Let Kashmir be Kashmiris

Within a week of my return from Srinagar, where I spent the better part of my summer holidays, the state I completely fell in love with, burnt up in flames of violence, protests, cries and pain! When I had met my friends distributing all the souvenirs I had brought for them, I described Jammu and Kashmir. Talking about Kashmir’s beauty, Jammu’s peace and the innocence and hospitability of its people. How their young listened to Bollywood songs on radio driving late into the night, how they followed IPL as intently as us, how women and children could freely walk around Dal lake at midnight (something that is unimaginable in Delhi). I even went to the extent of saying all they needed were Malls to be just like us!!

But one hasty decision and add to it late reactions from the Centre turned the state into a boiling point. The issue- transfer of land use rights for 39.88 hectares of forest land to Shree Amarnath Shrine Board sparked off differences between Jammu and Kashmir and started a fire!

Had I imagined the pride, the happiness, the look of peace on peoples faces when I was there? It all seemed a distant past or rather something I had “seen” because it was what I wanted to see. Because it made things so much simpler ! The images of fury, violent demonstrations made my trip, my chats with the locals, our jokes with our guides our long drive conversations with our hotel manager about J&K, about peace and good times seem so futile, almost dishonest, like a transparent veil which hides yet shows. Many Kashmiris truly believe that the defiant march to Muzaffarbad , to the LOC is going to serve as a landmark in the states history. Once again, after a break of 13 years, the ‘azadi’ slogans were ringing through the valley. Television screens and newspaper headlines screaming out Kashmir’s peoples cries of azadi, of people waving Pakistani flags was nothing less than a slap on my face, on my country’s face. But this time instead of feeling raging possessiveness or the easy hatred for Pakistan , I felt betrayed of what I had felt in the state, of my experiences there. I felt let down by my fellow brethren in Kashmir. The fact that an incident that should ideally be considered an internal matter between the country and the state could so easily be converted to cries of freedom made me question myself. Are these people really my fellow brethrens? Was what I saw really happiness and national pride?

People call my generation the ‘Rang de Basanti’ generation, one which believes in the gun. But however popular Churchill may have been, his words-‘War is the ultimate way to peace’ doesn’t go to well with me. We have fought wars, suffered attacks every month, lost men, women, children, land, money and stacks of paper to the so called talks and discussions. Many of my friends would argue Kashmir is ours& there is no doubt about it, so damn Pakistan. But is Kashmir really ours? Kashmir is Kashmiris and are they really a part of us? Do they want to be? Recent photographs and situations seem to contradict this. People of Kashmir should be the first priority. They should get to decide where their future lies. Pakistan and India are not the issue, Kashmir is. And as uncomfortable as it makes many, this time Pakistan had nothing to do with this. The trouble is this time the ISI didn’t start the fire.

So this time we need to look deeper and introspect. Should we continue to make this an ego hassle? Should we let politics- old brains in parliament with same rotten ideas, bruised egos continue to do as they have been doing?

So what does India have to lose? Apart from a reduction in its size in million hectares, and a change in its shape, I would say very little.

Jammu-Kashmir is the only state with a separate constitution. Any non-kashmiri Indian is not allowed to own land in Kashmir. For many years it has been a fragile state. It also has enjoyed many concessions, subsidies, special treatment. Like Vir Sanghvi said- “ Every Kashmiri might be an Indian, but every Indian is not a Kashmiri”. Kashmir has very little agriculture. In terms of GDP, it has very little to offer to India. On the other hand think about the lives, the money we would be saving. Expenditure on arms, defense would be significantly reduced. Lives of both would be saved. Let them decide. Do they want to go with Pakistan whose own future is undecided or do they want to complete independence in which case lets give them a chance to prove themselves( with little or no agriculture and industry). A week’s blockade showed the extent to which Kashmirs economy is dependent on India. True, Pakistan may inch closer, but this time they wouldn’t have an excuse. And I have enough confidence in my country’s army(with a large military base in Udhampur). Also hopefully much of the angst of the Kashmiri freedom fighters (or terrorists for India) would be solved. As far as its beauty is concerned, India is a country with 3.28 million sq kilometers. There is no lack of beautiful places. The argument of tourism too, is of no relevance as Kashmir contributes very little to India’s overall Tourism Revenue( with it being closed for most of the time). How many of us have even been there? I know as a county we really can’t be proud of what we have done for the state, but whatever “little” we have done, what have we got in return?

Its time we thought of Kashmir as Kashmir, a land of ‘its people’.. Its time we defined who its people are. Its time India grew, not only in numbers demographically and economically, but it is time it matures politically and socially. Its time India acknowledged Kashmir and its people.Its time we let Kashmir be Kashmiri’s.

Shruti Choudhary

[Image source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/mbukhari/2788953194/]