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'We cannot afford to have another exchange of people'

Kashmir has become a boring subject because it is the same story day after day: hartals, stone-pelting, police firings, a few killed... It's no longer front-page news in any paper. Recently a few new items attracted media attention. Khushwant Singh writes.

columns Updated: May 21, 2011 16:56 IST
Khushwant Singh

Kashmir has become a boring subject because it is the same story day after day: hartals, stone-pelting, police firings, a few killed... It's no longer front-page news in any paper. Recently a few new items attracted media attention. The first was Arundhati Roy's unprovoked statement that Kashmir was never a part of India. It was promptly followed by a well-planned protest outside her home by the ladies-wing of the BJP with TV cameramen on the ready for the show. The other was about the government-appointed interlocutors' visit to Sringar and neighbouring towns to enlighten us of what is going on and make suggestions about how to improve matters.

Everyone will agree that Arundhati Roy had every right to say what she wanted without anyone questioning her right to freedom of speech. However, she should have specified that she was only referring to the Valley of the Jhelum and not the whole of Kashmir. I have yet to hear a Kashmiri Muslim describe himself as an Indian. It is always, 'I am Kashmiri'. People often forget that Kashmir is not one, but three zones divided by race, religion, language and perception of the future. While the Valley is over 90 per cent Muslim and Kashmiri-speaking, Jammu is majority Hindu, speaking Hindustani, and Ladakh is majority Buddhists with a language of their own. Jammu and Ladakh consider themselves as an integral part of India and want no change. The problem is confined to the Valley where the people demand 'special status' as was promised in 1947 when the State under Sheikh Abdullah acceded to secular India led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru rather than to Islamic Pakistan led by Jinnah. That undertaking remains unfulfilled by India. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is right in holding that Kashmir acceded to India in 1947 and not merged in it. Let him now spell out in detail what he wants to fulfil the promise Nehru made to his grandfather. I, for one, have complete faith in Omar's ability and
integrity.

I believe that Kashmiris have no option but to stay with India. The Jhelum Valley is too small and land-locked to be independent. It is dependant on India for its livelihood. Most of the tourists who holiday there are Indians. It sells its fruit, saffron to India. So also its handicrafts like shawls, papier mache products. Thousands of Kashmiris live in India and have emporiums to market their produce. Kashmiris have to ensure that no Hindus or Sikhs are compelled to leave the Valley as the Pandits have been. We cannot afford to have another exchange of population as we had in 1947. That would be disastrous.

Interlocutors! Who are they and what do they mean to do? The dictionary says they are persons who take part in a dialogue. The trio are certainly an able lot and will give us a readable report: but to what purpose? To me they appear as a ploy created by our home minister to create an impression that he is trying to resolve the Kashmir problem. It is an eye-wash.

On Sedition
Freedom comes with restraint
So we angrily paint
Free speech without our permission
As heinous sedition
In Srinagar, the separatists say
Whatever they may
But in Delhi, if they utter a word
Which has been so often heard
And never been found absurd,
It is fit case for sedition
Because it can break the nation
It is indeed a tribute to our democracy
That it finds it so risky
To tolerate dissent,
Motivated or well-meant,
Because like a cream cake
Which can so easily break
The unity of the country is at stake.
(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Falsetto
Santa was very proud of his voice and loved singing. On Diwali night he invited his friends for drinking and to hear him sing. When everyone was in the mood, he stood up to sing the latest hit from Bollyood. As he struck a high note, his upper denture fell out. He put it back in his mouth. When he struck a low note, his lower denture fell out. He put it back. While he was thinking how to strike the right note, one of his friends shouted: "O Santia, will you sing something or just keep changing casettes?"
(Contributed by Harjeet Charanjit Singh, New Delhi)

The views expressed are personal