Don’t You Have Any Views on Kashmir

A drunken looking man to whom I was introduced by a friend whom I joined for a late night dinner at Mysore fired, “So you are researching on Kashmir?”

A reluctant nod was promptly greeted with, “But isn’t Kashmir problem already resolved?”

“How?” I was positively perplexed and partially embarrassed about my ignorance.

“Well, the people of Kashmir have accepted democracy in these elections…no?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean…”

“So what do the people want there?”

“Well, it would hardly be proper to give a blanket statement representing an entire people’s complex array of aspirations.”

“Alright…” A peaceful pause with eyes looking down. “But still…?” And they lit up again.

I really didn’t want to say a thing but for those four pairs of amused eyes stuck on me. I had to begin, “As far as I remember, the last time Kashmiri people showed solidarity under one slogan, it was Azadi!”

“What’s that?”

“Azadi…” “Freedom…?”

“Oh…is it?” Pause. “Freedom from India? Strange!”

I gave him a blank stare. He poured himself another drink.

*************************************************

My cousin, an MBA graduate, working with a big IT company. One night he calls up to update himself on my well-being and shoots during a dangerous pause, “Hey, tell me this. What do you think these Kashmiris want? Do they want to merge themselves with Pakistan?”

“What do you think?”

“I was watching news one of these days and they were waving Pakistani flags in one big demonstration.”

“Yeah, I know. See, my understanding says that it is much more complicated…”

“So who has complicated it?” There was a dangerous accusatory finality in the tone.

I sighed, “Okay. So what do you want me to tell you?”

“That whether the Kashmiris want to side with Pak or not?”

“Well, if that is what waving a Pakistani flag means to you…”

“What does it mean to you?”

“To me no singular moment means a thing! I see the status of a conflict in the way it progresses. It’s like in a test match the scorecard can tell you who holds an overall advantage but to know which way it’s going, you’ve got to see how the session has unfolded and who has the momentum.”

“Right. So how do you think the Kashmir situation is unfolding?”

“Okay, first tell me what has got you interested in it?”

“The sight of them waving Pakistani flags, of course.”

“So of course, you’d want it to be the defining moment of Kashmir struggle?”

“Why?”

“That’s exactly what you should ask yourself. Why? Why should waving of Pakistani flags get you all interested in the Kashmir question while nothing in the last many years did?”

“But this is much bigger than all that. This means they are out on the streets saying they want to be with Pakistan!”

“My dear, they’ve been saying a whole lot of things for the past twenty years. Not all of that gets covered in our newspapers. So perhaps, they say what is really unacceptable to us so as to tease us into listening. If it is Pakistan, they shall say Pakistan!”

“So finally, now they want to merge with Pakistan?”

*************************************************

“Kashmir?” Ravi, an ex-colleague at a software company in Pune, was pleasantly surprised. “Good yaar, so have you been to Kashmir?”

“Yeah…”

“But your program is funded by some NGO…right?”

“In a way…”

“So then, you’d be interested in all that Human Rights perspective etc.” He was categorically dismissive.

It wasn’t new to me. I merely smiled.

“See, it’s nice to visit Kashmir and all. It’s a beautiful place. I’ve seen pictures of Dal Lake and Gulmarg etc. But you know, all this human rights is nonsense. They want a separate country because they are Muslims. That’s it. You complete your research, have a good time, share the snaps with me. It is all wonderful. But remember, Kashmir belongs to India. We are not going to give it up. Those who want freedom may cross the border…”

Laughter. Other colleagues join him.

*************************************************

Raman, an acquaintance from Gaya and working in Mumbai is browsing through channels while I sit next to him. For a while, we watch some Marathi channel where Mr Raj Thackrey goes on spewing venom against north Indians in Marathi that both of us don’t understand. Angry and frustrated after a while, he remarks, “Why can’t someone shoot him down?”

I think of keeping mum. Then add reluctantly, “Do you think that’ll help ease down the sentiments he is trying to provoke?”

“Perhaps not, but still… At least this bastard shall be dead.”

Many channels are skimmed through. We land on BBC for a while. A documentary on Kashmir Valley issues is running. It shows gruesome images of what Kashmiris have gone through. How the women suffer and how they struggle to make ends meet after losing their men to the conflict. Raman shouted, “Yeah…Yeah… Go on crying over the deah of Muslims!” Looking for acceptance towards me, he added, “These people wouldn’t ever bother with the death of our soldiers. What do these Muslims want anyway? They make war wherever they are…”

Many more channels are skimmed through, once again. We comfortably land on some comedy show now.

