I was introduced to Kashmir, in school, as the Paradise of India. I was told about its beautiful landscapes and the very famous Dal Lake. Ever since then I had been longing to go there. I always wondered why my parents would not take me there. I thought they either did not have that kind of time or they could not afford it. But as I grew up I realised that the reason was completely different and horrifying. Militancy had spread and the army had become most active in this area. Every now-and-then I heard of terrorist attacks and bombings in the news. Ironically enough the “Paradise” was one place people did not want to visit.
I thought the Indian army was doing a pretty good job in curbing, if not completely stopping, militancy. Since the situation became calmer, I finally got my chance to visit Kashmir. My excitement, however, didn’t last long. As we pulled in opposite the Dal Lake where we were to stay, I could only see house-boats and ‘shikaras’ covering the lake, leaving no place for the lake to breathe. Even though the rest of Kashmir had the scenic beauty I hoped to see, the place was becoming increasingly commercial in nature. Besides that, being surrounded by the army was not exactly what I had expected.
Something that had a more strong effect on me, and perhaps on the entire group, was our interaction with the Kashmir University students. The army ‘gundaraj’ had taken over their lives. They all seemed to have anger and frustration building inside them against the army. Each one seemed to have had personal experience of the army torture. One of the boys said to us, ‘You have 24 hours in a day; we don’t get that sort of time. We cannot compete with you.’ He had been harassed by the army when he was studying at 11 in the night and was told to switch off the lights. It’s just not this invasion of privacy, but these students are also caught by the army men and frisked at least 5-7 times in a day. We got irritated by just the one time that we were asked to go through checking when we entered Srinagar. The army convoy movements prevent them from reaching college in time and at times they don’t make it at all. The army was terrorising them now.
I was quite shocked by what I heard. Imagine what life would be if we had to go through it in Mumbai! A city that never sleeps asked to switch off lights at 11. Army men standing at a distance of every one kilometre, scrutinising each person passing them by. Life would be hell.
I had expected them to love India as much as I do. But the whole story here was different. They wanted to be relieved of the army dictatorship. They felt detached from the rest of India. They were ‘Kashmiris’.
I always took freedom for granted, never understood its worth. People tend to value things that they don’t have. The Kashmiris value Freedom. I won’t be surprised if in future we hear of these students taking up arms against the Indian army.
Something needs to be done. Something needs to be done now, before it’s too late.