An ordinary Indian perspective on Kashmir…

We are living in a world that has ceased to have boundaries. Distances no longer matter.  Information and news flow freely …err is it the case? Probably not! We are recipient of news funnelled by various mediums which includes editorial choice and our own preferences. Sensationalism gets most eyeballs across all medium of news-info. We tend to make our opinions and judgements based on these filtered information and create our ever-lasting perceptions and over-time make these false imageries strong.

17_05_2017_TAS_3033This is what is happening to my Kashmir. The land we all know is beautiful, a paradise on earth. The land of Sufism, music and art. The land of beautiful people. But we, the ordinary Indian, are apologetic when we talk of Kashmir. About how it is in the vortex of violence? That how it is influenced by Pakistan? That how they hate the Indian security forces and sympathises with the armed terrorists? How dare they dream of Azaadi? We all have made our imagery based on such propagandas.

Most avoid Kashmir for any business and pleasure trips. Those who go there as tourists remain on the tourist route only. It is the sadness of times that people rarely try to mingle with the locals, talk to them without prejudices and understand their desire and aspirations. I managed a trip with my father to Srinagar who was to attend a conference at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture and Science Technology. So neither was I a tourist, nor have any business. I was all alone in the valley with my inherent prejudices. I decided to utilise these ‘free’ times to apprise myself of the tensions there. I began a stroll down the markets there, observed and interacted with the locals, youth, womenfolk, shopkeepers, students, professionals. And believe me…the perception that I had for Kashmir was changed permanently and of course, it’s for good.

Kashmir is a peaceful place or one can say as violent as any other place in India is. Now, don’t’ take it as a preposterous comment or get shocked by the audacity of it. When we landed in Srinagar, were with the thoughts that  we shall see forces, police in every nook & corner of the valley, that we will get empty roads, that we will meet people who will hate us. There are random slogans for freedom and azaadi but mostly it’s all false alarm.

What we saw was a capital city that progressing fast, roads, flyovers are being built at vast pace. Government institutions are coming up, women are contributing equally if not more to the states’ development. This is not to say that everything is hunky-dory and absolutely ok. The problem exists on the ground and in the mind of the people there.

Kashmiris love India and Indians. As I walked through the valley my fears soon ebbed. People want and dream of Azaadi and let’s start seeing it the way that everybody including us loves freedom. The common folk want azaadi but not interested in any armed struggle. They have been showered with rosy dreams over the years by their politically motivated leaders that azaadi shall bring prosperity and strengthen the Kashmiriyat. Most want meaningful dialogue with India towards this goal and certainly don’t want armed confrontation. Pakistan is hated for bringing-in the violence in their struggle. The people in Kashmir have alternatively elected and changed their governments with an aim that progress happens. Like elsewhere in India Kashmir people are stricken with corruption and their patience with the political class is waning fast. Aam aadmi on street believe corruption in political and police system is root cause of the terrorism they are facing. And this is an alarming condition.

Kashmiris are fond of their culture and traditions. They savour their tehzeeb – be it in dressing or in speaking. Young Girls and women in hizab are soothing to eyes. In fact they are an example to the rest of country that you need not to follow west to be seen a ‘mod’. The girls in Kashmir are taking their vocations and studies seriously. The youth in fact talk like we do in rest of world. They talk about movies, sports, careers, and girls…  discuss politics, discuss job prospects, and discuss their future. We have to respect their practices to gain their respect. Nothing cannot and should not be imposed.

Kashmiris respect our Indian Army and security forces like BSF or CRPF. They see them as their protectors and assistors. But J&K police are literally hated for their behaviour and excesses. There is resentment as thousands of people in the Valley have gone missing. This anger manifests in the violence against the state. The Central & the State government must set up a commission to enquire and search for the missing people. The families must get a closure and perpetrators must be punished. This may go a long way in creating a sympathetic public opinion for the governments of the day.

People say the Pak sponsored elements mingle with the peaceful protestors and perpetuate violence. Ordinary people are being caught in this vortex of un-mindful violence. Education, businesses, opportunities all become causalities. Less opportunity to grow and to have secure future drives youth towards easy money and hence the stone-pelting. The governments must strive to create opportunities. About 90% of J&K state is rural. The opportunities must be in agriculture and sports and tourism. In fact I got a very pertinent suggestion that every IPL franchise must have at least one player from the state. That makes ten new opportunities and chance for billion more dreams. The popular leagues like IPL may adapt a new state every 2 years to enable sportsperson with fewer opportunities and from under privileged states like North-East and J&K. Lets create a blissful scenario to build on our various policies and initiatives.

We must understand that we can never win Kashmir with force. We can do so with love and only love and equality. The valley is mainly Islamic and we have to respect it. The populace is generally non-veg and eat many things including beef and we have to respect it. Mehbooba Mufti Syeed is doing a commendable balancing act. The era of Ghulam Nabi Azaad is known as of the phase in J&K history which saw maximum peace and development. The Abdullahs are least respected and mostly get the chance to rule because people mostly vote to uproot the currently ruling dispension.  Like many of us the Kashmiris treat media as dangerous for throwing propaganda laced news. One local enquired me that he has read somewhere that BJP people beat everyone who is a Kejriwal supporter and that the right wingers kill for Gau-Mata.  On the whole we discussed Modi-PDP partnership and most sees it as a hope for future. But still a long mile have to be crossed.

As my fear ebbed I asked one of the burning questions: Lt Faiyyaz was your own. Then why was he killed? There is anger on his killing in valley too, like it is in the rest of India. And confidence on J&K Police is so low that people do not 100% believe that he was killed by any terror organisation.

This was a visit that changed my perception on Kashmir. Every Indian must change theirs too.