*************************************************

A very senior Cancer specialist from Pune, with me on a trek to Madhya Pradesh, declares, “Patriotism is the most important thing in this world. I am a Doctor. But I also fund the education of children who are from poor families. Why? Because I want to see India do well. Children are the future of the country…right?”

“Right…” I softly added.

“Yeah. I value patriotism the most. Nothing should be above the nation. I worked in America for many years, but nowI am back. One should live and die for one’s own country. At least die in your own country!”

He smiled proudly and wanted me to reciprocate. I did. He continued, “That’s why I don’t understand when people take a position against their own countries. We should support whatever is good for India. Even if Kashmir wants freedom…so what? We should never give up any part of our territory. Why should we? We love our motherland. Everybody should….right?” Another proud smile.

“Right.”

*************************************************

An ex-roommate from Rajasthan who could never locate most of the states, let alone their capitals, on the map, was full of surprise, “You are going to look into Kashmir issue?”

I go into the other room. He follows, “But why?”

“Well…it interests me.”

“What is there to interest anyone in it? This Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland etc… aren’t they all complete idiots? All of them want their own country. What kind of nonsese is that! How can India give them all their own countries?”

“And why not?” I was plain curious.

“What kind of a lunatic are you? Does anything like this happen anywhere? He laughs violently, as if trying to hurt me with it.

*************************************************

A tenth class boy, son of an Air-force officer from Pune. With me on a trek in Himachal, he asks, “So what is this Armed Forces Special Powers Act?”

“An instrument of terror in the hands of our armed forces, actually.” I was quoting from Sanjoy Hazarika’s committee report.

“What is there that it allows and should not be?”

“To kill on mere suspicion, for one.”

“So we should let our soldiers die but shouldn’t let them kill someone they suspect?”

“No, we want our soldiers to be accountable for who they kill and who they suspect and why.”

“That’s rubbish. If you were in the Army, you’d never say so.”

“Perhaps. But now that I am privileged unlike the Israelis to not have been brainwashed, I should make use of my gray cells and sensitivity for human life. Don’t you think so?”

*************************************************

A very senior doctor in Gudlur who, after having worked in the US for many years, now looks after a hospital for Adivasis. Knowing about my work, he is curious, “So how’s it in Kashmir?”

“Peaceful by general Kashmir standards, I believe.” I believed that.

“So can we take these elections to be free and fair?”

“That’s what even the Kashmiris say, so we must take their word.”

“But do you think they still want Azadi?”

“At least, there’s no evidence to the contrary…”

“Right. But you know, Indian can really not allow Kashmir to go!” This was abrupt; and absurd, to me.

“Really?” I am never too good at concealing my surprise.

“Yeah of course. If you ask an army guy, he shall tell you that Kashmir’s location on our map is too strategic for the Army to give up.” He surely had friends in the Army feeding him.

“See doctor, I think the greatest success of Indian democracy as yet, thanks to Mr. Nehru, has been that we haven’t allowed our armed forces to think on behalf of our nation and tell us what’s best for us. Besides, I don’t think they would’ve thought Tamilnadu any less strategic, had the conflict been taking place here.” He seemed to agree.

*************************************************

In a meeting with a youth group called ‘The Wings’ at Lucknow. I share my understanding and thoughts on Kashmir issue with the men, women, boys and girls. Once I am done, a brief silence is followed up with a rather wild discussion. Certain notable glimpses are being shared.

A twenty something boy starts softly, “So you believe the poular sentiment is for Independence. Let’s say we want to be sensitive to their sentiments. What should we do? Give them an independent nation?”

I wanted to provoke a little so as to scratch the surface, “It surely won’t be charity. After all, Kashmir never joined the Indian dominion in quite the same capacity as others.”

“What if we do as you say and then tomorrow Tamilnadu stands up asking for the same? And then Orissa, then maybe Haryana…”

“Yeah… so what?”

“So, are we to give them all a separate nation?”

“Well, if that’s what they all want, what do you suggest?”

“I can of course not allow that. That’s why I cannot support an independent Kashmir.”

“Why? Why exactly can you not allow that?”

“Come on! What will happen to our National Integrity? After all I am an Indian. I feel for India.”

National Integrity! I am really enjoying it now. “So you’d support keeping Kashmir by force, even if there’s no moral basis for it?”

“I cannot let my country break apart. How can you not see that?”

“Okay. Tell me this. Let’s say your father is afraid allowing you to marry the girl of your choice will sow the seeds of rebellion in the hearts of your younger brothers as well. So he forces you to marry the girl of his choice. Would you support his position?”

