Kashmir – a valley that is known to refuge Heaven in the human land is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful creations of nature. The colossal mountains that envelop the valley in their embrace, the foggy dense clouds teasing through the wavy roads over the mountain peaks, the chill of the drizzle that kisses the ground, the snow that slither over the crest, the huge Pine that stand out mazy and the exotic flowers that bloom by, the plush green thriving hills, the waterfalls streaming down the trench of rocky plateau, the houses that gleam with the roof top painted bright Red, Purple, and Green, and importantly, Kashmiris wearing the woolen phiran with a bright warming smile on their beautiful faces – what a sight to be described are those! Here, a recreation of sheer Paradise comes alive.
While travelling to places, you will see and explore the colors and grandeur which would enchant your soul and make you wonder, how exciting it would be to spend a life so close to nature. Correction! In the best of nature’s clinch!
But wait! Just when you retract yourself from these beautified colors, you will realize that there’s the other side to this glistening land. The side that will stir a cord of agony in your veins and you’ll be taken aback with a harsh reminder of the horrendous past that had once hit the land, destroying the varied colors and turning it into a sole shade – Red! Even today, the color hasn’t faded away. It survives as a nightmare in the hearts of people in lieu of those cries, screams, and infinite loss of lives and blood that had flowed in abundance as if it was the most valueless bit ever on this earth.
Since my childhood, like many others, I had grown up learning the turmoil that had and that was stirring up in Kashmir, and I had always awaited this answer – What Kashmir really wants. But then, I had never got one.
That is when, I tried on my own to get an answer to the most awaited question. I had been to Kashmir this summer for my holidays, and while travelling to places, I would have a circuitry talk with the guide, or the horse wala, or the driver, or the dhabe wala or even the street vendor. I would but of course make sure that they are comfortable in talking about the turmoil and their wish to get freedom. At times, few people did get angry but then, their reaction was acceptable.
‘People are saying they want a different nation. We neither want India, nor Pakistan.’ The dhabe walla on the way to Srinagar from Pahalgam had said.
‘What do you want?’ I asked back.
‘I don’t know. If most people want that, it would be a good choice to go with.’ He said, nonchalantly.
In my next encounter, I met an old uncle who owned a factory outlet of woolens at Dal Lake. He was an absolute gentleman and taught me few of Kashmiri words which I had unfortunately forgotten now. I asked him about the militancy and the army rule as well.
‘None of them did well to this place.’ He said in his shaky voice, quite wanting to avoid the further remembrance. I didn’t push him further.
‘We want peace.’ He said with a smile, guessing the probable question that read on my face.
Next few people I conversed with where convinced by the fact that they want freedom – an independent nation. Whereas many others contested peace to be their right to freedom. Nothing more or less!
However, I was still in the dilemma like I have always been. What Kashmir really wants? I had failed to get an exact answer to it. I had gotten mixed of views, none of which came from an intellectually upright person.
Hence, I gave up. I didn’t think I would ever get a rational firm explanation to what I was seeking.
But then, at the last night of my stay in Kashmir, the answer had knocked at my door.
Later that night, my cousins and I were conversing over the last eight days spent there, while sitting over the couch in the living room of a rented House Boat in Dal Lake. Few moments later, we could hear the melodious strings of guitar that softly echoed the room. At first, we thought it to be some localite singing around, but just as the music grew melodious and the Hindi songs he sang turned more amazing, we could not resist our urge but to open the door and vent out to the lobby of the houseboat.
What we saw next was a guy in his mid twenties sitting over the lobby bench, wearing the woolen phiran, playing the guitar almost in the state of trance. I took my camera and began shooting the video as he sang beautifully. For a brief period, there were no words, just the music beneath the star studded sky in the middle of a vast Lake.
Just after completing the song he said, ‘I hope I didn’t disturb you people. I just felt like singing today. The weather is really beautiful tonight.’
He said those words in English. Okay, so he wasn’t a local entertainer as we thought him to be. We slapped our heads mentally.
