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23rd April '2014
Amarnath to Tosa Maidan!

The two instances of popular outburst involving the transfer of land/ extension in the lease of the land already transferred amply demonstrate the peoples’ sentiments in regard to the future dispensation of Kashmir. In fact, in a recent article in the Citizen titled, “Tosa Maidan is a Trigger in Election Year”, General Hasnain, the former Commander of the Indian Army’s Srinagar based 15th Corps has stated that the case of the extension of lease in case of the Tosa Maidan firing range could result in another agitation on the pattern of the Amarnath land transfer upheaval of 2008. No doubt the possession of land in Kashmir is the most volatile issue especially because of the revolutionary legislation giving the land to the tiller enacted during the first tenure of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The Kashmiri peasant had gained total control of the land he had been tilling for ages with this law, the only one of its kind in the entire sub-continent. Till that time the land had been snatched from the tillers by the landlords and the tillers could hardly get a small portion of the produce resulting from their blood and sweat to keep their body and soul together. Having regained the possession of the land and all rights over it, it is the most painful thing for a Kashmiri if someone even just talks of taking this land away from him. The possession of the land is deeply embedded in the sub-conscious of a Kashmiri. Anything in this regard is sure to trigger deep emotions as has already been seen during the Amarnath land agitation.

However, the land in question in both agitations, the Amarnath and Tosa Maidan was/is not the land of a tiller. In case of Amarnath it was the land at the start of the pilgrimage and en route for creating permanent facilities. In case of Tosa Maidan it is a high-altitude meadow surrounded by forests. In both cases, the main problem is the damage to bio-diversity and total environmental degradation.It has been the general sentiment and the feeling that the outsiders are planning to take possession of the land which belongs to a Kashmiri. Here, it may be pointed out that there are already thousands of acres of land with the Army and paramilitary forces all over the state. There are dozens of cantonments, ammunition dumps, and a number of various other facilities of the security forces in all parts of the state. There has never been a popular movement or an agitation to get all these lands vacated. The State Government itself has been trying to get some areas freed within the city like the Tattoo Ground. However, there has been a continuous demand in the recent past to get the security presence deep inside the civilian areas vacated along with the revocation of the notorious legislation AFSPA giving unbridled powers with total immunity to these forces.

There has been a marked change in perception about the Army and other security forces after the decade of nineties. The Army came to Kashmir in 1947 supposedly as saviours and in spite of some earlier instances like the 1965 infiltration of Azad Kashmir forces and the subsequent war, they continued to be very close to the civilian population with the least security hassles. However, the upheaval of nineties changed everything. The Army came to be looked upon as an occupation force after the brutalities of this decade. Kashmiris developed an inside hatred which all the Sadbhavana programmes have not been able to remove. It is an extreme alienation especially in the generation which came up through the turmoil and the brutalities of the nineties. The continued highest level of security and the refusal of the security forces to face the accountability have been deepening this alienation especially among the new generation.

General Hasnain has correctly pointed out that the extension in the Tosa Maidan lease would be providing a trigger in the election year. However, it needs to be stated in explicit terms as to what the trigger is going to unleash? Another mass upheaval? If so, why? The plain and simple truth is that the Kashmiri refuses to accept the status quo. He uses every excuse to demonstrate his discontentment. Incidentally, the discontent with the oppressive security has been coupled with the worst kind of misgovernance by the most corrupt political and administrative set up the Kashmiris have seen since 1947. All these are the consequences of a situation of perennial uncertainty about the basic political problem. These are only the symptoms and not the real disease or malaise. The real problem is the unsettled future of Kashmir. At the present moment the Kashmiris do not see any light at the end of the tunnel. They have neither got good governance for a reasonably good day to day living nor is there any visible movement to the final solution of the basic political problem. Their boat appears to be adrift and is being tossed from side to side by winds coming from different directions. In fact it is a boat without any oarsman being tossed by the waves! Shifting of a firing range or any other similar action will not solve the basic problem. Both the Amarnath agitation and the Tosa Maidan upheaval should open the eyes of the authorities who instead of taking the firefighting measures for temporary management should honestly and sincerely try to address the basic political problem to usher in real peace. Otherwise we will continue to see many more Amarnaths and Tosa Maidans in a more virulent form!

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