Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Nationalism and Kashmir


Recently I read an article where the author questioned people from both India and Pakistan on what they think of Kashmir and what it means to them. And while I was going through the responses I could not help but realise how similar their thoughts and ideas are to what mine used to be a few years back.

To give you an idea here are some of the responses and maybe some of you can still relate to them:

Indian Responses:

“Kashmir is the crown of India. It is like heaven on earth.”

“Kashmir is an integral part of India, and that is where it belongs.”

“In my opinion, 10 per cent of Kashmiris have mixed feelings. But an overwhelming majority, 90 per cent of Kashmiris, want to be a part of India. They desire the end of the terrorism that has been inflicted on them, and do not want their land to be a playground for violence anymore.”

Pakistani Responses:

“Well, Kashmir is a part of Pakistan in a way. There are Muslims there and they are facing hardships. And Indians are killing innocent Muslims there and that is why we want Kashmir, I guess.”

“Kashmir is Pakistan's right. If the Kashmir problem is resolved, Kashmir should come to Pakistan. Our rivers are dependent on Kashmir.”

“India has been ruling Kashmir forcibly, whereas the people of Kashmir want to be with Pakistan. Our history says that Kashmir should be with Pakistan. That is why the Kashmiris struggle; they want religious freedom also, because they are Muslims. If they want to live independently it is fine as well, but [it is] better if [they are] with Pakistan.”

For the full article go here.

I always knew that the opinion of these few is not singular to only them but is felt by many, as I, myself used to think this way.

I clearly remember the day my opinion changed; it was when a senior of mine while discussing Kashmir asked me this one basic question, “Do you live there? Then how is Kashmir yours.” I had no answer. So I went back home and looked up Kashmir on the internet and for the first time went beyond the basic news and dug deeper.

My basic idea of Kashmir has always been that the Pakistanis are the bad guys; they are the ones who sent over the militants who are creating trouble in the region. And when the Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their own homes the basic thing I heard was its like partition again, Muslims and Hindus cannot live together, though at least here I can say that I never bought into the whole ‘Muslims are like that only’ syndrome that many around me were afflicted with. But that was my basic idea, and I wonder why I never thought of the actual people and instead I always thought of it as a piece of land where its ownership became a matter of pride. At the time my friends and I couldn’t even harbour the thought of Kashmir with Pakistan, ‘Whatever happens, if they want to separate from India fine, but we will never give it to Pakistan’ And now when I think about it all I want to say to my old self is, ‘fool, how can you give away something that does not even belong to you.’ To think of it, it’s the same paradox where Palestine was given away by the British to the Jews/Israelis.

The different point of view that I got from the Internet was as bad as a major culture shock. I read blogs by Kashmiris that showed their frustration and the animosity that they now feel towards the Indian state. The various offences committed by the Army and no punishment. And why was I not aware of all this? Yes, I wasn’t the most avid news consumer but I did read my newspaper, they should have told me something.

And so I came to the conclusion that something must be wrong with the message. Because, as I saw in the article that I posted a link to above, I was not the only one who had such opinions and perceptions when it came to Kashmir. My History NCERT textbook always told me that Kashmir was given autonomy and assured of self-rule. India was shown as benevolent.

The message has been skewed to official government policy where according to them, the trouble in paradise is usually caused by some ‘bad elements’ or ‘harvested by LeT’ or some other terrorist outfit. Why are there no long debates about the situation or condition of the half widows of Kashmir and why does Chidambaram get away with dismissing the 2010 summer unrest which had left 112 people dead on the streets in Kashmir as an, “an unfortunate chapter”.

There is a marked difference between our lives here and the one being lived by people in Kashmir and it’s not really ‘normal’ as Chidambaram claims it to be. Take this Independence Day, where many of us used this long 15th August holiday to take a break and unwind, or head far away from this Mumbai heat or participated in housing societies’ I-Day celebrations where we raised our hands in salute to the Indian Flag, Kashmir was denied freedom of movement, put under undeclared curfew and had their communication services blocked. So yeah, not really an Independence Day for all.

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