Hurt and Longing in Kashmir

Written by Young Indian Visitor | Published on: July 13, 2019
Snow-capped mountains, lush green forests and majestic waterfalls – Kashmir is rightly called “heaven on earth”. People walking around in their pherans, greeting each other and smiling – it all seems very pleasant and normal. However, behind those smiles lie heart-wrenching stories and disturbed thoughts.

Image: AFP / Tauseef Mustafa

Kashmiris feel that they are being manipulated, their anger and annoyance used by tyrant(s) and channelized in the wrong direction. For the past many years, they have suffered all sorts of abuses.“How long will we remain scared and quiet?” they ask. “Fear, the fear of survival,has vanished from our souls now”. The army,which should make them feel safer, makes them more terrified than ever. They feel they can be picked up any day and be tormented, even tortured. A local, pointing towards a base camp at 14000 feet in Gulmarg, said “yahan rehte hain hindustan ke buzdil”. At that height in Gulmarg,when we were surrounded by soldiers, a group of Kashmiri boys sitting there started shouting “Chowkidar Chor hai”, so loud thatthey could be heard. It was a deliberate attempt to irritate the jawans standing nearby.

School going girls, wearing white headscarves, with their rosy cheeks, walk hand in hand, in large groups, depicting their fear and that of their parents. They do not, ever, walk alone. They are growing up in an environment which is brutalised and militarised. Wherever they turn, wherever their gaze falls, they can spotthe military or the militants. They sleep with the sound of gunshots and military tanks. They see, every day, their parents and family members in acute distress. The government doesnot help them, they think the military is against them, they are in agony, they do not know who to go to for help any more. They don’t believe that they are Indians. They identify themselves as Kashmiris, as Muslims.When Muslims visit Kashmir, they get an insight that not many people can gather. The Kahmiris think that we are part of this God-forsaken tribe.

A boy, aged roughly around 20, doing his graduation in the Humanities, “Arts” as he says, works as a guide and takes travellers up through the mountains, on horses. When he got to know we are Muslims, he asked my brother his name. Onbeing told that his name is Musa, he broke into a huge smile and said he would feel lucky if his name were Musa. On being asked why, he simply answered,“Do you know Zakir Musa?” I nodded in complete shock and uneasiness. Being told by a stranger that he admires a terrorist leader is terrifying, but this isa way for them to projecttheir anger about being manipulated - to side with the wrong and believe that their religion teaches hatred.

Throughout the journey up that mountain, the boy kept calling my brother’s name. It felt more like he was chanting his name; his obsession, his state of mind was reflected by his act. Yet another guide told us that during festivals, they chant Zakir Musa’s name before they start the festivities. At a point during our trip, my brother’s name became the most admired feature among locals.

In the 21st century, it is easier to manipulate people, to direct them to the wrong track by using technology. One local taxi driver that we came across was listening to some old recording of a maulana. The words that came out of the maulana’s mouth were terrifying as well as infuriating. He was using religion in its wrong sense, to implant wrong ideas in the minds of his audience. On that tape, he talked about how Islam tells people that revenge is the most important thing, that if someone slaps you, give them four slaps in return, that Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, was a man with wrong teachings. This tape was filled with hatred, prejudice, racism and discrimination in order to instigate the locals and to make them feel that it was okay to hurt people, to disrupt peace. This is the way militants are created, are brain washed into believing in wrong ideas.

The last five years have been the most crucial for the people, as mentioned by a local. According to him, hell has broken loose since the 2014 floods. This period, which used be the tourist season, has the least number of tourists in the last five years. The number of military personnel has increased, their presence at public places has gone up, there is a jawan at every 200 m, most forts have military base camps. It is a psychological issue for the soldiers, as well. They don’t know how to differentiate between the locals and the militants. .

During the 2014 floods, a number of Kashmiris lost everything, their homes and businesses were destroyed and they lost all their money. We were told that not much help reached them.Those having insurance were not been given any help.A number of surveys were done, reports made, officials came and went but at the end, they flood victims were left empty handed.

After the disturbing Pulwama attack, the flow of tourists has slowed down to a trickle. Tourists are scared to visit the place, they are scared something might happen to them. Since Kashmir is largely dependent on tourism, it is at a great loss.

People around the world visit Switzerland, Venice etc. in large numbers. I understand that Kashmir is much more beautiful,culturally much richer than any place. It could have been one of the most desirable tourist destinations but the government’s negligence and lack of ground work has destroyed it. E.g. The roads are not maintained properly which, as a tourist destination, can have a major negative impact.Historic places, such as the Vishnu temples, are not taken care of. They were made centuries ago and, due to the rains, their carvings are getting eroded with every passing year.Not much will be left for the generations to come.

There can be large industries established for forestry, horticulture etc. There are thousands of maple trees in Kashmir, a significant part of Kashmir’s beauty with their leaves changing colour during different seasons. However, there is maple syrup industry there. Maple syrup sold in India is imported from Canada and Australia. Kashmir is the gold mine of natural resources. With proper planning and care, today Kashmir could have been one of the richest states in India.

However, the silver lining in the dark cloud surrounding Kashmir is that the Kashmiri people stand together for each other.They help each other in their hour of need and their brotherhood is admirable. We were at the famous Lal chowk at Srinagar when we narrowly missed having a major accident with a car which came in front of us suddenly at high speed. Being a girl who grew up in Mumbai, I thought that some fight for sure happen between the two drivers, but to my surprise they laughed it off with one suggesting to the other that he should feed the poor since a major disaster was averted. They are there for each other at all times, they stand tall. This is the true spirit of Kashmiriyat, which has survived these dark times too.