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Memories Of Kashmir: Past, Present And Hope

By Dr. M Ashraf Bhat

07 March, 2014

Growing up in the shadows of conflict, of guns wielded by both militants and armed forces, we in Kashmir have witnessed many confusing narratives that sometimes just 'happened' but which are now imprinted in our minds, seemingly forever. Everything in 1990s Kashmir was, as I remember it iteratively, brought to a standstill each day. Our lives as young boys were ruled by a primary goal: to save ourselves and to live just for one more day. While boys of our age in other parts of the country were aiming for productive careers in the engineering, medical and civil services and concentrating on their studies, our lives were part of another narrative—knotted, twisted and often grotesque – despite the shimmering beauty of the landscape we inhabited. This personal narrative tries to explain how we as common people in Kashmir have witnessed at least three crucial stages of conflict dynamics. (i) Pre-militancy era – when everything was normal and after returning from the local school, we would play with the army men [without arms] who had camped in our village for some social service, and were perceived as within ‘us’, not ‘them’ or the ‘other’. Kindness was at its peak and the red clouds in the sky innocently followed folklore to mean that blood was being spilt or any unwanted incident was ocurring in some distant ‘other’ corner of the world. (ii) The militancy era – with haunting memories which still predominate our terrified dreams of cross-firing, crackdowns, identification parades, serving food to one militant party followed by the raids of another militant party and then nocturnal raids by the armed forces. Caught in the existential paranoia, career and conflict, absolute anarchy of this era is the strongest part of our memories, thought process and behaviour. (iii) The post militancy era again consists of many catastrophic phases and is dominated by the agonizing ‘manufactured’ and ‘action’ narratives. The paper trajectory also explicates the journey from Kashmir to other states with extended fears of carrying the Kashmiri identity.

The conflict induced alternative testimonies and personal narratives must not be treated as mere complaints, but the painful internalised memories of the conflict, which must not be repeated or forwarded to the coming generations. These narratives are altogether different from the conventional approaches of theorising the ‘Kashmir conflict’ as they are based on the personal experiences: on real events which we, as Kashmiris, have witnessed during the last three decades. Many of us usually carry this baggage of traumatic experiences in our mental spaces and it significantly impacts the way we live each day. When it comes to the Kashmir conflict, people of my age in Kashmir have broadly witnessed aforementioned three phases of life, which is the rationale for dividing the present paper into the following three sections.

Pre-militancy era:

Although a little, but I do have some noteworthy childhood memories of the pre-militancy era and growing up in the peaceful environment of Kashmir. It was an era where my grandmother taught us that a dark reddish sky meant that a crime or murder had been committed in some ‘other’ corner of the world, and that it was getting reflected in nature as well. This gave us the implicit message that the concept of a misdemeanour was unfamiliar to the Kashmiri society. These days were ‘normal’, peaceful. As young boys, we used to frequently have half-days at school. On those exciting days, we would rush to the famous tourist resort Pahalgam to see if Bollywood stars were really shooting there. On many occasions, unlike in recent times, during the day we used to enjoy the songs of the local folk singers and in the evening, we would watch plays based on mythical Kashmiri folk tales like Akanandun. Influenced by the weekly serial Ramayan telecast on the national television channel Doordarshan, children from every street used to scream ‘ji shri Ram’ carrying small arrows and bows imitating the characters they saw on TV. Smiling at the sadhus who used to walk by foot up to the Amarnath shrine, kids on the roadside would say ‘baba ji Sita Ram’ and the barefooted sadhus dressed in saffron coloured dhotis used to offer some coins to the children. (Of course, the Amarnath Yatra was never as massive as it has been in the last two decades.) The religious diversity, pluralism and inclusiveness were reflected in the prayers of every elderly person including my grandmother, who used to pray ‘prath hindis te musalmaans yaree’ which literally translates to “may God bless all Hindus and [then] Muslims”. Relatively happy, most of the people could not afford even to have a small black and white Television. On 26th January, 14th and 15th August, people of my neighbourhood used to gather in our home to watch the celebrations on DD National and PTV respectively. On 31 October 1984, all people of our village gathered in the then only government school to watch the last rites of Indira Gandhi.

