It was a long and hard struggle for Kashmiris to come out of the quagmire of illiteracy, political marginalisation, cultural sterility, and social decrepitude and into an era that promised enlightening institutions of public education, spaces of democratic debate, political enfranchisement, cultural revitalisation, and social progressivism. For a long time, Kashmir remained a source of casual unskilled labour that was treated in their host regions as beasts of burden. Kashmiris were given the derogatory appellation of hattoo — close to ‘dirty nigger’. When the first few Kashmiri Muslims to have obtained degrees at institutions of higher education, like the Aligarh Muslim University in British India, returned to the state in the 1920s, they were imbued with then fresh and modern ideas of nationalism, liberty, and democracy.
We, Kashmiris, as a people, cannot afford to play havoc with the empowerment that critical intelligence gives us; the credibility that articulate expressions of our situation give us; the intelligence that we employed to create a national identity. We have witnessed the militarisation of the socio-cultural fabric of Kashmir; we watch with remorse the clamping down of intellectual freedoms in Kashmir, and the growing influence of extremist elements in that polity; we mourn the erosion of women’s activism in Kashmir by reductive portrayals of their identities; and we grieve the relegation of sane voices in civil society to the background.
Well-educated Kashmiris can give the clarion call for a much needed social consciousness; for a society and polity that recognises the need to revitalise stagnant political and bureaucratic institutions; for a democracy that would enable them to fully participate in institutions and rule of law that specifies the limits of jurisdiction and call for decentralisation of power. We — educators and students — must recognise and avail ourselves of the myriad political, sociocultural, and economic forums that a good education can create for us.
We require an education to resuscitate democratic institutions — to question inequities related to alteration of political and cultural milieu by forces of rampant corruption; indoctrination of young boys in religious fundamentalisms of various hues; Pakistan’s shift in strategy that revolution has to be built in target areas by various means, including indoctrination and inducements; and the complacence of the Government of India on use of police batons and guns to make the political milieu in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) look calm on the surface.
How can we, as a people, develop the ability to organise and mobilise for social change, which requires the creation of awareness not just at the individual level but also at the collective level? How can we develop self-esteem for which some form of financial autonomy is a basis? How can we make strategic life choices that are critical for people to lead the sort of lives they want to lead? We require a quality education for these mammoth tasks.
This is where we need to bridge the divide between the civil society of Kashmir and that of Jammu — to pave the way for education of the younger generation. Civil society and political institutions are closely interconnected. In order to create democracy, there must participation and adequate pluralism in a society. A consolidated democracy has to be open to diverse opinions — dissent and differences of opinion on policies is an important element of every democracy. There must, however, be some shared consent on fundamental principles. One of the things that the civil society of Kashmir and the civil society of Jammu can agree upon is the indispensability of a quality education for our future generations. Democratic, social and educational institutions cannot function in Kashmir without participation by citizens. Nurturing a civil society that bridges regional and communal divides is a prerequisite for the effective and legitimate functioning of educational institutions.
The writer is a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. She is the author of Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), and Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society, and Polity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)