earning). Similarly, a generation of youth in the Jammu region has been reared away from their homelands and on the notion that it is best to migrate. This situation would not have come to pass if Jammu and Kashmir had been two separate states since the magnitude of the ethnic cleansing would have been visible to the nation and the Kashmiri administration would have been obliged to take positive and proactive measures.

Even after seventy years of independence, people in remote areas of Jammu and Ladakh are leading lives of quiet desperation, vulnerable to the whims of terrorists and an insensitive administration, with no one to go to. Numerous criminal cases against minorities go unnoticed and get inadequate representation, sometimes in the hope that the issue will resolve by itself. The state is in need of efficient, honest and accountable administration, which is only possible if the state trifurcates.

The Perils of Procrastination

It is easy to get lulled into inaction due to the security familiarity to a way of life provides. But the time for change is now. For much too long, countless innocent people in J&K have been subjected to a sub-human way of life because of a political issue the central government has been unable to solve and the state government not keen to. A trifurcation would be a big leap towards J&K’s development as is happening in other recently created states.

If J&K does not honourably trifurcate now, it will disintegrate into an entity unworthy of its rich culture and tradition:

  • Communal polarity will increase as the last vestiges of minority communities migrate out of Kashmir Valley. As the government hands out sops in the form of government jobs to the migrants in Jammu to buy their silence, the simmering resentment amongst the Jammu citizens will turn overt leading to more violence – this time in Jammu.
  • The new generation raised in the two decades of insurgency will increasingly resort to the only way of living it has seen – violence – as a livelihood in the hands of political parties and separatists.
  • Tourism and other economic activity in the Valley will gradually suffer further increasing unemployment leading to a vicious cycle. This would be fertile ground for more extremism.
  • Separatist political activity will make deeper inroads into contiguous parts of Jammu and Ladakh regions expanding the insurgency, violence and communal tension. Note the bandhs in Kishtwar in support of the recent Kashmir incidents. With this, the process will repeat itself, this time in Jammu region.
  • A more interesting fate awaits Ladakh. While Kargil will go the Kishtwar way, Leh will remain isolated and neglected making it susceptible to Chinese influence as the Tibetan movement disintegrates after the present Dalai Lama and becomes Han-centric.
  • Finally, J&K veers towards three influences, possibly even trifurcating, into three parts – Ladakh with China, Kashmir (including Kargil, Kishtwar and Poonch, Rajaouri and Doda – Banihal) with Pakistan and the balance of Jammu with India.No longer will the flogging of the dead horse of J&K’s supposed autonomy serve any purpose. It is time to bury it with full honours. The political impasse because of Kashmir has kept J&K in a time wrap for the better part of a century – why should Jammu and Ladakh be chained and isolated because of their sibling? And who knows, with the trifurcation, the ghost of Article 370 would also finally have been laid to rest along with any meaningless rhetoric for a redundant plebiscite.

Sources and References:

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