The first time we saw the army men [without arms] camping in our village was in 1984. They were probably deputed there for some social service and we as kids, used to play cricket with them. No one was afraid of them except one person Hamza Dass, a singer at the Radio Kashmir Srinagar, who during the 1941 Kabali raid had migrated from north Kashmir’s Pattan district to our village. His fear seemed as deep rooted as ours was twenty years later.

However, everything changed so unexpectedly. I suppose the only curse of the elderly the Kashmiri Muslim women that came true was “aayeo gooeil” which literally means ‘may you get bullet’ and the only curse those of the Kashmiri Hindu women which came true was “payoo kraay” which meant ‘may you get burned by heat’.

Militancy Era:

The militancy era in Kashmir as we have experienced it, is complex and filled with paranoia, melancholy and gloom. At times, it is agonizing to recall the precise chronology of events that just happened around us. It seems to all have somehow happened and has occupied most crucial part of our memory, probably forever. The first speech in favour of the aazadi or freedom of Kashmir I witnessed was in the April of 1990 when the Chairman of Hurriyat, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, proclaimed “I am telling you that anyone who fights against India is performing holly war or Jihad” to convince the masses that ‘Kashmir problem is purely a religious issue’. The second such assertion was followed by a district level Jamaat-e-Islami leader of the south Kashmir in 1991, where he related Kalashankof and AK47 of Kashmiri fighters with the ‘asa’ or the stick of prophet Moses, which had extraordinary supernatural powers. Nevertheless, both the assertions were later strongly contended and refuted. The first assertion by Mr. Geelani was contended by a prominent religious scholar of the sub-continent, late Dr Israr Ahmad for whom Kashmir was not a religious issue, because of which he was reluctant to call this fight a jihad. Moreover, a Delhi based Muslim scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, once a close aide of Islamic scholar and founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Maulana Maududi, from the very beginning of Kashmir conflict, unequivocally argued that “Kashmir problem was certainly not an ‘Islamic jihad’, and it was obviously not going to lead to the creation of an ‘Islamic system’, unlike what its leaders so loudly claimed”. Another significant confrontation and rejection of calling the armed militants’ fight in Kashmir as jihad came from a noted Pakistani Islamic scholar and son of the late Maulana Mawdudi, Haider Farooq Mawdudi, who in 1998 openly came out against the Jamaat-e-Islami leadership of Pakistan for supporting the militancy in Kashmir. He has refuted Jihad in Kashmir on the grounds that it’s against the tenets of the Quran as Islam does not permit a covert war. Similarly, having witnessed innocent killings, unforeseen crimes, involvement in the family and land disputes, ransom and abductions of common people by the armed militants in Kashmir, the second assertion of relating AK47 with ‘asa’ or the stick of Prophet Moses, was withdrawn two years later by the same person who had made the statement. Regretting his earlier assumption, he noted that “the supernatural or extraordinary powers are neither in ‘Asa’ of Prophet Moses nor in the AK47, but they are bestowed to the sinless hands”.

