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Why we fail to look beyond the headlines

Abhishek Sengupta (Monday Musings)
Filed on August 11, 2019 | Last updated on August 11, 2019 at 10.10 pm

Last week's episode was a stark reminder of all those times in history when an act was revoked, and a treaty broken.

So, unless you have been deliberating under a giant rock somewhere in the mountains the whole of last week, you would by now know, thanks to all the rumpus on the internet - Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, et al - that Jammu and Kashmir is soon going to cease to be 'special'.

A state with extra rights for its citizens under Article 370 of India's constitution, including a separate constitution, a state flag and autonomy over its internal administration until last week, Kashmir will now be like rest of India with no privileges, no extra frills, no additional garnish, and one rule. This after Indian President Ram Nath Kovind last Monday issued a decree revoking the 1954 order to 'integrate' Kashmiris (and Ladakhis) with the rest of India - almost seven decades after the state of Jammu and Kashmir came into being under the special provision.

Good or bad, epic or ephemeral - I don't know and we can argue until all the cows and sheep of the valley come home knowing fully well that it doesn't impact a majority of us - at least not as much as people on the ground.

I am not a Kashmiri and neither have I been to Kashmir but so much has been said and written about that 'paradise on earth' already that I - like the rest of India - now feel as Kashmiri as anyone else - entitled to an opinion on the matter and one with rights to chest-beat or chastise - depending on how you see it. But without taking sides, last week's episode for me was a stark reminder of all those times in history when an act was revoked, a treaty broken, a charter withdrawn, and a new geo-political entity born. The tragedy of it all - human lives affected and their subplots, almost every time crushed in a coup by the triumph of the new arrival. As outsiders, we only see the flag but not the wind that makes it flutter.

As a quizzer back in school, I remember, East Timor shot into news when it was represented, for the first time, by four 'individual athletes' in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. This was just a year after Indonesia relinquished control of the territory following the United Nations' 'sponsored act of self-determination'. Once a Portuguese colony, East Timor, or more appropriately Timor-Leste, finally became 21st century's first new sovereign state in 2002, after years of resistance against the Indonesian military. But for the newspapers globally, the birth of a second predominantly Christian nation in Southeast Asia, (the other being the Philippines) and the only Asian country located completely in the Southern Hemisphere upstaged Xanana Gusmão's struggle as a former militant leader against an Indonesian occupation, marked by a violent, decades-long conflict.

Many geo-political landscapes have been redrawn and reformed since then and four more countries have been born, but it is the headline that always pooped the party.

Serbia and Montenegro split as two in 2006. The Montenegrins ended the relationship, with a referendum on May 21, 2006, with just over 55 per cent wanting to end all ties with Serbia and Montenegro declaring independence less than a fortnight later.

Serbia followed suit a few days later effectively becoming a 'new' state too despite being the legal heir to the union of Serbia and Montenegro formed after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991.

In two years, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia after a period of being administered by the United Nations since 1999, when Nato bombed Serbia and forced the then-President Slobodan Milosevic out but what slid out of our mind space soon were the ethnic factions in the region and their Slavic struggle against each other.

Recognised by football organisation FIFA, Kosovo today has a football team made up of a majority of Albanian-Kosovars but no one remembers the underlying stories as much as its post-independence avatar that continues to be marred by ethnic tension, organised crime, and an underdeveloped economy - one of Europe's worst.

And is South Sudan, the newest country to have been formed in 2011, any different? Ask the South Sudanese and only they will tell you stories beyond the headlines - the decades-long bloody civil war with the predominantly Arab north.

But of course, for the rest of the world, they were all bold headlines or a mere few paraphrases - not much different to Kashmir whose graver stories lie nestled somewhere in the laps of the not so dark, not so hidden, not so deep pockets of a restive valley.

-abhishek@khaleejtimes.com


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