Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'm a Kashmiri Stone Pelter too!

Only a perfect stranger to the South Asian scene will be ignorant to the fact that Kashmir is a sensitive topic for generations of Indians, Kashmiris and Pakistanis. I mean, we are the third generation of people who have seen numerous wars being fought with gun and spoken word over this contentious issue.

After years of hearing the same, the K question suddenly took an interesting turn this year. A debate suddenly came out in the open, after Manmohan Singh's momentous speech, and now it is haunting the corridors of Delhi and Kashmir alike - Isn't it time to free Kashmiris from the demons of insurgency, war and fear? Isn't it time to help a limping populace return to a normal life and stitch together their torn lives and homes? Isn't it time we welcomed new generations of Kashmiris with bouquets and not bayonets?

From the farthest corners of the country to the brightly illuminated living rooms of the intelligentsia, there comes a resounding cry of 'No!' for each of the above questions. Kashmir, we puff up our chests to say, is ours. We thunder in the same breath, how dare 'they' claim it as 'theirs'? Indian Government has never been successful in ending the Kashmiri resistance, but it surely succeeded in bringing visions of armed Pakistani terrorists whenever a voice of dissonance is heard in Kashmir. 'They' are always Pakistanis for us. 'They' can never be ordinary folk asking to be heard. I don't believe that anymore. On the contrary, I believe that 'they' who are asking for dignity aren't Pakistanis. 'They' were always Kashmiris and will always be Kashmiris. I refuse to believe that the 'freedom struggle' in Kashmir is entirely engineered by Pakistan and I refuse to believe that a majority of Kashmir wants to stay with India in its current form.

We breathe the filtered air from our air conditioners and the smell the sweet after-fragrances of freedom, all the while ignoring the plight of the war-scarred, blood-drenched Kashmiri. May be we should pause our emotions for a while and ask ourselves some q's. And not just in a rhetorical way. If you are reading this, I ask you to genuinely try and answer these questions. Even if you don't know the exact answer, if you make an attempt to guess, may be I got my point across.

How many generations ago did a Kashmiri sleep peacefully at night?
How many children did Kashmir lose to a misfired bullet or a misguided bomb?

I believe it is natural for a society living through hell to revolt against the establishment and pelt stones at the first symbol of oppression in its front yard. And I sometimes wonder, why aren't there any stone pelters in Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (POK)? Why just on the Indian side?

I'm no judge of history to decide if Mountbatten did the right thing by forcing accession on Hari Singh. After 63 years of war and strife, it is too late to discuss if POK rightfully belongs to India. But I know one thing. All my life, I have heard only of death in Kashmir. Death of Kashmiris who think they are 'martyrs of a fight for liberation', but go down to bullets targeted at 'militants' and 'terrorists'. Death of brave Indian soldiers who think they are defending territories that are rightfully theirs but were never welcomed with anything but hatred. Death of civilians caught in the cross fire, who never cared if they were Indians or not.

Successive Indian governments have failed in winning over Kashmiris, thinking they can purge out the armed insurgency by merely bullets. Where the gun succeeded in beating back the armed rebellion, it prompted another kind of uprising in the Kashmiri society. This one is armed not with a gun but a cry of agony and a pile of stones. I sometimes wonder if India could have avoided all this much earlier by understanding the uprising fully. Could autonomy have resolved this conflict long ago? Vast swathes of land in China, Russia and even Pakistan is autonomously governed by its local people. Even POK is autonomous and has its own Prime Minister and Parliament. Why are we afraid of it so much? It may be too late now to talk about autonomy. To my utter dismay, there still are a billion Indians out there who think it is not an option.

Manmohan Singh was right in saying that Kashmiris deserve a life of dignity. No population leading a life of dignity would throw stones day after day and month after month at its 'own' government. If it can get dignity to my Kashmir, I would be proud to be a Kashmiri Stone Pelter too!

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