Understanding of ‘aazadi’ for us as young boys meant some new kind of snow which would surely fall in any coming summers. Schools and colleges mostly remained closed. Looking at a group of young boys freely roaming about all day, our elders humorously used to say ‘only school children and the horses of Pahalgam got freedom’. Since schools remained closed for more of the time, school children got freedom from attending schools and studies. Similarly, the horses got their freedom because the tourists stopped visiting Kashmir, including Pahalgam, and so there was no one to ride them. For some people, the apprehensions were that that if Kashmir became a free or an Islamic state, would there be a space for cultural Muslims—people who just have Muslim names but do not practice the religion? As young boys, the gun romanticism had influenced us consciously and unconsciously, which lead us to behave as more powerful creatures than we really were. Every militant holding an AK47 was perceived as the real hero, and anyone who caught glimpse of a militant was considered lucky. Even things concurrent to militants were envied and aspired to, including the sports shoes. The youngsters wore them proudly named as mujahid boots: ‘militant shoes’. On some dark evenings, the gunmen suddenly used to appear and threaten young boys for not offering prayers, if they caught them gossiping on the pavements of shops close to the mosque. Some young boys used to run towards the mosque, enter from one door and run out from the other without offering prayers. A few of the boys again used to reunion fearfully and someone among them would joke that if we were to get aazadi, we all have to pray, and suddenly a little boy would fearfully ask: “they say there is no force in Islam, why would someone force us to pray!” After the Friday congregational prayers, militants used to burn the Indian currency notes as a mark of rejection of the Indian symbols. Kids however wished they could get these notes so they could get fresh ice-cream!

During the peak of militancy, the early morning news from the adjacent towns used to be dominated by the crackdowns, cordons, encounters, bomb blasts, raids, cross-firing and ambushes between the military and armed militants. For the fear of being caught in a possible crackdown, many people used to sleep in open fields far away from their homes. To avoid any possible harassment or sometimes even arrest by the armed forces, people buried/destroyed the religious audio cassettes and literature which mostly written in Urdu [perso-arabic], not realizing that most of the men in uniform were unable to read the script. Instead of academic discourses, schools and colleges were dominated by guns from both sides. Many academic institutions were occupied by the armed forces, the remaining were conquered by chaos and horror. The educational institutes like other offices and business establishments mostly remained closed. Often, for taking our examinations, we used to walk for about fifteen kilometres by foot to reach our cordoned examination centres via many army pickets and the men in uniform on both sides of the road would check our identity cards, frisk us a dozen times, check our identity cards and ask us the same questions repeatedly.

International media houses who reported on Kashmir [although their reporters mostly reported from outside Kashmir] started calling it ‘conflict-zone.’ Something remarkable which never happened in any so called ‘conflict zones’ of the world did happen in Kashmir. In the early 1990s when everything seemed perplexed, and when lawlessness was at its peak, the only institution whose growth curve improved was the Jammu and Kashmir bank. Assuming that India might withdraw from the Kashmir taking all our money with it, people withdrew all their money from other national banks and deposited it in the Jammu and Kashmir bank. Moreover, apart from the growth of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, a lot of construction work took place in Kashmir and thousands of posh-houses were built during these years of turmoil. Interestingly, on the other hand, Pakistan had effectively presented the base of the Kashmir problem purely as a religious discourse and framed it as jihad (holy war) thereby motivating many foreign militants to join the Kashmir Jihadi cadres. Several foreign militants, who had just arrived from Afghanistan, where astonished to see such a large scale construction work going on in Kashmir. They were unable to understand the conundrum that if there is a warlike situation in Kashmir, as they had been told, why and how Kashmiris were constructing fancy houses. Smiling at a group of Kashmiri men, working at a construction site, a surprised Afghan militant uttered in pure Urdu lexicon “ye sub bardaab ho jaye ga, banake be koi faida nahe, Afghanistan ko nahe dekha, kuch be nahe raha”: ‘this all will get destroyed, nothing will be gained by constructing it, didn’t you see what happened in Afghanistan, nothing remained.’ Ironically, even after such warfare circumstances, the state of Jammu and Kashmir holds the second position among the list of most corrupted states of India.

