This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sohini Ghosh. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Other Side Of Kashmir: Beyond The Prejudiced Stereotypes

More from Sohini Ghosh

By Sohini Ghosh:

“Lao madam, photo khinch ke deta hu”(Give it to me ,madam, I will click you a photo). I tepidly hand over my camera to the boy aware of the fact that perhaps, in all probability, he wouldn’t know many of those dials that adorn its body. I show him the one to be pressed to click photos and he enthusiastically observes, wears the sling, and with the confidence of a pro photographer, starts clicking. Once the horse is satisfied with lapping the cool water from a stream, we get going on the rather tumultuous path as he skips from one rock to another with exuberance, characteristic of those teen years.

kashmir-valley-hourseride

Rather amused, I ask, “How old are you?”

“13 year old madam”

“Don’t you go to school?”

“No madam, I have to earn. I left school when I was 10. I have been doing this since. I am the only earning member in my family.”

“What about the rest?”

“My father broke his back while climbing a walnut tree at one of the orchards. He can’t move since then. My mother has been long gone. I have two sisters, one is married”

“Is this what you do throughout the year?”

“No madam, just during the tourist season. This lasts for 4-6 months. Once that is over i go back to my village.”

“How much do you earn doing this, tending to these horses?”

“INR 1000 a month. Rest whatever we earn in tips from the tourist. We are honest people. We don’t cheat. We tend to these horses. We feed them, we care for them. They are one of us. Tarzan (the name of the horse to avoid all doubt and confusion) here loves chickpeas.”

This 13 year old boy was one of the horse-tenders. These are young, able bodied men or boys employed by horse owners in this haven for tourists – Kashmir. Their job profile? To tend to these horses and tourists as they travel for miles through routes where no vehicles can pass, on horse-back, horses being a major and often the sole mode of transportation. The tourists ride on horseback while these horse tenders walk the whole way – a mighty tough job if you must know and you might as well agree with if you have been to Kashmir and further, to Pahalgam. The horse owners can go on to earn up to lakhs of rupees per month when the tourist influx is at its peak. The owners often form a union, with each horse owner having up to 7-10 horses on an average. The mathematics of this disparity is rather easy to calculate.

Is the disparity that blatant and conspicuous? Yes indeed. But as I could observe from the usual demeanor of these boys, it has been taken for granted now, courtesy centuries of feudal practice and the deep roots of conformation that is often part and parcel of such immense disparity. Albeit there are those frequent insurrections that arise as fleeting moments while being synchronous to exercising basic democratic rights, but those moments oft don’t see the light of the day.

However, as strange as it may seem (it did to me for the first time), the general perception of Kashmir being unsafe and hostile is perhaps misplaced if I am to go by the testimony of the locals. Often friendly and with a collective motive of dispelling this myth, most of the locals, especially the drivers, are precociously politically and socially well informed.

“The Abdullah family has taken our Kashmir to dogs. What does he (Omar Abdullah) care, he can always relax on his acres and millions worth of properties. It is us who are being short sold. It is our tax money and yet they loot us every day, everywhere. This has been the worst government in decades. There is no chance the people of Kashmir would re-elect him. There is much dissent. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed should have been in power. He changed the topography of politics. He brought in what is called good governance. He opened our eyes to development. Khair ab ache din aagaye hai modi sahib ki. Lagta hai ab Kashmir ka bhala hi hoga (Well, good days have arrived now with f Modi. I guess Kashmir is looking at better days now). Mehbooba (Mufti-Sayeed) has done her part too. Omar Abdullah being of our own state would dissuade tourists to travel to Pahalgam with false tales of violence just so that he can put the hotels out of business here while his flourishes at Srinagar, but that was not to happen. Once Mehbooba Madam saw a sign warning tourists from visiting Pahalgam. She got down from her car, flung that sign board with her own hands and put up an open challenge to question her actions. No one dared. Because they knew she was right. We are peaceful people. What happens on the borders stay there. But the slandering in the news draw in the whole Kashmir in this dispute.” This passionate discourse by my driver from Pahalgam to Srinagar made me realize how politically opinionated he was. He ranted further with specific statistics with respect to the Elections 2014 – seats won, attendance in polling booths, candidates of different constituencies, their asset declaration, their backgrounds, current trends and parties in favour in Kashmir. For all I know, most of my fellow citizens who had voted couldn’t even name the various party candidates from their constituency or the constituency from where they would be voting. Although I couldn’t agree with his views which often bordered on the edge of biased alliance preferences, from what I could conclude, but what I couldn’t resist was listening in awe to such opinions of a person belonging to a non-communist majority state.

From my own observations, I have never felt people to be as warm, friendly and welcoming minus religious and social prejudices that Kashmir has often been the centre of the storm for. And that can’t be simply accredited to generic tourist hospitality. It goes beyond that. The picture that is often painted with irresponsibility is very different from what one would witness on any normal uneventful day. It may be too early to comment or too rash a conclusion to voice on my part but then we rarely get a glimpse of the other side of the fence unless we cross the fence ourselves. A place where they are dealing with every other issue the rest of the nation is, regardless of it being a war zone. A place trying to exorcise itself from the demons of the past, present and perhaps future that traps them and would continue to do so. A specific article 370 would perhaps not mean much to these common people but it would to the various lobbies that the parties co-exist with. It is a gamut of vested interests that has brought such infamy to this state.

Lawlessness, terrorism and border disputes have made to become rather synonymous with this place. It obliterates the hard yet simple lives they lead, often letting the world on a rather lopsided picture – a myth that needs to disintegrate sooner than later.

You must be to comment.
  1. Prashant Kaushik

    A well written and though provoking article.
    What stops Kashmir returning to a normal state ? Historically, Kashmir produced some of the finest literature and arts. Some of the most philosophical Hindu ethical books were written here. It shows the state had enormous potential for being an epicenter of knowledge based industries and a revolution like IT revolution .
    Who knows that if there was no insurgency, owing to its location, its climate .. Srinagar could have been the Bangalore of north, may be an IT hub, may be tourism Hot spot..
    If insurgency hadn’t upsurged in 1990s, Kashmir’s present would definitely have been different from the darkness of today.
    But politics and chase for power spoiled it all.
    The separatist movement, the Article 370, the proxy war, have all pushed it behind towards a regressive blood soaked society, ditching her people of a wonderful present which they deserved.

    1. Sohini Ghosh

      Thank you.
      I agree on that sentiment. It is a state that has continuously been on the receiving end of indiscriminate exploitation by various factions and they intend to do so. The border forces themselves have often been perpetrators of criminal activities and if dug deeper one would find the government themselves propagating for divisive politics in-state. It is a sad state of affairs but i guess what is sadder is how the people there have accepted this life of subjugation.

More from Sohini Ghosh

Similar Posts

By Taylor Guerrero

By Chiranshu Sihag

By Mrigakshi Talukdar

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below