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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 13 New Delhi March 16, 2019

In My Own Voice: Kashmiriyat

We must introspect and work towards bringing peace, that is, Kashmiriyat

Sunday 17 March 2019, by Sagari Chhabra

This article, carried in some days ago, is being reproduced here, with due acknowledgement, for the benefit of our readers.

‘Mere samne waali khidki mein
Ek chand ka tukra rehta hai;
Afsos yeh hai, ki vo hamse,
Kuch ukhda ukhda rehta hai.’

(In the window across, stays a piece of the moon, but what is sad is that it remains a bit alienated from me.)

I was greeted by this song from the Hindi film, Padosan, as I walked into the well-known human rights activist Asma Jehangir’s home in Lahore. The singers were Asma Jehangir herself and other Pakistani activists, as they welcomed me along with the other members of the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA) delegation in Lahore in 2000. Led by the Gandhian activist Nirmala Deshpande, we travelled through Lahore, Islamabad, Takshila and Nankana Sahib, and were greeted with camaraderie and sisterhood, as we swapped the heartbreaking stories of Partition, and our fervent desire to visit each other’s country. Everyone wanted peace, and the sheer love was palpable. That time seems to be almost another era.

On February 26, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale stated that India had made an air-strike in Pakistan’s air-space, and hit the terror camp in Balakot. He had used the term, ‘non-military pre-emptive strike’ to describe the attack on the camp purportedly run by the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for the grisly terrorist attack in Pulwama, Kashmir, which had claimed over 40 lives.

Since no terror camps exist in India, it had us assume there can be no commensurate retaliation. How I wish that were true! Today, the government has claimed that it has downed one Pakistani plane, but unfortunately one Indian pilot is missing. Pakistan claims he is in their custody. We pray for his safety. The circle of violence will escalate, and don’t forget that both the countries have nuclear bombs! Meanwhile, Pakistan PM Imran Khan has asked for talks; gentle reader, I am all for it, just to stop the war! Going by the television debates there seems to be an exultation at the strongarm approach and the BJP, with elections around the corner, has taken full advantage of this for electoral gains.

BUT take a step back and ask yourself: Can the Kashmir problem ever be solved militarily? If so, in the first war itself, when Maharaja Hari Singh signed the accession papers to India in 1947, tribal groups wouldn’t have fought and occupied the western part of Kashmir. Quips a Kashmiri youth, “From 1947 to AK 47.” But in a real sense with the prolonged conflict, the Kashmiri youth have had their real azaadi (freedom) taken away both by the brutal militancy and the ongoing presence of the military. The sense of alienation amongst the Kashmiri youth is the real thing to worry about, and the blinding of 168 youths—by pellet guns of the security forces—as they pelted stones has been a disturbing moment.

Pakistan has an Army that believes it must ‘make India bleed in a thousand places’ and that is what terrorism does. We do not know when and where it will strike, and it takes away that sense of peace, security and free mobility intrinsic to free people.
South Asia, crucible of the Indus Valley civilisation—one of the earliest civilisations of the world—, cannot be allowed to descend into a zone of perpetual conflict. While Europe evolves to use one currency and one passport, we can’t possibly set up barbed wires and spill blood over borders.

The most essential thing is to stop the war, and have peace. We must muster international support; the United Nations and the Financial Action Task Force can blacklist any country for funding terrorism. Let us use our diplomatic channels to garner support from all nations, then resume talks with a view to abide by the Line of Control. If the Berlin Wall could be demolished, there is no reason why an amicable solution cannot be found to the conflict, to ensure the goodwill of the Kashmiri people.

Kashmir has historically been a land of Sufism, which is based on love and humanity. In this land of paradise bedecked with flowing rivers and pristine forests, was born Lalleshwari (1320-1392), who was educated at home, and was married off early to a Brahmin family in Pampore. As she went to the banks of the river to collect water, she would then go by a ferry to the Nata Keshava Bhairava temple to pray. She was falsely accused of infidelity, and was treated with dispiriting cruelty by her mother-in-law and even her husband. She left home and became a wandering bard, composing ‘Vaks’ which literally means speech.

She wrote:

‘I wore myself out, looking for myself
No one could have worked harder to break the code.
I lost myself and found a wine cellar, nectar, I tell you.
There were jars and jars of the good stuff and no one to drink it.’
Her poems in Kashmiri broke the stranglehold of the Sanskrit.

‘The idol is but stone
The temple is but stone,
From top to bottom, all is but stone,
Whom will you worship,
O stubborn Pandit?’

She broke the oppressive structures and the Brahmanical stranglehold with her poetry and love, and it is that which has lasted. The people’s history of India is known not by its conquering gun-toting emperors, but by its poets, wandering bards, saints and scriptures.

This time, we need to hear the voices of the Kashmiri people with deep love. We need peace, not war. We must introspect and work towards bringing peace, that is Kashmiriyat—the true legacy of Lal Ded and Kashmir.

‘Mere saamne wali khidki mein
Ek chand ka tukra rehta hai…’

The author is an award-winning author and a film director.

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