In the mind nineties, there were around two dozen odd militant organisations, and people used to subscribe to any party on the basis of the ideologies they held. Nonetheless, shortly, the clash of powers between the different militant organizations, like the rivalry between the Bollywood mafias, started taking ugly turns. One group of the militants started raids and killing members of the other groups sometimes based on ideology and sometimes on personal animosity. Within this chaos, the event which directly involved and troubled the common masses was the fund raising by the militants under the pretext of sending more parties for armed training. Once trained, they would come and fight against the Indian forces and for the freedom struggle. I painfully recall the event when a poor lady of my village felt threatened and sold ten kilograms of rice to get some money to fund the militants. No one would dare to ask the armed militants where and how they used the amount collected from the people. Many people later noted that some of the aazadi seeking fund collectors have opened shops/stores in the neighbouring town with the money collected for training more militants.

The review the past atrocities, Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the militant organisation considered as the armed wing or offshoot of the Jamaat-e-Islami once called all the upper ground workers of Jamat, and asked for a list of the people who, after the assassination of the 9th Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in April 1979, were involved in the ransacking and looting of the Jamaat-e-Islami workers and leaders. The Hizb militants were in a mood to take the revenge from all the leadership involved in post-Bhutto ransacking in Kashmir. However, most of the Jamaat cadres unanimously objected to any such act and requested the militants that no such step should be taken for any past gaffe.

Moreover, in the year 1995, a group of HM militants who considered visiting shrines as anti-Islamic, fired at the annual Urs at the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Zain-ud-Din Wali (RA) at Aishmuqam Islamabad (Anantnag) and killed two people. This spread a wave of hatred for the group in the entire district as most of the people did not subscribe the HM notion of the Islam; and rather considered visiting the shrines of Sufi saints a sacred religious pilgrimage. The persuasion of Hizb was such that Hamza Dass, the singer at the Radio Kashmir Srinagar, could no longer sing. During the peak of militancy, he once fearfully uttered “when I look at my harmonium, which I cannot play anymore, I always cry. Some armed militants have threatened me to never play music, as it is haram ‘prohibited’ in Islam.”

The world’s largest democracy, the Indian State with centuries old civilisational values made remarkable history while dealing with Kashmir. The policy makers of the largest democracy mishandled Kashmir from the very beginning, the fact which was recently acknowledged by the diplomat turned politician and currently Rajya Sabha member, Mani Shankar Aiyar. The policy makers in Delhi who handled Kashmir, were exceptionally ignorant, non-visionary, and perhaps ill-advised. The way they approached the problem clearly indicates their trivial understanding of the ground realities in the troubled streets of Kashmir. Every decision they made about Kashmir proved fatal and counterproductive with unpardonable repercussions, the memories of which are frozen in the pages of history forever. When Kashmir was handed over to the security agencies, they tried many hit-and-trial methods using their own ‘counter-terror’ strategies against all Kashmiris, the price of which, New Delhi is still paying. Sometimes, a bullet fired by the militants on an army convoy was fatal for the entire people of nearby localities. The militants would run away, the armed forces would cordon the neighbouring villages, beat the inmates for no fault, and ransack and loot the household items. Every evening seemed to approach with a new horror. The children would felt threatened, cry and watch the fearful mayhem and the trouncing of their elders around them.

Each one of us in Kashmir has internalsed the memories of the traumatic incidents and we carry them consciously and unconsciously as a part of our lives with considerable impact on our present and perhaps future as well. Among the many harrowing events, I shall reveal at least two personal narratives, which might provide an understanding of tormenting events I and many more in Kashmir have experienced. I was born in a village called Hutmarah of the South Kashmir’s Anantnag district enroute the famous tourist resort, Pahalgam, and also on the way to the Amarnath shrine. Based on the following three equally good parameters, the village is also called as ‘Shanti Nagar.’ First, it did not witness any militancy related incident. Secondly, the peaceful coexistence of the three religious communities (the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims) together; and thirdly, it is the only place where the Hindus did not migrate and still live there peacefully. However, sadly, in the June 1995, ‘Shanti Nagar’ was turned into ‘Ashanti Nagar’ when the unit of the 9th Rashtriya Rifles then camped in the neighbouring village Seer, abducted our neighbour, an employee of the state irrigation department along with two other men. After five days of the abduction, in the ill-fated night of June 23, only a limb of our neighbour was found and the newspapers reported that he along with the other two adducted men have been butchered, their heads and limbs were separated from their bodies. A wave of discontent, fear and hate engulfed the entire district. Following this brutal episode, for the entire younger generation of our area, the Indian Army is perceived through what they did to our neighbour along with the two others. Later, the son of this murdered neighbour, who is now considered as representing our village among the list of martyrs, was also once arrested and threatened by the local police on some lame excuse. After his release, he once told me: “my father was innocent, he was murdered; I am not being allowed to live peacefully, do you think that I have any other option than to pick up arms” which he luckily did not do. This is the story and fate of many fathers and sons of Kashmir.

