Kashmir, a land of celebrated traditions, peace, tranquillity and ideological diversity is currently passing through a state of turbulence due to protracted conflicts for over two decades, which has taken a massive toll on human lives. 

In the past few years, there has been a tangible transition from full-scale militancy to unrest and disturbances in different forms which have become a matter of concern for general masses of Kashmir. The repercussions of continued unrest and conflicts are quite evident. 

Reflected not only in the erosion and destruction of the social and cultural ethos of Kashmir, but has adversely affected the economic and social development of the State. The youth of Kashmir, born and brought up in an environment of militancy and intolerance have become more volatile rather radicalized. Women and children have been marginalized hence rendered vulnerable. It all resulted in the state slipping into the morass of uncertainty, suspicion, Islamic radicalization and even the demise of the mainstream. 

Amidst all the gloom that I narrated in the previous paragraph, there still were some silent efforts like the droplets of positivity and progress in the ocean of blood. One such initiative is not only worth mentioning, but it holds a grand promise for the future resolution of the Kashmir dispute. It shows us the way forward, a way out of the morass and the way that is carved and led by the common masses. 

It is indeed a matter of immense pride that for the first time a people-centric nationalist party has been formed in Kashmir. The party is the result of the years of hard work and confidence-building among the common masses. Jammu Kashmir Awami Forum is the first fully pro-nationalist political platform in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The question is why it matters? It matters because its cadre and the leaders do not come from the elitist dynasties of Abdullahs and Muftis. It is a party formed and created by ordinary people who are fed up with militancy, extremism and the political opportunism of the traditional dynastic mainstream parties.

Interestingly, the party also has spiritual roots. The cadres of the party have been actively involved with the humanitarian efforts and the relief work of the Art of Living. During my research, I got the opportunity to meet the principal architect of Jammu Kashmir Awami Forum and the massive people’s movement, behind it, for peace, national integrating and spiritual solution of Kashmir dispute- Sanjay Kumar. 

For nearly two decades, Mr Sanjay Kumar has been doing a yeoman’s job in transforming the Kashmir conflict with the blessings of his guide, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  Many delusional secularists may not know but, Sri Sri has been playing a terrific role in addressing conflict issues across the world be it the convincing of FARC to adopt Gandhi’s non-violence or life-threatening humanitarian work in ISIS territory. 

Sanjay Kumar’s efforts have set in motion a process through which unrepresented, unheard of and marginalized peace loving communities are getting a chance to express themselves and influence the mainstream social and political discourse. It all happened through the formation of people-centric initiatives and platforms like Paigam-e-Mohabbat, Jammu-Kashmir Gujjar-Bakarwal Forum, Jammu-Kashmir Pahadi Forum, Shaeed Aurangzeb Foundation and unprecedented peace marches with the slogans of corruption free, violence-free and addiction free Kashmir. All this resonated well with the common people.

To accomplish what he has, Mr Sanjay Kumar had all the outer trappings of a social worker associated with a spiritual mission, but his razor-sharp eyes reflected a shrewd and insightful strategist, geopolitics expert and a refined intelligent brain. He narrated the journey behind the formation of the party mentioned above. The story is of how he raised a dedicated cadre of local Kashmiris in rural areas who believed in Sri Sri’s idea of peace and mental relief from the effects of conflict through spiritual endeavours.

It all happened in the milieu dominated by violent jihadi extremists of Jamaat, Lashkar and Jaish who believed in nothing short of a Fidayeen attack as the ideal of life. The spine-chilling stories of Sanjay Kumar‘s journey in Kashmir include the tales of several threats and attempts on his life and work. With utmost difficulty, he was able to win over the hearts and minds of ordinary people in an environment where even an unusual pattern of breathing gets suspicious and presented as a conspiracy of Delhi spoke volumes of his dedication and abilities to mobilize people and win over their hearts in the most adverse circumstances. Sanjay Kumar’s insights also brought those unheard of aspects of conflicts which can compel the most insensitive and jingoistic minds. He told that after Burhan’s killing his father spent several days in Sri Sri’s Bangalore ashram.

Today when people say that Kashmiris have lost the fear of death and have no interest in life and no remorse over the loss, the fact mentioned above comes as a startling revelation. Also, it leads all of us to think deeply about the humanitarian costs of conflict. The approach taken by Sanjay Ji and his band of dedicated followers has finally resulted in a party which represents school teachers, small shopkeepers and farmers who just want peace in India but have no say in the political dynamics of the state which are currently being run by dynasts at the command of foreign intelligence agencies for sinister motives. In the past, Sanjay Ji played an instrumental role in bringing Ranveer Sena and CPI(ML) on a negotiating table and put a halt on caste-based massacres in Jahanabad, Arwal, and Bhojpuri in Bihar. He also convinced 63 insurgent groups of North East India to come on one platform to talk about peace and prosperity of the region.

Jammu Kashmir Awami Forum reflects genuine people’s sentiments and aspirations. Their concerns of Azadi are different—they want Azadi from poverty, conflict, corruption, religious extremism, and bad governance. Sanjay Ji and his team’s laborious efforts in building mutual trust and confidence and bringing the disgruntled elements into the mainstream with hope are the new developments in Kashmir which need our attention and attempts to replicate. Also, we need to recognize that along with our soldiers, the ones who are without uniform, i.e. individuals like Sanjay Ji are laying the foundation of future peace and democracy. We need to support, reward, celebrate and recognize such efforts. Next time, when the government thinks of giving Padma awards, names of people like Sanjay ji should be considered.