Dignity to Kashmiris will help bring back normalcy: Nahar

Shirish Shinde
Saturday, 19 January 2019

NGO Sarhad Founder Sanjay Nahar is known to Puneites for over 35 years as a social activist, who worked in Punjab during the state’s troubled time in the 1980s. Later, he started working in the insurgency-ridden Jammu & Kashmir and the NorthEast. In an exclusive interview with Sakal Times, Nahar talked about his work in the Kashmir Valley and how Sarhad is providing succuour to the affected people. He is hopeful that normalcy could be brought in the valley. Here are some excerpts from his interview.

- What is the difference between the situation in 1990 when you first visited Kashmir and now?
The scenario then was worst. People of the valley had become the victims of a sinister design of Pakistan. Initially, our government could not comprehend this. It did not have an idea as to what form the militancy would take. The so-called ‘terrorism’ was born in 1989-90. After 30 years, it has become young. The Kashmiris did not know exactly what they were seeking then. Today, they know exactly what they want to do. They didn’t know the consequences of their action. They didn’t know what freedom meant and what would they do with it if they would get it. 

Today, militants know the consequences of their action. Earlier, Pakistan supplied arms to thousands of insurgents. As compared to that, the number may have reduced but these leaderless militants are more dangerous. This type of militancy has increased in south Kashmir. Operations by such ultras cannot be anticipated. They suddenly ambush military or para-military camps and run away with ammunition. This is a ‘hidden’ war. Hurriyat Conference leaders are not leading any armed struggle. In fact, they themselves need protection at the moment.

- What needs to be done to make the Kashmiris feel that India is their homeland?
Kashmiris are sensitive people. A majority of our countrymen love them. However, they cannot express it. However, some negative posts about Kashmir on social media have an adverse effect on them. The Valley also remains cut off from the rest of the country for almost six months during the winter. This is a geographical disadvantage. If a direct train to the state capital or highways are built, this problem can be solved. The Kashmiris, who have moved out of their state to other states, may not feel alienated. However, those who have stayed back are upset about what is going on elsewhere, in Delhi. 

They agitate against India but they don’t love Pakistan either. The situation has still not slipped out of our hands. Kashmiris cannot be won merely by pumping more funds into the Valley. Unfortunately, the Central government’s fight against Pakistan is not being fought on the border but in our own country. Anti-militancy operations have been proved counter-productive. This enrages the common people in Kashmir. 

A three-pronged plan will change this situation: Firstly, through music, arts and culture; secondly, through sports and thirdly, a feeling that they are being treated with dignity in this country, needs to be inculcated among them. This should assume the proportion of a movement and not organised as an event. If lakhs of Indians have this feeling, Kashmir will always remain a part of this country.

- What are the major achievements of your NGO ‘Sarhad’ in this direction?
We are an organisation. ‘Sarhad’ has limitations. However, we have achieved more than our capacity. In many pockets of Kashmir, some children have grown up with ‘Sarhad.’ They are our brand ambassadors. They have neither self-interest nor would they gain monetarily. They are not our agents. The affection and love they received in the country, particularly in Pune, is what they will always cherish. Erasing the image of India being merely the army, paramilitary forces or politicians and connecting many Kashmiris with common Indians and bringing them into the mainstream is what ‘Sarhad’ has been doing all these years.

- What current projects are being implemented by ‘Sarhad’ in Kashmir?
We are working on three fronts: poor women from villages in the Valley are being provided means to lead a life of dignity. Artistes are given platforms to present their art. Children, especially orphans, are being educated. We have not reached out to all 5,000 widows. We are taking care of 150 of them. We are looking after 150 children in ‘Sarhad’ and an equal number are elsewhere being helped by us. Our message is important and not the quantity of work that we have done.

- Do you think efforts by the state and Central governments are enough to bring the situation in Kashmir back to normalcy?
Unfortunately, the state and Central governments have failed to win the people’s confidence there. The Kashmiris also have a misconception that the governments have their own agenda. In fact, many government officials have been working very sincerely for the people. Terrorism is restricted only to three-four districts because of good work by these officials. Adverse conditions may worsen due to people who do not understand the Kashmir issue. Army jawans have been helping the Kashmiris. Any military operation is conducted jointly with the local police. 

However, terrorism has changed its strategy. Earlier, it was not tough to kill 10 terrorists. Now, when these militants get local support, political strategies need to be changed. Unfortunately, the governments think that this issue can be resolved by the army or the police. This will never happen. There is no alternative to a political process. You cannot wish away the role of our neighbours and international agencies in Kashmir. However, we need to put our house in order first. Kashmiris should be taken into confidence. We need to begin by taking small steps. Later, complicated issues can be tackled. On the contrary, today, the focus is on big issues. Hence, it becomes difficult to move ahead.

- Please narrate an experience, which changed your outlook about Kashmir when you started working there.
I have written it in my book ‘Bonding with Kashmir’. We wanted to burn the Pakistani flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar and distribute pamphlets as a mark of protest. A jawan from Maharashtra named Dattoba Pawar told us, “We guard this area 24x7. We are not afraid of the enemy. We have to stay in a bunker. There is no washroom in the vicinity. We also have families. Please, if you can help us, it is good. If you cannot, please, don’t add to our headache.” 

I go to many towns and cities across the country. I ask people there if they could name a Muslim policeman who has killed terrorists in Kashmir. No one can name one. However, thousands of Muslim policemen have been killed by insurgents. An equal number of innocent people have also been killed.

We also work at two levels. On one hand, we help local people. On the other hand, we have formed a forum of former DGPs, journalists, government officials and social activists to search for policy alternatives. Unfortunately, we have a mechanism to eliminate terrorists, but there is no system to ensure that they are not created.

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