“Well, of course that’s not true with Kashmiris. They have all the freedom if they don’t make trouble against India.”

“I seriously doubt that. And most Kashmiris can tell you a million stories to prove the contrary.”

“I don’t buy that. And what is the option? Pakistan? Can’t they see the development we have here? Can they not compare it with the state of Pakistan to see for themselves?”

Development. That’s a tricky one. I cannot afford to start an all new debate. Yet, the nodding heads around tell me how strongly they all feel about our national march towards a shining future. “The option is Azadi,” is all I say.

He falls silent for a while. I add, “And if your father genuinely fears all you brothers wanting to go against him, how do you think it shows upon him? After all, if every state of India wants to break off ties with India, don’t you think it is time for India to do some soul searching about what it stands for as a nation? Shouldn’t Indians be ashamed of it?”

Another young man, who’d have interrupted me violently had I not been requesting him to hold on all this while, jumps into the discussion, “Tell me this. Let’s say we give them their Kashmir. What if China gobbles them up tomorrow?”

“Well, it might catapult you into future-telling but honestly speaking, it wouldn’t be your business by then. Gandhi said to the British back then, ‘Leave us to God! Or leave us to the Dogs! But leave.’ Can’t we do the same? Shouldn’t our Kashmiri brothers be shouting the same, had we allowed them to speak to us?”

He is visibly agitated. There is violence is his body language as his eyes pop out and he shouts, “Let me tell you something my dear friend. Freedom has to be earned. We threw the British out of this country. They didn’t give it to us in charity. We won’t, either. If they could, they would have taken it by now.”

“I hope you realize you are going a few centuries backwards through these revolutionary ideas.”

“Whatever. And secondly, Sheikh Abdullah wanted to be with India then. That’s why they joined it…”

“Right. And then these years exposed to them the real face of Indian democracy which they don’t like!”

“I don’t care. International Politics is not as if you are having dinner in a restaurant, ordered butter chicken and now want to cancel it so you could eat mutton korma elsewhere.”

“So an entire community should be banished forever to suffer just because what they once held, let them down.”

“Of course they must. You choose only once.” He declared.

“It is that one chance that has been denied to them all along,” I reminded him.

Later in the day, the first boy came up to me and admitted that he has been forced to rethink his position. He thanked me for inspiring him to change his views. The other young man, who had taken the exit door right after, is told to be a strong believer in the RSS ideology. The group thinks he is impossible.

*************************************************

Kashmir. We all know her. Or at least, we know of her. We’ve heard stories. That she has (had) an affair with someone called Pakistan. That she has had many lovers. That she is a muslim. That she is a terrorist. That she has been violated, by many, over and over again. That she is beautiful beyond imagination. That she used to be even more beautiful. That she is an evil seductress. That she isn’t. That she wasn’t, ever.

And we are in a hurry. To have an opinion. On Mumbai. On Delhi. On communal riots. On global warming. On economic recession. On Shahrukh. On everybody; and everything. On Kashmir too. There isn’t enough information around – in the newspapers, or television. So we tell ourselves anyway. We feed into ourselves a thoroughly consistent and linear world-view of this chaotic, decidedly non-linear world. After all, Rationality is a fundamental need. And it’s the only one that can actually be manufactured.

So what do you think of Kashmir problem?

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3 thoughts on “Don’t You Have Any Views on Kashmir”

  1. After this moving recount of thoughts on Kashmir by Indians from different walks of life,your post does not need any further comments. I would, however, only want to say one thing viz:
    The belief, that India will lose its integrity by allowing the people of Kashmir decide their own future is negated in history by so many examples:
    1.India was partitioned in 1947. It did not break after separation of north western part of British India.
    2. Pakistan got separated its the then Eastern Pakistan, now Bangladesh, it did not break.
    3. Egypt got separated Syria from then United Arab Republic. Egypt did not break.
    4. Ireland got separated from Great Britain, but Britain remains intact and we shouldn’t forget, at one time the great America (the USA) was at a time in history, also was an integral part of Great Britain. By losing US, Great Britain did not break either. How will then India break?

    A lesson from history needs to be learnt by all people, all governments, all armies of the world.

    You can’t subjugate a people in the name of solidarity, patriotism or integrity. It’s the will of the people itself that determines the ultimate fate, the ultimate question of patriotism, solidarity and integrity!!

    Nayyar Hashmey
    http://wondersofpakistan.wordpress.com/

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