Dear people of India, happy 70 years of Independence. Congratulations on your freedom (Azaadi) from a foreign occupation. You fought the British bravely and made colonialism end, once and for all, apparently.
Dear Indian citizen, this letter is addressed to you from a land which you know for two major reasons- its beauty and its conflict. For the majority of your fellow citizens, Kashmir is either a nice exotic honeymoon/vacation destination or a major problem for India that Pakistan is creating. The Kashmiri people are never talked about, it is always the land. Oh wait, that was just until recently. On prime-time television, a heated debate took place as to why Kashmiris have red-cheeks and why the colour of our skin is so fair. That should count.
Unless you are amongst the minority of Indians who understand Kashmir and Kashmiris like we are meant to be, you already are reading my open letter with a prior prejudice against Kashmir. So, if you are even difficulty offended, I warn that this letter is going to make you feel a little uneasy.
Since you decided to stay, we can move ahead and talk about independence (day). But wait, whose independence? The place where I come from, the internet has already been barred here ahead of the infamous independence day functions where your tricolour is being hoisted at the might of nearly a million security forces in this small piece of land.
This Independence Day is going to be like previous Independence Days for both of us. Your soldiers are going to be awarded gallantry medals for their ‘operations’ in Kashmir and Kashmiris are going to celebrate it as a black day. Yes, a black day. Just like we support any cricket team playing against India. Both the stances being firm political statements.
Did you know fact – The Major who tied a Kashmiri civilian to his Jeep and used him as a Human Shield was awarded a national honour.
Talking about Independence Day celebrations in Kashmir, there have been multiple episodes from shoe-hurling at the former chief minister Omar Abdullah to current Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s repeated-terrible-failed attempts of hoisting the tricolour in Bakhshi Stadium last year. The parents of the participating children accused the administration of forcing the girls to take part in the ‘cultural programs’ and making it as a criterion for sitting in the exams. The stands are filled with policemen in civvies to allow the camera man some pan and zoom shots.
Before we talk further about Kashmir and India, here’s a request. Come out of your dreamy little bubbles. A few of them are – Kashmir belongs to India, Pakistan is instigating violence in Kashmir, Every Kashmiri is a terrorist, Kashmiris live on the money of Indian tax payers, Security forces are there for the protection of the civilians. I am afraid, no. No, Kashmir does not belong to anyone, neither India nor Pakistan. It is a dispute, it belongs to Kashmiris and needs to be resolved as per the will of the indigenous people. No, security forces are not here for the ‘security’, it is an occupying force responsible for carrying thousands of war crimes.
When talking in numbers, lacs killed or a million occupying forces or thousands raped, it is fairly easy to undermine the intensity of the occupation. Sometimes examples are necessary to put things into perspective. So here is an example-
‘Security’ (Occupying) Forces: Kashmir is a small valley with a population of around 4 million (Kashmir valley). This is a quarter of Delhi’s population.
The number of your security personnel is more than 700,00(much more than NATO troops in Iraq or Afghanistan post-2001). This means all the men living in Goa are moved to a corner of Delhi, armed with weapons and a licence to kill. They will not be objected or even questioned.
Sounds imploring, doesn’t it?
Add a hundred thousand orphaned children, thousands of disappeared persons, an equal number of half-widows and half-mothers, thousands of people in unmarked mass-graves, thousands blinded and maimed for life; all these crimes being carried out at the hands of armed forces, not a single punishment and this is Kashmir for you.
I know there is one disturbing thought in your mind and that is Goa. Why did I choose Goa and why would the ‘men’ of Goa kill their own people in Delhi? Afterall, they are all Indians and no one is a ‘Kashmiri’. Taking it as an example, Goa has a population of 1.8 million; the number of healthy adult males (they make the major part of the army) is somewhat equal to the number of forces personnel in Kashmir.
Leaving the statistics and numbers aside, this same ‘after all we are all Indians’ feeling doesn’t kick in when anyone mentions forces killing Kashmiris. Let me tell you why, over the years, whenever your government or your nationalist media talks about Kashmir, it talks about Kashmir as a territory. Kashmiris do not exist in your public opinion. For an average Indian, Kashmiris are mere ‘stone pelters’ or ‘Pak sponsored terrorists’ disturbing the ‘law and order’ situation. So the logic of ‘Atoot-ang (integral part)’ ends then and there as your concept of Kashmir being an integral part is only about the land and not its people.
This is evident from the fact that our mainstream puppet politicians, every now and then, have to prove their loyalty to your state. Even the police of our state, which already is controlled by your policies, is questioned as to where it stands. Take an example of NIT Srinagar episode of 2016 where J&K police allegedly Lathi-charged non-local students for creating chaos in the campus. The same police personnel are never questioned when they oppress, kill or torture the indigenous population. The hypocrisy is evident.
The voices of dissent are crushed everywhere, not just Kashmir. New laws and rulings are proclaimed so as to suppress bold and fearless voices. Freedom of expression has been the primary casualty. TV anchors, more often than not, hold debates only to propagate their own viewpoint by resorting to shouting. Artists are asked to leave the country for their stands against injustice. The academia is intimidated. There is a growing sense of fear amongst people who have different opinions. In a country with a population of over a billion, more diverse opinions are to be encouraged, like being proud of your diverse cultures, rather than suppressed.
We Kashmiris have no personal animosity against you. You are just like other human beings to us. But, your deliberate ignorance of the realities hurts us. India has a vast middle class, a very good literate/educated number of people and yet, most of the Indians resort to condoning the oppression in Kashmir.
This reminds of a poll on a famous Indian TV channel during 2016 mass uprising. It asked people to vote on the following question-
Should the security forces in Kashmir use –
- More Pellets
Even the idea of this poll was disturbing enough; but the response, it was tragic. Most of the people asked for pellets to be replaced with bullets.
But, dear Indian citizen, I do not blame you at all. I know you are used to blaming Pakistan for every what-the-actual-f*#% happens in Kashmir, but honestly, you are not to blame. Your state, your media, your politicians and their policies are to be blamed. They have been hiding the realities from you; fooling you by masking their oppression with security measures, serving it on a platter of nationalism and garnishing it with communal hatred; they make you swallow it. If you feel like not letting it go down your throat, you are labelled as an anti-national.
As the proud and responsible citizens of your country, you have every right to question your government and your army. If Americans could pressurise their President to call troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan, so can you. That won Obama a Nobel Peace Prize. Who knows, the next Peace Prize could be Modi’s? But wait, they check the past too.
Your men here have families and children too. It is cold here, biting cold in the mountains. Above all, this cannot go forever. An occupation cannot live long, just like British occupation ended 70 years ago today.
Did you know fact – 70 years ago today, Kashmir was a free country too. Your forces invaded on 27th of October, 1947.
Dear Indian citizen, do not let your nationalism blind you. I pray that all your worries as a nation end. Someday, we will have to sit and talk about our future. Someday, soon.
May we celebrate our Independence Day soon.
(The views expressed by the author are his own.)
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