Of the many books I have read, “Secret of the Kashmir Valley” by Farhana Qazi has touched the depth of my heart. Qazi elaborates on the life of Kashmiris and the turmoil and turbulence that they have been facing since the partition.
The women of Kashmir are intense, complex and remarkably strong. Their emotional stories certainly need to be heard. Qazi traces the lives of women in the deeply divided valley and shows their survival, set against over 60 years of conflict. Qazi has travelled through the region and has interviewed different sets of people which include the mothers of martyrs, militants’ wives, prisoners, protesters, and political activists.
On paper, Kashmir is the archetypical conflict between India and Pakistan. Many have politicised the conflict, and the media coverage is very biased. While the press covers the Kashmir unrest from a nation’s perspective, Qazi’s book portrays it from people’s view. The book strongly distinguishes the lives of individuals on both sides of the valley. In Pakistan, Kashmir is treated as a national landmark and outsiders are not allowed to enter without prior permission. In India, Kashmiris are controlled by a particular code of ethics designed by local leaders and an army with unprecedented power.
“Kashmiris had the ability to mask their pain by offering a radiant, welcoming smile to outsiders, endowing anyone who stumbled into the valley – a Buddhist, a Christian, a Hindu, or a Jew – with food and gifts. Sixty plus years of conflict had left its people unchanged – their heart-filled hospitality remained open to all visitors.” These words perfectly describe Kashmiris. The people in Kashmir are true humanitarians and pluralistic by nature.
“For young Kashmiri girls and single women, the stigma of rape also ruined their chances of marriage. Many girls secluded themselves inside their homes. When the shame became too great to bear, some girls committed suicide. The overpowering feelings of shame made these girls feel like unwanted members of society.” The book speaks extensively about the security forces in Kashmir, who are never punished for their crimes as they are provided with immunity.
“While Pakistan publicly supports a separate Kashmiri state, in private and off the record meetings with Pakistani military commanders, they confess that Kashmir is a vital national asset.” This narrative has unveiled the mask of Pakistan and has been disseminated with great care.
The two nuclear-powered nations have fought three wars since 1947. There are ceasefire violations where Indian and Pakistani army troops exchange fires along the Line of Control, but the book speaks of a lot more than those violent attacks. People in Kashmir are dying to trade love with the other side of the valley.
This book strongly encapsulates the animosity between India and Pakistan. At the same time, this is a hopeful, optimistic narrative which tells the readers that the women of Kashmir are transforming their society and taking it forward. This book is a must read for anyone who would like to know about Kashmir.