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“She Wasn’t Even A Kashmiri”: Why The Rest Of India Needs To Care About Kashmiris

By Sara Jamal:

Maybe reading too much about the militancy and the ‘haalat’ in the country and going for a nap is not a great idea. I fell asleep after reading something a young journalist had reported from Kashmir and she died battling cancer the day before I write this. I was simply wondering about how strong she must have been. She had worked for the Greater Kashmir newspaper, one of the best dailies that come out from the Valley. She wasn’t even a Kashmiri. Why did she want to risk her life and report about the troubled lives of Kashmiris? These were the honest thoughts I had after reading the article.

After I fell asleep, I dreamt that I along with my mother and brother are travelling to someplace. I don’t know which place, the name doesn’t come up. We have stalled at a dhaba, the place is shady and it’s almost getting dark. The air in the surrounding is brisk and tense. My subconscious knows where I am, but probably I didn’t. I am waiting in a balcony where I can see a few ‘fair skinned’ people wearing grey pherans pass by.

Suddenly, everyone in the dhaba starts to run outside and they ask me to leave as well. I’m standing with all the luggage and a camera waiting for by brother to come outside from the restroom. I can’t find my mother. The street starts to get a distinct character soon, from a picturesque street it suddenly turns into one in which I see a few kids running to save their lives. Then I see the big picture. It all becomes clear. Things get a perspective and in my dream and I cringe. In my dream itself, I don’t want to believe what the reality is. I wanted to snap out of the dream but couldn’t. My heart starts to race. I see security personnel, heavily laden with arms swiftly surrounding the place. There is a lot of commotion. The air becomes tenser, the earth becomes shaky, the briskness of the air now is cutting through my skin. I don’t know what is happening. I see a little boy running furiously. He looks up, we see each other, his eyes are heavy, fear is so evident in his eyes.

I certainly know that I’m not a Kashmiri. I’m a tourist. Nothing would happen to me or my family. I pick up my camera and focus it on the army man. He, in turn, focusses his AK-47 type gun on me! I am shocked, my brother finally comes out of the restroom. I can’t tell him what is happening. I’m so confused myself. Perplexed, I just manage to say, “They are pointing guns at us.” He says, “What’s new?”

In a reflection, I look at myself. I don’t believe my eyes. I see that I am wearing a pheran myself. I am a Kashmiri? I couldn’t even take that in my dream. I get restless in the bed. I want to really come out of this, can’t take the pressure. In a fraction of second, I see fire and flames from the nozzle of the gun, and in an instant, I wake up!

I knew it was a dream, a bad one. But the second I woke up, I knew this wasn’t a dream for them, it’s their reality. It’s worse. We don’t even want to know about it. We want to live with the idea of Kashmir as a beautiful place. Nobody would want to visit it right now. But what about the people living in Kashmir? Who would save them? Who will take them into a beautiful refuge away from their troubled lives to comfort them, the way they took us when it was our turn?

The more I think about it, the more I get anxious. Would our armchair understanding and approach to the issue really take us somewhere close to the solution of the problem? Those moments of helplessness in my dream were some of the scariest moments I had witnessed. I can’t even fathom their misery, but I really don’t know how to help them. That kid with eyes full of fear, the men running to save themselves. Who are they running from? Why are they running from us? Why can’t we save and protect them?

The young journalist ended her article by saying, “So much blood cannot go waste; and loss of about one Lakh Kashmiris is not a joke. And the Kashmir struggle, so far, has been written by the martyr’s blood. A bullet that I picked up from the protest site in Lasjan would keep the memories of the day etched in my memory forever. Inshallah, I hope I live to see a free Kashmir.” She was hopeful of a better future for the land. She did not live to see it. But let’s make it a reality for us, in our lives. Let peace prevail in the valley. Let’s call for an end to AFSPA in the valley, for an end to the brutal violence against innocents. Let’s make it a habitable place for our Kashmiri people who made their place so hospitable for us.

PS: The quoted paragraph has been taken from Sumegha Gulati’s article on Kashmir when she was working there for Greater Kashmir. She passed away battling cancer at the young age of 26.

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Featured image is a photo of Sumegha Gulati shared on Facebook.
Banner image is a collage of Sumegha Gulati and the Kashmir unrest. Credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images.
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