I have lived in Kashmir for a good seventeen years of my life. My parents were both in the Jammu and Kashmir cadre of the Indian Administrative Service serving the nooks and crannies of J&K for over 37 years. Starting from the time Sheikh Abdullah was the chief minister (and when I was not born!) we think we have seen it all. That’s why, whenever there were instances of hartals, stone-pelting, shouting of azaadi slogans, which were all too frequent in the Valley regardless of who was in power, we used to wonder—What if the angels made these wishes come true?
Now to be practical, everyone knows that no amount of stone throwing or causing mayhem on the streets of Srinagar can help Kashmiris get freedom. Nor can any number of military manoeuvres, including nuclear sabre rattling by Pakistan, make that ‘pipe dream’ come true. But what if India on its own walks out of Kashmir and makes Kashmir FREE?
A lot has been written about the Kashmir problem since 1947. This article is about exposing those myths based on an interview that I and my co-author gave to a prominent J&K newspaper some time back regarding our book ‘Kashmir is Free’. Spread over 70,000 words in 48 chapters, Kashmir is Free is that, what-if peep, in to a not-too-distant fictional future when Kashmir attains freedom from India.
But let’s get back to what kind of freedom will it be if India ever lets Kashmir go its own way? Will that be freedom like Bhutan’s or Nepal’s with free movement of people and trade; or like what Pakistan has with severe restrictions on both? If it is indeed like Bhutan, would the Indian Army be defending the borders of Kashmir? Especially when we know how much Kashmiris hate the army and AFSPA? Obviously, not!
But then, if their freedom be like Pakistan’s, will it be business-as-usual? Would Indian flights or Indian mobile companies continue to operate as they do now? Would Banihal be open for visa-free traffic? Would Indian railways still run trains in Kashmir? Would the Kashmiris continue to get their rations, medicines, electricity, gas, petrol, spares for cars, and what not like before? So, if this be a total break-away, as many elements on the streets seem to demand, then let the saner elements in Kashmir think coolly about the full implications of such a free status.
Now I know some politicians, Lutyen’s media journalists, and even guest speakers on prime-time TV debates love to label Kashmir as a ‘political problem’. But nobody cares to explain what that means? On the ground, I’ve only seen the problem described as political till you become the chief minister! So, if tomorrow Mirwaiz becomes the CM, the masalay Kashmir will be NOT be a political problem for the Mirwaiz but only for the Abdullahs and the Muftis till they remain out of power. And so on.
Then there are these other fancy words like ‘autonomy’ or ‘self-rule’ and every party has its own favourite litany and formulation. While people may joke about they all wanting self-rule in perpetuity for their families in some form or another, what is more interesting is that they all want their newer status with the Government of India still footing the bill!
What is also interesting is that every party has a different take about ‘special status’. One party wishes to go back to the pre-1953 position, with just defence, currency, and communications left to be managed by the centre. But why concede even defence when you hate the army and AFSPA so much? Why leave out currency too when you want a dual currency system in Kashmir? Without understanding the confusion it will create in the marketplace where in value one Indian Rupee may be worth two Pakistani Rupees?
And then, the question arises: why stop at 1953? Why not go to 1947? Or, even the stone age that your stone pelters, if not checked, will someday take Kashmir to?
Then what is the Kashmir problem? Is it alienation, joblessness, electoral malpractices, or excessive use of force by the state machinery?
Now certainly all these grievances are real, but tell me, don’t they exist in other states, too? Don’t you have unemployed youth elsewhere? In fact, if unemployment was leading to alienation you shouldn’t have government servants, assistant professors, and Ph.D. scholars picking up the gun in Kashmir.
Before EVMs were introduced, capturing electoral booths was rampant in many states, but that didn’t lead to terrorism on the scale we see in J&K.
As for using excessive force, it’s often a vicious circle. One or two terrorists create mayhem somewhere. The police, para military or the military react, sometimes in panic, sometimes over zealously, and that then starts a chain reaction of killings and revenge killings.
So what is really the Kashmir Problem?
Ask the Pakistanis, and they will tell you point-blank. That it’s communal, the same Hindu-Muslim divide that created Pakistan in 1947.
Now if you say this divide affected only the British India and not the princely states who were given an instrument of accession with the choice to join either India or Pakistan, they will say you’re just being technical.
So, forget the history and ask those, the likes of Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa, azaadi ka matlab kya? And the unabashed answer, as you know, would be La ilahi il-lil-lah. So, when you want the Caliphate and Shariat imposed on Kashmir, why are you hiding behind the veils of unemployment and alienation? To fool the secular brigade of India? To get the Lutyens’ media on your side?
These are some points we chose to discuss using the medium of fiction in the book Kashmir Is Free. We could have very well discussed this issue in an academic, non-fiction, work with footnotes and citations, but that would have been so boring. So we thought: why take things so seriously? Why not have a little fun?
Till then, our message to the Kashmiris is: You want to be free? So, go ahead first increasing your revenue base and then improving your governance? Why should all your PSUs be sick? Why should all your doctors and teachers be posted only in Srinagar or Jammu? Is it because you are not free?
The point is that there are so many things you could do, without getting in to the hassles of really becoming independent. So why not focus on those?
That’s the message, if there could be any message in a work of fiction… that we wanted to convey.
Take it or leave it, it’s your funeral after all.