Major Arya (Veteran)
I hope you are in good spirits. I will take the liberty of addressing you as my friend. I know that you consider me as a lowly terrorist but now that I am dead, the animosity can take a backseat; at least for the course of this letter. My friend, I am told that you have written an open letter to me. I thank you for making the effort to reach out to me even though it might be a little late. Better late than never.
Indeed I knew the result of taking up the gun against the Indian state. Don’t for a moment think that I was led astray by someone or that I was stupid to think otherwise. It is no easy a decision to take a path where the end is death. I understand this surprises many people. I didn’t choose this path out of hatred of your country or religion. I know a lot of your country men tend to think like that. It was not the case with me though.
Major Arya, my friend, I was born in a place where love, hospitality, pluralism, and communal amity is integral to life since times immemorial. How I wish life would have allowed me to host you some day. Had you been to Tral on the day of my funeral, you would have seen Sikh brothers weeping alongside their Muslim brethren. You would have seen them serving food to the mourners and marchers. My friend I always maintained that Amarnath Yatris are welcome here. I had also assured our Pandit brothers of protection, should they decide to return back to their villages. True, my friend, I had vowed to fight the plan for separate colonies. These colonies would have turned into cause of mutual acrimony and discord instead of reconciliation.
You might be wondering what, if not hatred, prompted me to choose this path. One of the most frightening memories of my childhood is the “crackdown”. You would know why if you have served in Kashmir. Succinctly, I remember elders being humiliated, the youth being beaten, the womenfolk being jeered at and the children being threatened. This was a regular feature of my childhood days. My friend, can you imagine how you would feel if you have to prove your identity every day in your own home and neighbourhood to people from a different culture, region and language. I had friends in school whose fathers had been killed. Some in real encounters others extra judicially. This was my childhood. That is how I grew up.
My agitated mind asked questions. I started asking whoever I could for the reasons behind all this. I began reading whatever I could regarding the Kashmir issue. Then I came to know there is an escape from this misery. People call it Azadi. I understand, my friend, that you love your country. You are ready to do anything for its sovereignty and integrity. But I didn’t see my dream of Azadi as a vengeance against your country. I just saw it as a basic human right of my people to live a life of respect and dignity. If the integrity or sovereignty of any country is devoid of this I was willing to challenge it. I knew the cost of doing so but I made my decision.
As I reached higher grades in school I began reading more about the history of the Kashmir issue. I wish you would have done the same before you wrote to me. I came to know that Kashmir had acceded to Indian subject to ascertaining the wishes of the people. Your first PM had promised the plebiscite on the floor of your parliament. He had also promised it at the UN and also in the LalChowk of Srinagar. The promise awaits fulfilment. I read about the gang rape of an entire village at Kunanposhpora,Kupwara by the Rajputana rifles of your Army. I read about the massacres of Gawkadal, Sopore, Handwara, Bijbehara, so on and so forth. My friend the list is long. I hope you take some time to read about some of this.Do you know my friend that around ten thousand people have vanished in custody? You might not know this. You might not even want to believe this. But how can we disbelieve what we have suffered.
My friend, you might argue that I could have chosen other ways of struggle. I did try but it was not to be. In 2008 I participated in massive peaceful protests. I was there in Eidgah rally when over a million people marched peacefully. Not a glass was broken that day. But the government could not bear the open show of defiance. It responded with curfews and unprovoked firing of protesters. Boys responded with stones. You might know that in the protests of 2008 and 2010 hundreds of young boys were butchered on the streets of Kashmir for pelting stones or marching. Many of my friends lost their lives or limbs. This battle of bullets and stones left a deep imprint on my mind. For the first time I began thinking of picking up the gun. But I wasn’t sure yet.The last straw came in 2010 when I and my elder brother were beaten to pulp by the “security forces” without any reason. I could not bear seeing my elder brother being beaten in front of me. That was the day when I escaped to the forests and became a militant.
The people here called me a Mujahid i.e. a righteous warrior. You call me a terrorist. But, my friend, I have never harmed or even threatened any civilian. My struggle was not driven by hatred. How would you have responded had you been born here in my place? You could have chosen to build a career while keeping aloof from the system. Or you could have tried to change the system from within. Or you might have tried to challenge it by peaceful means. Or you could have joined my group. All these are different forms of resistance. There is another possibility. You could have become a collaborator to the system. But I am sure a conscientious and intelligent person like you wouldn’t have chosen this ignominious option.
My friend, I chose a way of resistance which I knew will lead to death. I have no regrets. Neither do I have any complaints from you or your people. All that I am asking you is to ask yourself why would 3 lac people participate in my funeral if I was a terrorist? Why would the whole valley mourn me if I was a nihilist? My friend, Major Arya, I and my people harbour no ill will towards your people and country. All that we want is basic rights of self-determination, life, security, and dignity. I wish Kashmir and India have a wonderful relationship based on love and respect instead of bloodshed and hatred. But that will not happen unless and until you see reason.
Mohd Azhardin Ganayee is a Research Scholar in a reputed university