Making sense of changes post-Article 370

I can sense a change in the ‘fiza’ of Kashmir as the intifada factory gets dismantled day by day, yet the problems of infrastructure, governance and work ethics which were there in the 80s and 90s are still present.

| Updated: 18 January, 2024 6:07 pm IST
TNI Illustration by Abhishek Rajput

How you make sense of the change in Kashmir is a question often put to me. As I gain more and more nephews and nieces, some blood-related, some through the affections of the heart, I can sense a change in the ‘fiza’ of Kashmir as the intifada factory gets dismantled day by day, yet the problems of infrastructure, governance and work ethics which were there in the 80s and 90s are still present.

Domestic violence, misogyny, child abuse, and incest are still prevalent there and the Islamist radicalization doubles the effects of these travesties of justice. As I talk to a little Kashmiri boy about to come to class 7th, fascinated by the Oscar-nominated The Martian, dreaming of joining ISRO, I am acutely aware of the battery on his phone dying. Our conversation about the adjusted power of Kashmir through inverters has load shedding, disrupted power supply, and delayed repair of blown-out transformers in the backdrop of the harsh Kashmir winters as he discusses the links and online courses and exams he is about to explore.

Recalling the long dark winter months of the 1990s when the Dal Lake used to freeze over and we were without electric supply for months, having had to resort to primitive ways of heating water and cooking, the earthen oven assembled in the courtyards of our homes. Not much has changed in the 34 years that saw a guerilla war sponsored by Pakistan, two generations buried in graveyards scattered across the Valley floor, and much more regressive attitudes than they were in 1989. Attitudes take longer to change, at least a century, like the concept of women being equal to men, in every way, except maybe physically.

Employees in the government sector are still parasites, applying the look-busy-do-nothing maxim, a former colleague in DPS, Srinagar is the owner of it. Govt ensconced civil servants are still pilfering from their jobs, because funds will always be available and yet not much accountability. Corruption and nepotism haven’t gone away, a continuance of the Lion of Kashmir’s (the Sheikh) time, when grandfather’s loyalties assured secure jobs for his sons and daughter-in-law (an aunt) even extending the nepotism to the second-generation cousins.

In Kashmir a government job means taking salaries but not going to work, something I saw my father, Baba, do for decades, despite due maintenance he owed to my mother (the Shah Bano of Barbarshah) for his two daughters for two decades. This was despite the mohalla committees, parallel sharia courts, community elders and imams, and of course J&K’s Ranbir Penal Code, with no recourse to actual courts. These days social media and the PR websites of the government show a lot of reels, and shorts of IAS babus visiting sites, talking to people, and solving public issues. I am sceptical, as I said, look-busy-do-nothing isn’t just prevalent in private jobs.

The work ethics are yet to develop among the adults; they feel the government and everything under the sun owe them something, never once self-reflecting how they can best serve the Valley and beyond. Of course, there are exceptions, many hard-working sincere civil servants taking their oaths seriously. Plus a few award-winning start-ups and youth entrepreneurs are giving hope that work ethics are changing too.

Piling court cases show that now at least violence against women and children is being recognised with the many arrests of sexual offenders (most of them repeated) murderers, drug peddlers, and of course, the terror cells. But not to forget, these are cases that come to the fore and are reported. I come from an era where not a single soul in my husband’s family knew for decades about the sexual abuse he suffered from an older male cousin from age 8-14. Not one even his parents knew until their deaths and his sibling read about it when he penned the story for his column ‘The Straight Curve’ in the weekly Kashmir Life – ‘A Plague of Sorts’.

Even at that time, it had created a sensation, and he got interviewed for a local TV channel and described his unresolved trauma and that of his generation; his 13 unsuccessful suicide attempts, and the damage to his body which eventually took his life at age 41. That incest is still an underlying evil in Kashmir is evident by the scores of confidences shared with me by the young and old, teens, children, men, women, transgenders, deaf-mutes, and scores of others.

None of the grand Sociology Departments of Kashmir University or Central University is looking into this sociological phenomenon, knowing well that repression of freedom of expression, making sex education taboo leads to perversion. Ibn Khaldun, the 14th-century Arab Muslim historian and philosopher, regarded as one of the founders of modern historiography, sociology, and economics would have been disappointed. There is still a long way to go after the abrogation of Article 370 if we are to ‘make sense of the change in Kashmir’, considering the elderly grocer in front of the gate of my house still dares to tell me to cover my head with a hijab.

In the 1990s, the terror groups, their intellectual enablers in the Intifada factory (motley group of journos, bureaucrats, civil servants, activists, half-separatist politicians) the morality police of the Dukhtaran-e-Millat went around enforcing gender segregation and mandatory veiling, punishing resisters by knee-cappings and acid attacks and intimidation tactics. In the wake of the custodial death of Mahsha Amini of Iran, at the hands of the morality police (mutaween) it has become all the more imperative that the hijab not be treated as a choice, even if one woman is coerced into wearing it.

The sense that I make of the abrogation is that the laws are in place, the declaration of one constitution, one flag, one nation has sent a strong message to the ISI-Pakistan, its overground workers in the Valley, and the breaking-India forces abroad. But there is work to be done within this declaration cause the hearts and minds have to be won over in the shape of good governance. Robert Thorpe wrote about this in the 1860s in his book Kashmir Misgoverned and that has always been the cause of Kashmir’s turmoil. Mismanagement, dereliction, corruption, nepotism, and misogyny are issues the entire country faces, so I’d say in that sense Kashmir is fully integrated into India and is reclaiming its origins in the Indic Civilisation.

Arshia Malik is a Delhi-based columnist who focuses on Indian Muslim issues.

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