Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | Kerala could guide the fuller integration of Kashmir

Last week, the central government stripped away the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, turning it into two Union territories. Indians have always considered Kashmir an integral part of India and have wanted to bring it closer into their fold. The central government believes that revoking Article 370 and exerting more control from New Delhi will cut down on corruption, improve security in the region and lift the local economy, ultimately leading to better integration. Will it?

Article 370 did provide certain exclusive benefits to Jammu and Kashmir. Behavioural science would remind us that due to the endowment effect, individuals value something that they already own more than something that they do not yet own. Even though the ordinary man on the streets of Kashmir may not know what special constitutional provisions have been taken away, the mere fact that something that was enjoyed for the past several decades has now been taken away will make it seem like a huge loss. These losses, both real and perceived, could rankle Kashmiris enough to outweigh potential gains in the future.

Immediately after the announcement revoking Article 370, there was talk of making significant investments in Kashmir, both by the government and the private sector. These investments are to lead to more job opportunities for the youth in Kashmir, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. This is the equivalent of employers providing financial incentives to improve the motivation of employees. Several studies have shown that these work only up to a point. So, even if the central government manages to provide immediate incentives to the people of Kashmir, their effects could wear off after some time.

According to Gordon W. Allport, author of The Nature Of Prejudice, there is one universal law of human societies: in every society on earth, the child is regarded as a member of the parents’ groups. She belongs to the same race, tradition, religion and caste. This becomes the foundation of the first in-group every individual becomes a part of. And this in-group provides the precise pattern of security that she requires. The formation of in-groups also tend to create out-groups. French biologist Felix le Dantec has pointed out that every social unit—from the family to the nation—exists by virtue of having some “common enemy". We have to accept that there is already a feeling among some ordinary Kashmiris that India is the “common enemy" they should resist. The recent decision of the central government will make it easy to fuel those thoughts and further spread antagonistic feelings vis-a-vis India. The characterization of India as an out-group also prevents any communication from finding relevance. And this characterization prevents any immediate hopes of a national integration or the emergence of a new narrative.

We need to keep these behavioural reactions and their impact in mind as we prepare for a new future for Kashmir. What is required is the development of a larger and stronger emotional connection of Kashmiris with the rest of India.

The substance of communication should address precisely what was lost through this process—the sense of procedural justice. While the loss of the status quo hurts, what pains more is the loss of voice and the manner in which decisions were taken. These decisions can be made relatable and tangible by channelling them through appropriate reference groups. We may need to reframe the idea of integration as a journey, the first step of which is the closer integration with a relatable reference group. Reference groups are groups that an individual sees herself as a part of, or those to which she aspires to relate to. Identifying an ideal reference group that Kashmiris relate to is an important step in their emotional integration.

Religion has a very strong impact on one’s identity. It has often been criticized for dividing societies. But there is a case for acknowledging the strong influence religion has on building one’s in-groups and using that knowledge to integrate India from Kashmir to Kerala. Kerala has a large Muslim population that has been an integral part of society and the democratic traditions of the nation for a long time. They have benefitted from investments the state has made in education, health and infrastructure. There is hardly anyone who can better vouch for the opportunities that minorities have than Muslims in Kerala. They could play a significant role in the emotional integration of Kashmir. The many mature social leaders among Muslims in Kerala should be encouraged to reach out to their co-religionists in Kashmir.

Tourism is the mainstay of the Kashmir economy and is also a huge driver of growth in Kerala. One can make an immediate impact on the lives of ordinary people in Kashmir by making investments in the tourism sector of J&K and drawing upon the learnings and resources of Kerala. Kashmir is the original “Paradise on earth"; Kerala is “God’s own country". Parallels can be drawn between Dal Lake and the backwaters of Kerala, the valleys of Kashmir and hill stations of Munnar. Creating a strong connection between the tourism business of the two regions will go a long way in building an integrated India.

True national integration happens when there is a common thread that extends from one end to another. It is a journey, one that we should begin by creating appropriate connections between the north and south, Kashmir and Kerala.

Biju Dominic of Final Mile Consulting, a behaviour architecture firm

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