Views from Srinagar
MANY Kashmiris would think of 2016 as one of the worst years ever for the valley. Even otherwise, in a place that has been in a constant state of turmoil for much of its political history, it’s hard to be optimistic. And when there are no civilian killings in uprisings, we have to contend with other uncomfortable developments including natural disasters. It’s hard to point out which year was the worst for Kashmir. Some people may treat the entire conflict phase as an ongoing nightmare, but going through history books one finds that our pre-1947 past was no better if not worse.
Furthermore, different people from different age groups and hence experiences will have different choices for their ‘worst year ever’. For hundreds of Kashmiris, especially the victim families, 2016 would undoubtedly qualify to be the worst year of their lives. It was indeed a year of grief, but many more people may recall much more mournful years than 2016 since there is no dearth of tragic events in our past.
Pertinently, it’s not just Kashmir where people are angry at 2016. Even Americans do not seem to be happy. Though Kashmiris have enough reasons to call 2016 a bad year, it’s curious to know that several top American media outlets are debating whether 2016 can be termed as the ‘worst year ever’ for their country. While exploring whether 2016 was indeed annus horribilis (a year of disaster or misfortune), Charles Nevin of ‘New York Times’ comments, “…people in every age find reason to believe that their best times are behind them, and all that remains is decline and despair.”
Similarly, in his ‘Washington Post’ piece, economist and media critic, Max Roser argues against the dubbing of 2016 as the ‘worst year’ while pointing to the tendency among Americans to “almost always think that the year coming to a close is the worst”. He sees the problem partly with media’s preoccupation with bad news, saying that negative subjects are almost always being highlighted. He also relates it to human psychology that pays more attention to threats than to positive changes.
Writing in ‘The New Yorker’, Jia Tolentino also refers to the human tendency to recall bad events more vividly than good ones. Tolentino finds fault with Internet and the news delivered through social media.
“Everything feels too intimate, too aggressive; the interfaces that were intended to cheerfully connect us to the world have instead spawned fear and alienation.” Tolentino points out, the word “worst” invites even more depressing comparisons. In Kashmir’s case, we may also conjure memories of worse years than 2016.
Historian Ramachandra Guha explored the question whether 2008 was the worst year experienced by India in his essay for Outlook magazine’s special year-ender issue (12 January 2009). Pointing to the difficulty of arriving at any conclusion, Guha wrote, “I prefer not to pick one year above (or below) the rest is that, in such a choice, bias and prejudice must always play some part. The Indian for whom secularism is the most important binding value of the Republic will tend to think of 1992 (Babri Masjid demolition) and 2002 (Gujarat riots) as being the worst of all years.
The Indian motivated by a dislike of the Nehru-Gandhis might instead choose 1962 or 1975. The admirer of Mahatma Gandhi might cast his vote for the year in which the greatest of all Indians was murdered. Indian citizens of the Sikh faith may have the darkest memories of 1984.”
While dealing with the question of the ‘worst year’, we must also remember that the things would still have been bad in the valley in 2016 even if Burhan would not have been killed, troopers would not have used indiscriminate force and separatists would not have called for relentless shutdowns. There would still have been concerns about PDP’s alliance with BJP and the latter’s Hindutva agenda. Kashmiris would still have been facing human rights violations and struggling for civic rights.Many less visible sufferings and tragedies would have still persisted even without the dramatic events of 2016.
Kashmir has had a share of many bad years and some disastrous ones toowhich will all be remembered for wrong reasons. In such a situation, Kashmir looks a fitting case for hopelessness. But even if hope seems to have become more and more elusive, it resides silently in our hearts and minds. Even if we concede that it was the worst year, hope tells us that there areless than 24 hours left of the agonizing 2016.
[The columnist is Srinagar based firstname.lastname@example.org]