Emotional Cost Of ‘Peace’

Senior PDP leader Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, who contested from Srinagar, says the prevailing silence in Kashmir is New Delhi’s definition of peace. In reality, this silence is stifling Kashmiris

Photo: Yasir Iqbal
Photo: Yasir Iqbal

The silence in Kashmir dominates all other issues. During our election campaign, the People’s Democratic Party’s focus was to break this long cycle of silence.

Kashmir had a vibrant civil society, a relatively bold press, and a very talkative social media. However, on the day Article 370 was abrogated on August 5, 2019, another thing happened. Top leaders, including former chief ministers, all mainstream leaders and trade and business community heads, were arrested. This sent a strong message that no one has any immunity. Anyone can be arrested at any time. This has been the major trigger for the prevailing atmosphere of silence. People realised that it is better to be silent, presuming that silence could save them. It, in a sense, was an act of self-preservation. If you want to avoid detention, you have to be silent.

What happened subsequently was very sad. Kashmiris weren’t allowed to even mourn. There have been incidents where people were prohibited from crying, and mourning over a loved one became an act of sedition. This still continues. Even if something is happening to you at a political or personal level, maintaining complete silence over the loss or the issue seems to be the accepted norm. Gradually, silence also became an act of self-defence. People started avoiding attention. They thought getting noticed would cause problems. This ended discussions and discourse. Discussions were seen as provocation by the state. There were journalists, lawyers and politicians who tried to keep talking. Then we saw passports being weaponised. They were put on no-fly list, passports were withheld and impounded.

They attached a cost to talking. For example, I don’t have a passport. I have no right to travel outside. It is the cost I have to pay for talking and breaking the silence. Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Minister of J&K, was not given a passport. She had to fight for it. Thus, a message was sent to the people that if they speak, they will have to pay for it.

It is a strange silence. I don’t think anyone can say with authority that he or she understands the meaning of this silence. The silence needs articulation. If you try to articulate the silence, the government might presume it as provocation. I have been talking a lot in this election about the silence, and every time I talk about it, I get a lot of threats—like, “be ready, you might face detention”—from multiple sources. This is exactly what happened on August 4, 2019, when we were detained. By and large, Kashmiris understand that they have to be silent. There is this Kashmiri proverb: Tchpe chai rupsanzi, kar kha tai son sanzi (Silence is silver. If you maintain it, it is gold). It is that protocol of ancient times that is being followed now. Many of us think it is a phase, and this too shall pass. But you should remember that the phase has lasted for five long years. It is possible that things might change, and we may reclaim our voice.

In this election, we have been telling people to vote. We have been asking people to vote even if it is against us. Our consistent focus is on asking people to vote. It is not a campaign where we are asking people to vote for us. We have been consistently talking about breaking the long cycle of silence.

There is peace, but there is also sadness all over. And no conversations are taking place. Kashmiris are not talking to each other. The leaders are clueless. No one thought that there would be a 40 per cent turnout in a place like Pulwama. No one thought there would be a huge turnout in places like Sopore. What happened in this election is that political leaders made this election about breaking the silence, especially the PDP and the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti. I think that has resulted in a higher voting percentage.

Also, for the people, talking about larger issues like the abrogation of Article 370, statehood, and Assembly elections has become too sensitive. When the leaders started talking about these larger issues, people showed more interest in reclaiming their right to speak.

Right now, the conversations on the ground are about high power tariffs after the installation of digital meters, property tax and land and housing as houses of people are being attached. At the collective level, once the conversations begin, larger issues, which the leaders are discussing, are likely to take major space. People are aware that smaller issues exist because the larger issues have remained unresolved.

While campaigning for the elections, we went to many villages. We tried to create space. We tried to end the existing suffocation. Through its election campaign, the PDP was able to create some sort of democratic dissent. It helps on many levels. It helps people to heal. Right now, people need healing as they are traumatised. Whether they are leaders or common people, everyone is feeling traumatised for different reasons. This election has created some space for leaders and people, too. It has given hope.

Violence has indeed gone down. The anti-militancy operations have gone down. The infiltration has decreased. There are no strike calls and stone-throwing incidents. But this peace is coming at an emotional cost. People are not willing to talk about anything. People have no expectations. The silence is also due to the loss of expectations. Kashmiris have been thinking that the government might be empathetic to them at some point in time. But that empathy is missing. They may be building roads and carrying out other development work. But the truth is that New Delhi has completely ignored Kashmir. There is no empathy.

Kashmir is a part of India. It is, however, a very strategic place as it borders China and Pakistan. Kashmiris have done a lot for the country, starting from 1947 when they opted for the idea of India. It is also now a moral question for the country; how it deals with one Muslim-majority region. It is important to reach out, to start reconciliation. You may silence us and call it peace, but then it is also your definition of peace. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people are happy with your definition of peace. We may be talking about our land, our rights, and our resources, but it doesn’t mean we are anti-national or anti-India. We are a small place, we have our concerns, and it is time to address them rather than presume pervasive silence as the resolution of all issues.


—As told to Naseer Ganai

(Views expressed are personal)

(This appeared in the print as "Emotional Cost Of ‘Peace’")