‘We enjoyed it rather.’ One of my cousins spoke.
A casual conversation followed thereafter, and he introduced himself as the house boat owner and that justified his presence in the house boat in the middle of nowhere.
‘It would be so amazing to live in such a wonderful place. Isn’t it?’ One of us asked.
‘Umm. I don’t like this place anymore.’ He said, with a hitch in his voice. ‘I stay in Delhi and I run my business there. I have came back home after three long years. I just… don’t feel like returning here often.’
‘Why so?’ I asked.
‘You know about the turmoil that has left this land upturned. Right?’ He shot, ‘People have changed here ever since. They are no more that soft and lovable as they used to be once. They have turned defensive. And now, things have commercialized here. That heaven is lost somewhere.’
We nodded, understandingly. Who would have thought in the India of 1947 that the Division of a country into two, would destroy the land of Kashmir that hangs loose in the middle of both, and would also give birth to terrorism someday that would have its reason somewhere laid on this valley.
History says, when British rule ended over the 562 princely states, the British India was partitioned into Dominion of Pakistan and Union of India. According to the Indian Independence Act 1947, as the British suzerainty ended, the states were left to choose whether to join India or Pakistan or to remain independent. Jammu and Kashmir, the largest of the princely states, had a predominantly Muslim population, while having a minority of Hindu Pandit Population and a Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh. On partition, Pakistan expected Kashmir to be annexed to it. But however, that did not happen.
Thereafter, conflicting the situation, in the October of 1947 militant forces from western Kashmir and Pakistan tribesman entered Kashmir intending to eliminate the King’s rule. Unable to withstand the invasion, the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession on 25 October 1947 that was accepted by the government of India on 27 October 1947. Later as UN intervened, it was stated that a plebiscite to be held asking the citizens of the state about the Instrument of Accession that is to be supported towards India or Pakistan. But however, India and Pakistan failed to come at a point of truce as conditioned in order to hold a plebiscite. Thus, the voting never happened. And soon after, the Maharaja too was deceased. Since then, the voice of Kashmir lies unheard.
‘But you have grown up in this beautiful but turbulence hit land. How do you actually feel about it?’ I asked.
‘Well, actually it’s amazing to be living in a place which poets described as Jannat. They said, if there’s heaven on earth, it’s here… it’s here. But at the time I was born, our generation especially (1989-90) saw Hell. We never saw Kashmir as heaven.’ He said, ‘Imagine, at morning you leave your home and you don’t even know if you are going to be back, alive. It always felt unsafe. I remember, once my grandfather had said that the Kashmir we were seeing was not that as it was in the past. Before 1990, it was a different period. Hindus used to celebrate Eid with Muslims and Muslims used to celebrate Diwali with Hindus. In short, I feel suffocated when I imagine the happenings of these twenty four years of tehreek. I wish I was born when Kashmir was Jannat and not this hell.’
‘Can you tell me the glimpse of hell that you saw? If only you don’t mind.’
‘Hell! You would call a place to be hell when every now and then there are bomb blasts, encounters, cross firing, and so much more. The daily news that were so common here were – a seven year old kid killed in cross firing, oh a women has been shot dead, oh god four young lads are missing since days and family knows nothing, 53 woman of a village raped in a night. Innocent people killed in encounter, and so on!’ He said, frustrated. ‘As far as my own experience is concerned, I will tell you two events. Once, I was travelling in a bus from Lal Chok to my home that is at Dal Lake. In between there is a market called Dalgate. I had sat in the bus thinking to travel last till my home but then, something stroke me and I thought of getting down at the market. So I got down and hardly had I walked 30 steps that the bus blew up. I was shocked and scared. I could not move. I was in the bus just moments ago. I would have been dead by now had I not boarded off the bus. I was the lone survivor. Still, that incident gives me goose bumps.’
‘Shit! That would have scared the hell out of me.’ I said, tensed. ‘And what was the other?’
