Facilitating conflict Resolution in J&K

Mehak Kaur Sodhi
The narrative of Kashmir is a mix of a plethora of concepts, much like a ‘trambi’ full of the traditional ‘wazwaan’, which may be every bit as regal as it seems, but not everyone can absorb the richness of the ingredients that go into its creation.  It has been one amongst the most affected regions in terms of internal and external conflict and the ghost of its past are nowhere close to exonerating it. An omitted but weighted truth is the fact that in between the political sentiments guiding the issue of the valley’s ‘belongingness’, people of the state have felt a sense of alienation because of the meagre agency over their own fate which has aggrieved them deeply.  In 1990, the populace of Kashmir was introduced to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a consequence of the failure of the state mechanism to contain the heightening militancy internally. Much has been written and contested about the Army’s work ethic under the law, and it’s probably resultant from the fact that the forces are a single unit, whatever the cost or the prize for the endeavor, they bear it together.  As the militancy and counter insurgency operations in the state were at their pinnacle, so was the alienation of the local population. It was then, that the principle of ‘minimum use of force’ and ‘people-Awaam, as the center of gravity’ approach was proposed and adopted by the Indian army, and to crack through the ice of estrangement the civil military engagement began.  As a master’s level student, my course completion required the submission of a dissertation. I belong to Kashmir, however unlike the multitudes from my generation; I was, sheltered from the burning ground that the state was through my growing up years.  As people there functioned between bullets and curfews, I experienced the conflict from the safety of my home in Delhi.  During my under graduation, I had chanced upon the term ‘military sociology’ and pursued the concept fervently, however, it’s not an orthodox discipline or sphere in our nation.  In my mind, I had decided then, that I wanted to work in the space in whatever capacity that I could, and the dissertation seemed to be an ideal opportunity to take a step in the direction.  It was through family that I was introduced to the operation (Sadhbhavana), and after exhaustively looking it up online, with little satisfactory material to find, apart from the customary elucidation of what the operation is about, I decided to work with the idea further, and I passionately engaged with exploring it.
The operation is based on the concept of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ (of the people), ‘Sadhbhavana itself means ‘goodwill’.  The rationale behind the operation is that real time engagement with the aggrieved population to facilitate their upliftment will help improve their mental and physical attitudes towards those providing the same. The engagement is not limited to an objective stance rather it views people for the subjective beings they are and in relation to their circumstances, and finally, as winning the hearts and minds of the populace would increase support for the security forces, it would result in a decrease in popular support for the insurgents and in turn reduced security incidents. The operation is all encompassing regarding the services it provides, at least within the cultural permits of the region that it’s functional in. There’s a division of the population into three areas, white, grey, and black.  The group that formulates the ‘white’ target group is basically the unaware / undecided part of the population, that is caught up in a situation of internal conflict because of the constant happenings around them, the grey target group is one which is engaged in militancy but is not irrevocably radicalized, and finally the black targets are the ones which are into heavy militancy and radicalization, and even though the initial approach in dealing with such individuals or groups is the idea of a fair chance at life and reformation, the response from their end is seldom positive.  Apart from the political conflict, Kashmir is facing a threat from the bubonic plague of drugs, unemployment, and the accompanied vices. The situation of conflict has left the locals bereft of constructive life opportunities and so, they’re often exploited by various stake holders to meet their own ends.  The projects under Sadhbhavana are formulated with the objective of being high impact, arrived at through an inclusive process of involving the beneficiaries in determining their needs with maximum visibility and a short gestation period, this is because firstly, the army’s funds are limited (Once the center allocates a certain amount of money to the defense sector, post its investment in matters of national security, a part of the reserve money is invested in the operation), and secondly investments especially infrastructural, are handed over to the civil administration for maintenance and the efficiency of the same is extremely questionable resulting in the beneficiaries suffering heavily. Going through their information brochures, progress reports, and photography reserve, I was mighty impressed by the kind of work that the presently deployed units and those in the past have put in to make the endeavor a success, out of their numerous engagements a few things that stood out for me, were the internal and external integration expeditions that the army organizes; a considerable amount of people settled in remote spaces, are cut off from main stream civilization and haven’t even had the chance to explore all facets of their own state.  Expeditions within the state facilitate this familiarization, the same way, the external expeditions acquaint them with the cultural diversity outside the state. Scholarships are awarded to meritorious students affected by heavy structural depravity to ensure that their educational aspirations aren’t compromised. There is a lack of sports infrastructure, though the enthusiasm for it is profuse, the army organizes regular sports tournaments for the people and has also invested in reviving the sports culture.  Certain parts of the population are dependent on livestock for their livelihood and so tend to suffer if their livestock is harmed in anyway, with the sentiment of aiding such individuals; the army organizes medical veterinary camps to tend to the aggrieved.
