Saira Shah Halim

 ‘When Truth Becomes an Orphan’

There is no land that can be claimed if it’s without its people, we do not want a barren land, if we want Kashmir;
we have to accept the land with its people, its culture and its ethos.

Before I begin to pen my views on Kashmir, I would like to share a poem I wrote last year during my visit to Kashmir around this time.

Cashmere to Kashmir

Taking it all and burying it under the tall Chinar trees…where woodpeckers play the drums on birch and nightingales sing…

Where green leaves dry awaiting another spring…

The valley was serene and it beckoned me…it was lit alive with Gulmohars and the haunting four hundred years old Chinar trees…

Being stained in Kashmir as an outsider has long remained a cherished dream…

Lush green was the valley…the song birds flew free…uncaged…

Kashmir was meant to be free…like you and me…freedom was it meant to be a decree to be doled out by two countries? In charity? And beneath the exterior bonhomie and glee…one word echoed in every heart ‘Azaadi’.

Azaadi from territorial disputes…Azaadi from unemployment…Azaadi from years of misery…

Let’s not question their nationalism as they aspire exactly what you and I aspire to be…to be free like a song…that plays like a flute in the green meadows…where ponies and sheep graze in the green grass of ‘Cashmere’…

One flag on the parliament…not two…is what they ask for…just like you and me…

Makes me think are we the betrayers or the ones betrayed…let’s think deep…

The Chinar trees record the silent sighs of the valley and longs for the tranquillity it saw four hundred years ago…

And while we say how much we love Kashmir…as we soak in the valleys and soak in the ‘Kashmiriyat’…their blood never runs dry of hospitality… we allow their blood to flow free merging with the soil in the valley…where water fall cascade into a stream…and the spring tastes sweet like honey…

It’s ok…they are a resilient lot we say…having seen so much…and whether they are happy or not…who are we to judge?

The green apples hanging low in the orchards to be plucked by humanity…and the walnuts we love to eat…the pashmina shawls we drape around our bosom…
The silk carpets that lie smothered in silence on the floor waiting to be walked over once again…the papier mache boxes that keep the secrets well…the saffron sprinkled on our tea…and the cashmere wool…we enjoyed it all…thank you for your ‘Mehmaannawaazi’..!

We will surely visit you again…and next time I would love to carry back loads of ‘Kahwa tea’…

Did we give peace a chance? We read it in the media…they were mere numbers in 2005…as the valley quaked…it had taken too much…what are the numbers we asked…give us the toll count…how many hit in Pakistan controlled Kashmir and how many hit by Indian controlled Kashmir…did we stop to take a humanity toll…?

The floods of 2014…our holiday plans got spoiled…doesn’t matter…we were reimbursed back…lets plan again…and this time we will sit on the ‘Gondola’ and enjoy the joy ride and from atop enjoy the picturesque beauty…

People died in Pakistan controlled Kashmir and Indian controlled Kashmir…the blood flowed of humanity…

Over the Siachen glacier three wars were fought recorded in times history…1947…1965 and 1999…but this time there was peace…and it made me happy…

Just yesterday an officer friend told me how he won a medal for safeguarding the country…along the LOC.

But he was not happy…pain was writ large in his eyes which I could see…

An officer but a true humanist he was…fretting for the spoils of war and the blood on his hands…the medal on his chest did not make him glad…

Nothing, he shrugged…nothing can justify the cost of a human life and I listened with rapt attention on all that he had to tell me…the iced tea turned chilled…as he completed his story…I hid moist eyes trying hard for the impassioned look in me to turn a blank…

The voice of reason had found a season and humanity for all was the new plank…

Lost in the mountains of Gulmarg…we were free…our thoughts were free…

Ma’am you have come here in good times…few years back there was curfew post 6pm is what they had to tell me…

You are a Kashmiri what are you doing in Mumbai and Delhi? Please show me your legitimate documents…and
can you please shave off your beard…please comply with us…and not a word of protest on this should be heard…

Absorbing all…looking outwards yet looking within…’Kashmir’ you have touched me!!

***

As an army officer’s daughter who has seen her Father serve in difficult terrains which have been the hotbed of separatist  and insurgency movements of north east, Punjab and beyond; Kashmir has always remained an enigma to me.

The land of the snow capped mountains which could put Switzerland to shame. Images flitted past my closed eyes of the handsome Shammi Kapoor and Saira Banu skiing somewhere in the snow capped mountains of Kashmir, the scenery, the snow capped mountains, the eeriness of it all, it was just too enthralling to experience Kashmir as a child through television of course. But in the 1990’s as school going children we read and saw conflicting news in the print and television media.

