Cathartic Kashmir


 

There’s an episodic pattern to this catharsis.

In the build up: some Indian army soldiers sacrifice lives for the motherland. ID card pictures of young uniformed men—the officer’s one accompanied by an FB ‘status’ kind of statement—flash in the arguably unbiased newspaper. Motherland immediately pays high-pitched homage. Thumping keyboards and chests, raising pen and bayonets, some “proud Indians” warn Pakistan again. On social media. So media is now ripe for the visually enabled lungpower of audio-visual communication. Here Pakistani panelists (sometimes referred to as guests) fail to outshout sizzling TRP anchor, retired finger wagging major general and more defence-than-analyst defence analyst. Belligerence rents the electronically charged air. Pakistanis exit with their urdu-fied English and pehle-aap upbringing. Now overheard over the swadeshi din of ‘Can I please finish?’ is an indignant babble: duplicity of Kashmiris . . . ungrateful state . . . gorging on Article 370 . . . largesse of Indian subsidy. Quaintly, the ‘integral part of India’ replaces Pakistani panelists as the enemy.

Then suddenly, within the nation a human rights violation report surfaces. It ignites a grammarly skirmish between two sedition-sensitive defamation-conscious celebrity journalists. Gentlemanly reconciliation follows soon. But spectator-readers had paid in full for the entire episode! So a backlash results. Spleenful obscenities set twitter on trendy fire. Journos replace Pakistan.

Time-out.

PM appears. Condemnation-of-dastardly-act follows. But a nondescript politico embarrasses Messers PMO and MEA with vernacular precision. And pours cold water on torrid overtures between the two hot padosi PMs, dampening their fifth week at the box office.

Pause.

Other news. Calm returns on airwaves.

But for some of us, Kashmir does not pause. Ever.

Once upon a time, I lived in Kashmir. By the LoC. Literally. Even then it was soundproof. Nothing reached Delhi. It was before 1989. When Kashmir was rumoured to be in love with India. My father was commanding an army unit there. It’s amazing how different the world appears in third party accounts that do not germinate at the very source of events. The army itself felt foreign in the land it was sent to occupy and therefore behaved as such. And the land returned the compliment. Early in life I realized nothing can be an integral part of anything. I also realized that the soldier is taught not to think. And is given the freedom to be the local lord in the conflict zone. He is certainly not trained in policing. He is taught to kill. And that ‘kill’ is not subject to civilian justice. The act is shielded through camaraderie and self-preservation. It is counted like a score in sport. He isn’t trained to rape, but his rural background, with its rustic attitude to women, finds convenient and protected vent in the conflict zone. While the lascivious release is not a daily occurrence, but it is prevalent badly enough. So he rapes at will and shoots in doubt. A stressed and alien army surrounds tiny villages, greatly outnumbering locals.

Imagine a village grouping of two hundred people (Kashmiris villages can be so small), where a man disappears, another is shot on suspicion, a woman is raped and a child dies in crossfire. Now pick up an excel sheet and plot what might have happened to that village over all these years. Then join the army for it’s the winning side. The cozy alternative: join celebrity-anchor’s team, for joining the army is afterall risky. The patriotism in this is paid for in cash, and is exploited bloodily in the latter. As for the rest of us, claiming doyen-hood on social media, we are the gallery, to whom politicians of our respective nations play. If the gallery applauds peace, there will be peace. But if the gallery is Goswami-esque, then we will have what we have. No politician has kids in the army. That’s smart. In the name of the nation and faujis, we have had no positive action. None at all.

Back to Kashmir. Yes soldiers murder and rape. And they will till they are the warlords in the region. Army occupation leaves deep scars. In Kashmir today, there is no education, no industry, and no nothing that Delhi has put on the ground. It is the one state I know where a picture I shot of the now infamous Pampore in the 70s, is exactly the same as one I shot recently. The saffron farms, the stunning beauty, and all that Kashmir always had. NOTHING has come from Delhi, except the army! Tragically two generations have grown up in curfew without education, in death, darkness and gloom. They would be stupid to want it to continue.

 

The author, a Kashmiri Pandit, hails from an army background and has lived and travelled extensively in Kashmir, including in the remote areas. Other than that, he leads a corporate life. This article is a first person account.

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