I had just moved to Kashmir to work as a teacher when I watched on August 5, 2019, in disbelief as my country tore apart the pretence of being a democracy. My disbelief had only one outlet ‒ this letter. A letter that couldn’t be sent anywhere because the government had imposed a communication crackdown. A year has passed and it remains eerily silent in Kashmir, while loud celebrations occur in a country I used to be proud to call my own.
For a year now, I have watched friends, colleagues and students face Herculean obstacles to just live their life. Booking tickets for a trip home, staying in touch with friends, getting money from the ATM, online registration for board exams ‒ mundane tasks made unreasonably hard by a country that claims it’s creating a “Naya Kashmir”. After a year of watching voices being silenced and their dignity being stolen, even disbelief is inaccessible and this apology is still all I have.
An open letter to Kashmiris
Written on August 6, 2019
I am sorry. I am sorry for us. I am sorry we have never once treated you with honour. I am sorry that for 70 years we have acted like the land you live in is more valuable than you. I am sorry we willfully pretend that the land you belonged to, belonged to us. This pretence entitled us to enact cruel policy after policy that in no way made you equal citizens. Policies intended to water down our original agreement that have also made your life miserable. The icing on the this morally, democratically, legally bankrupt cake was the continual betrayal of any trust we had earned.
Yesterday was the worst. I am sorry we became your colonisers, redrawing your borders without your opinion, let alone your consent and then we shamelessly call you our ‘brothers and sisters’. I am sorry that on a day that felt like a living nightmare, the only adjective news channels could use was ‘historical’. I am sorry you sat an hour, five hours, an entire timezone away from your home and turned on the news to find scraps of information, only to see grotesque celebrations in cities that would never have been treated the same way your cities are.
Cities and citizens that would never have to deal with decades of silencing, years of abuse, weeks of ominous hints and rumours about their upcoming fate. Places and people that would be allowed to protest the altering of their boundaries and the move to relegate their state to a Union Territory. Wait, these protests sound unimaginable because of course, we would never dare to take away the statehood of any other people without at least asking their elected oﬃcials. But you, of course, are in lockdown, because letting you speak, to us or to each other, would take away the power from us ‒ your ventriloquists. We who know exactly what you need without ever listening to you.
I am sorry that politician after politician, pundit after pundit is asking you to stay calm. Calm! What does that even mean when nothing about your lives has been remotely calm ever! I am sorry about the hypocrisy of calling for calm when your anger, fear and terror are the only emotions our actions should evoke. I am sorry that your home is full to the brim and overflowing with soldiers. I am sorry that the same uniforms that have always created in me a sense of safety and even family to you have meant not the opposite but so much worse. ID checks, brutality, indignity, on the best days and on the worst… words I find hard to type. Because I have never experienced brutality that bad even secondhand.
I am sorry that my friends, family and I have turned a blind eye to your daily humiliation that paved the way for this ultimate humiliation. I am sorry that my friends and family that are paying attention now are only doing so because I am here. I am sorry we have become so self-involved and distracted (I know there are lynchings, church burnings, a sinking economy and being labelled anti-national to worry about) that we can’t see through the narrative of painting you as helpless victims that need the dictatorial all-knowing superhero. I am sorry I was so naive. I am sorry I thought researching narratives portraying the Kashmiri territory as integral to the Indian identity would make a diﬀerence. I am sorry that this emotion-ridden apology is all I have.
Belinda Peter is a conflict resolution researcher focusing on Kashmir. Her latest research focused on the role of the audience in intractable conflicts. Currently, she teaches in Jammu and Kashmir.