Release or bondage? – Nazneen Sheikh

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AS a Canadian author of Kashmiri ancestry born in Srinagar, I became a migrant at the age of four. The destination was to a newly formed country called Pakistan. My father told me we had lost a beautiful and unforgettable homeland but we had to make valid contributions to the new country. My response as a schoolgirl was that I would write a fairy tale about Kashmir when I grew up.

Decades later in my Canadian home in Toronto, I wrote a memoir Tea and Pomegranates: A Memoir of Food, Family and Kashmir. My generous reviewers thought it was a bit of a fairy tale as I had based it on my Kashmiri family members both in Pakistan and Srinagar Kashmir. I kept everyone alive in the book but my father had died by then.

Being saturated with the propaganda war games of both Pakistan and India in the past two weeks, and the ceaseless assault of image-ridden social media, I find that I am forced to abandon conventional knee-jerk responses and shift the kaleidoscope. I am debunking the ‘dire consequences’ analysis of self-proclaimed gurus, journalists and politicos. I am going with hope which is the ultimate gamble in life. I am hoping that recent events will transform the vale of tears, Kashmir, and so should the world.

Kashmir coupled with Jammu had been accorded a special status by India. Although its surprising ‘accession’ to India during the Partition of 1947 made it a favoured child duped into believing it enjoyed autonomy coupled with a UN-sanctioned plebiscite it remained a captive dream. Seventy years later, the plebiscite has never taken place, and now with the stroke of a pen Prime Minister Modi of India has revoked Section 370 of the Indian constitution which accorded these provisions to India-held Jammu & Kashmir.

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Kashmir belongs only to the native-born Kashmiri.

As majority leader and a populist demigod of the world’s largest democracy Prime Minister Modi has done this with steely resolve and speed. Indian nationalists of the BJP ilk rejoice, Pakistanis across the border cry foul, so does the great Indian author Arundhati Roy and both armies have out of habit, indulged in verbal muscle-flexing.

Decades ago, Pakistan decided to slip over members of a trained resistance through the porous Line of Control as it is called. Pakistan thought Kashmir belonged to them; in fact, 70 years later it only belongs to the native-born Kashmiri. The Indian response was to make Kashmir the most militarised zone in the world where the ratio of army to civilian was nine to one.

As this misleading jihadist resistance embedded itself within the native-born Kashmiri and became more vocal so did the Indian police and army atrocities. Everyone made a video, and vigilante Kashmir watch groups sprouted like dandelions across the internet. The breathtaking city of Srinagar saw more barbed wire, roads destroyed by heavy army convoys as the cries of mothers of missing young sons reached the heavens. The latest atrocity was the blinding of civilians by pellet guns fired deliberately at their faces. Nobody reacted and the stories of the Kashmiri people were forgotten.

Who is the Kashmiri? Ancient names for this region range from ‘kasheer’ in the local language. ‘Cashmere’ is an archaic spelling and also ‘Kashmirikas’ by the fifth-century grammarian Panini, as well as ‘Kasperiea’ by Ptolemy of ancient Greece. This northern race of people with light eyes, fair complexions and auburn hair stood apart. It was an ancient kingdom bartered by Sikh rulers as though they traded for apples, restored by a Sufi king and ultimately betrayed by a notorious Hindu maharajah who changed his mind at the last minute to accede to India and not to Pakistan.

Indian ancient mythology reveals that the Hindu goddess of learning Sharada lived in the region and had blessed the Kashmiri people with artistry, farming skills as they grew vegetables, fruit and flowers with equal passion and learned to cultivate the finest saffron. They wove Kashmiri silk and the legendary pashmina wool and hammered silver so finely that the workmanship is globally recognised. Bordered by China and Pakistan and being spared the heat and blight has resulted in their curious innocence and an affable yet distinctive courtesy. In the 17th century, the Mughal emperor Jehangir, upon reaching Kashmir declared, “if there is paradise it is here ,it is here, it is here.”

Prime Minister Modi informs us that the region has become part of the Union territories of India; in that case he should lift the curfew totally, instantly demilitarise, remove barbed wire, gift the citizens with social uplift by financial subsidies and vigorously create economic stimulus as well as the long-desired freedom to Kashmiri families to visit separated families in Pakistan. This would be a good way to transform a few lines on a map which are just lines after all, to the advent of hope for the citizens of Kashmir.

The writer is a Canadian author of Kashmiri origin. Her last novel was The Place of Shining Light.