Apart from this, they have invested in solar energy to generate electricity, built green houses, and enable famer meetings (where the farmers from the state can learn about new agricultural methods and interact with those from other states) to support their livelihood, worked on initiatives for empowering the female population through  skill training, engaged extensively in building and repair of necessities for the people, these include bridges, passage sheds, drinking water sources, this list being non-exhaustive. One of the most recent initiatives of the army, just about two year old, is the ‘Chinar 9 Jawaan Club’. I had the opportunity to visit the facility, witness its functioning and engage with the beneficiaries there.  The prolonged ‘militancy’ which has adversely affected the state, has created a developmental vacuum due to the absence of private sector investments. A significant amount of the unemployed population is the youth of Jammu and Kashmir. This has posed two problems, a breakdown in provisions related to livelihood because of development deficit and the increased vulnerability of the youth for recruitment in militant activities. The club is aimed at skill development training in six nationally certified and accredited programs that include basic computer and computer hardware, hospitality and retail, fashion designing and holistic personality development through grooming. There is a gym, library and cafeteria for recreational purposes and outdoor sports facilities. These spaces are open to the general population for use as well. I was also a part of a seminar on the trends and hazards of substance abuse that are emerging in the valley. It was extremely informative. The participants were articulately educated of the multiple dimensions of substance abuse, right from trends in gateway drugs, to substance dependence and the way forward.
It has been a success amongst the locals and its popularity has surged in the recent past. Initially, people would come to the facility, either to cause some disruption, out of curiosity, or else because the lack of employment absolutely exhausted them (placements, were one of the top agendas for the courses offered in the club when advertisements were published).   However, real time engagement, has helped embalm the wounds that decade of conflict inflicted on the minds of these people, because of which, they have been the channels of alternative narratives related to the same. My interaction with the presently enrolled group in the facility brought about some extremely interesting insights and what I experienced and witnessed, has been overwhelming. My research was structured around understanding the operation as a facilitator of conflict resolution, but the pattern that emerged out of learning of its operating closely, reminded me of the concept of ‘restorative practice’ that emerged in the west and is a part of the concept of restorative justice. It is slowly becoming a part of the popular discourse related to the system.  Our legal definition of crime doesn’t include the victim directly, it is defined as against the state and because of this, the victim often feels excluded from the system. Restorative justice aims at bringing those harmed by conflict and those responsible for imposing the harm into communication, ensuring all affected parties are a part of repairing the grievance caused. Rather than measuring the extent of punishment inflicted, it measures the extent of harm repaired or prevented. As an offshoot of the same, the premise of restorative practice is that individuals are happier, cooperative, productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in positions of authority do things ‘with’ them (inclusively) rather than to them or for them.
This has been one of the guiding ethos of the operation. As the sentiment is to cater to upstream (focusing on prevention) as well as downstream (focusing on already committed acts) factors that have an influential role to play, the army is approachable and open to criticism and revision of policies and programs, with a feedback mechanism in place for the beneficiaries of the operation.
While the Indian Army functions as an apolitical unit, the truth is that politics has now become ingrained in the very social fabric of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and so to divorce it from developing resolution strategies, would affect the credibility of the same. While understanding or evaluating the cultural context of the conflict, to facilitate its resolution need not be the Army’s imperative, at the end of my research, I felt contended and hope that I have been able to contribute to the same, in my individual capacity.
(The author has done Masters in               Criminology and Justice from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai)