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Is reconciliation possible in Indian Kashmir?

Dharvi Vaid New Delhi
September 21, 2021

Much animosity has built up since India scrapped Kashmir's special status two years ago. DW spoke with several Kashmiris, many of whom have harsh feelings about the Indian government.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been facing a violent insurgency since the early 1990s
Indian-administered Kashmir has been facing a violent insurgency since the early 1990sImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Dar Yasin

"Just like everything else in Kashmir, I am a shadow of my previous self," 58-year-old Shabir, a boatman from the city of Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir, told DW.

Shabir, whose name has been changed, used to be the proud owner of a traditional yellow Shikara boat on Dal Lake.

The lake's floating market had been Shabir's bread and butter. That was until the Indian government decided to scrap the semiautonomous status of Indian-administered Kashmir on August 5, 2019.

When the region lost its special status, and a harsh security clampdown ensued, Shabir lost his yellow boat, along with his livelihood.

"I had no choice but to go work with a relative on his boat. I have daughters to marry," Shabir said.

"They say that things are getting back to normal, but I don't see it. There is no hope, there is no trust. I will never be able to reconcile with what happened," he said.

Kashmir's 'alienation'

Since 1947, the Muslim-majority region has been the point of contention between the nuclear armed states of India and Pakistan.

Kashmir has seen a bloody insurgency in the past few decades, as well as the mass exodus of thousands of Hindus, or Kashmiri Pandits, heavy militarization and a series of security lockdowns triggering reports of human rights abuses.

Fahad Shah, the founder and editor of The Kashmir Walla, told DW that Kashmiris have become alienated.

"To understand the alienation, you need to understand how a young Kashmiri child grows up," Shah said.

"During the elections of 1996, I was a young boy, and I remember the army coming inside my house and taking the men there to vote. I remember sitting in the courtyard with my mother and my mother telling them not to ruin the house. You see a whole series of crackdowns growing up in Kashmir. You see the attacks and the killings," Shah said.

"A young mind in Kashmir gets curated from the very beginning. You start knowing this is not what normal people do — this is not what happens in a normal situation," he added.

'No question of reconciliation'

Ather Zia, a political anthropologist at the University of Northern Colorado, does not believe that a reconciliation with the Indian government is possible.

"If someone has their knife at your throat, I don't think that's a moment of reconciliation. I don't think there is any post-abrogation world in Kashmir. It's in constant humiliation mode, if we think that Kashmiris will reconcile with what's happened to them. People don't forget these kinds of wounds," she told DW.

Zia called what is happening in Kashmir "a slow genocide of people" and the "killing of young boys."

"These are war crimes," she said. "They [the Indian government] are creating these roads of cultural imperialism. ... Kashmiris don't see hope for themselves with India, so there is no question of reconciliation," Zia said.

Will Kashmir's young politicians bring hope to the region?

Acknowledgement leading to reconciliation?

A violent insurgency and fear of persecution drove thousands of Kashmiri Hindus from their homes in the early 1990s.

Nearly 520 Kashmiri migrants returned to the region after the revocation of Article 370, according to government figures.

Media reports have said that the administration in Jammu and Kashmir is accelerating work on transit accommodations to facilitate the return of Kashmiri Hindus.

Author Rahul Pandita, who was 14 when he fled Kashmir with his family, told DW that he is also pessimistic about reconciliation and the return of Kashmiri Pandits.

"We talk about reconciliation or the so-called return of Kashmiri Pandits, but we must remember that the Kashmir valley of today is 10 times more radicalized than the Kashmir valley of 1990," he said

"To expect Kashmiri Pandits to leave their very carefully made lives in the rest of India or the rest of the world ... and go back to this radicalized valley, where there is absolutely no guarantee of their safety, is too much to ask from them," he said.

Drawing from the truth and reconciliation commissions in South Africa and Rwanda, Pandita said the first requirement of any reconciliation was an acknowledgement of history. 

"The majority of Kashmiri Muslims are in absolute denial about the circumstances that led to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits," he said.

"Thirty years since the exodus, an acknowledgement has not happened," he said, "not even in private conversations at times."

Government figures put the number of Kashmiri Hindus killed in the 1990s at 219, but Pandita said at least 700 people were killed in the violence, adding that there is yet to be a single conviction.

"Unfortunately, even this government ... is not serious about giving any sort of justice to Kashmiri Pandits. To expect them to be a part of any reconciliation is futile," he said.

According to Zia, India's political structure has "weaponized the pain of these two indigenous communities."

"I think that it is for these two communities to think how far they want to weaponize each other," Zia said. "Do Kashmiri Pandits want to come together and live in garrison towns, or do they want to come back as people who want to live amidst neighborhoods that are more plural?"

"People have to rise above these machinations of these very Machiavellian policies that these governments have put into place," Zia said.