By Nandini Mazumder:
“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing of innocent people.”
– Howard Zinn
You can’t be a kid growing up in India in the ’80s and ’90s without being stung with the intrigue named Kashmir. Kashmir was the mystery paradise that I was introduced to through the stories of my parents’ honeymoon travels and through the shawl-walas who were a part of the landscape of a wintry Calcutta. Kashmir, the name alone held the power to make me sit up, pay attention and listen.
I listened with big eyed wonder when my parents told me of their visit in ’78 where everyone greeted them with, “Accha, aap Indians hai? (Oh, you’re Indians?)” By the time I had heard this story, I was old enough to be introduced to the Indian map and geography and knew my country stretched from the northern Himalayan regions of Kashmir to Kanyakumari on the Indian Ocean. I was bemused that the average Kashmiri in 1978’s India made it a point to differentiate between Kashmir and India, between people and even the products that were being sold in Kashmiri shops.
Then came my own restless childhood, my curiosity and my own little “Kabooliwala” story. I was the ‘Mini’ in this version and my ‘kabooliwala’ was really not from Kabul but he was a shawl-wala from Kashmir. We gave him rasgullas and he gave us (I like to believe to me, in particular) a wooden crocodile that hangs today on the walls of our Delhi home. I was fascinated by the Kashmiri man who was full of empathy, kindness and was obviously disturbed. I called him uncle but his name was Ayyub Khan. My parents too had taken to him. They discussed the situation in Kashmir with him trusting that he will give them the most authentic information possible, not coloured like the opinions of media houses.
Ayyub fell sick and missed a winter or so. When he came back, he was a frail man, mentally and physically unwell. Finally, he stopped coming altogether. Another Kashmiri shawl-wala picked up on the void in our household and started coming over. But he is not Ayyub. Years ago, when Ayyub stopped visiting us and the new shawl-wala started to take his place, he informed us that Ayyub had gone into depression, that he had gone ‘mad’ and wasn’t keeping well so he won’t visit us ever again. Soon after, Ayyub passed away.
During this whole time, we were reminded of Kashmir and insurgency in various ways. In 1992, when “Roja” was released, it was a huge success of an underlying story of patriotism told through a lens of the love of a wife for her husband, the ultimate victory of the wife in securing her husband’s release and of the victory of India over Kashmiri insurgency. I loved the movie and the songs like every other 90s Indian kid. However, I did not pause to think what a Kashmiri kid my age thought of the movie.
I would think about later when in 1996 “Maachis” was released and I went with my parents to watch it in a theatre. I had by then heard of first-hand accounts of state brutality unleashed in the heart of Calcutta in the 1960s against innocent kids they assumed to be Naxalites. Therefore, I was aware of the length that the state could/would go to crush dissent, even if it is only assumed dissent. And that is because, in India, the law might say that one is ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but the state and the majoritarian society interprets it as ‘guilty until proven innocence’. “Maachis” opened my eyes to what constitutes a ‘terrorist’, who becomes a terrorist or is labelled as one and the failure of the state to address dissent that pushes young people towards terrorism, towards the ‘Jimmys’ of the world.
Connecting the dots with Kashmir once again, I realised why the Kashmiris did what they did. The reasons that compelled bright young people to pick up the gun to retaliate against the state operatives that they deemed oppressive. I realised even as a child growing up amidst the news of terrorism and tensions in Kashmir in the ’90s that the answer to the Kashmir issue cannot be resolved through guns, torture, disappearances and prisons, all of which the Indian state uses against Kashmiris with impunity. I condemn the fact that the Indian intellectuals and Left parties failed to use stronger words and actions against the violation of Kashmir and her people. I condemn the double standards of my fellow Calcuttans, my folks and probably an average Bengali who considers Bose, who collaborated with the Nazis to fight the British, a hero, but does not extend that same sympathetic understanding to Kashmiris and views them as terrorists who collaborate with Islamic fundamentalists even though they have the same motivation as Bose, liberation from an oppressive regime.
Today, when millions have suffered and recently, since 22-year-old Burhan Wani was killed, over 30 are dead, over 100 have been injured and some blinded by pellets (are pellet guns even legal?), even hospitals have not been spared, India’s war crimes in an internationally decried conflict zone, are only growing. The need of the hour is for the international community along with Indians who feel for Kashmir and her people to come and stand by her in her hour of crisis. They must remember that solutions are not found in violence and violence only begets violence. That perhaps the time has come for difficult dialogues, hard solutions and a way forward to ensure no more Wanis happen, no more Papa 1, no more disappeared sons, brothers, fathers and husbands, no more Kunan Poshporas, no more unmarked mass graves as admitted by the Indian Army in 2011, no more Jhelums flowing down a Kashmiri’s eyes, no more innocent lives lost.
Let us no longer ignore the simple statement ‘aap India se ho’ and instead listen and prepare ourselves to live as humans, as Indians and as Kashmiris. As the children of the world united in universal grief and in joys, breaking away from the painful past narratives of domination, oppression and colonialists. Let us stand up, help save Kashmir even if it is from us we have to save it from.
Featured and banner image credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.