Kashmir... I've always wanted to go! My parents took a trip about 22 years ago and Mom still tells me how beautiful it was. This blog post will turn a lot of people against me, perhaps even my own father. But, it has to be said. And if approached with an open mind, it might, at the very least, open your eyes.
For many Indians, Kashmir is like the jewel in the crown of India. They are not entirely sure why but it is. It could be because atleast two governments want to claim it as their own. It could be because its a beautiful region, so they've heard. In actuality, Kashmir has lost most of its beauty. That tends to happen when bloodshed and protests take place regularly. For most Indians, it is simply a matter of pride. They have no real, vested interest in the region. It is about one-upping our so-called "enemies." And the thought of surrendering Kashmir to Pakistan results in outrage. They say we shouldn't have to give anything to the Pakistanis, they chose to leave afterall. That may be true and in any case, you are entitled to your opinion. The question I have is, what about the people of Kashmir? Does their opinion matter? Will their voices ever be heard?
It is a fact that since the insurgency in 1989, around 80,000 residents of Kashmir have died. These are Indian citizens. The Indian government spends a sickening amount of money maintaining our Army's presence there. However, it is unclear whether our Army is protecting Kashmiris from Pakistan or attacking protesters. Ever since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks press coverage showed Indian commandos charging into the Taj Hotel, people all over India have come to admire them. Do the children in Bangalore know that the soldiers they are idolizing shoot their Kashmiri brothers in the head mercilessly?
Indians all over the world pride themselves on the fact that India is the largest democracy in the world. When anyone claims India is inferior to China, we immediately hit back with our democratic freedom. Yes, we enjoy liberties that the Chinese don't. What, then, do you say about the fact that these same liberties are not being extended to the people of Kashmir? If a political group in Mumbai can protest petrol prices and shut down the entire city, why then can't the people of Kashmir speak out against that which they believe is unfair? Why is our government silencing their own subjects?
On the world stage, India obnoxiously denies the fact that Kashmiris do not want to be part of India. No one disputes this because India is an economic superpower with nuclear weapons. The US needs India and Pakistan both as allies. In a global perspective, Kashmir is a timebomb waiting to go off. Every time there's any regional or political unrest between India and Pakistan, the world prays that we don't reach for our nukes. It is irrelevant if the insurgency is backed by Pakistan. What deserves attention is that the people we are fighting to call our own don't want to be one of us. I'm not proposing that we hand over the "deed of Kashmir" to Pakistan. In the same breath, I am not suggesting that we let Kashmir be an independent state. I am not learned on politics and frankly, I don't know if that is even feasible. All I'm saying is that we should listen to the people of Kashmir. The very essence of our young country would be destroyed if we cannot grant our citizens the right to voice their concerns.
I have said many times that I would never step foot in China. One of my problems with the Chinese government is the Tibet issue. The Dalai Lama is the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet. Tibetans are not allowed to speak of the Dalai Lama because under Chinese law, it is illegal to utter his name. He is currently in exile and lives in India in an area nicknamed "Little Lhasa." The Indian government has granted him permission to set up "The Government of Tibet in Exile" in Dharamsala. There are about 80,000 Tibetan refugees that live there. The people living in Tibet want more than anything to be rid of the Chinese and live freely again. When we can show so much compassion to our Asian neighbors who are being oppressed by their invaders, why are we being so stubborn about Kashmir? I am aware that India did not invade Kashmir. The region is technically on Indian soil. However, Pakistan and Bangladesh were also technically Indian soil about 63 years ago. When they wanted to go, they went. If this is about land, why are we not fighting to add Lahore back to our territory lines?
I hear many Indians rant about how Kashmir is ours and Pakistan "needs to back off." I defy all of them to go spend 6 months in Kashmir. If you are so hell-bent on the issue, why don't you go live there? Any sane person would not come back the same after seeing firsthand the pain of the Kashmiris. The quality of life in Kashmir is despicable. Curfews last for months at a time. Schools are closed and courts aren't in session. Exams are postponed which further delays graduation. Recently, an 18-year old boy was shot in the legs by an Indian solider. Why? Because he tried to attend the funeral of a protester. I, for one, would be too ashamed to face a Kashmiri. It is very easy for me to shout about India's right to Kashmir from my very comfortable life in America. Same goes for the people in Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi who whine incessantly about the traffic. Just imagine that your sister falls ill and needs to get to a hospital. You call for an ambulance and before it gets there, your sister dies. Why didn't the ambulance come even though the roads are empty? Because the Indian Army stopped the ambulance and tore up the driver's curfew pass. This is an incident that happened this summer in Kashmir.
The India we know is very different from the India that Kashmir knows. To them, India is the government sending military officers to control their movements. India is the government ignoring their angst while glorifying her IT millionaires. To me India symbolizes home, family, traditions, and an immense source of pride. But when our government cannot treat ALL of her citizens equally, then it should not be given the privilege to rule them. What is happening today to a Kashmiri can very well happen tomorrow to a Tamilian. So to me, Kashmir is not the jewel in India's crown. Kashmir is a scar on India's face. Indians shouldn't scream ignorantly about Kashmir; we should instead demand that our fellow citizens be heard. The true spirit of democracy lies in the fact that the rights of the minority should not be voted on by the majority. If not for our fellow countrymen, do it for the sake of our country's reputation. Because when the history books are written, someone somewhere will realize that India did not stand by her people.