Are we ready to let Kashmir be?

A day before the Government of India meets in Delhi to forge a J&K strategy, an exclusive nationwide survey of how young Indians view 'the problem'.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2010 01:45 IST
Hindustan Times

I am a child of the 80s. As if the horror of growing up with puffy hair, polka dots, padded shoulders, punk rock, Wham!, Madonna, Mithun-da and Bappi Lahiri was not enough, I had to deal with the additional burden of being a Kashmiri. 6 questions, many answers

But what does that even mean? 'Let Us Understand,' as my NCERT maths textbook used to say.

We call ourselves Kashmiris because we can't say 'Jammu and Kashmiris' without sounding silly. Also, we speak Kashmiri. So that's our identity.

I am now 28. Even today, each time I have to fill a form asking for my 'nationality', I hesitate before eventually writing 'Indian'. That's about 20 years of hesitating over the same point, because yes, even at 8, I knew something was rotten in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

No one in Kashmir drills their children with 'Azaadi' mantras and anti-establishment behaviour. Somewhere between infancy and childhood, I had picked up unwittingly on what most of my family and people felt. Just like that it was part of me.

I am from the Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir. Growing up I constantly felt the strong anti-India sentiment running throughout the region. India was personified in its heartless governance and its troops — far too many in civilian areas and in our daily lives for us to understand. I began to notice how my people were treated by the 'outsiders', the men in uniform, the army/CRPF/BSF/what-have-you. I saw family members, men especially, being picked on all the time. Women being subject to very unwelcome attention that we didn't like. There was a dark, dark period of disappearances, crackdowns, curfews, torture, deaths and misery.

In these years I also saw the havoc wreaked by violent militants, mostly non-Kashmiris, whose scare tactics terrified naïve villagers (already bullied by troops) across the region. My house was burned down, relatives killed by these bearded mercenaries desecrating Islam and undermining the Kashmiri struggle in one blow.

And the Kashmiri Pandit exodus — what a shameful tragedy. India and Pakistan played a huge, unforgivable part in this horrific episode as did those Kashmiris (Muslims and Pandits) who supported communalising the movement, either actively or under threat or coercion. All in all, it was a miserable time. Simultaneous with the misery though, there was a building anger. And I am a net result of that generation of anger.

I was born and brought up in Dubai. We had a lot of family there as well as other Kashmiris, so it was a very typical Kashmiri upbringing. After Kashmir and Dubai, I have spent a major part of my life in Bangalore, studying, working, growing up and becoming the person I am today. My friends are all Indians, some from army families. They all respect that I have a different opinion from theirs.

And where do I stand? I love India for its amazing history, culture, languages, geographies, colours, festivals, music, movies and even its accents — but this is the lovable face of India that it shows to its own people, not the India we see in Kashmir. No one respects India's freedom movement more than Kashmiris. What irks us is that while your Bhagat Singh is a 'shaheed' (martyr), while Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is a fierce nationalist, Kashmiris are to be typecast as violent troublemakers and written off for the same ideals and aspiration.

Here's the thing: I don't think of myself as an Indian. Or a Pakistani. It's as simple as that. You can't make me feel Indian. Pakistan can't make me feel Pakistani. It's what we call the bottom line — most Kashmiris really believe we are not part of either India or Pakistan. That is what the 'freedom movement' in Kashmir is all about. Everyone has heard stories of how Indian tourists in Kashmir are often asked by the locals, "Aap Hindustan se hain?" ("You from India?") Not in anger or anything, just a simple question, like they may ask foreign tourists, "Aap England se hain?" ("Are you from England?")

Unlike the previous generation which took to guns, which fell for the easiest trick in the book — religious divide — this generation is different. We are educated, we have seen more, read more and certainly learnt from the blunders of the past.

The Kashmiri Muslim-Kashmiri Pandit animosity has to end. India has to pull out its troops and do away with AFSPA, DAA and other exploitative laws. The security forces have to be made accountable for the scale of human tragedy they have unleashed in J&K for all these years.

As to the Pakistan angle, my knowledge of Pakistan is merely bookish, with the exception of what I know of it from Pakistani friends growing up, or watching PTV and their excellent telly dramas. I have never been to Pakistan though I'd love to visit. I love their cricket team, which, looking at their form today is laughable. But really, that's about it. That's the extent of our attachment to Pakistan.

One last point: The only place most Kashmiris can naturally come out to for studying or working is mainland India. So please don't make us justify that if we are so against India why do we come here. It's the same as asking me why I have an Indian passport. If there was an alternative I would probably take it. There isn't.

Let it be understood that Kashmir's anti-India stance is not an automatic alignment with Pakistan. Please don't broadside the Kashmiri movement by throwing the accusation, "Pakistani!" in our faces. We do not accept it. A few might, but a few don't matter. And majority wins. This is where a referendum comes in. Give us our plebiscite, the one we were promised under the ruling of the United Nations. It's got something to do with the idea of 'democracy', an idea Indians are very proud of. Self-determination is what we want. Then let the chips fall where they may.

Sabbah Haji is based in Doda City and works with schools in Jammu and Kashmir. This is her idea of what it is to be a young Kashmiri.

First Published: Sep 11, 2010 22:37 IST