Kashmir was not the land Khusro described- “Agar Firdaus bar roo-e zameenast, hameenast-o hameenast-o hameenast.” (If there is paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this).

As children growing up in the 90’s we were told that there were problems and perhaps we would never be able to go there. My hopes came crashing down. What? Will we never be able to see Kashmir papa, but why? I implored. The answer was always the same -‘because it’s unsafe’.

1990’s saw the ‘Azaadi’ movement triggered off by the JKLF-Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. There were echoes of Azaadi everywhere. The Kashmiri youth carried Kalashnikovs across Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag and Sopore. There were demonstrations big and small, prominent amongst these small and big organisations was JKLF at the helm. The Indian security forces along with the paramilitary police fought a bloody battle to weed out the insurgency movement from its roots. Then much later in 1996 battle fatigued and weary JKLF eased out and more or less became a redundant outfit. The Indian forces regained their position which was stronger than ever and far more deadly.

Where the JLKF stood for ‘Kashmir’s’ self determination, another insurgent group was taking centre stage that was the ‘Hizbul Mujahideen’ where JKLF chanted ‘Kashmir banega khud Mukhtar’ Hizbul Mujahideen’s aspirations were clear –Kashmir banega Pakistan. The strategy of bringing the Kashmir insurrection into Pakistan boomeranged back on the ‘Azaadi movement’ where in new separatist outfits that were trained in Pakistan posed a serious threat to the ‘Azaadi movement’. The might of the Indian armed forces and Kashmir for Pakistan outfits ensured that barring stray incidents, the valley remained free of separatist movements and violence.

Basharat Peer, the renowned author and screen writer of ‘Curfewed Night’, adaptations of which were taken for the cult film ‘Haider’ wrote on the recent spate of affairs in Kashmir especially pertaining to the 6th July killing of Rebel militant Burhan Wani, a 22 year old outlaw who took to the jungles and social media to wage war against the Indian Army’s occupation in Kashmir.

I tried hard to look at Burhan’s killing as dispassionately as possible i.e., here was this young man all of 22, he could have been a doctor, an engineer or a scientist yet he decided to become a rebel to avenge his brother’s death and also to take up the cause of ‘Azaad Kashmir’. Within a span of one year he became a social media blitzkrieg, putting up video’s and status updates warning the Indian Army of dire consequences all this while posing with an AK-47. So what exactly happened on 8th July which triggered off widespread protests in the valley an imposed curfew, deaths of civilians who defied the curfew to attend Burhan’s death?

Did this incident have the potential of an uprising again, the likes of which we witnessed in the 90’s? Was history repeating itself this time? I thought aloud.

Wikipedia describes terrorism as the systematic use of threatened use of violence to intimidate a population or government for political, religious or ideological goals.

We are well aware that the Kashmir conflict is a territorial conflict between India and Pakistan which started just after the partition of India in 1947.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir including the indo Pakistani wars of 1947 and 1965 as well as the Kargil War.

The present day conflict between the Kashmiri separatists and the Indian State is the question of autonomy, for a long time development in Kashmir and democratic growth was stalled, there was a sudden surge of violence in the state, what acted as a trigger was the disputed state elections of 1987 that acted as a catalyst to the insurgency movement when in July 1988 a series of demonstrations, strikes and attacks on the Indian state spread like wild fire.

Circa July 2016 Basharat Peer writes-According to top police officials, Burhan and two other militants were killed on the evening of July 8 in a gun battle that broke out after Indian soldiers and Kashmiri police surrounded the house in which they had sought shelter.

Protests erupted on the day of Burhan’s funeral and were repressed by Indian troops with indiscriminate force, including pellet guns: As of Monday, about 50 people had been killed and 3,100 injured, nearly half of them Indian troops but also children as young as 4. Instead of opening political negotiations to address Kashmiris’ calls for independence, India continues to unabashedly use military force to maintain in the region.

hen I first saw the photos of Burhan and his boys, I thought: another generation of young Kashmiris about to be consumed. Those apple orchards and mountains in the background, which I know intimately and call home, brought back memories of the early ’90s, when I was a teenager in southern Kashmir. An armed insurgency supported by Pakistan and a popular rebellion were underway then, triggered by the Indian government’s meddling in a recent state elections.

***

By the time the insurgency was quashed in the late 2000s, more than 70,000 militants, soldiers and civilians had been killed. Still, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris would occasionally take to the streets. Indian troops continued to respond with violence, even against civilians armed with nothing or nothing more than stones. Hardly any soldier has been prosecuted for civilian killings because Indian law has long granted immunity to troops posted in Kashmir and other troubled regions. (A recent decision by India’s Supreme Court may change this.)

