Kashmir Beyond The Postcards

Underneath all the captivating pictures on postcards there is one hugely disturbing image of Kashmir



I remember a particular evening in Aug 2010, the time when the valley seemed nothing short of being declared a war zone.  I had managed to procure a huge supply of milk powder, rice grains and baby food to be distributed among the needy people in certain downtown localities of Srinagar.  That evening I met Tanveer, a human rights activist. He, and two other close friends who were working with the media, accompanied me. The entire city was under curfew and the only time we could go there was late in the night. There were barriers all over from both sides. The police had its own barriers, the people their own. I still remember the gates to Jamia Masjid being opened for us, as if on cue and once in, it was like a midnight fair in that part. Ramadan was on at the time. We met the head of the Masjid committee, handed him the stuff and went away.  After that we headed Chanapora pora that night, in between clearing roadblocks of tree trunks. I remember being stopped by a group of boys aged 10-12. I rolled down the window, smiled at them and they ran away giggling. On our return our vehicle was stopped by a fairly large group of boys with covered faces and huge rods in hands.  It was my first encounter with the intensity of the situation and its memories are fresh in my mind. The presence of two well-known journalists in the vehicle made no difference to them who seemed to care a damn. But when I peeped out and showed them my face, They let the vehicle pass, showing respect to the fact that I was a female. This gesture spoke volumes and I don't know why my heart just went out to them. These were the scenes new to me and I was slowly getting into the feel of things. That first chance meeting with Tanveer led to a series of meetings and gradually he became a mentor and dear friend. I visited his office on several occasions and almost every day seemed a new learning experience for me. That was my first introduction to the life of a social activist in Kashmir.  Any given time of the day, you would see him attending phone calls, either from delegations planning to visit the Valley for discussions and meetings, or research scholars requiring information, interns inquiring about stay and projects, activists coming for programmes, so on and so forth.
The Valley is buzzing with activity all the time, simmering beneath the surface, with the possibility and potential to explode any moment. It is a deceitful calm; you would never know in Kashmir, when a perfectly calm morning could turn violent by sunset.  Here Coffee table discussions are not about who is partying where this weekend or the latest movies to hit the theatre but who has had PSA slapped on him, who has written a most accurate political prediction, which cause is to be advocated for and supported, which protest who is attending, which laws need amendments, whether AFSPA is on its way out or not.
It’s a different world, where you have to be careful and weigh each and every word carefully before it escapes your mouth. You may say something unintentionally, but it could certainly land you in not so comfortable situations. Everyone here is viewed with suspicion. Not that people are to be blamed. Kashmiris have had a history of being taken for a ride since time immemorial.  They have been cheated and exploited by invaders all along. One of the worst effects of the long tenure of conflict has been that people have stopped trusting each other. They have difficulty in differentiating between friend and foe, which is an irreparable loss for the social fabric.  Teenagers here are discussing political aspirations and world politics, unlike their peer group discussing latest fashion trends, latest videos and latest cars. I have always enjoyed talking to young boys here. Their intelligence, their wit, their high awareness levels  in all geo political matters have never failed to charm and impress upon me the sharpness and maturity  of their minds.  I often think to myself, that perhaps for them it was not a matter of choice but compulsion. An entire generation has grown up amidst crackdowns, tear gas shelling, encounters, protests, firing at protesters, curfews, hartaals and gun shots. These are not normal circumstances or normal upbringings. Almost every third week, some incident or other flares up the mood of the Valley. I recall this summer, even while Dastgeer Sahab shrine was up in flames and clashes had broken out in Downtown, Boulevard was teeming with tourists, oblivious to the sentiments of the Locals. For the rest of the world, it continued to be paradise. And as they took rounds of the Dal in colourful shikaaras, you could overhear them saying “Kashmir Hindustan ki shaan hai” ( Kashmir is the pride of India). Ironically, in another corner of the same city, you could hear young boys screaming for Azaadi (Freedom) from India.

The writer is the Managing Trustee of "ARNIMAAL" a voluntary Organization working in the valley and can be reached at kalpana.w@hotmail.com

Lastupdate on : Fri, 2 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 2 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 3 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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