But New Delhi does not get this. So, we may have arrived at the end of the road
EMPATHY! IT’S a word seldom used and even less understood. But its complete absence in the government, in the prime minister, in Sonia Gandhi, in Chidambaram, and in their retinue of spooks and bureaucrats, has all but decided the fate of Kashmir and, although we don’t know it yet, of India. Empathy should not be confused with sympathy. Sympathy is an easy sentiment — we can, and do, turn it on and off at will, like a tap. But empathy is an altogether different, and rarer, breed of animal. The Chambers Dictionary gives the following definition: “the power of entering into another’s personality and experiencing his experiences”.
In the case of Kashmir it means the power of feeling what the Kashmiris are feeling and of seeing ourselves and our actions through their eyes. As I watched hour upon hour of television coverage of Kashmir, I was struck by its total absence not only in the statements and actions of our so-called leaders, but in the majority of official and ‘track two’ commentators whom the channels rolled out. Not a single person expressed shock, not to speak of outrage, that the Jammu and Kashmir State had killed 40 unarmed youth in six weeks.
In a civilised country this would have been murder, but Delhi is blaming the youth of Kashmir for throwing themselves at the police with stones till the latter are left with no option but to defend themselves. And shame of all shames, almost no one asks why, when the stone-pelting has been going on for 22 months, the Kashmir Police has not found another way of subduing the stone-pelters. No one asked why the Delhi Police used water cannons against a demonstration on the same day that the Kashmir Police was using live bullets.
Only our leaders’ lack of empathy with Kashmir can explain why they did not have an inkling of the anger boiling up in the Valley even a week before it flowed over at the end of June. As one coffin after another was carried to the graveyards of the Valley, they kept claiming that the stone-pelters were a rented mob, being paid Rs 200 a day by the government’s enemies. On some days they were being paid by the separatists; on others the PDP. When the anger could no longer be ignored, it reverted to that trusted, ever reliable enemy, the ISI. All of this was probably true in parts. But the parts did not come close to making up a whole. To understand the whole one had to have empathy. That, Delhi had lost a long time ago.
SO WE have arrived at the inexorable end of the road. If you do not understand the Kashmiris, their aspirations, their fears, the hope that had suffused them when Manmohan Singh and Musharraf were making progress towards a resolution of the Kashmir dispute, their disbelief when the 2002 election dislodged the National Conference, and the empowerment they felt under the Mufti government, and indeed right till 2008, then you will not understand their anger at seeing everything that they had clawed their way into gaining, being whisked away from them by a government that not only does not understand them but does not know where to begin to understand them.
So they have ignored the curfew and come out in thousands to dare the government to ‘shoot them at sight’. But the police do not want to do this, and the people do not want to die. So as I write, we are in a moment of calm. But this calm is deceptive for it is no more than the eye of the storm. Each side is waiting for the other to attack first, hoping and praying it will not do so. Were Delhi to announce Governor’s Rule now, the huge dissipation of tension would douse most of the anger. Kashmiris would claim victory, some would say Delhi was slow to respond but did do so in the end. The stage would be set for restarting the political process. But the Rapid Action Force has arrived. They have no psychological or political training for Kashmir, and Omar Abdullah and his father will insist that they fulfil the government’s order to prevent what a previous NSA had called ‘the meltdown of the Indian State’. Is anyone betting that Manmohan Singh will have the courage to stop this drift to disaster? I am not.