There has been no focus, both in journalistic circles and at political, social and academic level, on the scale of devastation caused in South Kashmir in the last few years. The devastation in South Kashmir is not merely restricted to an absolute collapse in the security situation in Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama but a complete change in the way the world and even the people of Kashmir have started looking at South Kashmir. The Lok Sabha elections for Anantnag comes in the wake of what appears to be a ravaged terrain and scarred people of South Kashmir.
South Kashmir has historically been the gateway to Kashmir valley and cradle of Kashmiri civilization, even though Srinagar has always remained capital of Kashmir valley for strategic reasons. One of the greatest Kashmiri Emperors, Lalitaditya Muktapida built the legendary – Martand Sun Temple at Mattan near Anantnag town in South Kashmir. Over many centuries, South Kashmir developed its own distinct Koshur sub culture including a unique South Kashmir dialect of Koshur language.
Inhabited primarily by ethnic Koshur speaking Kashmiri people, with small communities of Gujjar & Bakarwals in Pehalgam and other mountainous parts of South Kashmir and Sikhs in Tral, the South Kashmir is also home to the majority of Kashmiri Pundits, who never left Kashmir valley even during 1990s. South Kashmir, which has by and large maintained its secular and cosmopolitan character; its devastation is both tragic and baffling for which both the politics as well as Kashmiri society is responsible.
Travelling through South Kashmir, one finds that there is obviously less enthusiasm for Lok Sabha elections and immense pent up anger at the devastation, which has ravaged large parts of Southern Kashmir. There is an immense feeling of hurt that not just the world but even rest of Kashmir has abandoned and left the people of South Kashmir to deal with their misery all alone. Whether it is an almost daily occurrence of CASO or the “highway” ban, the people of South Kashmir feel that they are at the receiving end of it all and no one seems to care.
While South Kashmir had its share of violence in 1990s, it was urban centers of Srinagar and Sopore in Central & North Kashmir respectively that were the epicenter of militancy during that period. It was only during last 6 years that South Kashmir became home to what is described as “new age militancy” epitomized by Burhan Wani from Tral in Pulwama. While much is known and much is written about events that have unfolded since BJP’s coming to power in Delhi and the coming together and later splitting apart of BJP and PDP, the accumulative impact of all these events were absolutely devastating for South Kashmir, which additionally became a focal point of “operation all out”. The final nail in the coffin of South Kashmir’s continuous descend into violence, chaos, devastation and all-pervasive sense of fearful insecurity was the Pulwama attack, that has put South Kashmir on the global narrative as one of the “most dangerous” places on the earth.
But, what does it all mean to the people of South Kashmir?
The people of South Kashmir exhibit a mix of varied emotions of anger, pessimism, hopelessness and feeling of betrayal. Not only is there perceptible anger at politicians, bureaucrats, administration and Delhi but there is a huge disappointment at even fellow Kashmiris from North and Central parts of Kashmir valley. While travelling to South Kashmir, one often hears as to how the word “South” has become a dangerous word even for most Kashmiris who do not live in Southern Kashmir. One often hears from people of Southern Kashmir as to how people in Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir become suspicious of anyone from “South” including stories of housing discrimination against them in cities and towns of North and Central Kashmir. It also hurts the people of South Kashmir to see rest of the Kashmir valley going on with their lives as “business as usual”, while South Kashmir continues to burn. The paradox of “rock concerts” in Srinagar versus “CASO” in Shopian does not miss the people of South Kashmir, who continue to reel under the twin impact of CASO on one hand and a rapidly evolving image of “South” being a “dangerous zone” both within and outside Kashmir valley.
What in fact South Kashmir and its people need is a balm that can soothe its ravaged soul. South Kashmir has been confronting with the devastating violence for nearly half a decade with no end in sight. The psychological impact that this never-ending cycle of violence and insecurity has had on the helpless people of South Kashmir is something that cannot even be fathomed. The people of South Kashmir do have a genuine grouse that they have been by and large left to fend for themselves even by rest of Kashmiris and as a Kashmiri society that does not reflect very favorable upon us. Both the people of mainland India and rest of Kashmir must reach out to the battered and ravaged communities of South Kashmir including Muslims, Pundits and Sikhs of Southern part of Kashmir valley. The vagaries of politics should not come before helping the miserable people of South Kashmir.
One must talk to and listen to what the people of South Kashmir, who have endured immense pain and suffering, have to say. They have to be treated humanely and with compassion rather than tagging them as “dangerous” people. The South Kashmir needs a massive outreach as the present level of belligerence towards the greater populace is neither healthy nor sustainable. Further, the future of thousands of children of South Kashmir, who are currently enduring this terrifying ordeal is also at stake. South Kashmir – the civilizational heart of “Kashmiriyat” just cannot be allowed to die uncared and ignored. We owe it to our future generation.
The author is a Political Activist and aspiring Politician, who has worked as PRO to Ex-CM of J&K.