Two things. If I could just wave my wand and “change” something in South Asia, there are two things I would take care of immediately. Only then, I am convinced, would the hard-working, long-suffering people of the region get the better society they deserve.
Maybe not all rainbows and streets of gold, but certainly an improvement.
Ready, here goes that wand - Wooooosh.
Gone is the whole region’s skewed sexuality. Let’s get rid of the prejudices and taboos, the gender inequality and the cultures that makes it so very hard for men and women to relate to each other as equal human beings in an equal world. But that’s a story for another day. Today, I’m more concerned with that second swish of the wand.
Whooooosh. Let’s eliminate once and for all, the curse of dynastic politics.India, Paskistan, Sri Lanka, Bangaldesh, Afghanistan - all of them countries where a particular name dominates the politics and power structure of a society. Ok, I know in many places in the world, a shoemaker’s son may well become a shoemaker himself, but the idea of passing the title of Prime Minister or President or Chief Minister on to your son, wife, brother or concubine - well, that’s a particularly South Asian idiosyncrasy. And its made a sham of democracy, and brought on ever more oppression of the voiceless poor, and of free speech.
Let’s take Kashmir, a place I find hard to get out of my system especially since my recent visit. The situation there on the ground has only grown worse day by curfew ridden day: food is in short supply; fresh vegetables and meat are becoming increasingly hard to find; baby powder is now a black market commodity; people can’t get to the hospitals, which in any case are running out of drugs.
Schools opened this week and 200 privileged children were airlifted to Delhi to sit their exams, but the other hundreds of thousands of school and college going kids have been getting mixed messages about whether to make the herculean efforts to get to school or not. Some school buses were stoned by the small but dangerous contingent of Kashmiri hardliners who want disruption at all costs.
More than 75% of Kashmiris are under 25 - and it’s the young who have been targeted in this latest round of Kashmiri violence. They’re the ones being pressured by peers or society to join the protests, or who are simply angry enough to want to join. They’re the ones who are mainly getting killed, the ones who are lying on hospital beds having to listen to the murmers of doctors about whether they will come out of the hospital alive or with their bodies intact, the ones who don’t have a hope of a job or education, the ones who are seeing their futures vanish before their very eyes.
Meanwhile Chief Minister of Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, son and grandson of Kashmiri rulers is miserably aware that his people detest him, but disallowed by his famous name and his overbearing father to quit the job. And why - because the Abdullahs of Kashmir have become entwined with the Nehru/Gandhis of Delhi’s central government.
According to veteren journalist and Kashmir watcher Prem Shankar Jha, the solutions are so simple as to be common sensical: change the present government which in turn will inevitably lead to a roll on effect. The next government would surely be sane enough to retract the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, withdraw the overwhelming number of security forces in the region, lift the curfews and generally take a deep breath and call for calm. But, he says. “This first step of removing this government is essential. Without that nothing else can happen.:
But dynastic politics means that the status quo will be maintained at all costs. Chief Minister Omar is also married into a powerful Congress Party family which only cements the alliance. And that, along with Daddy telling him to hold firm means that the Abdullahs and their Gandhi/Congress Party backers are not gong to let go the reins of power lest they slip out of family hands forever.
But oh, what a relief that would be for everyone else - the reins of power held by a leader with a popular mandate rather than the right surname.