By Fatima Shamim
Dear Mr Prime Minister, I’m an ordinary 17-year-old girl, recently graduated from high school. I came to Kashmir on the 10th of July to visit my hometown along with my family, where all my relatives were eagerly waiting to congratulate me. Being a non-resident, I hadn’t known or heard much about the situation here in Kashmir, and what happens here on the ground. However, once I got off the plane, all of that was going to change. Right after we reached here, none of my relatives were able to take us from the airport. The roads were deserted, no one dared to look out of their houses. It took us over a day to reach our home. And right after that, for the next week (and counting) we’re under house arrest. No communication with either the outside world, or even my relatives within the borders Kashmir whom I hadn’t seen for over a year. I’ve read about war-like situations in my history books but I couldn’t even fathom I’d be a witness to it from my own home.
Mr PM, the Army is encircling our neighbourhood with their big guns, children screaming out protests for their voices to be heard, stones held against tear-gas bombs, all streaming live outside our gates. My little siblings are peeking through windows, tears brimming out of their eyes distraught in fear. What do I tell them? That we cannot meet our cousins who live ten-minutes away from us? That they can’t buy their favourite sweets from shops because everything is on lockdown? That there’s serious political and humanitarian crisis going on outside our four walls? How do I tell them that there’s innocent people dying and succumbing to injuries? How do I tell them there’s a scarcity of resources and funding in hospitals for patients, yet apparently there’s enough money to send in more Army and get ammunition? How do I tell them the people here seem so fed up they run out of their houses to express their searing pain with stones and pebbles, well aware that they’ll be receiving bullets in return? How do I tell them that despite the cries and protests and hails and strikes-their voices aren’t being heard? How can I tell them, this is all because of one simple, profound, and ugly truth. Everyone wants Kashmir, but no one cares for the people of the land. Because if we cared for Kashmir people, we wouldn’t care of people’s opinion on whether Burhan Wani was a militant or a martyr, we’d try to understand why a ace student chose to continue his career holding a gun rather than a pen. If we cared for Kashmir people, we wouldn’t throw in money to strengthen the army count in the valley, we’d send money to hospitals and families who’s innocent children were brutally killed and injured, those victims of pellets and tear-gas only because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. If we cared for Kashmir people, we’d take the civilians as seriously as the New Delhi-based media did for the tourists and people going for the Amarnath pilgrimage. If we cared for Kashmir people, Indian press wouldn’t call them ‘Kashmiris’, they’d call them ‘Indians’.
Dear Mr PM, if we cared for Kashmir people, we wouldn’t find ways to turn off all communications in the valley only to further deprive them of freedom, we’d open up all means for their voices to be heard. Because isn’t that all Kashmir people are asking for?
Mr PM, I see the newsflash, the attack in Nice, France is screened followed by the attempted military coup in Turkey, along with the report on the monsoon rains in southern India. But where is the news on Kashmir? Is this why I never knew what was going on in my hometown for such a long time, Sir? It’s a little ironic, but do we call Kashmir a valley because we’re surrounded by mountains, or because we’re completely isolated from the outside world? There are too many questions in my head, too less people who care to answer. Why is that, Sir Prime Minister?
Regardless, amidst this chaos, I realise one thing, Sir. I do not care whether this is the Army’s fault, or the militants’, when we are given too much power, we easily become corrupt. I do not care about the political clashes going on in your upper echelons, this is still outside the level of comprehension for an ordinary teenage girl. I do not care whether the Kashmir people wants to stay in India, become part of Pakistan, or become a sovereign country. All I care is that when people look at Kashmir, they don’t just see the beautiful mountains, they see those innocent lives being beaten to death amidst continuous reasonless clashes.
When people look at Kashmir, they don’t just look at the fertile lands, but the people being muted even with the loudest screams for their voices to be heard by India, by the world. When people look at Kashmir, they don’t just see the Dal overlooked by the lush Mughal gardens, but the screams of children being subjected to pellets, and now lying in an underpaid hospital with no resources to treat them. I’m sure, Mr Prime Minister, there’s effort work being done by the ministries and government to fix the situation here, but nothing has been done so far, as if all leaders have been silenced and nobody is ready to make a change.
The demands Kashmir people are yearning for might be outside what we can offer, but at least we can try to help them? Listen to them? Take them seriously? Reason with them? Kashmir people have been ignored for far too long, whether it is by NRI’s like me who didn’t have an inkling clue about the situation here, or by Indians all over the country, who seem to see Kashmir “full of militants and always having problems”, or by the people of the world, who have other problems on their plates. Or maybe after years of disturbances and fights and deaths in this region, we have become desensitized to the pain Kashmir people are subjected to on a daily basis.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not placing anyone at fault here, but why can New Delhi not simply accept Kashmir people rather than treating them as a mistrusted adopted child? Some children can go by less affection, but other children require more love, more affection, more understanding. Maybe that’s what Kashmir people need. What they crave.
Mr Prime Minister, instead of pride in my eyes, I fear for my life when I see the Indian Army uniform. Is that what a citizen should feel like? Instead of being able to freely express myself, I can neither connect to the internet, speak on the phone, or even leave my house. Is that what a citizen should feel like? Instead of proudly waving my Indian passport on the streets, I’m hiding it inside closed wardrobes. Is that what a citizen should feel like? I’m quite a simple person, I don’t have any high and unachievable demands. Neither am I asking you to grant us freedom from India, nor am I filing a complaint against our government and the rest of the world. I can understand what we are all warped up in is far too complicated for an outsider like me to understand. For what would I know, I’m just an ordinary 17 year old girl, coming to my hometown to visit my family, and now stuck on a desolate land with only mourning and melancholy in the air. And it seems like, just like every other soul in this beautiful, isolated valley, I’m begging for my voice to be heard.
(The writer is of Kashmir origin and is based in Georgia, United States)
2015 Kashmir Despatch