by Shazia Nazir Bakshi
Kashmir- this single word evokes many visual images in your head. Snow kissed mountains, an idyllic shikara on Dal lake, rosy cheeked kids frolicking in an apple orchard, a happy go lucky buffoon in a pheran serenading the ‘memsahibs’, the wisp of steam emanating from the molten golden liquid of a saffron kehwa cup. That was Kashmir of yore, wooed by the world.
Of late, the images juxtaposed on one’s mind are of those of the stone pelting youngsters braving the concertina wire lined streets, the blur of the khaki of the paramilitary forces taking aim at civilians behind the tear gassed smoke screens, a sea of people attending the funerals of young slain rebel fighters. A thousand words will not leave an impression as much as one visual does. That is Kashmir for you. It always tells its story in images. And a sordid tale it has become now.
Kashmir is a kaleidoscope where many realities exist. The visuals presented to the world of this cursed land always are however through the forever changing ‘lens’ of its hallowed Trinity. What one sees today and takes as the gospel truth can in a moment change to shake the foundations of everything one has believed, so far, of the Kashmir saga.
For the uninitiated, at present the Trinity of Kashmir is the ruling party, in this case the PDP-BJP combine, led by the first female Chief Minister, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, the belligerent opposition led by the stalwarts of National Conference (NC), Dr Farooq and Omar Abdullah, and the other Holy Grail, the ‘unquestionables’ the Hurriyat, the faction led by the octogenarian Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Now let’s see the first visual presented. A few days back the entire social and print media was splashed with pictures of youngsters in bright happy colorful uniforms eagerly anticipating the visit of the Home Minister of India, Rajnath Singh to Kashmir.
The pinks, the yellows, the blues and the entire spectrum of rainbow displayed was a desperate and forced attempt to portray ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir to the world, to wipe out the images of ‘red’ that have smeared the bodies of our youngsters of late. This would have almost passed off easily manipulating the minds of people other than Kashmiris, into thinking that all is hunky dory, except for the disgruntled comments that came later from the participants about being ‘fooled’ or ‘coerced’ into attending the event on pretext of a friendly match!
The smiling cheerful disposition of the young 8-year-old athlete Tajamul Islam that won the hearts of many who saw her happily receive her award and take the selfie with the dignitaries on the stage, was meant to wipe out the images of Insha the girl blinded by pellets in her home during the unrest of 2016 or more recently the image of the same aged 8-year-old, Asifa, the Bakarwal girl who was raped and brutally killed in the town of Kathua.
This is the image of supposed ‘normalcy’projected in Kashmir by its ruling dispensation who rather sugar coat reality than face the hard facts of a dissent of a generation that is willing to take a bullet on its chest for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute than live a life of indignity and subjugation. A fairy tale set in a colorful ‘cuckoo land’ is any day more palatable than the tale of blood spilled for two cents in the gutters of Kashmir, day in and day out, of its ordinary mortals. And then Kaleidoscope turns some more.
When the horrors of bullets and pellets had not been enough to damage one’s mind, come the images of seeing able bodied youngsters mowed under the tyres of trucks of paramilitary forces. Bloodied Fridays made even more bloody by the screeching rubber going over young bodies, snuffing life out, like an ordinary speed breakers. Just another day in paradise. Juxtapose on this the visuals galore on social media of a dynamic, young, ex chief minister of the state and his crew rising to the challenge of a fit India.
Poetic injustice or just plain irony, call it what you may, he chooses to show his strength, vigor and vitality by lifting a tyre! This is Kashmir where its leaders have the strength to lift tyres but not stop them from running its people over. In the hallowed playgrounds of rich frat boys, their gyms, their golf courses, they have the privilege of building their bodies, strengthening their endurance, but ordinary Kashmiris don’t have even a fighting chance of growing up, growing fit, leave alone grow old.
What is the cadre of these mainstream political parties being sacrificed for? A 65 year Ghulam Nabi Patel, shot dead in his car, belonged to whom? The sarpanches being shot dead, political workers who can’t go home, they who have to abandon hearth and worlds, while ‘Mr Universes’ are building their bodies. This is also the visual image of Kashmir. A reality which is shown to us often.
What very seldom comes out are the stories and visuals of the stalwart leaders of the Resistance. The ones that have sacrificed it all for ‘the cause’. When the young relative of Kaiser, a boy mowed down and killed on Friday June 1, questioned the Hurriyat and their stand, national media lapped up the dissent without understanding the angst of an ordinary Kashmiri. To now survive in Kashmir, the youngster was forced to give a lengthy explanation for his dissent, yet no one questioned Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s close aide Ghulam Nabi Sumji who bats for Pakistan as a separatist but has no qualms about seeking Indian doles.
Sumji, a former MLA, had written to the Mehbooba Mufti government requesting a hike in his pension and release of his arrears, an amount of Rs 47000, citing an amendment earlier this year to the Jammu and Kashmir State Legislature Act through which the pensions of former legislators were revised. Though he claimed this as his right, some sensible folk did choose to call it ‘blood money’.
The questions to be put forth to the ‘powers that be’ should resonate simple truths like -Is this the struggle that many like Masarat Alam spent a lifetime in jail for? Is this what countless young men like Essa Fazili, Prof Rafi Bhat and many more have sacrificed their lives for? Is this why many more youngsters are languishing in jails under the garb of PSA’s? Is this why old fathers are made to shoulder the coffins of their young ones? Is this what mother like Parveena Ahnager and many like her have spent a lifetime waiting for? Why are our Kashmiri Pandit brethren not being rehabilitated back? Why this silence and delay over their return?
While the leaders across the board run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, generations of Kashmiris are becoming cannon fodder. Rhetoric of ‘like-minded’, ‘right minded’, dialogue, no dialogue, freedom, resistance, shutdown, boycott, no boycott is making ordinary Kashmiris lose their mind. Educated youngsters, frustrated with the failure of its leadership, both mainstream and resistance, are rushing to pick up the guns in futile search of a resolution.
Kashmir, a legitimate political dispute since 1947 has become a graveyard for the hopes, dreams, dignity and lives of generations of its people. With no leadership worth its salt, no resolution in sight and one human right violation on top of another, loss of self-respect and lives, day in and day out at the hands of a huge armed force deployed to cage and reign in the sentiment and aspirations of its majority, the abject failure of its politicians and stellar leaders, it is a no mean task to ‘survive’ Kashmir, let alone succeed in it. Any ode sung for the resilience of its young people would not be enough.
Shunning the phony images shown to the world by the ‘masters’ who play this kaleidoscope, it is high time that the respectable members of the civil society of Kashmir; its lawyers, bureaucrats, doctors, engineers, journalists, authors, entrepreneurs, professors, take the onus of facing the reality and pen a road map of a way forward for Kashmir – one that encompasses the aspirations of all Kashmiris – Muslims, Pandits, Sikhs across all three regions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh.
It is up to us now to present a visual of a real ordinary Kashmiri to the world and imprint it on mind of everyone. He is not a terrorist, neither a refugee but a warrior and a survivor who has been played and let down by his own, standing there proud and resilient flaunting his battle scars. And until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.
For this proud race one can only hope redemption by what Allama Iqbal had penned:
Hazaron saal nargis apni benoori pe roti hai
Badi mushkil se hota hai chaman mein deedawar paida
We stand today at that cusp of time where a Kashmiri must seek or be that Deedawar.
(A writer, the author (@Shazia) is a Kashmiri entrepreneur with a passion for education, literature, culture and travel. Ideas expressed in this article are personal.)