By: Ibreez Ajaz
What does Kashmir mean to you? Think long and hard. Do you define it by its beauty? The cuisine it touts? The language? Or is there something about it you just can’t seem to explain, a kind of lump in your throat that dissolves as soon as you take in the sunrise, greet family, sit down to a hearty meal, or simply recline in the shade of a chinar tree? But it seems to me that these days most of Kashmir ’s intrigue is hidden away in the minds of the older generations, leaving us young’uns to grasp at straws.
There’s nothing quite like listening to the stories of ‘how it once was’ back when kids played in the gullies without a care, and hope was everlasting. There was a beacon of light coaxing the Valley forward, but it’s dim now. We gave up on Kashmir . And now we sit back and complain. We throw stones without purpose. We strike on the whims of financially secure individuals. We persecute our own. We’ve fallen prey to the oldest trick in the book: divide and conquer.
Once upon a time Kashmir was headline news. People actually had heard about us aside from their connotations about sweaters and hit songs. But nobody remembers nowadays. We’ve slipped into oblivion. So let’s take a trip back to a more volatile stage, a time when the people rallied together, a time the history books seem to forget. For the sake of those who died, those who disappeared, let us pause and recollect.
What I wanted to do was to get a better understanding of what Kashmir was like. Two decades before, when the Vale essentially boiled over, I knew nothing beyond the comfort of my crib. But now I crave to know how the things were then, perhaps hoping that this could bring meaning to the warfare that once was. I searched the archives of various prestigious papers such as The New York Times and Washington Post dating from 1989 to 1994. The things I uncovered astounded me.
The year is 1989. Anger from alleged rigged elections leads to the formation of militant and separatists groups asking for freedom. So-called ‘Islamic fervor’ has overrun the land. Five imprisoned militants are freed in exchange for the daughter of the new Home Minister, who had been kidnapped by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front.
The year is 1990. Separatists have planned to declare independence from India , and intend on a mass protest to coincide with India ’s Republic Day. Their attempts are foiled after India ’s security forces arrests many of the leaders involved. Several foreign reporters are expelled from the Valley by Indian authorities with apparent New Delhi approval. The reason given is that there the security of the state was being jeopardized by their presence. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is instated, effectively allowing armed forces to take action as and when they need to.
The year is 1991. Militants kidnap two Swedish engineers in an effort to draw attention to the various grievances and human rights violations going on in Kashmir . The city of Batamaloo is placed under siege for three days by Indian forces, ending with more than a hundred young men being rounded up.
The year is 1992. Reports given by two American human rights organizations entail the actions of an ‘Operation Tiger’, wherein civilians are subjected to sexual abuse, patients dragged from hospital beds, medical staff detained and assaulted, and noncombatants murdered. A group of Hindu nationalists attempt to embark on a journey to show India unity from its tip all the way to Srinagar, where they hope unfold the Indian flag in the center of the city on Republic Day. They later call off their plans, citing security reasons.
The year is 1993. Indian security and paramilitary forces are being increasingly accused of utilizing too much force against the public, and for starting fires that have engulfed Srinagar . Individuals speak of the terror they felt as they ran out of their burning houses, only to be greeted by bullets. In the past few months, three individuals known to document cases of human rights violations and proponents of fair treatment are murdered. A standoff begins around the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar due to reports of its harboring militants.
The year is 1994. India extends its emergency powers in Kashmir . Amnesty International has not been allowed by India to investigate reports of rights violations in the land, stating that the organization has been biased. India is also angered by remarks from the Clinton administration that the nation is committing acts of human rights, accusing them of ‘interference’ in what they call a domestic issue.
These are just snippets of the stories I found. There are many more waiting to be heard. Tales of mothers clutching pictures of their sons, wives wailing for the bodies of their husbands, children hoping to one day see their fathers once more. Twenty-odd years have passed since the unrest began, and while most contend that it was a moment in Kashmir ’s history that could have led to its freedom, we failed. In 2010, the turmoil restarted with a renewed vigor, again raising hopes that azaadi was nigh. But once more, we failed. And for what reason? Because we took not the time to build a solid foundation for our movement. We chose instead to fight over petty things such as background, caste, creed, and sects. We forgot that freedom transcends these asinine barriers. And the forces that may allow us to continue to forget. When will we remember?
(The author can be contacted at www.koshur.weebly.com)