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Kashmir’s hero Shah Faesal has got the Kashmir problem wrong

Kashmir and its issues are a very complex topic. There are multiple facets to it, one extreme of which was terrorist Burhan Wani who propagated the use of violence to “free” Kashmir. This extreme is being fought by the Indian armed forces on a daily basis, which results in some big ticket encounters, such as that of Wani himself. The polar opposite of Wani, as social media and later mainstream media portrayed, is Shah Faesal. Faesal became the first Kashmiri to top the Indian Civil Services Examination and the first candidate from Kashmir in several years to be selected to the Indian Administrative Service through open merit. These two youths provide just a glimpse into the vallet, but are indeed a very simplistic and binary view.

Faesal, in an article published in the Indian Express, has sought to figure out a solution to the Kashmir problem, and his solution to the current problem of unrest is this: “to convince these media houses to tone down their jingoistic rhetoric and pay heed to the feedback from the ground.”

Before one comes to this point, we must understand where Faesal is coming from. Faesal says he is disturbed and perturbed by the use of his image vis-a-vis Wani, by media. He claims that the media has shown “sheer insensitivity and shallowness” and also created a “security risk” for his life, due to which he roams incognito.

There are multiple issues here. Firstly, Faesal fails to realise that even though the terrorists of Kashmir, the stone throwers, the people who storm army bases, consider themselves as anybody but Indians, the rest of India has openly glorified Faesal, one who lives among them, as their hero. This shows the contrasting attidude of the two factions, and you do not need any media jingoists to show this, Faesal himself unwittingly exposes his friends in the valley.

Further, it is odd that now Kashmiris have a problem with rest of India supporting other Kashmiris too. They can be surely aggrieved that a section maybe demonising Kashmiris, but here you have a Kashmiri youth saying “please India stop acknowledging me as one of your own!”. Damned if Indians condemn terrorists, damned if Indians praise role models. Faesal’s reasons though are understandable. It is not that he hates India, it is just that he fears for his life:

Next day, I left for my office, incognito, wearing a kurta-pyjama and a farmer’s cap, hopping across check posts like a thief, knowing well that if a group of enraged youngsters recognised me, I might be in trouble, and rightly so, for falling on the wrong side of the Kashmiri vs Indian binary at such a critical juncture.

Here again unwittingly Faesal reveals another issue. Is Faesal, a thoroughbred Kashmiri, afraid of the people who he calls “Kashmiris”? Is he afraid of his “own people”? Doesn’t he demonise the “enraged youngsters” of Kashmir far more than any jingoistic channel could? And to add to all this, he believes he would “rightly” be “in trouble”? Instead of condemning rest of India for holding up his example, shouldn’t he be explaining to the “enraged Kashmiri youngsters” that they should not be attacking him for being Indian, especially since he has earned all his money and fame solely due to being a topper in the “Indian” Civil Services exam?

Yes, these things are easier said than done. Faesal, or anyone else, sitting in the arms of “enraged Kashmiri youngsters” cannot be expected to summon courage to stand up to gun-toting “enraged Kashmiri youngsters”. Hence, most of Faesal’s article as mentioned above, is not a nuanced, world-view take on Kashmir’s issues, but is a plea of help from a Kashmiri who is feeling threatened by “enraged Kashmiri youngsters”, and hence should only be treated as that, am understandably selfish article. One cannot and should not grudge Faesal for worrying about his safety.

Moving on, Faesal targets Indian media: “It has also been projecting lies about Kashmir to rest of the country. ” he says. Yes there is a lot wrong with Indian media. Just a couple of days back we highlighted how Cobrapost was using 5 year old videos to stoke tensions in Kashmir. Or how a MSM and NDTV regular, Rana Ayyub was using similar tactics. Faesal though was probably not referring to these instances.

Faesal’s post then descends into the absurd:

In the Indian tradition, the state is supposed to communicate with its people through accommodation, not harangue, and through welfare, not violence……………….In the Islamic tradition, too, truth, patience and perseverance are central to communicating.

The first line is utterly confusing. Is the Indian state supposed to follow “Indian tradition” with “enraged Kashmiri youngsters”, considering them “its people”, while they themselves, in Faesal’s own words, are ready to attack a fellow Kashmiri, not because he supported India, but because India supported him? Are Burhan Wani and his fellow Hizbul terrorists, or the thousands who went to pay respects to this terrorists, or the hundreds who throw stones and ransack army depots, India’s people? Even if they are to be considered as India’s people, the only “tradition” the Indian state should follow, is that which is prescribed by law, which tells the state how to deal with similar criminals in other parts of India.

The only people who can be considered as Indians, are those who had faith in the Indian Constitution, those who have voted for so many years, and in turn, the Indian state has communicated with these voters with accommodation and welfare. Only when law-abiding voters turn into “enraged Kashmiri youngsters” who take law into their own hands, does the state have to step in. Also, it seems Faesal has forgotten the services extended by the armed forces of the Indian state to Kashmiris of all hues (including “enraged youngsters”), when they were battling floods.

The second statement of Faesal probably stems from being ignorant or feigning ignorance. Only a person who hasn’t seen the rise of Radical Islamic terrorism in Kashmir, as evidenced by this interview of Wani’s father, can claim that Kashmiris are following the tradition “patience” as advocated by Islam.

There are other issues in Faesal’s article: His sweeping generalisation that “all these years India has been communicating to Kashmiris through rigged elections” (The Election Commission must take cognisance of such a claim). How he laments that Kashmiris feels “India has become synonymous with a military bunker or a police vehicle”, but fails to dig deeper and address why such a military presence is needed in Kashmir.

But the biggest issue here is Faesal, either deliberately or unknowingly is missing the forest for the trees. He blames television channels, social media, the usage of his image vis-a-vis terrorists, jingoistic anchors, approach of Indian state, the huge presence of armed forces, but fails to acknowledge the root problem which has led to all of this: Terrorism backed by Islamist and salafist ideology, which was earlier getting support from Pakistan and now finds a common cause with terrorist organisations like ISIS and which unfortunately has the support of “enraged Kashmiri youngsters”. The same terrorism and attitude which drove away lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits (of course Faesal makes no mention of them), has reared its ugly head far too often, and then the Indian state is blamed for doing what it must to fight against such violent, unconstitutional forces.

A really thought provoking piece by a Kashmiri would address this core problem first, how to rid Kashmir of violence perpetuated by terrorists, but since Faesal doesn’t even touch upon this, his impassioned plea is nothing but that of a young man worried about his safety because he does not trust his neighbours, the “enraged Kashmiri youngsters”, who may bay for his head, only because India liked, and continues to like him.

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