‘Of course. It did the same to me. The other time, I and my friend went to the nearby town to meet my girlfriend.
On way, the army stopped us and asked for our identity cards. Unfortunately, we had forgotten our cards at home because travelling was a sudden plan. I said that I don’t have it with me right now. And meanwhile, I had got a call from my home. The army man said – whose call is it? Is it your terrorist friend? And threw the phone away and started beating us black and blue. They took off all our clothes and found nothing. Yet, they kept us beating inhumanly for long span of minutes. We would have been beaten to death if few ladies from the village hadn’t come to our rescue saying we were innocent Kashmiris and not terrorists and that they knew us. I could not even stand on my feet for next so many days. So that way, once I was going to be the victim of militancy and another time the victim of military. Tell me, where do we go? Where do we feel safe? Where does our existence lie? Nowhere!’
‘Don’t think I am taking the side of army here, but I want to ask you one thing.’ I said, ‘It is said that the infiltration was so dense in the land that it was next to impossible to differentiate an innocent Kashmiri or a terrorist. Then how military was supposed to know who were genuine and who were not?’
‘Girl, it’s easy to differentiate a Kashmiri, a Pakistani, and an Afghani. I agree on the infiltration thing but there should have been a rational approach to deal with it. The haphazard flow of blood and loss of lives had just made people of Kashmir sour against the Indian military. They made us feel that all they care about is the piece of land and not the Kashmiris. Now that the military forces are less on the streets of Kashmir, we feel better. Safe.’
‘Tell me one thing.’ I said, wrapping the shawl around me. It was freezing. ‘You told me that your grandfather said about the peaceful era before 1990. So you think the militancy had a big role in turning the situations worse?’
‘Yes, it was amazing before 1990. But I would say both, militants and military played a vital role in turning this place hell. You cannot blame any single group.’
‘But things started worsening and army turned harsh and came into vigorous effect after the militants started cleansing the state in the name of religion by massacring the Kashmiri Pandits.’ I continued, ‘They were not only killed but the cruelty with which they were killed. Like, burning cigarettes were applied to their naked bodies. Nails were driven into their foreheads. Their eye balls gauged out and tongues were chopped off. Male genitals were cut off. Women were ripped into two equal parts on a wood slicing machine. Gang rapes recorded in hundreds. Thousands of Pandits were massacred this way. So don’t you think this way of militancy to cleanse the state was absolutely wrong? Inhuman?’
‘Yes. It was horrific. Those were militants from Pakistan. No Kashmiri wanted Pandits to leave. Nor they harmed them. The governor then, Mr. Jagmohan had told them to leave and return when it was safe.’ He replied.
‘Militants from Pakistan!’ I repeated, ‘It’s said that they brain washed and misled the innocent people in the name of Jihad. They also created hoax against India so that people of Kashmir hate India. Isn’t that true?’
‘Yes, they started brainwashing Kashmiri youth and started militant camps in Kashmir forests. They would train people there, physically and mentally. They would pick even a small kid of seven from home and then brain wash in the name of religion. Small kids were made human bombs. They were told if you do it in the name of religion and kill kafir, you will go to heaven.’ He sighed, ‘I can’t even explain how hard it was when I saw a kid turning Jihadi. He blew himself up in a military camp and killed at least nine soldiers and died himself.’
‘Kids, the most innocent souls… hard to believe that they can be used this way.’ I said, softly.
‘That it is. Something of this kind had happened with me too.’ He retracted.
‘I was hardly six or seven. Few people came into our House Boat and gave a flag of Pakistan. They told us to stage the flag over the House Boat. Then, my neighbor uncle (we later knew he was a true Jihadi) gave me a flag and told me to walk on the streets while shouting Pakistan Zindabaad. For me that was like a game. It was exciting. I didn’t know what I was doing. And I did exactly the same as he asked me in return of chocolates he used to give me. His name was Hilal, army shot him in the head. One day neighboring people said, Hilal’s dead and his brain is lying on the ground. No one went around that place for days. After few days, out of curiosity I walked up to that lane and literary saw a brain decaying on the ground. I managed to pick it up and buried it by the road side.’ He completed.
