I was born in Kashmir, and in the last two weeks I have watched the land of my birth suffer in pain.
The Valley withstood it in silence, until Saturday, when the first land lines were restored. Everywhere, I saw photographs and opinion pieces about my birthplace. For the real news I joined the dots from whatever bits I found, and a fuller picture emerged.
Empty roads, lanes, pathways. Closed shops, closed businesses, minds numb with fear and waiting. This is not the first time in history that people have been held hostage in their own land. When it happened to others, we protested but with the false comfort that it was happening elsewhere. But now it has happened right here – in my homeland, to my people.
My father was invited to Kashmir by Maharaja Hari Singh as Director of Education in 1937. He was urged by none other than former president Zakir Husain to accept the offer. It was not an easy decision for my parents who were happily settled in Aligarh where he was Dean of Education at Aligarh Muslim University.
For the next seven years my family lived in Srinagar. I have photographs of him riding on horseback, visiting schools in remote areas with dirt tracks for roads. His autobiography has more about these seven years than the 40 years of his career as an educationist.
What Kashmir meant to him and vice versa became evident to me three years ago when I visited Pulwama to inaugurate the new building of Dolphin School, an excellent educational institution for children of this most targeted area. Almost 50 years after father’s death, they praised me for the work he did in the most backward and the remotest parts of the Valley. This is my bond of love with Kashmir.
The history of Article 370 and Article 35A has been explained by many experts on visual and print media; there is no point in discussing it here. For me what matters most is the suffering, both physical and mental, of my beloved friends and family.
‘Kashmir Caged’, the citizen’s report which I have just finished reading, was written by four people who spent five days in the most militarised region of the world. This small band of brave people kept moving from house to house, gully to gully, asking questions, avoiding security, keeping peoples’ confidence, and daring to speak the truth to the world.
“When Nitish Kumar imposed prohibition, he did not ask the alcoholics. The situation is the same here.”
These were words spoken to the group by Ashwini Kumar Chrungo, BJP spokesman from Jammu. In the same vein were lines written by a former foreign secretary, referring to a Kashmiri girl who said, “In terms of economic development, Kashmir is in the Stone Age.”
How little politicians and officials in high places understand Kashmir, and how contemptuous they are of Kashmiris. Their refinement in arts, literature, crafts, and cuisine is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Empirical data proves Kashmir is way above most Indian states in all development indicators. Economists have been presenting these statistics in many public forums.
Pellet injuries, wounds, hospitalisation, women giving birth in hostile spaces en route to a hospital. As many as 10,000 women and men protesting in Soura on August 9, scores of victims of pellet injuries in hospital, hundreds of political leaders and civil activists under arrest. And the sharpest cut – hundreds of boys and teens picked up without warrant.
Parents terrified of telling their names for fear that their beloved sons will become one of thousands of ‘disappeared’. Terrified that the army would deny, the state would condone and their child will be dumped in one of the mass graves.
In a word Kashmir is silent; ‘Bandook ki khamoshi’ ‘Qabristan ki khamoshi’ says the report. Girls in Nagbal told the team, “How can we celebrate Eid? Our brothers are in police custody.”
There is a rule; whatever their needs people can only stay out for half an hour. So it is a hysterical countdown after the 29th minute. Then there was the taxi driver who was out to buy an inhaler for his father. He was hauled up by a security man, his inhaler snatched and stamped upon. “Their hatred for us came out of the boot which crushed the inhaler,” the cab driver said.
“Parties which batted for the Indian state, look at them, they are being humiliated now,” said one man.
“Article 35A means land will be sold cheap to Adani and Patanjali.”
“Congress ne hamari peeth mein chhura bhonka, inhone samne se.”
“If they have broken 370, our relationship is broken. Leave us alone.”
A voice rose on dark film. “I am a Kashmiri Pandit. Where is my Kashmiriyat? We used to celebrate all our festivals together. Eid, Diwali, Holi.” In the background was a chorus. “We want freedom. Article 370 wapas karo.”
Kashmir is smouldering. Conditions have never been samanya as claimed by all news media. Lies have been spoken unabashedly. ‘Normalcy’ is a word that needs to be expunged, because the anger is simmering below the surface.
To me these lines of an unknown poet say it all.
Barf girti hai barf girne do Let the snows fall
Barf girne do rehguzaron par Let it fall on boulevards
Barf girne do kohsaron par Let it fall on mountains
Aag Kashmir ke chinaron ki Fires of Kashmir’s chinars
Hai ameen atisheen baharon ki Are witness to the smouldering springs
Barf isko daba nahin sakti Snow cannot cover it
Jo lagi hai bujha nahin sakti Snow cannot extinguish it
Phir ye grami jumood tode gi This heat will melt the stillness
Saare mahaul ko jhinjhorey gi It will convulse the mahaul
Barf girti hai barf girne do Let snows fall