Kashmir- An Old Man’s Dream

Ranj se khoongar hua insaan, toh ranj mit jaata hai… Mushkilein itni padin, ke sab aasaan ho gayin…”

(Man is so bloodied by all his life’s battles, that now all troubles seem like trifles…..)

My grandfather was a strange man. Like all grandfathers, he was warm, cuddly, and full of stories. He loved munching on junk food with me and my sister. And slowly, we even got him hooked to Maggi noodles. The romantic in him often uttered poetic metaphors for all that life had to offer. And sometimes, even at the ripe old age of 87, he tried to woo grandma with his sweet nothings spoken in chaste Urdu.

And then there was his past– the police officer who worked closely with the army in Jammu and Kashmir; a man who was responsible for gathering intelligence on border infiltration by Pakistan, a man who was also tasked with protecting the innocent civilians who lived in J&K.

He saw the valley closely for a number of decades. His family had lived there for generations. And it was the home of my father, and my uncles, and everything that we continue to hold sacred even today. And my grandfather stood like a guardsman at the gate of peace through the years, unwilling to allow harm to come to the millions of innocent people who lived in J&K, just like his children.

And this is what he always said about Kashmir in particular.

“They are our people– our own parents, siblings, and children. How can we cause them hurt and expect them to love us all the same? Feuds happen even among brothers from the same womb. Then what right do we have to say that violence will lead us to a lasting peace.”

And here’s the thing. My dadu was a staunch nationalist, a devout Sikh, a dedicated police officer who had to interrogate countless people who crossed the border. What set him apart from everyone else was that he did not believe in getting answers through the use of torture and humiliation.

“Men confess to conspiracies that they have no idea about, under torture,” he’d say. “They pledge their loyalty to dogma they don’t believe in just to get a respite from the pain. No, torture and humiliation are about breaking individuals and seeking revenge. That doesn’t get you answers. That gets you hatred.”

If he were alive today, he’d weep at how the Kashmiris are being treated. Make no mistake, this was a man who believed strongly that India should remain united and unbroken. But he was also someone who knew that countries are bound by commonness in belonging. Holding a piece of land without having its people’s hearts is not how nations achieve greatness.

My head hurts when people try and justify what happened in Kashmir by giving me anecdotes of how army officers have suffered at the hands of stone-pelters.

j-k-protester-tied-to-jeep_650x400_51492161612.jpg
A man was tied to a jeep by army personnel in Kashmir on April 9. He was allegedly used as a human shield against stone-pelters.

I want to ask them why they have such little understanding of the army.

The army is NOT a civilian body. The reason it functions differently is because soldiers are supposed to keep a cool head in the face of a crisis. Personal feelings of misplaced angst, vengeance, or any such loss of control can be disastrous for a mission. And while the Kashmiri protestors are unjustified in getting violent, they are no different from any other civilians in the country. And that is a fact that the army must not forget in light of the extensive powers granted to it by the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act).

The army exists to protect people (even Kashmiris, as surprising as that may be to you!) and for them to use force to humiliate, rape, and degrade citizens is uncalled for and unprofessional.

And let us not forget, situations as complex as Kashmir often require highly active peacekeeping missions from the UN. The Indian army is one of the largest contributors of troops to UN missions. In 2014, 7,860 personnel of the Indian armed forces were deployed with the UN. It is very odd that despite such commitment to peacekeeping beyond borders, we have managed to botch up the situation so spectacularly at home.

Another thing I want people to understand is this. A large section of Kashmiris wants Azaadi because of these unspeakable atrocities that are committed against them every now and then. Use logic to answer this question. Can people respect and accept a regime that dehumanizes them and seeks to control them with fear? Can people place their faith in a state that went back on its promises multiple times? The plebiscite that never happened is only one of the many breaches of trust that have corroded Kashmir’s relationship with Delhi over the course of the last few decades.

Let us also ask another question. What does Azaadi even mean? It is not simple. To some,  Azaadi is a merger with Pakistan. For some, Azaadi is an independent nation state. And for some others, Azaadi is freedom from oppression at the hands of the army.

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Kashmiri civilians pelting stones as military personnel/Image Source: The New York Times

I am not pro-secession. I do not want Kashmir, the home of my ancestors to be carved into another country where maybe I won’t be welcome anymore. I do not want it to become a part of Pakistan. But I do want to see it flourish like it did for tens of centuries. I have other reasons too, for not believing in secession. As a feminist and an atheist, it is uncomfortable to me that some of the loudest pro-secession narratives are framed by religion.

However, I cannot fault them. I cannot fault even one person who is screaming for mercy and freedom, even if their demand comes in the form of a stone-pelting or a defiantly unfurled Pakistani flag.

Because the blood of innocent people is too heavy a price to pay for a victory of mere ideas, especially one that would never be a true victory, because as my grandfather used to say, “Agar daraa ke jeet bhi liya, toh kya jeeta?” (What use is a victory that has been won by fear?)

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