By Nyla Ali Khan
Special to The Sun
It was a long and hard struggle for Kashmiris to come out the quagmire of illiteracy, political marginalization, cultural sterility, and social decrepitude into the enlightening institutions of education, spaces of democratic debate, political enfranchisement, cultural revitalization, and social progressivism.
For a long time, Kashmir remained a source of casual unskilled labor, where they were treated as beasts of burden. 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 fresh and modern, at the time, 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 militarization of the sociocultural 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; 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 recognizes the need to revitalize 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 decentralization of power.
We, educators and students, must recognize and avail ourselves of the myriad political, sociocultural, and economic forums that a good education can create for us.
In order to question inequities — the alteration of the political and cultural milieu by the forces of rampant corruption; state sponsored institutions where young boys are indoctrinated 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. We require an education to resuscitate democratic institutions.
How can we, as a people, develop the ability to organize and mobilize for social change, which requires the creation of awareness not just at the individual level but at the collective level as well? 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.
In order to create democracy, there must be a minimum of 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. Democratic, social/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.
NYLA ALI KHAN 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).