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Working on Political Issues in Kashmir

What Are the Limits?

This article is a brief account of the work over the past three years of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Analysis in Kashmir, where it started an initiative to connect people in the Valley with actors of political and civil society from the rest of the country over issues that concern Kashmiris. This initiative included bringing students of the national capital together with students of Kashmir and sharing information and perceptions about events in the Valley. The CPA's work has shown that Kashmir and its people are subjects of multiple and coexisting transformations.

People in Kashmir, as in any conflict zone, are wary of strangers. So, gaining their confidence is the first major task. This is because politics in Kashmir is not normal, as we understand it; the real politics of the Valley centres around a deep alienation between the state and the people where nobody trusts the other. This is complicated by the fact that persons hired by or on the temporary payroll of Indian agencies like the Research and Analysis Wing, Intelligence Bureau and Special Service Bureau are scattered throughout the Valley. As a result, relations between people and institutions are mediated by these agencies. The military and paramilitary and several intelligence services keep a close eye on insiders, outsiders and all visitors, and are especially suspicious of activists interacting with Kashmiri civil society. While institutions of democracy such as the state legislature and judiciary exist, their substance and significance is negotiated through the military and intelligence agencies in collaboration with the various layers of the union home ministry. Indeed, the militarisation of the Valley is evident through the repression of dissent by the use/threat of force.

The almost complete absence of news of happenings in Kashmir in the so-called national media does not help matters either. Except for government-sponsored news about terrorism per se, media in other parts of the country ignores and often blacks out news from Kashmir in a systematic manner. This makes civil society work in Kashmir difficult and requires patience and high levels of self-confidence to face hostility on the ground from the state government, security forces, intelligence agencies and those who work for them. The authorities are intolerant of criticism and dissent, and often intervene to scuttle such meetings organised by civil society groups. Kashmiris, of course, are virtually barred from holding protest meetings. Not surprisingly, civil society organisations are hesitant to work in Kashmir for fear of being charged with subversion. As a result, Kashmir has been left out of the national agenda.

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