The Emotions of Alienation

SYED ATA HASNAIN

I must admit that I am a cricket buff and would miss everything else just to take in the thrills and pleasures of a hard-fought one day match involving the men in blue. In the midst of the anguish that I faced watching my favorite team lose to Pakistan in the recent Asia Cup came the nails in the coffin of defeat, delivered by the events in Meerut. A segment of 67 young students from Kashmir allegedly and admittedly cheered for Pakistan even as the negative emotions from defeat were just about eroding. On a social media discussion I initiated with a wise and mature group of people I made an opening statement. It stated that the action of the students was “akin to the famous Hindi proverb – ‘ Aa Bael Mujhe Maar’, an euphemism for harakiri. Human instinct usually ensures that when no advantage accrues to you from a certain action you desist from it. However, if you still insist on doing it then it is at the risk of your neck”. The subsequent discussion was shorn of any major emotions but one thing was clear the friends from Kashmir who were engaged in the debate displayed a surprising naivety about the reality of the situation surrounding the problem of Kashmir, the way it is viewed by people in rest of India and the emotions connected with it. I tried to explain the issue of Realism through an example.

In 2011, the World Cup was approaching and the chances of Dhoni’s men lifting it were reputed to be strong. I was heading the Army in Kashmir and in the middle of an exciting experiment to change the narrative through innovative methods of outreach to the ‘Awaam’. There were daily meetings with different stake holders and suggestions were being received from all quarters. Someone suggested that cricket being a passion, a virtual ‘Diwaangi’, in Kashmir it would only be appropriate that people in way off villages and towns must get the opportunity to view the World Cup matches. In their usual innovative way the Army formations went a couple of steps beyond the normal television sets and utilized their video projection systems to beam the matches on huge screens. It was a novel way of ensuring bonhomie and intermingling of the troops with the ‘Awaam’ of their areas of responsibility. Evenings were spent in the relaxed environment of watching Mahender Singh Dhoni hit the ‘helicopter shot’. Tea and pakoras were the order of the day as cricket lore was exchanged. However, my increasing enthusiasm was short-lived because little did I know that fate would bring India and Pakistan together to the semifinals at Mohali. As an evergreen optimist I was certain it would cause no harm and that the event could go off like any provided we instructed the troops to handle the emotions. My commanders were more mature and more grounded; “no way”, they said. “We do not wish to lose everything we gained in the last one month”, was the other refrain. The decision had to be mine and basic instinct coming from long years spent in Kashmir cautioned me against my ambitious assumptions. I had to be a Realist and appreciate just what my advisers were saying. The decision was taken – pull down the screens. The media were most unhappy as were the local people. “Even you don’t trust Kashmiris to hold their emotions in spite of all that you say and profess to do here”. I had to answer this transparently and frankly by stating that it is not the Kashmiris that I don’t trust, it is the emotions of the moment and why spoil a fine tourist season and growing excitement with the changing narrative. I was just being a Realist.

It is not easy for a young Kashmiri to enhance his skills or level of education due to insufficiency of quality institutions in the Valley. Many of them opt to go to way off places; Kerala, Bhopal, Indore, Aligarh and Delhi’s Jamia Millia are popular places where they go. Considering that the situation in the Valley has not been too conducive for good education parents risk sending their wards to these places. Admission is not simple; it takes time, energy and persistence to get into an education institute of repute and complete the time there before picking up an entry-level job. Accommodation is difficult to find because of understandable reluctance of the local population about having to deal with police if something was to go wrong. Many a time plain simple bias exists just because people have the notion that every young Kashmir is linked to some anti-national activity. The alienation against India with which a young Kashmiri enters the world outside Kashmir should actually disappear in the hustle and bustle of the rest of Indian youth’s passion for education, the busy schedules of college curriculum, extracurricular activities and entertainment (something missing from Kashmir’s social scene). However, the reverse happens. Alienation seems to increase. Realizing this, the Army’s initiative towards skill development of some young people in Kashmir in 2011 was followed by visits of some officers to the neighborhoods in various cities where the young and trained youth had been sent for their first jobs. They spoke to the house owners and stood guarantee for their good behavior while imploring them to look after the young people.

It is therefore unfortunate and actually surprising how Kashmiri youth could be so brazenly unrealistic about the environment in which they were living. Subsequent arguments by supporters of their actions are even more bizarre as they give examples of the Chennai crowd applauding Pakistan’s victory in the past or Pakistani films and drama being appreciated in various parts of India. These arguments display the naivety and a complete lack of understanding of emotions of alienation. It is not as if only the Kashmiri youth is alienated (and many times rightfully so) but there are enough people from the rest of India who are alienated from the Kashmiris. Alienation is not an exclusive right of one segment alone. Admittedly, more needs to be done to heal the wounds of internal conflict in Kashmir. People belonging to such conflict zones have the special right to have their inevitable alienation addressed with empathy. We need much more sensitive programs to overcome the trauma of a population which has suffered the travails of turbulence for more than a generation. India’s Muslim population has over time overcome its obsession with Pakistan and integration has been progressive at all levels. The same has been with the Kashmiris except that the voice of ‘Azadi’ has become louder. This cutting of the umbilical cord with Pakistan accompanied by the alienation against rest of India has obviously not been fully realized by the common Indian citizen for whom raising a slogan in favor of Pakistan in public is sacrilege and an act of anti-nationalism.

Emotions over the incident have been high and realistically these are justified. Even those who may reluctantly accept the argument that it was sportsmanship and appreciation for good cricket that the students were applauding, would agree that in heartland India and in a city with history of communal tension, in politically surcharged times it was actually hara-kiri that was being committed. Rustication for a few days was a tactical ploy to allow tempers to cool. The sedition charges subsequently withdrawn have been a fair measure to send home the message that acts which may spur and trigger negative security situations will not be tolerated. Innocuously unrealized actions sometimes become triggers for much bigger conflagration and to that extent the UP Government and Police have been realists and have borne the criticism of being so.

All above is tactical, it is the strategic which is more important. Firstly, Pakistan has displayed crass crudeness with its message that the same Kashmiri students would be welcome to finish their studies in Pakistani educational institutions. If this has approval of PM Nawaz Sharif it reflects his lack of sincerity in pursuing the peace process. India should avoid official comment on it. Enough has been conveyed through the media and social media. Second and more importantly, this should draw the attention of the Nation’s perception managers, if there are any. Kashmiri alienation is a serious issue for us. We need to understand that it runs both ways and the more it persists in rest of India the more it drives it in Kashmir; a spiral so to say. If we need to psychologically heal the wounds of Kashmiris we equally need to educate others that Kashmir is emerging from the throes of very difficult times; much more patience and much more tolerance for misplaced emotions have to be displayed. It calls for a strategic perception management anchored at the National level. Tactical ploys to bring the Kashmiri youth out of their troubled psyche will not cut ice and will continue to provide such triggers which one day will lead to something much more serious.

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Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)  last served as the General Officer Commanding Chinar Corps in Kashmir. This article first appeared in www.citizen.in. Views expressed are personal

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