For about 3000 years the entire Indian subcontinent shared a common history, common culture as well as a common recognition across the world. So strong was the name of India back then that explorers went searching for it in all directions (Columbus). It’s the last 70 years where in the subcontinent has been torn apart. Original premise of the rife conflict between India and Pakistan – Kashmir, a princely state which joined the Indian union post British leaving the subcontinent after a brittle partition. The majority Muslim people of Kashmir wanted to join Pakistan while the Hindu king preferred to remain independent. And in the mayhem of the partition, a whole army of tribal Pashtuns backed by the new Pakistani govt comes in to invade Kashmir. The king of Kashmir accedes Kashmir to India in a desperate move while the local politicians backed by J&K National Conference back the move. In the mayhem, a part of Kashmir falls under Indian control, the rest goes under Pakistan termed as PoK / Azad Kashmir leading to the establishment of LoC. Yup, India never really administered PoK. PoK is a misnomer of sorts.
Fast forward to the present day and we still sit in the midst of a more complex mayhem. While India has just torn apart the paper signed back then, its still only on paper. India & Pakistan still on a bull fight of words in the UN while the people of Kashmir still battle to enjoy the free life that we all Indians get to everyday. All this after 2 major Indo-Pak wars (1965 & 1971), Pakistan losing its eastern half to Bangladesh, numerous armed conflicts like Kargil, nuclear threats, missile threats, multiple terror strikes (from Mumbai terror strike to Pulwama), armed standoffs/surgical strikes, terror strikes within Pakistan as well and multiple movies on the conflict both good (Bajrangi Bhaijan) & bad (Roja, Haider).
Its 3 generations past the original conflict kicked off and the current people of India, Pakistan & Kashmir hardly even understand well enough what are we all really fighting for. And for most Mumbaikars like me, the only thing that keeps our families worried is the fear of me returning home safely everyday for the fear of another terror strike. Who knows, Masood Azhar might be sending in another boat down here.
As for Kashmiris, the only thing they deserve is a free life. Watch movies like we do, eat what they like we do, enjoy cheapest internet across the entire world like we do, play & watch cricket like we do and also build startups like we do. India is among those countries which grants the greatest amount of freedom across the entire globe. But our Kashmiri brothers & sisters never really got to experience that. Most important of all they need to be part of India’s development story. Kashmir is the goto destination for a whole lot of Bollywood movies (classics had every second romantic song shot in Kashmir) but Kashmiris still don’t have the privilege of enjoying cinemas while we have risen from single screens to multiplexes. What have they really experienced — either die at the hands of terrorists or at the hands of armed forces — a life of fear. No-one deserves that!!
Now almost everyone knows that the only feasible solution is turning the current LOC into the international border. At the end of the day, it isn’t the land which makes a country, its the people. People who stand together, people who stand for each other, people who move ahead together. It doesn’t matter if the border is at the LOC or at the Radcliffe line. What really matters is the feeling of unity within the people living inside the border. Even Kashmiris have a right to feel that sense of unity in diversity. If they don’t want to at all, then its fine even if they separate out completely. I can only urge them to experience what really being an Indian feels like with the sense of true freedom.
While the mayhem continues the questions that I still ponder over:
- Will all of this mayhem ever end? If yes, when?
- When will my family have that peace of mind when I am roaming around the streets of Mumbai?
- Will I ever be able to watch a Mumbai’s IPL match against a team from Kashmir in Srinagar sitting right next to the Kashmiris?
- Will Kashmir ever have a film city of its own?
- Will there ever be an IT Park in Gulmarg where I could work from whilst enjoying the beauty of the valley and go golfing on weekends?