The second distressing incident I wish to narrate just happened in the July of 2001. I was travelling back in a local mini bus from Aishmaqum, a place a few kilometres ahead of Pahalgam. Very close to my home, the bus was intercepted by a group of army men [Rashtriya Rifles], and the passengers were forced to sit on the roof of the bus. I requested one of the army personnel to let me off the roof and simply walk home. He was furious and asked me to show my identity card, which he took away and ordered me to present myself at the Army camp to collect my identity card the next day. Knowing that visiting an army camp was inviting severe trouble, I did not dare to go. However, on the third day, a senior citizen accompanied me to the camp. The army man who had snatched my I-card was holding a machine gun in a shadowy banker and asked me to sit outside the banker, pointing his gun at me. After intimidating me with lectures about Kashmir being a war zone and that I should not behave like a krantikari, a revolutionary, he moved on to threatening me for my delay in visiting the camp; he candidly acknowledged that they (Army) were planning to raid my house that night to assassinate me. He concededly argued that he had a sophisticated camera and enough extra ammunition, an AK47, and grenades which he can put in my arms and frame me as a terrorist and no one will be there to save my life. This is just one of the many incidents which happened with us: some could save their lives and many could not. This and many such haunting stores are still occupying my mental space and I genuinely don’t understand how to deal with them. It is indeed paranoiac. Since then, every time I see an army man, I recall the nightmare, I fear the same treatment.

To me and many others, the image of the army that visited our village in the pre-militancy era changed because of many such brutal incidents that they executed with and around us for decades. Moreover, because of routinely experiencing such horrific incidents for decades, [perhaps] for all the Kashmiris, armed forces serving in Kashmir are not simply ‘security forces’ but a ‘symbol of fear, terror and injustice.’ A young school boy, once passing through an army camp asked me why they called these men in uniform security forces, when for us they were always more like (in)security forces. The creation of this sense of insecurity for the common masses by the men in uniform has many implicit and explicit raison d'être. For example, time we, as common people, passed through an army camp, it meant inviting trouble, forced labour, abuses, interrogation and harassment. Quite often, an army man would put his hand near my chest to see if my heart beats faster, which for them indicates fear that only a militant passing through an army camp can have. Something as simple as not calling an army man as ‘sir’ was sufficient to invite abuses followed by a thrashing.

