BY HAPPYMON JACOB
How would you deal with injustice and discrimination? By equipping the victim of injustice to submissively evade it or by strongly dealing with the source of injustice? I presume your answer is the latter. If so, let me give you a similar scenario.
When the Union Minister for Rural Development, Mr. Jairam Ramesh came visiting Kashmir last week, students of Kashmir University complained to him that they face discrimination in other parts of the country both from the police and the general public. I was deeply agitated to listen to the response of the Minister:“It has been observed that some of the trainees (Kashmiri youth who were given job training by the Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute) faced difficulty in getting accommodation outside the State. We are ready to issue a certificate in which it would be written that the trainee seeking accommodation is not linked with militancy.”
The media in Srinagar, Jammu and Delhi either chose not to comment on it or described it as an excellent example of the Union Minister’s concern for the Kashmiri youth. I am willing to admit that the Minister is most likely to have made this comment in all sincerity, wanting to help the hapless Kashmiri youth who get harassed from the moment he/she steps out of the state. However, the Minister’s assumed sincerity is no reason why anyone should overlook the potentially disastrous implications of his statement. I can either overlook the seemingly innocuous statement or critically ‘read into’ it. I am going to do the latter for that is precisely my job as an analyst.
Deconstructing the Minister’s words
One Jammu-based newspaper did carry a critique of the Minister’s statement arguing that the Minister’s statement does in effect challenge the unity of India because it would mean that Kashmiris would be carrying a certain letter from the government to ‘visit India’, which would effectively render them foreigners. This is hardly my concern here.
I have several problems with the statement by Mr. Jairam Ramesh. First of all, this statement smacks of a complete lack of political imagination by the Union Minister. The minister has put forward an unworkable and unviable technocratic solution for a deeply political issue: of Kashmiris facing discrimination in other parts of India. But then I don’t particularly blame Mr. Ramesh for it; this is how the Congress party has dealt with the Kashmir issue all along, merely trying to maintain the status-quo without any political imagination.
Secondly, a Kashmiri youngster bearing a certificate from a District Magistrate in J&K looking for a job or accommodation in other parts of the country will look like Bangladeshi or Tamil refugees who we often see in India looking for some material/financial help. That is not the status that a Kashmiri should have in India. Kashmiris are simply not refugees in this country, they are citizens and they should be treated like citizens.
Moreover, I have deep reservations about people having to carry identity cards and letters of introductions in their own country to prove to others that they are harmless. I am reminded of the fate of the Jews in Nazi Germany who would have to carry identity cards for easy identification. We all know what happened to them after they were asked to carry identity cards or special identification marks. More so, Kashmiris already have to carry identification papers in their own state, and the Minister’s suggestion would effectively require Kashmiris to do the same in the rest of the country as well. Remember, this is not something that Indians from other parts of the country do.
Furthermore, what message will the Kashmiri youth get when they have to carry documents certifying their non-participation in militancy for them to be treated like normal citizens in India? For sure it will make them feel that India is indeed an alien country where they are looked upon as terrorists and troublemakers, and that they are therefore unwanted there. Moreover, such certificates can and will solidify the false images that many people in the rest of the country have about Kashmiris. Those ‘Indians’ who are shown the certificate are likely to think that their impression about the Kashmirs as supporters of terrorism are indeed correct; or else why would the government take the initiative of certifying that some of them are not militants. In other words, if Omar Abdullah’s government takes the words of Jairam Ramesh seriously and issues ‘character certificates’ to Kashmiri youth ‘visiting India’ then it will surely mean that those who do not posses such character certificates are likely to be militants/terrorists.
More importantly, this is simply not how a government deals with the issue of discrimination. If the government knows that some citizens and members of the police force in India do discriminate against the Kashmiri youth, then the government should sternly deal with such people rather than come out with unimaginative solutions of this kind. The Indian constitution is very clear on this: Article 15 under the section on Fundamental Rights prohibits ‘discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth’. Minister Ramesh should persuade his cabinet colleagues to make sure that the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution to its citizens are indeed given to them, as a right, not as a favour, rather than offering to issue character certificates to the Kashmir youth ‘visiting India’.
In any case, those who have been discriminating against Kashmiris either because they are Muslims or because they are Kashmiri Muslims will continue to discriminate irrespective of whether or not they carry a character certificate from Jairam Ramesh. What the Kashmiris need is not the Indian state giving them character certificates but rather uphold the laws of the land and attempt to bring about anattitudinal change in the minds of those people who have negative images about Kashmiris.
(Source: Greater Kashmir, 29 July, 2012. URL:http://greaterkashmir.com/news/2012/Jul/29/character-certificates-for-kashmiris--9.asp )