Anna Can Wait

Anna Hazare has not resonated in Kashmir. Alienation in the region is so deep that Kashmir has virtually rejected the entire system and Anna’s fight against corruption is seen as legitimizing it amid a dominant separatist discourse. Ahmed Reyaz reports.

Fewer people outside civil society activists know Irom Sharmela in Kashmir but the fight against AFSPA, the reason for her ten-year-long fast, draws absolute support. In contrast, Anna Hazare has become a household name but Kashmir remains totally  indifferent to his  campaign against corruption. This, despite the fact that J&K is the second most corrupt state in India.

The reasons are not difficult fathom. Kashmir like North East has been in the throes of a full-blown separatist insurgency for the major part of the past two decades which the state responded to with heavy hand.

The toll in Kashmir has been immense: According to State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) there are 2156 bodies in 38 graves in Valley. Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a Srinagar-based human rights group, says more than 8000 people are missing since the onset of militancy in 1989. Government, on the other hand, has come out with varying figures of the disappeared with maximum number ever admitted by it standing at 3744.

Among the disappeared, however, a certain is attributed to militants. According to JKCCS, militants are responsible for enforcing the disappearance of around 15 per cent of the total number.

“In case of militants they mostly disappeared people to keep their families from receiving the government compensation. Such cases are mostly concentrated in the upper reaches of Doda district,” Khurram Parvez of JKCCS, told Kashmir Life. “But overall, the security forces are responsible for most of the disappearances in the state.”

Though state government claims to have recommended sanction for prosecution to the defense and home ministries in 458 cases of the human rights abuse by the army and paramilitary personnel  in the state, but so far not even one has been accorded.

However, the defense ministry that is mandated under AFSPA to give a go ahead to trial of army personnel in civil courts has confirmed the receipt of only 46 cases from the state government, according to JKCCS. “But even in these cases, no prosecution has been sanctioned,” Khurram said.

Parveen Ahanger, chairperson of the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) whose son has been subjected to enforced disappearance by government forces in 1990 asks how can our people think of anything else when they even lack the basic right to life.

“The biggest issue in Kashmir is the disappearance of our children. Will somebody tell us where are they and bring them back,” says Ahanger. “ Our passionate demand is please take away from the army the law (AFSPA) that gives it impunity for even killing innocents. Please do it fast.”

On the other hand, corruption hardly evokes outrage in thevalley. In fact, there is an endemic sense of resignation to its presence in the system. Observers in Kashmir believe it may be because Kashmir has never been a normal, functioning democracy since 1947.

“Political conflict has taken its toll in the valley. It has over the years whittled away at the legitimacy of the system and turned it into a little more than an adhoc arrangement. As a result, people feel little stake in the system,” says noted political analyst Prof GulWani, whose new book on Kashmir traces the secular underpinning of the problem in the state.

Corruption, Wani, says, has a long history in the state and he does not rule out its oft “strategic use” as an antidote to separatist leanings. “Now, corruption has seeped into the vitals of the system and become a normal part of governance.”

Not that there have been no efforts to curb it. In 2005, soon after taking over as the Chief  Minister,Ghulam Nabi Azad launched what he grandiloquently termed as “jihad against corruption”.

The campaign spearheaded by the State Vigilance Organization and the state’s own overarching corruption watchdog Accountability Commission with even the C M under its purview netted around 200 government officials, many of them  senior bureaucrats. The Accountability Commission in its very first month of functioning in October 2005 registered 100 complaints, 21 of them against the ministers including the then State Congress president Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, top bureaucrats and police officers.

However, the campaign soon lost steam and the government chose to go slow on the cases. This too, despite being armed with the tough anti-corruption law – passed during Azad’s tenure itself –under which government was free to attach ill-gotten property ofcorrupt  government servants. But despite the law, the state government has not been able to seize the property of a single bureaucrat.

Despite the widespread perception that the corruption is brazen in the state, there is hardly any big scam that has come to light. But a cursory look at the corruption cases filed by the State Vigilance Organization against bureaucrats and politicians leaves one in no doubt about the extent of rot in the state.
What is troubling, however, is that this has never been an issue in the state.

“Why will it be so? No, CM, minister or bureaucrat –  unless, of course, he has abused a legislator – will suffer punishment or lose his job for corruption or for involvement in a scandal where morality rather than money is involved,” says noted RTI activist DrMuzaffar.  “People, already rendered marginal to this unedifying play of democracy also do not complain and feel sufficiently pampered when granted some sense of security.  And as things stand in valley, there hardly appears to be a foreseeable way out of this vicious cycle.”

There is another dimension to Kashmir’s cold response to the Anna campaign. Anyone taking up any cause related to the existing system in Kashmir can be easily dubbed as working for some hidden government agenda to legitimize the system.

More specifically it also provokes accusations of trying to advance mainstream discourse over separatist narrative under the instruction of New Delhi.

Fight against corruption in Kashmir as such can only be politically motivated. In case of Anna campaign, any decision to join it will be easily read as joining forces with the discourse in mainland India.

As valley’s noted RTI activist DrMuzaffar Ahmad learnt to his detriment after his recent small anti-corruption rally at Budgam.  “The rally didn’t go down well with lot of people. I was accused of deliberately trying to forge some commonality with Anna Hazare,” DrMuzaffar said. “People here feel that struggle against corruption is a facade for something else, that I am only making a disguised political statement.”

In a sense, this remoteness from the anti-graft euphoria that has swept India is a metaphor for the larger problem in Kashmir. Kashmir has passively watched it pass by. And, as about everything else that happens outside the state, the anti-corruption discourse despite being universal  in its appeal  has failed to resonate in Valley.

‘The feeling that New Delhi is a foreign place lingers in the state even more than six decades after accession. And the gross human rights excesses over the past two decades has only deepened this sense of alienation,” says Naseer Ahmad, author of the book Kashmir Pending. “It is the discourse of conflict that continues to reign supreme. That is, everything in Kashmir has to wait pending the final settlement of the state.  And over the years this has bred a mindset that sees a deeper engagement with the problems of day to day as detrimental to the pursuit of the larger political cause”.

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