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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Jammu and Kashmir: Can we as a nation handle the identity issue? | Opinion

Development, jobs, peace – things promised by New Delhi to the people of Jammu and Kashmir – important as they, still fall short of addressing the apprehensions of “identity.”

opinion Updated: Aug 22, 2019 22:39 IST
Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Sudhi Ranjan Sen
A deserted view of a closed market in Srinagar on Thursday.
A deserted view of a closed market in Srinagar on Thursday. (ANI)
         

The curbs on movement of people are being relaxed and connectivity is being restored in Jammu and Kashmir. The newly created Union Territory has been peaceful. The clampdown since August 5 – when Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special status - has perhaps helped avoid the agitations, stone-throwing or deaths, which had taken place in 2008, 2010 or 2016.

Be that as it may, what happens next is the question that looms before New Delhi and the people at large in India. Having been in and out of Kashmir for some time now, I have a different set of worries and questions.

How does New Delhi want to handle the prickly question of “identity” of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and contending and challenging the newly constructed narrow “identity” of what is to be an Indian? Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee invoked “insaniayat,” “Jamooriyat,” and “Kashmiriyat” as the defining features of resolution to Kashmir issue.

Addressing the nation on Independence Day from Red Fort, Prime Minister Modi talked about “one nation one constitution.” The Prime Minister also said politics wasn’t the driving force behind the decision. On the contrary, since previous efforts to resolve the continuing violence, agitations, underdevelopment, and the stranglehold of a few in Jammu and Kashmir over resources hadn’t worked, it has been argued that the government was left with only one option – to think differently. In his Independence Day speech, Governor Satya Pal Malik assured the people of J&K that their identity was not at stake following the abrogation of the state’s special status guaranteed under Article 370 of the Constitution. The Governor said “historic changes” will open a new door of development and help various communities promote their languages and cultures in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Even then, less a week after New Delhi stripped J&K of its special status, senior BJP leader from J&K Nirmal Singh sought restrictions on how much land and how many government jobs “outsiders” could get in the state. On the other hand, Ladakh is happy and yet apprehensive about what “outsiders” would do their “land” and “culture.”

Development, jobs, peace – things promised by New Delhi to the people of Jammu and Kashmir – important as they, still fall short of addressing the apprehensions of “identity.” Winning over the hearts and minds of people through jobs, roads, development, etc. is a classic 20th-century political expression. Then, those on the Left sought more equality and those on the opposing side – Right – sought more freedom. The Left focused on better working conditions, equality, and rights, and for those on the Right, it was personal liberty, freer movement of capital, and business, etc. The pre-eminence of “identity” today is largely because globalisation – a freer movement of people and goods and rising economy - is souring. More automation has compounded the situation. Across the world, the middle-income group, in particular, is in a difficult position. As making a living becomes difficult, “outsiders” appear more threatening.

India is not new managing contending identities. In the 1950s and 1960s, the founding fathers were extremely wise. Chauvinism over language led to the Bhasa Andolan in then East Pakistan and ultimately led to the birth of Bangladesh. Back home, India handled issues of identity with maturity. Instead of a single national language, India has as many as 22 official languages. Importantly, states in India have been formed on the basis of identity – primarily language. In addition, to accommodate the many identities the Constitution of India has special provisions for the states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam, and Gujarat.

Despite progress – material and otherwise – the issue of identity, although primordial, remains strong and often emerges as the driving factor. Look around and there are plenty of examples of identity as the driving force – President Xi Jinping’s reference to “hundred years of humiliation,” “making American great again,” and closer to home “Hindu Khatre Mein Hain.”

Professor Francis Fukuyama, in his book “Identity”, talks about three distinct sub-sets that go on to make the matrix identity; “the part that craves recognition and dignity,” “the need to be respected as an equal,” and finally “the desire to be recognized as superior.”Apart from the need for recognition and be respected as an equal, both sides seem to be on an unwarranted race of being “superior.”

Yet the issue of striking common ground, despite many religions, languages and ethnicity did concern our founding fathers. Describing India, in 1910 Rabindranath Tagore in Bharat Tirtha had written: “No one knows from where and on which invitation, Streams of immigrants gush and ease out into the ocean. Aryans, non-Aryans, Dravidians and Chinese, Shaka, Hun, Pathan and the Mughals -All merged as a single race…..Come O’ Aryan, non-Aryan, Hindu or Muslim, Come O’ Englishman, come O’ Christian. O’ Brahmin, grab others’ hands to waive prejudice. Come O’ condemned, stains of contempt be erased…..Now, on this vast expanse of the great mankind.”

In the coming days, as Jammu and Kashmir pick-up the-pieces, more than development, we are likely to see two different identities contending for supremacy. To clarify, it is not my contention that those in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir are not part of India. The Indian identity isn’t monolithic, but a collage of many identities. Does the current ascendency of a “hyper-national sentiment” in the country today allow the political leadership to address the issue of the contending identities? The room that political leaders had when India adopted 22 official languages is perhaps not there anymore.

First Published: Aug 22, 2019 22:39 IST