Considering an annual vacation in Kashmir is like proclaiming, ‘We are a brave family’.
In the last twenty years, this cultural milieu has become a battleground for power and religion. The tremors were felt even in 1947, but it was the terrorism of the 80’s which heightened the religious and political differences. The locals fled, and this sanctuary was left empty. As a consequence, tourism declined. And the state has since collapsed.
In the last five years, peace has been reinstated, but Pakistan and more recently the Taliban are potent threats. With random militant attacks, rallies and bandhs of the past years, Kashmir is now a web of army dominance. Although protected from the outside, this valley is still under threat.
It is a land so pure, it has been the nation’s haven for the last century- a place where happiness and natural beauty have always been seen and appreciated. But today, it is regarded as a land so lethal, that its impact can destroy the complete South East Asia.
Having never visited Kashmir before, a short holiday of seven days was able to fill the gaps, doubts, and misgivings of my eighteen years. This is the same land that had a hundred years ago suffered the King’s selfish wrath, and is now driven by poverty…
For the past twenty years’, people have left, abandoned and run away from a land which was their home, but later became a source of hurt and death. Families have lost men and women alike to rape, murder, and a terror attack which has lasted long enough. Terrorism is a word hated most by the Kashmiris’- For they are the ones who have faced its consequences maximum.
On meeting a Kashmiri local, you don’t hear the ever-flowing rivers or smell the multi colored roses, instead, you see in their eyes a hunger for acceptance. It is their voices which hurt as much as the piercing cries of a hungry infant. Except they are urging change, peace, and secularism. Their silent screams seem to echo a plea.
As you walk down the town streets, you are consistently watched – By the gunned army personnel, their fast weapons, their grim expressions, and their piercing eyes which seem to explore your intentions and motive. But it is the locals who seem to appreciate your visit the most. They seem to love you loving their beautiful city. For them, it is the greatest gift. As it is not only a feeling of being normal and accepted but a bright sign of future prosperity.
With gunmen lining the roads, the atmosphere is secure, and Srinagar is a compelling place. From the serene Dal, to the huge mountains, Srinagar is a treasure of wealth and surprise.
As of now, sitting in a comfortable home in New Delhi, it’s only the 9’o’ clock news and a few debased Kashmiri neighbours that connect me and Kashmir. The news describes it as a world within itself- and it can easily be compared to a high end drama- with all the turmoil of the innocents and their emotions and suffering. So much so that even the daily newsbreaks are said with a disgusted tone implying corruption, destruction and backwardness. Believe me, Kashmir comes across as a broken and unstable state.
Today, as I sit down to see the evening news, an ad plays. Sponsored by the J&K Govt., it captures film stars speaking of Kashmir, its beauty, richness and security. Ironic as it may seem, some of the very same film stars admit to never having even visited the place.
This kind of promotion reflects that public image is important for person, place and event. And Kashmir is in desperate need of a makeover.
An immediate turnaround is required, for we don’t need the media to undermine this state, instead we need it to give it the final push to uninhibited and complete freedom. For all the dirt that has been thrown at it, Kashmir requires that amount of gratitude. It is seen only as a web of terrorism, where as the truth is far from this fact. Once you are here, nothing seems prettier, or more peaceful.
Enjoying a peaceful ride in the Dal on the last day of the vacation, our shikara waala mournfully exclaimed, “pichhle bees saalon se toh kudrat bhi khaffa hai, Kashmir ne apni khoobsurati khoon aur aatankwad ko kho di.” But he is easily delighted too, as we promise to return the next year, and bring with us our family and friends. Those innocent eyes immediately light up.
On this note, I would like plea to all, young and old, to recognize their own wealth, and give Kashmir and its natives (our fellow citizens) a chance. A chance to prove their worth, and to forgive them for a crime they never committed. Kashmir is the ‘Switzerland’ of my world and I can proudly say that I considered myself as safe walking the streets of Srinagar as that of Delhi.
Image Source: [http://www.france24.com/en/files/imagecache/france24_ct_player_thumbnail/article/image/Kashmir-India-Pakistan-EN.jpg]