My views on the ensuing violence in Kashmir-The UNSC Resolution of 21 April 1948–one of the principal UN resolutions on Kashmir—stated that “both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite”.

Now the question that arises is that why hasn’t the plebiscite become an eventuality.

According to the UN Resolution of 1948, Pakistan was supposed to have demilitarized according to the satisfaction of India and the UN Forces.

Since the first condition hasn’t been fulfilled, the question of Plebiscite is yet to turn into an eventuality.

This is the most significant resolution passed by the UN on the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It clearly states that Pakistan was to vacate its troops from the whole of the state. It also mentions, albeit indirectly, that Pakistan had consistently lied on the question of whether or not its troops were involved in the fighting in Jammu & Kashmir. Once the then Pakistani Prime Minister conceded that Pakistani troops were indeed involved, the UN had no option but to ask for their withdrawal. That the withdrawal never took place, is another story.

The Government of India and Pakistan reaffirm their wish that the future status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir shall be determined in accordance with the will of the people and to that end, upon acceptance of the truce agreement, both Governments agree to enter into consultations with the Commission to determine fair and equitable conditions whereby such free expression will be assured.

***

We have seen the rise and fall of the ‘Khalistan movement’, the ULFA movement in the north east, the revolt of the Nagas, the Telengana movement, the more recent jat agitation but we have managed to stitch the country together.

Nationalism is not the point here, patriotism is.

In the midst of the ongoing turmoil we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.

Do we consider the Kashmiri people as our own?

Are we doing enough to integrate them into the social fibre of the county without coercion?

Do they have equitable rights like us in terms of education and employment?

So if we are not ready to part with Kashmir we need to look inwards and ask whether the use of pellet guns and other deadly weapons justifiable for angry protesters who were throwing stones on the Indian police and Army.

We have seen similar turbulences in other parts of India be it the ‘jat agitation’ and otherwise, so why have we refrained ourselves from using similar methods of controlling the situation elsewhere, why do we need to use exceptions in Kashmir?

Isn’t that a step motherly treatment to a land we are so desperately trying to retain?

***

I happened to visit Kashmir last year in the month of August for Aspen India 2015- ‘Ideas India’ as a delegate. My husband Dr Fuad Halim, a political activist from the left wing, was also invited as a resource leader. When we landed at Srinagar airport the security was tight and it all seemed a little surreal. Were we really in Kashmir? It somehow seemed like a forbidden fruit, alluring, tempting and beautiful. The three day event was hosted at the Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar. There were events ideated on ‘Discussing India’ where deliberations galore on nurturing change with thought leaders cut across the political and business milieu.

We were also glad to be a part of a discussion on ‘Kashmiriyat’ a term that I got acquainted with on my trip to Kashmir. So what was this term ‘Kashmiriyat’ that people were discussing about? Literally, ‘Kashmiriyat’ means the essence of being a Kashmiri akin to the word ‘insaniyat’ which translates into the ethnic, social, cultural values of the local Kashmiri people. It also signifies centuries old indigenous secular culture of Kashmir. The very foundation of the term ‘Kashmiriyat’ is characterised by Kashmir’s geography, its extreme climate and its socio political condition. So ‘Kashmiriyat’ stands for social, religious harmony and kinship despite religious differences. The philosophy of ‘Kashmiriyat’ has been influenced greatly by Shaivism, Buddhism and Sufism.

Kashmir was also greatly influenced by the doctrine of ‘Din e Illahi’ which professed the right blending of Hindu and Muslim ideals, which show in Kashmir’s art and architecture be it the Mughal Gardens or the Hazrat Bal Mosque. Unfortunately, over the years the essence of ‘Kashmiriyat’ has lost its meaning with a state caught in conflict, people at times confuse ‘Kashmiriyat’ with nationalism or believe the philosophy stands for espousing the cause of ‘cessation’. The philosophy is being promoted further by art, culture and cultural activists, this philosophy can further be propagated to woo back Hindus and Sikhs who had to face the tragic exodus from the Valley.

With thoughts of ‘Aman’ and ‘chain’ for Kashmir and the fervent wish that all political parties come together to find a resolution on the ongoing crisis in Kashmir I pen off something in Hindustani:

Kashmir tum Razdan ho, tum Firdaus bhi ho, hazaar chaand ki rate in dekhin hai dal ki chandni raaton mein..tum azaad thi..khush bash thi..khush bash ho..

Saira Shah Halim is a Communications Consultant and a Poet. She is the member of the Editorial Board of NOW.

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