I imagined a kid being convinced and used in order to fulfill not so great intentions. An innocent soul misguided, convinced, used. (The childhood picture I managed to get from this story teller’s Face Book account. -> )
‘Gosh. You have experienced quite lot things!’ I said.
‘Hmm! Sometimes we are brain washed and misled in life, some other time we are killed with a trial and error approach. That’s how our life is!’ He laughed, sarcastically. It was an agonized laugh.
‘Trial and error! It doesn’t sound good to be related with humanity.’ I shot.
‘Humanity was a rare commodity here.’ He replied, ‘Have you heard about Papa II?’
‘It was the most horrendous torture chamber of the country. There were hundreds of missing Kashmiri people who were found nowhere. Few of the bodies were found later, with missing limbs, tortured body. In the lieu of finding the terrorists, anyone would be picked up by army and investigated and tortured and killed, even if found nothing about them being a terrorist. So it was like a trial and error, you see.’
‘Hmm.’ I sighed, ‘So in short militancy and military both ruined Kashmir in a way and are responsible for what condition Kashmir is in today.’
‘Yes.’ He said, slyly.
‘At the core… the issue lies in religion.’ I said, ‘It’s ironical how a national issue related to the landscape of a state turned into a religious issue.’
‘Well, as far as the religious issues are concerned, you must be knowing that during the yatras, people who help Hindus whether it is for House Boat, Pony wala, etc most of the times are Muslims. We are never against it. Frankly, it is all politics. Ask me, do I believe in this division of Hindu and Muslim? No I don’t. I go to Gurudwara, I used to go to Siddhivinayak every Tuesday while I was in Mumbai, and I used to go to Haji Ali too. My most of the friends are non Muslims.’
‘Today’s youth understand what is happening in the country in the name of religion.’ He said, ‘They are educated plus intelligent. But there are few political leaders having such influence that they have kept their puppets in several cities, so that whenever they want, they can start a protest. To be true, I think this issue will never be solved because Kashmir is like a hen who lays golden eggs. One day, there will be peace, par kab ye sab khatam hoga… pata nahi.’
I smiled and asked, ‘Tell me, what Kashmir really wants?’
‘Peace. We Kashmiris want peace. Saying that we want a different nation or we want to go to Pakistan is simply bullshit. We just hate Pakistan because we know what all has happened due to them. Pakistan and Afghanis looted us. Pardon for saying this, but they fucked Kashmir. All we want is Shanti. We also know that being with India, Kashmir has developed a lot, so no question of going with Pakistan.’
‘And we are not terrorists; we are rather victims of it. So we want people to stop treating us as one.’ He continued, ‘Freedom what we demand is – we should have the right to live freely in our own very land. No one from Punjab, or Bengal, or Gujarat, should ask a Kashmiri for an identity card in its own land. That what freedom is for us. We want right to live peacefully in our own land. That’s it.’
‘I hope, the coming generations see a better world. And the youth today unites free from religious bondages and stand against what divides us – politics, and not religion.’
‘I hope the same.’ He said, and began packing his guitar in its case.
‘It’s nearing three in the morning. We’ll better get to sleep.’ I smiled and stood up.
‘Goodnight.’ He smiled back.
‘Hey wait,’ I jerked my head. ‘You told me so much about your life. You forgot to tell me your name.’
‘Woh mere naseeb ki baarish kisi aur chat par baras gai,
dil e bai khabar meri baat sun zara,
use bhool ja, woh jo mil gai usey yaad rakh,
jo nahi mila, usey bhool jaa…
Saahil Aijaz kehte hai hume, jinaab.’
I smiled in return and left for my room. That night, I felt there are so many stories untold, unheard. One of it is about this land. No one knows what’s store in the fate of this valley but now at least I know what it feels and what it wants. A freedom that lies in its deepest alley…
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