Among the many such grave mistakes, in handling the Kashmir problem, most callous blunder New Delhi committed in handling Kashmir, was the formation of Ikhwan—the government sponsored counter insurgency group of surrendered militants in the yearv1994. This year was not only the worst span of the militancy era, but also a watershed in the political landscape of Kashmir. The Ikhwanis created a reign of terror throughout Kashmir and they became synonymous with terror. The government-backed group of gunmen apart from the selective killing of the hundreds of militant-sympathizers, relatives of militants, Jamaat-i-Islami activists and pro-Aazadi people, heedless of their social stature, indulged in ransacking, torture, forced labour, kidnapping and ransom. I have witnessed at least ten killings by this terror group. In May 1995, I went early in the morning to get the bread from a nearby baker. No sooner than I had crossed the road, I found a dead body in a pool of blood surrounded by stray dogs. It frightened me so dreadfully that I rushed back home and never again did I ever dare go to the bakery in the mornings. I later found out that the dead body was a poor labourer from the neighbouring village, who was murdered by the ikhwanis–the state sponsored terrorists. They were fully protected by the Army and the government, and used to roam around in broad daylight with loaded AK47 assault rifles. Apart from disturbing the ecology and environment by looting the forests of Kashmir, it is believed that they killed almost 655 basic members of Jamaat-i-Islami in southern Kashmir’s Islamabad and Kulgam districts alone. They not only ran a parallel government, but worked as the police, the court, the executers, builders, collected hafta from traders, and ‘sold’ government land. Hundreds more fled the area, making a new class of migrants. The Ikhwanis were madly conceited which made people apprehensive. People are unable to forget the atrocities and the crimes committed by the government sponsored ikhwanis, and hold the Indian State and the army equally responsible for their crimes, because they know it all was intentionally planned, purposely organised, motivated and executed with the evident knowledge and the facilitation from the state, the centre and the armed forces.

Surprisingly, New Delhi behaves as if it is ignorant about such incidents, and even if aware, it is always in a state of denial with routine rhetoric of jingoistic hyper-patriotism, and misleading grand narratives of ‘national security’, ‘atoot ang’, ‘Pakistan’, ‘terrorism’, etc., to wash its hands off of genuine discourses of the problem. Nevertheless, such discourses have changed the Kashmir-New Delhi equation and would probably never translate into any peaceful solution.

They have played a crucial role in widening the gap between the Kashmir and New Delhi and have changed Kashmiris’ perception of the words ‘India’ and ‘democracy’. People waited for justice; the guilty were saved; the wave of injustice has been treated as a routine affair by the centre. I assume that in a generation that has lived through such traumatic events in the 1990s, the memories are potent—and quite sufficient to provoke the Kashmiri populace to violent incidents such as ‘stone-pelting’ against the Indian security forces at a moment's notice. In this context, as I see it, the innumerable ‘stone-pelting’ events from 2008 and 2010, for instance, were not the sudden, ‘flash’ uprisings that they appeared to be but involved deep-rooted memories of the atrocities and terror of the 1990s.

Apart from creating thousands of half-widows, orphans, and physically disabled, the militancy era has produced thousands of heart and psychiatric patients in Kashmir. The situation of the militancy era in Kashmir was not better than what Joseph Conrad in his seminal novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ calls a deep horror! And we were indeed in the heart of deep darkness with anarchy. A wave of helplessness and fear washed over us with everlasting memories. For us, it was more important to save our lives than to stop the flood of war, terror, and chaos.

Post-Militancy Era:

Among the various outcomes of the militancy in Kashmir, one was that to save the lives of their children, many parents, who, because of their socio-economic conditions, otherwise, could not have managed send their children away from Kashmir, did so. This migration proved rewarding for many who not only saved their lives but also got an accidental opportunity to a good education. A distant relative of mine, who fled from his home to avoid any possible detention by the men in uniform, [after a militant had hidden a gun in his apple orchid, and was later impounded by army], returned with a MBBS degree from Russia. Unthinkable, but it happened!

No matter wherever and for whatever reason we travel, most of us constantly carry consciously or unconsciously with us a post-conflict anxiety and our discussions are dominated by haunting memories of horror which we have experienced in Kashmir. Many young Kashmiris still get anxious when they see men in army uniforms anywhere in India. Even many Kashmiris residing outside Kashmir reported that they were reluctant to talk freely over the phone, specifically back home to Kashmir. Our dreams are still dominated by the conflict ridden memories; I dream of crackdowns, identification parades, the army rushing to cordon our locality, cross-firing etc. Although decades have passed, hitherto, I am in a tizzy living in Delhi. Even today, if there is a bomb blast or any terror related incident in any corner of Delhi, my Kashmiri identity troubles me more than the person who might have executed that inhuman act.

