‘It’s war here!’
Answered papa, when I inquired about the ongoing situation in Kashmir. He had wanted to assure me that everything was fine, but I could detect in his voice an uneasiness, layered with deep anxiety, that he was trying to repress. When war-jets are roaring over your home, day and night, and there is constant threat of intimidation, anyone would be alarmed.
This state of heightened tension arose after the suicide attack on 14 February in South Kashmir’s Pulwama, the first of its kind in which, according to reports 49 paramilitary forces were killed, and many others injured. The horrifying atrocity sent tremors across the whole country. Newsrooms waged war and demanded vengeance. In the aftermath of the attack, the nation was gripped by hysteria, hyper-nationalism and Kashmir-phobia. The public diverted their anger to Kashmiris living in India, treating them as if they are the culprits. It got worse in Jammu, the winter capital of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, where angry Hindu mobs attacked Kashmiri Muslims living there, over 100 vehicles were burnt, and many feared to death. Fearing attacks from the angry mobs many Kashmiri students studying in different parts of India locked themselves, without proper food, inside their rooms, until they were rescued (or, the situation was pacified).
The news of incidents of violence from different parts of the country in which Kashmiri traders and students were attacked terrified people back in my homeland – they were nervous about the safety of their fellow-Kashmiris who are in mainland India. Some academic institutions even expelled Kashmiri students for posting what they considered ‘objectionable’ content about the attack on social media. Some colleges refused to give admission to Kashmiris, as did some hotels. This treatment made us – Kashmiris – ‘other’ in the country which says we are their inseparable part, left feeling a combination of resentment and fear. Back in Kashmir, the people lauded and appreciated the help of all those who came forward to save Kashmiris in the mainland India, particularly Sikhs.
The handing over of IAF pilot Abhinandan to India – who was held captive after his aircraft was shot down – as a gesture of peace by Pakistan, couldn’t ease tensions between the two countries. In this war between these two nuclear powers, Kashmiris, languishing on both sides of the border, are the real victims. Shelling at the border continues to kill people, and damage property on both sides. It is heartbreaking for locals to watch their properties destroyed by shells; many are forced to flee to other safer places. It is depressing to think of life in my homeland: high-speed internet is down, additional forces were carried from India to Kashmir, transporting war-machines to the border, vacations for academic institutions have been extended, along with different kinds of consternations – like fiddling with Article 35 A, banning Jamaat-e-Islami, arresting those however tenuously associated with this religious group, closing schools run by this trust, and the fears and rumors associated with war – all this have affected the daily life in Kashmir. With the dangerous buildup of military forces on the tense border between India and Pakistan, something new is popping up every day.
In this crisis situation, Kashmiris have once again displayed humanity, integrity and solidarity: neighbours, families and friends are helping those who have been adversely affected in this time of distress, helplines are available for stranded Kashmiris, and when flights were halted Kashmiris provided shelter to the stranded passengers including non-Kashmiris. There are saner voices present in the country, who denunciate all this as a convenient distraction for the upcoming elections. They raised their voices in support of Kashmiris living in India. We must give credit to their efforts, also. But, we are yet to witness the understanding of the Kashmir conflict in the majoritarian public of India – their understanding of Kashmir is based on the media only, which has never represented Kashmir honestly. The media’s Kashmir, the Indian scholar’s Kashmir, the Indian reporter’s Kashmir, and the Kashmiri’s Kashmir are all acts of will and interpretation.
India and Pakistan, who are at the brink of real war, will have to peacefully resolve the explosive disagreement between them over the status of Kashmir. Diplomats have devised solutions to conflicts that seemed as intractable as Kashmir, and they should be involved to devise a permanent solution to this dispute as well. Both the countries must understand that the only way to bring everlasting peace in this region is to solve the Kashmir dispute. War brings destruction, and in between the two giants it is Kashmiris who are in a precarious situation. With these everyday threats one can only hope that better sense may prevail and the tensions between the two countries will de-escalate, and they will be able to solve the long pending dispute of Kashmir.
Muddasir Ramzan is a research scholar and an aspiring writer from Kashmir. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.