The semblance called Kashmir

Karanvir Gupta

Kashmir – it scares everyone to speak about it. Everyone is afraid – that they might not end up misrepresenting Kashmir, or end up speaking something that will trigger a spat, or worst end up hurting ethnic sentiments. On the contrary, from tabloids to magazines to editorials to news headlines, Kashmir and Kashmiris have always been misrepresented the most especially in the last 30years. Kashmir turned out to be that recipe/preparation in home who everyone has an opinion about irrespective of them knowing cooking or not. Kashmir has been like a marketing campaign where everyone comes and tries to add an adage of their own. Because, because Kashmir is a subjective issue? No! Only because everyone promises to showcase that they understand Kashmir better than everyone else in the room but unfortunately no one ever tried to understand a bit of it. The hard truth – that everyone talked about Kashmir outside the “insaniyat ke dayare” and always in the premise of “siyasati kaarwaahi.”
From being known as the prime destination for Bollywood in the Golden era from 60s to early 80s to the point when Kashmir came to be known as a strife struck piece of land where people get bumped off with as much ease with pellets, guns, bombs and grenades. Interestingly it has been the media (one form or the other) that made us believe what Kashmir was(is). Kashmir – the heaven – became a living hell! The world went upside down. From honeymooners’ getaway to militants’ abode – it all happened overnight and with full fervour. You ask anyone about what went wrong or what did you want – the answer came “Azaadi, Azaadi!” Nobody dared ask “Azaadi from whom?” They just assumed the answers that best suited “their” interests. The separatists, the Hurriyat, seemingly mainstream political families – they all assumed they knew the right answer and made propaganda about it.
My first tryst with Kashmir was in 2004 when I had gone there for my summer vacation. We stayed near Badami Bagh cantonment area. Till then all I knew of Kashmir was that it is a beautiful place with ugly nuances taking place daily. That is what I had always read in newspapers and watched over television. But once I had stayed there for a week – my perception about the place changed a lot. Kashmir turned out to be much more beautiful than I had imagined it to be. And I never wanted that summer vacation to end.
My another rendezvou with Kashmir was six years later during “the summers” of 2010. I went there again and this time for a longer period but while we were there the circumstances changed and there were bandhs day after day. And they say, you get to know a place and its people the best at the worst of it times. With Kashmir maintaining that notorious image, we were scared and confused if we should leave (while all the means seemed close) and then my father told me that there is nothing to worry about and we will continue to stay as we had planned. After all my father had done his engineering from NIT srinagar (REC back then) and I am sure he knew the place and people much better than the rest of us.
And as he said, we were taken care of by the folks there in the best possible way. It was an unmatched hospitality. Due to the lack of resources, the chef would make us the best homemade cuisine with the resources available. People would come and visit us to ensure that everything is going to be fine. And this is day-to-day for them. Though that summer was not the regular callout for protests and street exhibit. It went bad that year. The point I want to highlight is the people we talked to and interacted with were not a party to the protest or demonstration. Then who were those on the streets? Where did they get their motivation from? Where did they get the courage from? Where have they been getting funding and inspiration from for the last 30 years?
The questions kept buzzing in my head and they still do! Generations after generations were told that there is something wrong with Kashmir. It has been an unfair treatment. Kashmir deserves more. But who were these people? Who were this caliphs or messiahs of truce who couldn’t attain any? Whose agenda were they pursuing? Just theirs! Nobody else’s and definitely not of the Kashmirs. And in this entire unfortunate sequence of incidents one after the other post 1987 rigged elections – nobody got it right or probably nobody wanted to get it right! “Sab isi koshish mein they ke jannat kise haasil hogi, kisi ne yeh nahi socha ke jannat ka hoga kya?” (Everyone was making an attempt to have control over heaven but nobody thought what would happen to the heaven by the time all of this ends.)
The power hungry kept narrating the same story of injustice at the centre stage both within and outside the country. The media used the word Kashmiri synonymous to Islam. Kashmiri Pandits became migrants forever. The ones who were giving the most of the suggestions and pieces of advice were based outside India. The ones who were scared for their lives went underground or rushed to London. Some of them being kingpin of militancy tried to became Gandhi after they realised that their purpose hasn’t been served. Some returned when they sensed the opportunity in elections that were going to happen again. And always, it was about the people in the limelight, politicians with family legacy, or the ones who were foreign-state sponsored terrorists – in short the ones with the clout! And all of this – together made what we all know “The Semblance called Kashmir”. Not real, not true!
Because the ones who were absent from the picture were people of Kashmir. They were nowhere to be represented. Nobody talked about how to bring stability to their lives. Nobody talked about development and opportunities for the youth of the people of Kashmir. And why so? Why were these topics never highlighted in any discussion? Why the only thing that mattered was desire for Kashmir and not the People of Kashmir? Why the world was not told that Kashmir is so much more than just a strife stricken place? And Kashmiriyat is an exchangeable courtesy and the entire world can dwell in it. Why the world dreaded entering Kashmir and why does the world doesn’t know that only a handful of people went to decide what goes on inside Kashmir? And that is why I say – the Kashmir we have told of in the last 30years is a creation of a few people for their ulterior motives and to exhibit their supremacy. They never were and never would be true representatives of Kashmir – the only one they ever represented is themselves and their self-interest. And People of Kashmir need to know this, acknowledge this (if they already know this) and stand for this.
While there is a lot of debate and anticipation about what will happen once the forces retreat in Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370, there is only one truth. Give the people of Kashmir – their long deserved peace, stability, a comfortable life and most importantly avenues and development. That is when the semblance would turn into a reality that we all are yearning to dwell in – Kashmir! Kashmir – The Paradise Lost and Found!
(The writer is an IIM Shillong Alumnus and Mentor of Change with Niti Aayog)