Opinion: Filling the gaps in Waheed Para’s TEDxTalk

Image is Youtube Screengrab of the TedxTalk.

Waheed Ur Rehman Para has reiterated it again, this time, in his twelve-minute talk at TedxIIMRohtak: I’m with the youth and for their welfare. If in politics, the posturing matters—then, repeating the same old cry equally matters.

After joining unionist politics, officially, in 2013, 29-year-old Para—coming from Pulwama’s Tahab vicinity—has been talking about the ‘youth engagement’. But the former student activist’s brand of politics doesn’t always earn him fanboys.

His detractors often take a jibe at him saying how the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) youth president—“who till early 2000s would criticise  the Indian state for the atrocious role, and depicting himself as a victim”—played an “Azadi card” for his popularity.

But his political journey apart, his TEDxTalk style and substance merits some serious attention.

Para informs the audience how he comes from south Kashmir’s “fragile district”, where his youth forays are quite known, before becoming a literal battlefield post-Burhan Kashmir.

His underlining tenor of the talk seems to stress merely on demographic fact, that since the youth constitutes about 69 per cent of state’s population, therefore it makes it ‘important’ to engage them ‘positively’.

Besides living in uncertainty and facing challenges in a conflict zone, he seems to suggest that youth are “caught up” in a vicious cycle of violence post-2008 youth uprising.

He claims of bringing visible changes on the ground through the self-proclaimed “interventions”—efforts of participatory initiatives and formation of grievance cells—after joining PDP as a spokesperson and youth president. The scathing situation has created a scenario, he argues, where the youth feels “a sense of defeat” and “vulnerability towards violence” as “violence has influenced their minds”.

Para as expected gives a dismal picture of the state. He cleverly maneuvers his presentation giving a sense that trouble in Kashmir is caused by fringe elements up against the overwhelming 7.6 lakhs Indian troops, state sponsored agencies and newspeak media. At behest of this setup, he seems to suggest that New Delhi is doing a tremendous job by creating an ‘uneasy calm’.

The PDP’s youth president advances his party’s dubious ‘healing touch’ to strengthen the process of democratization. But here, one needs to re-access his argument to steer clear of the confusion his talk creates: how can people expect any dialogue through democratic process in a war-like situation where police and army controls/runs the state through “brutal laws”?

Infact, the idea of tackling “radicalization” through democratisation is a misfit analogy when applied in the context of an international dispute like Kashmir with multiple magnitudes: resource, military, and above all politics, where religion is a contour.

Also, the political camp he represents is to be blamed for the fractured political process besides being a major impediment in process of democratisation.

So, whatever the so-called “mainstream” government offers in the name of democratisation is actually a façade, a cacophony and a cosmetic measure. And to address the actual problem, the genesis needs to be traced.

As we prod towards the future, the past cannot be ignored. The future and present are shaped by the past memories. In case of Jammu and Kashmir, the root cause of crisis is India’s territorial control, pending political problem and persistent human rights violations.

Calling it misgovernance, Human Rights and corruption issue will count as a historical error for they’re just symptoms of the pending dispute that took the violent form in 1989, and is deft requirement of resolution acceptable to its natives.

Para in his talk ignores the fact how 2017 has been the most turbulent year, especially for the youth who joined militant ranks in droves and rocked educational campuses with their unabated rage. Even civilian killings, pellet blinding and humiliations like the human shield episode conveniently skipped any mention in his TEDxTalk.

But instead, he obviously chose to boast about the initiatives, like how the government collected the data of over fifty thousand youth and surveyed over two million others who according to him were ‘vulnerable to violence’. Importantly, government collecting such a huge data puts these young men at risk of being getting exploited by so-called “authority”.

Following the Indian state apparatus and propagandist media, Para shows the audience the Kinescopic imagery of Kashmir. But his portrayal of Kashmir as the mere Pakistan-sponsored “law-and-order problem” is a deliberate attempt to create a public opinion based on misinformation to cash in the votes and distract people from the real issues, which are intently ignored.

The “mainstream media” in India on the hand is projecting young men like Para, IAS topper Shah Faesal, cricketer Parvez Ahmad and the ones that made it to 2016 J&K Bank Calendar as role-models — so that the youth ‘gives up the violent path’. But on the other hand, there has been no let down in the state sponsored violence.

The major problem as per him lies in “eulogizing the martyrdom”. He stresses the need to replacing the idea of celebrating the dignity in death with the idea of finding dignity in living.

But despite offering huge money through different kinds of packages and sponsoring the “youth projects” of which people like Para have been part of, the reality remains: New Delhi’s martial handling of Kashmir is only multiplying the rage.

And in order to engage the youth in democratic process, New Delhi needs to create a space for democracy by limiting the army’s rule by withdrawing the AFSPA and the army and limiting its number and concentration to the borders. The process can begin by accepting Kashmir as a dispute and taking the United Nations recommendations on Jammu and Kashmir as a stepping stone for holding a referendum like Catalonia, Venzuela and many other places as a prerequisite in addressing the dispute.

The PDP leader also accepts that his government created three thousand sports clubs in three thousand villages besides ‘inclusive policy’ for women emancipation by providing women a chance to participate in sports events.

“It’s not about sports only,” Para says in his TEDxTalk, “it’s about the meaningful engagement.” By this, he apparently wants his audience to believe his “so-called intervention” as a step towards removing the ‘trouble’ from the state.

But as he himself accepts, these sports initiatives were designed in such a way that repeatedly enforces an opinion indirectly on the youth to change their role-models.


The author is Delhi-based Kashmiri scholar.

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir.


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