This ‘being Kashmiri’ identity and the consequent trouble has many bases and concerns. One of the serious concerns is the misinformation of common Indian masses about the Kashmir issue. This unawareness has lead many Indians to speculate that sugar, salt, rice, gas and oil is highly subsidised [almost free] for Kashmiris as compared to people living in any other part of Indian. As a matter of fact, the common masses in India are acutely ignorant about the Kashmir problem and the sufferings of Kashmiris. A majority of the Indian population does not know about the historical and real narratives of the Kashmir problem except romanticising and equating it with two media-constructed contradictory lexical items “heaven on earth” and ‘aatankwaad’ or terrorism. Moreover, this doubtful assumption about Kashmiris for many Indian’s is sometimes based on the conceptualisation of Kashmir through Bollywood movies like Mission Kashmir and Roja, and the biased local print and electronic media. Therefore for me, and many of us, carrying the Kashmiri identity and travelling through different parts of India was complex in many ways.

The consequences of this identity assertion entail many facetious and serious narratives. For instance, a friend of mine from Delhi once jokingly told me: ‘aap Kashmiri log na dil se bharat bolte ho na zuban se bolte ho’ meaning “you Kashmiris neither speak the word bharat by heart nor by mouth” pointing to the aspirated sound [bʱ] which the native Kashmiri speakers cannot pronounce properly; instead Kashmiri speakers pronounce it as barat. Nonetheless, the issue of such an identity assertion is not always a joke but it is sometimes more intricate than we envisage. For instance, in September 2003, I boarded a train from Bangalore bound to New Delhi. After a day-long interaction, a sardarji in his mid sixties came to the compartment I was travelling in. I assumed that he came to say ‘goodnight,’ but he had a surprise for me, which hardly surprised me. After a tiny-smile, and handshake, he excitedly said “you must be happy.” When I asked the reason for my being happy, he replied with what seemed like sincere astonishment “don’t tell me you don’t know that Pakistan has won the match against India”. He further asserted: “Kashmiri ho, mai janta hoon tum Pakistan ko like karte ho” which meant that ‘you are a Kashmiri, and I know you like Pakistan.’ Because of my disinterest in cricket, I didn’t know of the match. I candidly replied: ‘well, I sincerely don’t care who wins, and how does it matter to me.’ Looking at the other co-passengers in the compartment, I simply couldn’t understand how to respond to him next, except with a couplet of Allama Iqbal which came to my mind–

Zahid-e-tang nazar ne mujhe kafir samjha!
Kafir yeh samjhta hai musalman hoon main!!

Translation: ‘To the narrow-minded Muslim I am an infidel or disbeliever! And the infidel thinks I am a Muslim.’

Similarly, in January 2010, a Kashmiri student in Delhi had an argument with his landlord over some issue. He cautioned the landlord about a possible complaint to the police; the landlord fearlessly argued that “before you could complaint to the police, I will inform them that you are a Kashmiri and a terrorist.”

To avoid any potential harassment by the security agencies, many Kashmiris do not wish to assert their Kashmir identity. In one of my 2008 research surveys, only 90% of the Kashmiris reported that they would never liked to be identified as a Kashmiri speaker outside Kashmir, mostly because many times travelling from the valley to other parts of India meant inviting trouble in many ways including harassment on trains and buses, and detention and ransom by the security agencies.

On a brighter note, whatever misinformation the Indian masses have about Kashmir and Kashmiris, one significant fact which almost all Kashmiris acknowledge candidly is that in any of the academic institutes of India, including top ranking institutes, none of the Kashmiri students were denied admission on the basis of his or her Kashmiri identity. Moreover, although ignorant about the Kashmir issue and the sufferings of Kashmiris, Indian masses never cease to be friendly with Kashmiris. Most Indian people are as congenial with Kashmiris as they are with other fellow Indians, the testimony of which is that most of the Kashmiris [even in Kashmiri dominated settings] have more non-Kashmri friends than Kashmiris.


