Kashmir has been a victim of political mistakes in the past and it is now time for the government and people to bridge emotional gaps that exist

by Mufti Manzoor Ziyaee

Having visited Jammu and Kashmir innumerable times, I have concluded that this beautiful land, this paradise on earth is a victim of political mistakes made by the leaders. The people of this beautiful piece of land are paying for the sins of those who have politically exploited them for decades. As a concerned citizen, I have certain suggestions to make. I call it a 15-point program which, if looked at seriously by both the government and the people of the valley, the current atmosphere of mistrust can end and pave the way for complete emotional integration of the valley in India.

I believe that Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), Gilgit Baltistan are inseparable parts of India. No foreign power has rights to stop India from making legitimate claims on these territories. Undeniably, Jammu and Kashmir which has suffered immensely in the past many decades due to wrong policies of the government and mistakes by the political class, both in the valley and outside it, deserves our special attention. I have met a cross section of people in the valley over the years and know that a section harbours a deep sense of alienation and there is huge trust deficit. We will have to restore people’s trust and address the genuine demands of the people.

Next, the government will have to restore Kashmiris' faith in India and we will have to open channels on multiple fronts to win over the people who nurse a huge grudge against us. We are linked to the Valley geographically but we will have to link it with rest of India emotionally and socially too. Several programmes and policies need to be prepared to integrate the people of Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of India. I think dialogue is the best way to remove the mistrust and misunderstanding. We must initiate dialogues both at the government level and by private citizens. Kashmiri students studying in other states must be made to feel confident and secure and small traders of the valley working in other states too should have a sense of security. Strong and exemplary action should be taken against those who harass Kashmiris studying or doing business in other states of the country just because they are Kashmiris. They must be made to feel that India belongs to them and they belong to India.

It doesn’t need overemphasis that education has collapsed in the Valley both due to apathy of the government and lockdowns. Youths should be given an option to choose careers through education, away from the destructive path of terrorism and extremism. To revive the education system, the government must open educational institutions in the valley. Besides, Kashmiri students should be encouraged to study at educational institutions in other parts of the country.

The health infrastructure in the state is in a shambles. It needs several good hospitals and medical research institutes. A chain of good medical dispensaries and hospitals must be established in the Valley. I have travelled to the interiors of the valley and have seen how people are in dire need of good health and medical facilities. Private hospitals and research centres should be encouraged to open their units in the valley.

Kashmir is endowed with natural beauty and rich harvests of fruits and vegetables. Local industries, agro-business, horticulture and fruit trade need to be promoted in a big way. I have seen cartons of fruit spoiling due to lack of an efficient transportation network. Perishable fruit spoils if kept in cartons and trucks for days. An improved transport network can help farmers take their produce to the market easily and early.

Kashmir has a rich tradition of handicraft; the industry of shawls must be encouraged as there is huge demand for these things in India and abroad. Apart from shawls, things like kahwa, dry fruit are also in great demand and the hurdles in their production and sale should be removed.

Kashmir is a land of rishis, munis and Sufi saints. Sufism took root here much before it spread to other parts of the country. Sufism flowers in peace and Kashmir, before militancy struck it in the 1980s, was a peaceful land. The culture of Sufism needs to be revived here. Sufi conferences, meetings and lectures as well as Sufi musical programmes should be conducted to infuse a sense of hope and positivity. I am ready to lend support to these efforts.

Corruption is endemic in the valley and corrupt politicians have held the people hostage for decades. Dynamic leadership rooted in India’s nationalism, patriotism, justice and fairness must be promoted. People must get the option to choose good leaders.

Centre has dedicated huge funds to the Valley but these funds have not been spent prudently and judiciously. There is abject poverty in corners of the Valley. Development eludes part of a land that deserves good roads, electricity and rail networks.

The repeal of Articles 370 and 35A are in favour of the people. Kashmiris should know that these articles were hindrances in the integration of the Valley to India. Their future lies with India and not in a separate homeland. They must use all the democratic spaces made available by the Constitution of India. Terrorism, extremism and militancy will not help them. They will bring further impoverishment.

I recall how former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke of the healing touch of Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat and Hindustaniat. We need to revisit the same principle of Kashmiriyat and try to bring the healing touch. This must include rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits uprooted decades ago. They want to be brought back to the Valley which is their home and their rehabilitation will open a new phase of peaceful co-existence.

In my visits I have found that thousands of women live depressed lives as widows and wives. Apart from those women who lost their husbands to militancy or in operations, there are hundreds whose husbands are missing. These are half-widows. Their rehabilitation is a huge issue.

Last but not the least, the disaffected and misguided youth need to be brought back to the national mainstream. These misguided youths need to be given a purpose in life. Their future lies with India. They must be told to utilise the infrastructure being created in the country and move ahead.

Mufti Manzoor Ziyaee is a Mumbai-based Sufi scholar, head of International Sufi Caravan and President, All India Ilm wa Hunar Foundation