A dialogue with Kashmir

PAMELA PHILIPOSE | Updated on September 08, 2011

Radha Kumar , the Government-appointed J&K interlocutor   -  R.V. Moorthy

An interlocutor's hope for peace in the Valley.

In October 2010, three interlocutors — editor Dilip Padgaonkar, information commissioner M.M. Ansari, and professor-author Radha Kumar — were appointed by the Government of India to initiate a sustained dialogue with people in Jammu and Kashmir and search for a way to make peace in the troubled State. Radha Kumar speaks about her experiences as a woman interlocutor and her hopes for a resolution of conflict in the State.

What are the lessons you have learnt while interacting with the people of Jammu and Kashmir ?

What actually breaks my heart is that everybody wants a solution. They yearn for it. There is a kind of innocence of hope. A lack, perhaps, of an understanding of how complicated it is to build consensus in a democracy.

Is this particularly because of the complexity of the J&K situation?

To some extent. Here you have not only the complexity of the relationship that was negotiated between the State and New Delhi, which in itself was a rather ambiguously complex relationship. Originally you had an agreement that was then to be further discussed and then, in one way or the other, made permanent — and that didn't happen. Then you have the geo-political situation vis-à-vis Pakistan. And the even bigger geo-political situation vis-à-vis China, and to some extent, the US. Then there is Afghanistan.

Also the complexities within the State?

Yes, there are such distinct identities: regional identities and sub-regional identities. There were small principalities that were kind of put together.

How have the people of the Kashmir Valley responded to the interlocutors?

At the beginning, we were greeted with a great deal of cynicism, which was not at all surprising considering the terrible tragedies just before we were appointed: The death of 120 young people, and the anger and the bitterness among people. The hopes raised by earlier peace processes had been abruptly dashed — which was, of course, the latest in a long series of hopes being raised and dashed. What actually gives us sleepless nights is that it took us two or three months just to overcome the complete lack of credibility and find that people were beginning to relate to us. Now, since hopes have again been raised, you feel a responsibility. But we don't know how those hopes will be fulfilled.

All this obviously entails a lot of hard work.

It is not just listening. It is the suffering and pain that incidentally you also take on your shoulders when you are talking at this intensity and over a period of time. There is pain, suffering and anger everywhere. Different reasons and directed at different entities, but the intensity is everywhere.

How do you assess the importance of talking in conflict resolution?

I console myself that if we have done nothing else, we have at least talked. We are the first lot of people to have literally gone from district to district and talked to people. When we went to Ramban, one of the new districts created in Jammu, they said, “You are the first people from New Delhi who have come to us, other than some party politicians.”

But, of course, this is not really catharsis. What we have done is allowed people to vent. But the problem is not going to go away by venting. For a catharsis, we need the problem to go away as well.

I would say that the real virtue of this dialogue process, which has been so wide-ranging, is that we have discovered that people in all the regions and districts are actually politically very sophisticated. They look automatically for what is feasible. The talking gets rid of some of the rhetoric. It allows people to think of what can be done. Everywhere we have found that people are thinking pragmatically and talk of feasibility, which should be hugely confidence building for our decision-makers, parliamentarians and others.

Any anecdotes that you'd like to share?

Sometimes, after a tough day, you confront a situation that helps you lighten up. Once in Srinagar, a young lady — all decked up in jewellery and very pretty — came up to me and said she needed a job, “ Madam ji, mujhe dipti bana dijeye.” I asked her what she meant and she repeated, “ Dipti – woh jo kursi pe baithe hain.” (“Madam, make me a deputy... someone who sits on a chair.”).

There is also this experience, which perhaps shows you the forgiveness of people. There was a gentleman, Mohammad Maqbool Shah, who was arrested at the age of 17 for the Lajpat Nagar blasts, and was imprisoned for 14 years. Finally, he was released because it was proved that he was falsely implicated.

Brinda Karat, then an MP, took up his case, arguing that he be given compensation. So the Government of India gave him a sum of Rs 10 lakh. But he still needed a job. So J&K CPI (M) leader Yusuf Tarigami introduced him to me. I spoke to the State Government, and I must say it was wonderful. Orders immediately went out, his papers were processed. He was offered a job with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which he refused. Now he is going to get a civilian job. All of this was done in a matter of a few weeks. Then Maqbool said his mother wanted to invite all three of us to their home in downtown Srinagar. After a long search, we found our way there. The family was waiting to take us in. There was so much warmth, courtesy and hospitality. No reproaches. After all, it was a terrible thing that happened to Maqbool. I found his lack of bitterness extraordinary. It takes a special gift, which I have seen everywhere: The ability to always distinguish you from the State. That's what makes me believe we can make a solution.

One of the big gaps in the architecture of international conflict resolution is the absence of women.

I remember, about 20 years ago, looking around a room discussing a serious issue that had cropped up, and noting that 80 per cent were women. Yet, when it came to a negotiation, it was always a man. Then I noticed a change in India. You had Indira Goswami mediating between the Government of India and ULFA, and I thought, ‘Wow!', although I wondered whether it was a single instance. Yet, I feel change is happening.

Internationally, after Bosnia, there has been a much greater emphasis on different, concrete aspects of peace-making. All the discussion of that period led to the European, African and Latin American States beginning to elevate the role of women in peace negotiations.

What have been your personal experiences as a single woman playing this kind of role?

Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most civilised States in our country. On the whole, I have never felt threatened in any way. This is a fairly traditional society and I am not a particularly conventional person. But no one has even looked at me askance. I feel more protected here than I do in Delhi. Frankly, given the work we have been doing, I wouldn't have been able to work like this in Delhi or Haryana.

Of course, the most difficult aspect is the impact on one's personal life. I am a single mother in a tiny family, comprising my 102-year-old grandmother, my eight-year-old kid and me. So to leave them for a week or a month, as is sometimes the case, is really quite agonising.

© Women's Feature Service

Published on September 08, 2011

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