This entire discourse on the problem of Kashmir and being Kashmiri should not be merely treated as a list of complains. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to bring back the past, but what is possible is justice, restoration of trust and an attempt not to repeat history to create another unforgettable and agonizing history. Sadly, for many Kashmiris (both Hindus and Muslims) the stigmatisation of the Kashmiri Hindu-Muslim dichotomy is seen and portrayed as much deeper than it is actually is. Many Kashmiri Hindus equate Kashmiri Muslims with ‘militants’ and many Kashmiri Muslims equate Kashmiri Hindus with ‘armed forces’ which is an absolutely false assumption and obvious propaganda. Both the communities have suffered irregrettably. The two communities must engage in dialogue, and let each other express themselves peacefully, with an aim to redress their grievances. These two communities are the main stakeholders of the Kashmir, and any probable resolution is only possible, when the two communities sort out their differences and have a common saying and proposal on Kashmir.

The gravest concern which New Delhi needs to understand is that the new generation of Kashmiri youth who have grown up in the shades of guns, are angry and genuinely pessimistic towards any justice system. We may consider it a consequence of the militancy or the ‘conflict’ in Kashmir, but apart from being politically conscious, the new generation is relatively fearless compared to their elder generation—the signs of which were seen in the years of 2008 and 2010, when, even after witnessing the deaths of the hundreds of their peers, they were still ready to engage in any battle with any of the armed forces and ready to die. Moreover, after the stone-pelting events in 2008 and 2010, followed by the deaths of hundreds of young men, and after the execution of Afzal Guru, there were speculations about the revival of the [neo]militancy in Kashmir. Recently, the present chief minister himself acknowledged the fact that many ‘young and educated’ people have picked up arms. The sense of alienation among the youth is deep rooted, and the killing of hundreds of protesting youth might slow down the protests, but its ramifications are precarious.

Secondly, there are serious concerns about the aftermath of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. With the impending pullout of US troops from Afghanistan, Kashmir is again becoming top priority for the entire militantship. According to recent reports from the media houses in the US and Pakistan, militant organisations are already creeping into Afghanistan to set up training camps to revive the Kashmir movement. This entire discourse could create a two-fold threat. One, the educated youth in Kashmir will get even more severely alienated; second, across the border in Afghanistan, the eyes are already on Kashmir. For New Delhi, this two-fold grouping would be unthinkable to handle. If Kashmir was again handed over to non-visionary and unaware policy makers, for whom the usual way out to handle any situation in Kashmir is to ‘send more troops’ it would prove fatal this time. Every bullet and every death in Kashmir will create more haunting memories for the next generation and it will repeat with more obliteration. It will strengthen the support for the Kashmir movement with its centres in Afghanistan, which is not healthy for the sustenance of a peaceful, powerful and shining India.

I conclude with few couplets from Jude Ogunade’s poem “Peaceful Prayers”:

Let there be peace in the world.
Let us all see peace and not war.
Peace, to you we plead: come to us.
Peace, we entreat you: deign on us.
Peace, we want you: envelope us.
Let there be peace, let peace never cease
Let there be peace, let war forever cease.

Dr. M Ashraf Bhat has pursued his doctorate from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and Post-doctorate from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi . He has been associated with the Central Institute of Indian Languages Mysore (Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India), Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of Indian, Indian Council of Social Science Research and the Indian Institute of Advanced Study Shmila , at various capacities. He is member of various international linguistic organisations including the Editorial Board Member of the American Journal of Linguistics, Asian Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, Third Front, member of the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA) Belgium . Previously he was teaching at the Department of English, Faculty of Humanities and Languages, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi . Presently, he is working as an Assistant Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Languages, Galgotias University , Greater Noida. He is member of several international organisations and has presented/published many research papers at various national and international platforms.



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